The Suicide Forest
Writer: El Torres
Artist: Gabriel Hernandez
Letterer: Malaka Studio
A review by Amelia Wellman
I love horror during any time of year, but it holds a special appeal during October. In honour of the spookiest month of the year (and to get the horrible taste of 2016’s The Forest starring Natalie Dormer out of my mouth) I picked up IDW’s 2011 comic The Suicide Forest.
Aokigahara forest lies just outside of Tokyo. The thirty-five square kilometre forest is a suicide destination. The legends of the forest say the souls of those who have committed suicide in the wilderness are cursed and become trapped forever within the very roots of the trees. Unfortunately for Alan, a white man working in Tokyo, his girlfriend Masami committed suicide there and has come back as a vengeful spirit.
While packaged as a horror comic, I didn’t find The Suicide Forest overly scary. There’s an atmosphere of dread and death, but I found that this was more a look at the characters than it was at the supernatural. Alan and Masumi’s flawed personalities and the relationship that was spawned because of their abuse and manipulation is the driving force to this wordy story of revenge. The lack of spooks/scares might be down to my desensitisation to horror as a whole, but even if you only occasionally dip into horror, The Suicide Forest isn’t a nail biter.
It is a better look at some Japanese death rites/traditions than a certain other piece of media involving Aokigahara forest. Touches like mentioning sleeping beside the dead to quiet them or the different types of ghosts and what they do when they come back. It doesn’t feel tacked on like necessary exposition to explain this culture to non-Japanese readers. It adds to the world and tone of the comic very naturally.
The art of The Suicide Forest is grimy, dark, and completely bleak. It’s a fairly simple style with harsh and messy pen strokes taking up more space in the panels than any major details do. To be perfectly honest, it’s purposefully ugly. The muted colours all mix together to look like mud and a splatter effect across every page makes it look even more soiled, but it works. The art isn’t ugly due to lack of skill, it’s meant to match the tone of the story. Why should there be beautiful artwork paired with a story covering something as ugly as suicide? The story is told two-fold thanks to the artwork.
Check It Out. The Suicide Forest isn’t quite the comic I thought it would be. It covers the superstitions and traditions of the Japanese concerning the dead, which is a nice cultural touch and exactly what I didn’t get from the movie The Forest. It featured ghosts and a healthy amount of gore, but it was more a character piece on Alan and his inability to conduct a healthy relationship than it was about the suicide forest. While I don’t think I’ll ever read it again, it’s definitely worth reading once during the spooky Halloween season.