Kiriko by Shingo Honda

Kiriko is a five-chapter, standalone horror manga story based around a small school reunion. Its namesake comes from a person who died seventeen years previous during the classmates’ formative years. This school reunion takes place in a now-closed-down school that is off the beaten track. Each of the small class of six arrive after receiving a mysterious invitation sent by someone calling themselves ‘K’. This reunion, the invitation states, is to commemorate the 17th year anniversary of the death of the seventh member of their class, Okumura Kiriko.

After arriving, they each begin catching each other up on their lives since school. Some are more withdrawn than others but nonetheless they each talk amongst themselves. It isn’t long, however, before the facades of each of their lives begins to crack and the truth begins seeping through those cracks.

They will soon discover that they aren’t alone in this reunion; that there is in fact a seventh person attending this private reunion. Is this secret member the titular character Kiriko herself, or something else entirely?

A fast, brutal story

I would estimate that this story takes place over the course of no more than an hour or so. There are no real time lapses – everything feels pretty real-time for the most part. And the swiftness at how those who die get killed becomes faster as the story continues. It really is a story that moves at break-neck pace.

The deaths throughout this manga are quick too. And they are brutal. Each student seems to be getting hunted by something in the shadows – something they fail to identify. The ways in which each doomed person is killed is done so in a – dare I say it – beautiful way too. There is something hauntingly gorgeous in how these bodies are shown when others find them. Each way in which they are killed seemed to me to have underlying comments on that persons character too.

I can’t really go into the specifics of my theories on that here, as I don’t want to spoil the story for you. But please feel free to chat in the comments below, or over in the Facebook group.

There is a sadness there too

The best stories in my opinion, no matter how bizarre or otherworldly, are those that touch on the human condition. Kiriko does this really well. When the full story is revealed towards the end, we are shown the real sadness that anchors this whole story down. It’s hard to discuss specifics without ruining the ending, but believe me when I say that there is a grounded truth with a heart and sadness that gives energy to the horror within.

This truth is revealed in what I consider to be one of the more interesting, unpredictable, twists I have read in a manga.

In Summary

Kiriko is a fast-moving and relatively short horror manga story. Because of its short timeline and single location, I find myself running through the story in my head sometimes. I have found that each of the deaths were memorable even days after reading too. I can still picture each one with vivid detail and they still give me that little smile that only a good horror manga can.

I’d probably recommend this story to anyone who was curious about getting into reading horror manga. Yes, there are staple authors that are always good starting points – Junji Ito or Masaaki Nakayama, for example. However, this one-shot story from Honda Shingo would be as perfect a place to start as any, in my opinion.

Morita Hospital (Tomie part 2) by Junji Ito

What is Morita Hospital about?

Yuki is a school girl who is being kept at Morita Hospital awaiting a kidney transplant. She waits patiently while her condition slowly deteriorates. Often found sitting with her is her friend – a boy named Tadashi. The pair seem close, but the boy seems slightly withdrawn from the room when we join them.

As he leaves Yuki to her hospital room, she spots him out of the window walking with another girl. She knows nothing of the other girl, except for what she can see of her. This new girl is beautiful and has a distinctive mole under her left eye. We as the reader know that this is Tomie, but these people know nothing of her or what she is capable of.

Although it isn’t explicitly stated, I believe that this is the Tomie that Reiko found growing beneath the cave at the end of Part 1. Tadashi reveals how he met Tomie at the beach, which in itself isn’t that strange. But considering the fact that Tomie is referring to herself as Reiko, my theory is that she killed the original Reiko and assumed her identity. I can’t confirm this, but I like to think that this is what would have happened.

Tomie is a spoilt brat

We start to see the spoilt brat side of Tomie in the Morita Hospital story too. When she is walking with Tadashi, she tries to get him to buy her some new earrings on a whim. Unable to afford any more financial offerings of love, Tadashi unwillingly causes her to go storming off in search of a rich man who can cater to her wants.

A common thread of her personality is the wanting to drain the men who dote after her of all of their money. She just wants to be pampered and waiting on; told she is beautiful; and never crossed or betrayed in any way. I agree with not being betrayed, but what she considers betrayal, and what normal people consider betrayal, are two completely different things.

I felt that this story went further in developing her character for us than her first outing did. Of course, that initial story we discussed last week was just the kernel of the idea. Once he had received the praise he did for Tomie part 1, I assume it gave him the conviction to go further into his imagination, leading him to really begin fleshing her story out.

The organ donor

Due to an unfortunate encounter between Tadashi and Tomie, she ends up in hospital and ultimately dying. The doctors then, under advisement of someone claiming to be Tomie’s next of kin, decide not to let her healthy body go to waste. I won’t spoil who this apparent next of kin is, but it is somebody you may know from before.

It turns out that she also happens to be a perfect match for a certain patient awaiting a certain kidney transplant. The operation goes ahead and with great success. However, the spirit of Tomie is strong and she can not be killed – not easily at least. Her darkness will always find a way back to the light, squeezing through the cracks from within any living flesh.

In summary

The second part in the Tomie series continues pretty much from where we left off. However, it does take the story into a new direction with new players. This seems to be a running theme throughout the series. Tomie will show up in new people’s lives and pretty much just put them through hell.

Although not my favourite in the series, Morita Hospital is another layer across the character of Tomie. I think Junji Ito was really starting to find his feet with his artistic style in this chapter. Especially with the final panels and seeing just how Tomie manages to keep her spirit alive.

Hanging Blimp by Junji Ito

What is Hanging Blimp about?

Hanging blimp felt like a waking nightmare to me. The other stories in the Shiver Selected Stories collection had at least some kind of explanation to them. However, with Hanging Blimp, there isn’t any explanation offered as to why strange, head-shaped balloons are coming to town. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.

The strange occurrences of this Horror Manga begin when a well-known girl is found hanging from the telephone line outside of her bedroom window. What follows soon after is very strange indeed – her head, floating in the wind, is spotted by one of her school friends. And this isn’t even the strangest part about this story.

What is initially thought to be her actual head, is in fact a giant balloon that bares her exact image. As the story progresses we of course see more of these blimps and even find out what their true, horrific, intentions are.

From out of a dream

Perhaps the reason that Hanging Blimp lacks any solid basis for its events, is because it came from a dream of the young Junji Ito. In the commentary contained in the Shiver collection, he explains how a dream came to him before he became a mangaka, which led him to the images that you will find in this story.

I actually love how he hasn’t tried to force any kind of back story into this. Instead, he seems to have stayed true to his dream. Half of what I love about Ito’s work is the artwork itself and the unforgettable images he conjures up. And this story contains, what I would say are, some very memorable images indeed.

In Summary

This isn’t the scariest story in the Shiver Collection by a long shot. But it is one of the stories that made me think the most about it after reading. The appearance of these head-shaped balloons felt to me to represent the inevitability of death. I felt as if it was showing, very vividly, those people running from their own self-imposed doom. Without ruining the end of the story, I can’t really elaborate on these thoughts though.

Why not give it a read yourself, then we can have a chat and swap ideas? Either below in the comments, or in the Horror Manga Collective group on Facebook.

Tomie (Tomie part 1) by Junji Ito

Tomie kicked off what was to become one of the most engrossing and enjoyable horror manga series I have ever read. Not only that but this, its first chapter, kicked off the career of perhaps the most well known and celebrated mangaka, Junji Ito.

My friend Tomie is dead. Pieces of her body were found scattered everywhere.

From Tomie (Tomie part 1)

This first entry in the Tomie series is fascinating to me for two reasons. Firstly, it is the starting point for all of the stories that follow. Perhaps not all of them are linked to this specific incarnation of her, but it is our first meeting with the young lady. And since she has gone on to have such a huge legacy within the world of Horror Manga, is worthy of discussion.

Secondly, it is the first manga story that Junji Ito completed – while he was still a dental technician. He submitted it to the Umezu Awards where he went on to earn an honourable mention for it.

The beginning of a legacy

In this first entry of the series, we are introduced to Tomie and how she has seamingly managed to rise back from the dead. Of course, we only know this at the start from the account of Tomie’s friend, Reiko. However, we come to learn that not only did she in fact die, but that the witnesses went to some very extreme lengths to hide her body.

We learn how she has most likely been sleeping with her Teacher, who himself is also married. This in itself is a light introduction to a large facet of her character – that she really has no moral boundaries. If she wants something she goes after it. And most of the time she gets what she wants.

There isn’t too much in the way of Ito’s signature “body horror” in this story, save for the very last panel. But gosh how I loved how he decided to close this first chapter. We get to glimpse the genesis of Ito’s flourishing talent in that very last scene.

The start of a great artist

Junji Ito is now regarded as a titan within the horror manga community – in all manga in general, in fact. When you look back at this chapter after seeing his more recent stories, you will notice the difference in quality immediately. The detail isn’t anywhere near where we now know his work to be. But that does not detract from the story’s impact.

What you have to remember is that this is his first published story. It feels akin to the debut albums of great bands – like Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’, or The White Stripes’ eponymous debut. Yes, it’s rough around the edges and not indicative of the quality that comes later, but it is the honest, unfiltered core from which his talent would come to grow.

In Summary

The opening chapter in the Tomie series is a staple in the chronology of the Horror Manga genre. It not only begins the life of the beloved Tomie, but also marks the beginning of one of the most exciting artist careers within this world.

While this won’t show you the wildest imaginings of Ito, or his better artistic work, it will enrich your knowledge of the genre. I’m eternally grateful to Junji Ito for keeping Tomie’s story open like he did in this one. And also for continuing this lasting saga for the years that have followed.

Welcome to the story of Tomie.

Final thoughts with slight spoilers

I can only imagine what it must have been like to read this when it came out. Without the knowledge of Ito and his now-heavy back catalogue. That moment two thirds in when the teacher stands over Tomie’s dead body with his students. All stripped down to their underwear and ready to cut her up into twenty pieces with knives and saws.

As mentioned above, the only real body horror in this story is on the closing page. And that whole regrowth from one of the parcels of Tomie’s dismembered body parts was cool as hell. This was the demonic glue that brought the whole chapter together for me. Not only did she arise from the dead in some ethereal way, but that she is physically capable of regenerating from separated pieces of her body.

Tomie Collection by Junji Ito

Tomie is one of the most iconic characters in all of Horror Manga. I’m surprised it has taken me twenty odd posts to actually write about her here.

Who is Tomie?

Tomie is an attractive young girl, who makes those around her become completely infatuated with her – men for the most part. These people become obsessed past the point of love, and develop the strong urge to kill her and cut her up. When she does get cut up, each of those parts has the power to regenerate. What this results in is many different versions of Tomie being created – all identical to the last. I will keep referring to her as a single person, but remember that we don’t know how many of them actually exist.

She is a girl who is easy to hate most of the time too. She is very spoilt and is highly demanding on the men who fall for her charms. Tomie will demand the finest foods; expensive jewellery; fancy clothes. Then no sooner has she drawn them in, she discards them. This then tends to be what tips those unfortunate people over the edge of sanity.

Tomie’s origin is never revealed in any of the stories. I assumed the Tomie in the first story to be the original – but that can’t be confirmed. Also, the fact that she becomes duplicated in a number of the stories, means that her future is a wide array of ongoing tales. These are separate lives that themselves may split apart into fresh ones any day.

A deadly legacy

Tomie is a girl whose reputation tends to precede her in the world of Horror Manga. Many people who enjoy the genre have at least heard of her name. Although there was this already-familiar feeling before I read about her, some things still caught me off guard. This girl really has no moral boundaries and really will do anything to anyone in order to amuse herself.

The stories that we follow her through really do an exceptional job at fleshing out the world in which she lives too. Although we are seeing different copies of her throughout the various stories, I always felt like I was following one person – one unified dark force that is slowly staining the world as she grows larger and larger in numbers.

She is Legion: for she is many.

Exploring the stories of Tomie

With each of the stories I read, I was constantly surprised at how inventive the artist and writer, Junji Ito, was with her various “adventures”. He pulls no punches with where he takes the character. It’s also interesting to see him develop as an artist throughout the course of Tomie’s many lives.

There are twenty stories about Tomie at the time of writing. I didn’t want to have one overarching article about the whole collection, as I believe there are many interesting places of discussion throughout the stories. So for the first time on this website, I thought I’d tackle each separate chapter on its own.

I invite you to follow me as I explore my own thoughts on each of the stories of Tomie along with a brief synopsis of the storyline. This will begin next Friday (Friday 11th May) with the very first chapter in the saga that is Tomie.

Dissolving Classroom by Junji Ito

In Dissolving Classroom by Junji Ito, I was introduced to Yuumi and Chizumi. This brother and sister pair are probably the most dysfunctional siblings I have ever come across.

This book is split into five stories that follow these two in different stages of their life. Not only that but we also see the devastating effects that they have on those they meet.

Yuumi is a boy who has the strange habit of being always in a state of apology to those around. “So sorry! So very, very sorry!”. These are words he is heard shouting at people through most of his time in these stories. These apologies have devastating effects on those around him, however. His apologies could be the last thing you hear.

Yuumi’s younger sister, Chizumi, is even stranger than he. She has an even more weird and messed-up habit of her own, which feeds off her brother’s strange gift / curse

Yuumi’s Secret

At first meeting, Yuumi seems innocent enough. But his obsession for apologising to everyone attracts some ridicule early on. However, we soon learn the true nature of his ‘apologies’ and the shocking effect it has on people. It turns out that Yuumi’s apologies are in fact directed towards the Devil himself, who is always listening to him.

At an early age he managed to summon the Devil, which had some adverse effects on him. He has since spent his life apologising to Satan, who just can’t seem to leave Yuumi alone. Often times the Devil is drawn behind those talking to Yummi in the manga panels – his shadow always hiding right there with them. The fact that the innocent people inadvertently end up between the Devil and Yuumi, means a very strange and grotesque thing happens to them. They melt. Right there in front of him.

Yuumi’s sister surmises that it must be the “evil electromagnetic waves”, generated from the conversation with the Devil, that causes it. The melting is always drawn by Ito in his recognisably-detailed way. He leaves nothing to the imagination with how these innocent people dissolve from the inside out.

Chizumi’s Secret

If you thought that melting people with the mind was strange, which it is, wait until you learn of Chizumi’s little habit. Once those unfortunate people are cruelly dissolved, Yuumi’s sister collects that melted flesh and blood for bottling and storing. It seems that she has developed a taste for the stuff and so is always happy when her brother is busy apologizing.

One of the most shocking points in this series, was actually something that Chizumi herself instigated. She ends up falling for a young boy of her age and so has her brother kidnap him for her. She then proceeds to have him tied up and hidden in their house, while she amuses herself by licking his face and singing to him. The fact that a child is taken by someone so evil is scary in itself. But the fact that it’s one child kidnapping another child, gives the situation a level of darkness much deeper.

Yuumi would have people believe that his sister is the result of his Mother and the Devil’s union. He even blames himself for bringing the Devil into their family. It’s not hard to see why. This girl is pure evil and has been for much – if not all – of her life.

I’d be interested to see what she would be like on a play date with Suichi.

Moving on

Because of the terror that these two bring on those around them, they often find themselves having to move to new places. From the title of the book, I figured that this was all set in a school as a complete single story. But it is in fact told in five parts, each in different locations.

  • The first story is the same title as the book itself and does indeed deliver on its name of being a Dissolving Classroom.
  • Dissolving Beauty focuses on a single relationship of Yuumi’s and what horrors befall the lady who reciprocates his love.
  • Dissolving Apartment brings it to a single location – a current living place of the siblings. We get to see what happens to their unlucky neighbours who mistake their bangs and shouts for domestic abuse.
  • Chizumi in Love is the one I mentioned above about the kidnapping of the young boy. Chizumi’s displays of affection towards this boy are some of the most twisted in the whole collection for me.
  • Finally, Interview with the Devil ties the collection off with some characters from the previous stories having their own conclusions revealed. Along with an explosive ending in a way that this story could only end – in true Junji Ito style.

In Summary

I absolutely loved this book. It’s definitely gone straight into my top five favourite horror manga stories. The uniqueness of Dissolving Classroom is truly astonishing – just the basic premise is something I had never heard of before, let alone the situations that arise because of it.

Junji Ito is known widely for his Tomie series, which follows the varying stories of a girl by that name. But much less is known about Yuumi and Chizumi – two other characters who are just as interesting as Tomie. However, these two need more recognition than they currently get, in my opinion.

Whatever manga you were thinking of reading next, move Dissolving Classroom up to the top of your list. This is one of the most enjoyable, and twisted, books I have read in a long time.