I first stumbled on author Junji Ito a few years back while I was working at Fangoria. The post- RINGU and JU-ON J-horror craze was in full swing, and I was deeply enjoying all the Asian cinema that was making its way overseas. That’s when I first saw SPIRAL (aka UZUMAKI), a strange and surreal tale about a town that unsuspectingly becomes obsessed with everything spiral-shaped, many eventually committing suicide in attempts to become human spirals.
I was fascinated by the simplicity of the story (town becomes obsessed with something we see every day) and how the most basic idea was used to create one of the most complex and haunting films I’d seen in a long time. There was something terrifying about the lack of rationale and the results…how it just all happened out of nowhere. After learning this was based on a manga, I read all the SPIRAL books and began working my way through Junji Ito’s other works as well.
After discussing his manga, GYO, on a recent episode of SHOCK WAVES, a listener messaged me saying that I had to check out DISSOLVING CLASSROOM (now available in an English translation edition). I ordered it that same day and read the entire series in a single evening. It did not disappoint, though it did cause a good bit of nausea.
DISSOLVING CLASSROOM functions as an anthology series focusing on two siblings who weave in and out of a variety of stories. The basic plot is that the older brother worships the devil and, through constant apologizing, can cause people’s brains to melt out of their heads. It first seems like a cold, but eventually the mild sniffle will increase to full-blown brain leakage. His little sister is intensely evil, and her antics become some of the most amusing (and revolting) in the series.
The art is meant to be as grotesque and outlandish as possible, often reminding me of my old Garbage Pail Kids cards. I would have loved this series when I was twelve, and I’m still charmed by it today. Eyeballs melt, faces bubble, and bodies leak.
The tales range from stories about the siblings melting an entire school to more abstract and strangely poetic ones about the two siblings trying to connect with others or find love. And though I deeply enjoyed the antics of the twisted siblings, I also enjoyed the final comic in the series which focuses on a crowd of parents searching a forest for missing children. The result is simplistic, yet completely unexplained and terrifying, which is perhaps Junji Ito’s greatest talent in his storytelling- taking the most typical day ever and turning it into a surreal nightmare.
Want to check out a few other works by Junji Ito? Click here.