Perhaps one of the best-known names in the world of horror manga is Junji Ito. Amassing a huge following since the 1980s, Ito’s works have reeled in readers of all ages. Like most of his stories, Ribs Woman or The Woman With No Ribs takes up a current social evil and transforms it to the extreme. It is a one-shot published in 2015. Done in his usual style, it features a high school student who wants to achieve a slimmer waist by operating out her ribs. The context is grisly, but unlike most of his works, Ribs Woman does not deal with any supernatural phenomenon.
The protagonist is a female named Yuki who is insecure about her waist to the point of never enjoying beaches or pools. Her brother’s girlfriend Ruriko (who had been elected as Miss. Nakayama) is a constant source of envy for Yuki due to her shapely waist. One day via discussion amongst girls at school, she learns that there exists a surgeon who can make waists slimmer by operating out the last few ribs. Despite the macabre description, the idea intrigues Yuki (Red Flag: 1).
Yuki decides to visit the doctor who a) not only readily agrees to see her, a high school student without any guardian, but b) goes so far as to perform a mental health test on her (which she passed) to determine if se could be deemed fit for the operation. He warns her of the procedure’s irreversibility blah blah and sends her home to decide.
On the way home Yuki finds a woman hunched at a corner of the street pressing her ears. She finds its Ruriko who claims she can hear an eerie harp instrument being played. Yuki tells her it’s in her head and takes her home. However, a few days later Ruriko claims to be able to hear it louder and says she must find the source or she will go insane. This time Yuki can hear it faintly too. Yuki, her brother Keisuke and Ruriko follow the sound into a park where they see a pale woman with crimped hair playing an instrument near her ribs. As they near her, she throws the instrument and disappears into the wildness beyond.
On inspecting the discarded instrument, they realise it’s a harp made with a rib bone (Red Flag: 2). When Keisuke tries playing it, it doesn’t produce the same sound as before. He surmises it’s due to the lack of a resonating box that all instruments have and suggests the rib bone to belong to a pig. However, Ruriko freaks out on seeing the rib and destroys it (Red Flag: 3, ya’ll dumb).
The next day Ruriko went missing. Her body is found a week later in the woods beyond the park where her ribs have been clawed out as if by some wild animal (Red Flag: 4). Now, despite, 4 bright red flags, Yuki chooses to go ahead with the surgery. The surgeon asks her if her parents are aware that she is undergoing a purely cosmetic procedure. She replies in the negative. The surgeon blurts a most poignant and non-chalant okay and goes ahead with the surgery.
During the surgery, Yuki, knocked out by anaesthetics has a blurry vision in which the doctor is standing over her. He tells her he has only performed this surgery twice before – once on Miss. Nakayama Ruriko and once on a mentally sick woman. She had originally demanded for two ribs to be removed. But soon came back to get more removed, until he had removed almost all of them, due to his inexperience and under pressure (Red Flag: it doesn’t even matter at this point, but 5).
Once Yuki wakes up, she dismisses this as a hallucination and happily skips back home. She is very happy with her slim waist and new-found confidence. Everyone notices it. She’s sure she’ll be the next Miss. Nakayama. And everyone lived happily ever after.
God, no. Yuki also begins to hear those eerie harp sounds since the operation followed by a painful feeling in her chest. Once night, she cannot sleep due to the constant strumming and chooses to follow the noise to the park (Red Flag meter has ceased to exist at this point).
She meets the same woman in the wilderness (surpise). The woman cackles and reveals Yuki can only hear the sound because the harp is made from one of her own ribs and therefore resonates with the ones in her chest. It also creates the sound because the woman’s own body acts like a sound box. The doctor had removed all her ribs and then had to place metal wires to hold her internal organs together. There are also some other ribs in the mix which she says are Ruriko’s. “They don’t fit,” she laments and opens her shirt to reveals the mangled wires and ribs poking out. I’m sure that’s not how the human body works, but go off.
She then instructs that she wants Yuki’s ribs and out of the dark jumps the Doctor with a pitchfork. A struggle ensues during which they almost capture Yuki but she is saved by Keisuke who had followed her from home. They manage to nab the doctor but the woman escapes. The story closes with an ominous warning that the strumming can still be heard in that silent town to this day.
Considering that the manga tries to fixate on the eerie strumming as its major creep factor, it can tend to fall flat. As a paper medium, the visual creep factor certainly works better than lettering of “strummm….strummm” over the pages.
The manga also does not deal with the unknown or convoluted like his other works but is a plain ol’ horror story. Granted this could be due to the fact that it is a one-shot, Ribs Woman certainly isn’t up there with his works like Tomie or Uzumaki. I don’t think he planned it on being there either. The manga is simply a regular horror manga with little of classic Junji Ito dystopian in it. It is a venture into a generic arena and I’m not sure an excellent one. Let’s not forget the obvious disregard of red flags and the doctor yapping during a surgery.
While Ito’s works deal with the fantastical, they do not however come across as senseless or patronising. It does make for a good read at night if you’re planning on falling asleep after reading it, but perhaps you’d like to give it a miss if you’re a hardcore fan of his better works.
Also you’ll be surprised to find that the procedure of rib removal for cosmetic purposes does exist. Click here for the tea and for a better horror story than Ribs Woman.
The art style used is the one Junji Ito is so well known for – the use of deep strokes, disturbed expressions and gruesome details drawn in full panels. The characters look like they could belong to any of his other works. But every panel is painstakingly intricate. In other words, the art isn’t unusual. It doesn’t stand out from his other works. But it is in itself as exemplary as the man himself.
Foxy Turnip gives it 6 sad Turnips out of 10.
Ribs Woman is available on MangaRock and has been ranked 5546.
Disclaimer: Foxyturnip gets a small commission when you click on ads or buy products from the links listed which helps run the site.