January 30, 2023 4 min read 0 Comments
PTSD Radio by Masaaki Nakayama was originally released digitally by Kodansha in 2019 across six volumes and is now getting a physical release in three omnibus editions which each contains two volumes, with the third collection coming out in May 2023 (this review is based on the earlier digital release). This title retreads some familiar territory for fans of modern Japanese ghost stories: inescapable doom, long haired specters, ancient religions encroaching on sterile urban life. But where PTSD Radio excels is in its oppressive atmosphere, slow burn story, and shocking art. PTSD Radio is the first work by Nakayama to get released in English, though his previous manga, Fuan no Tane, was actively passed around on social media, getting him a cult following due to his knack of blending the nightmarish and the familiar. Ghost stories by their nature are memetic and easily passed down and shared. Even my great grandmother recounted stories of werewolves “tumbling” (her words) through the streets of Marche, before reverting back to their human forms and rejoining society with the townsfolk none the wiser. Nakayama is particularly keen on ghost stories being brief, relatable, and easily shareable.
Composed of short chapters, the stories in PTSD Radio involve stumbling upon or being burdened with the presence of ghosts, spirits, and strange beings that encroach upon the everyday suburban/city life. Episodic in nature, PTSD Radio’s story takes a nonlinear approach, with some characters introduced at the time of their death, only for later chapters to show their earlier life and shine some light on their fate. Initially, these short chapters feel like disjointed events, but they chronologically weave in and out revealing a unifying narrative.
The world of PTSD Radio is presided over by Ogushi, an obscure and capricious deity full of malice. While the manga only has a small handful of recurring characters, there’s no one that could be considered the “hero” except for the spectral conqueror worm, Ogushi, who has persisted for centuries. PTSD Radio has a recurring motif of victims meeting their doom because they do not heed old warnings passed down or fail to preserve certain customs, or that they were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Typically when people think of ghosts, it’s the spirits of the dead with unfinished business, but in Ogushi’s case, this is a god that is lashing out at a world that has long since moved on. Ogushi’s wrath is swift, terrible, and omnipresent.
Despite this being a story about the supernatural, PTSD Radio has a very “normal” and grounded art style for the most part. The towns and the people are drawn in a mundane style. The common settings place the reader in a familiar everyday surrounding, which gives the scares extra punch. The works of horror manga authors such as Suehiro Maruo, Junji Ito or Hideshi Hino have “normal” characters drawn in an extremely stylized manner, making them extensions of the horrors/oddities around them. The everyday quality of Nakayama’s environments and characters makes the horrors they’re stalked by that much more palpable. These ghosts aren’t sequestered in an old dark house, but rather they inhabit office buildings, the sidewalk outside your favorite convenience store, and the train you take to work. On top of this almost all of Nakayama’s scare scenes have his ghosts and creatures stare straight at the reader, with what happens next oftentimes left up to the reader’s imagination. The downside of this structure is that between the lack of a traditional narrative and the episodic nature of the stories, there isn’t a real narrative payoff (more on that later), and reading these stories in rapid succession makes them a little repetitive.
Horror can be its most shocking when we see ourselves in it, and PTSD Radio’s ghosts embodies that philosophy on a visual level. The specters that haunt this manga, for the most part, possess the human form, but twisted to the point of grotesque parody. Their grins are too wide and have far too many teeth, their eyes are too big, and limbs are stretched and twisted. Some of them have a vacant stare reminiscent of grandparents gripped by dementia but with a rictus grin hinting at malice. Elements of PTSD Radio will no doubt be familiar to anyone acquainted with Japanese horror from The Ring onward, but considering the US market for new horror manga is almost entirely just Junji Ito books or action manga with horror elements such as Tokyo Ghoul, PTSD Radio is a refreshing title to read. There is a recurring motif that the ghosts in these stories are only seen by a few people. These people bear the weight of Ogushi’s spiritual trauma for being forgotten by the world at large. Now all these victims can do is carry this burden alone (or pass onto some other poor soul). Occasionally your family might be aware of what is hovering over you, but they wont do anything to disturb the force or otherwise help you. PTSD Radio is about evil older than the hills that lie under the surface of normal life. You might be able to outrun a zombie, or a man with a knife, but how do you evade a god? It seems like an unanswerable question because, for all intents and purposes, it is one for Nakayama.
As of the writing of this article PTSD Radio does not have any kind of formal resolution or closing. Volume six, released in Japan in 2018, ends with a message saying the series will be continued in volume seven, though there has been no news whatsoever about any new PTSD Radio stories as of the writing of this review. While I doubt this was a conscious choice on Nakayama’s part, this absence of a conclusion does remind me of how many of his own stories and Japanese ghost stories going back centuries end in ambiguous and disconcerting ways (I highly recommend the three volume short story collection Kaiki: Uncanny Tales From Japan which collects Japanese ghost stories from the Edo period to the 20th century). Still a recommended read for ghost story enthusiasts and horror manga fans.
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