What can I say about Junji Ito that I haven’t said a million times already? As well as being this writer’s favorite manga-ka (manga creator) with his unique and terrifying vision of the grotesque, he should be yours too! So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that not only has he released a new work, it came out SIX months ago, and I didn’t have it! Well, I quickly amended that and ran down to my local Amazon online and ordered that son-of-a-bitch up. What came about was a gruesome new addition to my Ito collection entitled The Dissolving Classroom. A short story collection about a pair of bizarre siblings, the comic quickly earns its place among his longer works, even when some of the stories get a little too cheesy for even his biggest fan.
Much like Ito’s other work, this comic doesn’t simply go for scares, but enjoys pushing the boundaries of visual horror. The stories focus on siblings Yuuma and Chizumi, who leave ruin and destruction in every town they pass through. In the first story, Chizumi, the younger of the two, starts stalking walkways and chasing terrified locals only to be followed by Yumma, her high school aged brother, apologizing profusely for her behavior. When one of his classmates gets too close to the pair, she quickly learns the true meaning of Yumma’s apologizing and why everyone he apologizes to disappears. Hint: it has to do with dissolving. The following stories are more or less related as the siblings move around, terrorizing and apologizing to the populace, with the exception of the second one, where Yuuma, with the power of compliments, turns beautiful girls ugly. At the end of the manga are two unrelated shorts about a dead woman in a meteorite, and a really creepy story about children disappearing in the woods.
While I truly adored this work, I felt it fell short of having the same punch as Ito’s bigger titles such as Gyo or Uzumaki, or even his other shorter collections like the Tomie translations. Dissolving Classroom, however, does feature a lot of good, solid scares accompanied by his trademark detail work. The melting parts are very detailed and he doesn’t shy away from using smart shading and busy line-work to really make the gross parts pop. It’s very similar to the Garbage Pail Kids-style of art where it’s just the right amount of detail to make you puke in your mouth a little. Both Chizumi and Yuuma are creepy kids, especially Chizumi, who is frequently seen with heavy shadows under her eyes to up the creep ante. Ito definitely has his scares down to an art on this one and with his work on the two leads, he creates a very distinct couple of characters. Also, the Devil is in this and that’s just rad.
Unfortunately, it all kind of all falls apart around the end. While I don’t want to give too much away, the ending felt very rushed, as if Ito was forced to bring an end to the work before he was ready to. The ‘good-beats-evil’ solution was super corny and basically came down to the power of teamwork, which wouldn’t be so bad if that teamwork didn’t just show up at the finish line and take everyone down. It didn’t seem well thought out which is a rare misstep for Ito. So while the work is a great example of his talent and his ability to tell a short horror story, it’s definitely not one of his best works out there. Dissolving Classroom is very much aimed at fans who have read his other stuff and want more, but if it’s your first time picking up a Junji Ito work, I suggest starting with something that got made into a movie. All the best stuff gets made into movies.