Story & Art: Junji Ito
Translation: Melissa Tanaka
Production: Risa Choe & Tomoe Tsutsumi
What They Say:
A pair of twisted siblings—Yuuma, a young man obsessed with the devil, and Chizumi, the worst little sister in recorded history—cause all sorts of tragic and terrifying things to happen wherever they go. These scary short stories will shock you with a literal interpretation of the ills that plague modern society.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Junji Ito is one of those names where even if you aren’t necessarily an avid manga reader, you’ve probably heard the name at least once. Besides being known for his various horror manga, he’s also done some noteworthy art specifically for The Pokemon Company, in addition to the now defunct Silent Hills videogame. Both in and outside of the mainstream eye, his work is synonymous with horror and rightfully so.
While I haven’t read any of his previous works until now, Dissolving Classroom is definitely a good first trek into Ito’s freakish world, telling the story of two siblings and the painful amounts of horror and gore they leave in their wake. Older brother Yuuma is a typical high schooler with an odd quirk of feeling the need to over-apologize to anyone and everyone he meets, while his little sister Chizumi is a general mischief-maker. At first Yuuma’s behavior comes off as odd, but ultimately not harmful until everyone around him begins to develop what appears to be minor colds and bouts of forgetfulness. What looks to be a seasonal bug working its way through the school, however, develops into something far more insidious as people that cross paths with Yuuma begin to literally melt into a gory pile of oil and flesh for his sister’s consumption.
Rinse and repeat for each chapter. While each story told in this release is self-contained with the sole link being the two siblings, the stories themselves have this oddball flavor for scary, author Ito focusing more on the body horror that is melting flesh rather than the unnerving, haunting feeling that the genre is more known for. That isn’t to say that the stories themselves are bad (quite the contrary!), but rather the type of horror covered in the story is more akin to what I’d expect out of something like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure where the body horror and reactions to it are the primary focus. That along with Ito’s art style makes for a very retro feel in narrative, as characters will jump from A to B without much thought to the details taking place in-between. I’d say it’s antiquated, but it works in this sense, keeping the plot light on its feet and adding to the overall mood Ito aims for.
The sibling dynamic between Yuuma and Chizumi isn’t to be understated either. As is typical of siblings, the two are constantly at odds with each other, and as we slowly learn more to their backstory and abilities, it’s interesting to note how both make a point of telling conflicting stories to their victims—their untrustworthiness better fleshing out the sense of paranoia you’d expect from the horror genre. However, as manipulative as both can be, Ito never goes so far as to make them completely inhuman. While Yuuma’s mild-manneredness makes him an easy target for bullies, Chizuru’s demonic demeanor gets offset by her childlike mentality, made most apparent in the manga’s fourth chapter where she develops a crush on an unsuspecting boy. It’s little details like this that keep the stories from going completely off the deep end (at least until the final chapter), even providing some occasional humor to the otherwise twisted world Ito weaves.
Add to this the clear social commentary on Japan’s society and in particular the nature of public apologies, and you have a solid foray into a world only Ito could come up with.
Dissolving Classroom’s stories are told simply, but well. Pacing is quick and the manga itself is definitely something you can finish in one sitting, but you never feel like corners are cut because the characters themselves are fun to follow, as awful and manipulative as they may be. If you’re even the slightest bit interested in horror and what Junji Ito has to offer, this is a great entry to his works.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: Teen
Released By: Vertical Comics
Release Date: January 31, 2017