The Death Stench Creeps: “Gyo” Similarities in “Death Stranding”

January 31, 2017

Reva Short – Host

Today, January 31st, is one of my most anticipated days of 2017.  There’s one reason for this:  Junji Ito’s newest work, Dissolving Classroom, is being released in the US. Ito, for the uninitiated, is one of the masters of horror manga, and arguably, horror as a genre.  If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet, you’ve probably seen some of his art somewhere.  The Enigma of Amigara Fault features a few of the panels that you’ve more than likely seen everywhere.  The least offensive is this:

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Horror’s one of my favorite genres and Ito’s works are very high on my list of favorite works. There’s something in his drawings that is both absolutely captivating and absolutely repulsing.  Maybe it’s in the way that he dedicates an entire page to a closeup of a disfigured face.  Maybe it’s in the way that his stories often begin in places that you see as routine.  Maybe it’s in the inevitable spiral into madness that so many of his characters seem to fall victim to.  Whatever it is, Ito’s works stick out to me and to many others, including the likes of Hideo Kojima.

When Hideo Kojima released a trailer for his game Death Stranding at the Game Awards in December, it was hard to not notice the parallels between Death Stranding and Gyo, a serial comic that Ito released from 2001 to 2002.  

Before I dig in a little more, I do want to give note to the easily queasy: while I did try my best to avoid some of Gyo’s grosser scenes, Ito is really well-known for his depictions of body horror.  Some of the panels I’ve grabbed from Gyo are tame in comparison to the rest of the work, but they can still be a little unsettling.

Onward.

Gyo’s focus is on a plague of “walking fish”, and a sentient bacteria that’s transmitted by the “death stench” the fish emit.  Eventually, once the fish start rotting and aren’t able to produce the gas that propels them forward, the machines start latching onto infected humans.  There’s a few recurring things in Gyo:  the machines, rotting and dead fish, and a destroyed Japan.

The first trailer for Death Stranding is focused on a beach scene, where the most prominent feature (aside from a naked Norman Reedus) is dead sea life.  The opening scenes are pans over dead crabs, and the closing scene is filled to the brim with whales.

Scenes of swarms of dead fish are also prominent in Gyo, although the fish are a little more lively in Ito’s manga.  Gyo also makes note to show a walking whale, which, upon closer examination, is a similar type to the ones who’ve entered their “death stranding” in Kojima’s game.

The second trailer for Death Stranding takes place in a ruined city.  The dead crabs are still visible here, but not to the degree that they were on the beach.  The unnamed city is in ruins and by the looks of it, in the middle of a military occupation.

Gyo ends on a sour note, in a devastated Japan that’s been ruined by the death stench and the bacteria it carries.  Cars are left everywhere, buildings have been destroyed, and the city is under military occupation as they try to (helplessly) fight against the walking fish.

The second trailer also focuses more on some of the technology that inhabits the world of Death Stranding.  Namely, the big technological piece comes from the wires that Mads Mikkelsen’s character sports.  He’s the leader of a squadron, a squadron of skeleton men who are connected to him by wiring.  He gives them a signal and they disconnect from him, and the wires retract back into his body.  It’s eerie.  These wires are also visible surrounding the whales in the last scene of the first trailer, which is just another call back to Gyo.

Technology is also a big part of Gyo, since the fish walk due to the machine they’re strapped to.  The bacteria that’s infected the fish causes them to release excess amounts of gas, which the machine then capitalizes on to move them forward.  The wires that you see on the fish are what funnels the gas into the machine, which then causes pistons to fire and the legs to move.  

The wires that are on Mads Mikkelsen and that are visible around the whales most likely don’t serve the same purpose as those in Gyo, but their inclusion, along with everything else, gives Death Stranding a more Ito-like feeling.

Despite all of these similarities, it’d be absolutely foolish to call Death Stranding a Gyo adaptation. Gyo has received adaptations in the past, sure, so that conclusion isn’t a wild jump to make. The biggest issues are the facts that the differences between these works outweigh the similarities and, most importantly, it’s not like Kojima to do something like that. So why even care about these parallels?

On September 27, 2015, Guillermo del Toro announced that Ito was working alongside him and Kojima during the development of Silent Hills, otherwise known as PT.  Silent Hills was a project that was headed by Kojima before it was cancelled by Konami.  del Toro was working with Kojima on the game and Norman Reedus was set to be the main character.  

del Toro also specifically called out Gyo as a comic that he enjoyed.

And even before this, Kojima himself shared a picture of himself and Ito meeting.

Kojima has stated that Death Stranding is the spiritual successor to Silent Hills, and most of the big names on the team from Silent Hills have been confirmed to have moved over to Death Stranding.  Reedus and del Toro have been main characters in the two released trailers and Kojima is still heading the project.  The only missing piece is Ito, and after seeing these parallels between Gyo and Death Stranding, it would be no surprise if he was involved in this project, too.

If he is involved, Death Stranding already has the makings to be one of the greatest games released.  Kojima is finally able to make the game he wants unhindered and getting Ito involved creatively will insure that the game has a solid and interesting story, or at least interesting monsters.  Death Stranding is definitely one of my most anticipated games, regardless of Ito’s involvement, but Ito’s creativity would be the icing on the weird, confusing cake Kojima’s making.

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