Dissolving Classroom (Vertical Comics, 2015) – Junji Ito

5 out of 5

On the whole, Junji Ito’s horrors tend to take a particular image or concept and then either iterate on them, or figure out a way to justify them. The latter version of that tends to make for shorter stories, and the former version longer form, interconnected ones. While the shorts can generally be piled in to creepy, weird, or silly piles, Ito’s longer stories ebb and flow in tone, sometimes (I think) undesirably so, when the artist pushes a concept further along than necessary and it starts to become strained.

Dissolving Classroom finds a good workaround for that by, firstly, establishing a clearly humorous tone from the start, and then also by getting out while the getting’s good, taking things to an appropriately ridiculous climax and no further. This sense of relative focus might be because Classroom has some subtext to work off of, poking fun at public apologies – while I’d think a bit different in Japanese culture, I’d consider these as akin to generically formatted celebrity apologies for some recent sin done via twitter or whatnot – and also the mindlessness of a society that supports and encourages such empty penitents. This is tweaked, in Ito’s imagination, into a character whose overly apologetic nature causes people’s brains to melt, pouring out of their nose and eyeholes, giving us delightfully goopy visuals. This character – Yuuma – and his trouble-causing sister, Chizumi, cause havoc in, to start, their classroom, but then things go on, story by story, to other victims, as Ito gives us a constantly shifting background (the origin of Yuuma’s “powers” jokingly retold in different versions by Chizumi), before building up to a successfully over-the-top climax.

It’s just enough of everything to become perfect entertainment: it offers just enough characterization, just enough opportunity for Junji to go wild on visuals, just enough self-aware silliness, and etc. While maybe not the “best” Junji story in terms of outlandishness or scare-potential, and not as outright silly as Souichi stuff, it’s the balances mentioned – and its brevity, preventing indulgences – that give it an overall high score.

The Vertical Comics collection also includes two short bonus stories: one an effective bit about loss which, read as a parable for the ending of a relationship, is interestingly emotional; one a kind of spin on Amigara Fault, but boiled down to its core creepiness.