Portus (Viz Media)

portusheader.jpgA killer video game hides a terrible secret in this one-shot horror manga.


232 pages, B&W; $9.99

(W / A: Jun Abe)


When high school sophomore Chiharu stops coming to school or answering her phone, it worries her best friend Asami, especially since Chiharu has been playing the video game Portus, an 8-bit game made famous through urban legend. Word on the street: when you play a secret level in the game, you die. Asami is skeptical, but when Chiharu is found dead in her room as an apparent suicide, Asami realizes that darker things are afoot.


Through the investigative efforts of Asami, her art teacher Keigo, and her Japanese teacher Mayumi, the secret of Portus is revealed. Keigo visits the game’s publisher to learn the truth, while Asami takes the direct approach and begins to play Portus to find the secret on her own. There’s an evil spirit of a little boy, a dark family secret, and an evil Kokeshi doll behind it all. Much of the book is devoted to the history of the tortured soul responsible for designing the game of Portus. Unfortunately, the book clips along at such a pace where I’m not sure whether or not I care about the characters, or if they live or die.


The cover to Portus by Jun Abe.J-horror is known for using formulaic writing and recycled themes and Portus is no exception. Portus dives right into the action from page 1 with the obligatory urban legend plot device. It’s familiar, it’s a sure-thing, and everybody likes a good urban legend. Throw in a couple of busty teenage girls and we’ve got ourselves a book worth reading, right?


It seems like every other manga on the planet draws out their stories into unnecessary volumes, and yet Portus stands as a one-shot story. Scrunched into one volume, the pacing is all wrong and the story is revealed too quickly, making the main characters seem more like dispensable strangers than heroes you’re supposed to be rooting for. Portus could have benefited from another volume and more dramatic reveals. Instead, you’re assaulted with constant violence, rape, and complicated histories that are a little difficult to digest. It’s clear that Jun Abe was focused more on gratuitous violence than an inventive story line.


Despite some of its setbacks, Portus is visually stunning, and its artistic style fits the story remarkably well. It’s dark, moody, and complicated. The Kokeshi and supernatural imagery are particularly well-rendered. The violence is captured artistically (and somewhat tastefully), but it still deserves the several explicit warnings on the front and back covers of the book.


Portus has a strong enough concept to be considered a success and is worth reading if you’re a horror fan. If it’s a thought-provoking psychological thriller you’re after, you’ll be left feeling a little underwhelmed. | Stephanie Richardson

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