The Great TOH Junji Ito Read-Off: Dissolving Classroom
Sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so very sorry. Please forgive me. My god, I can’t tell you how sorry I am. OH MY GOD PLEASE FORGIVE ME! FORGIVE ME, I’M SO SORRY!!
So you want to get back into the body horror after all that cat stuff, huh? Well don’t worry, Ito’s got you more than covered with Dissolving Classroom.
Let me give you the log line and see if you can catch on to the oh-so-subtle social commentary Ito has used as the founding motif of this work: at the time it was being written, Japan was (and could still be, for all I know) going through a period where corrupt officials and high-profile people of interest were being caught in their wrongdoing, and would then issue a public apology to placate the public. In Dissolving Classroom, a new student is introduced to Keiko’s homeroom, one who is obsessed with groveling and apologizing. After he showed up people’s brains started melting.
Now, a little music to set the mood:
has THIS ever happened to YOU?
Yuuma Azawa can’t seem to settle into one place, constantly moving around and changing schools. And wherever he goes, calamity follows. He’s polite enough, but right off the bat there’s something a little . . . off about him. I mean, what kind of way is this to introduce yourself to your class?
note that manga is read from right to left
Throughout the entire book, Yuuma’s little sister, Chizumi, acts as the impish, Puck-like commentator, who gives a blunt and foul-mouthed rundown of different sections of the story, all in the pursuit of sweet, sweet brains and people-sludge to slurp down.
Yuuma’s charm pulls Keiko in, and she begins to join him in his sorry-fests in an attempt to grow closer to Yuuma as well as to attempt to befriend his sister. Chizumi reveals that Yuuma’s apologies are prayers to the devil, and with the devil comes the devil’s work. What seems to be a particularly viral cold running through the school and town turns out to be something much, much worse.
The second chapter, “Dissolving Beauty” shows us that brains aren’t the only thing Yuuma’s prayers corrupt. He has moved on, and has taken what was once a young high school beauty as his girlfriend. With every compliment he purportedly piles onto her she degrades and decays, and ends up being ditched when Yuuma moves on to corrupt her old friend from middle school.
Moving on once more, Yuuma manages to find a small apartment for him and his sister, and being good neighbors, has his “parents” give everyone in the complex bundles of mugwort mocha, which makes them all violently ill as they are kept up by the sounds of what they assume are Yuuma being abused. The neighbors move from concerned and protective of Yuuma and his sister to manic, violent, and paranoid.
Time to move again! And now poor Chizumi is in love. The poor lad is abducted after watching his parents die in front of him and Yuuma ties him up to force him to love his sister as well. This chapter also showcases anotherof Ito’s tropes, where the power of community meets with spiritual essence to help a vulnerable character. In a pretty gross way, but they’re doing their best.
By now the press has caught wind of Yuuma’s path of destruction and poor Keiko makes another appearance. Her partially-melted brain has caught up with her as she’s paralyzed and nonverbal, pushed along in a wheelchair by an overeager reporter hungry for his big story.
Everything Yuuma and Chizumi have done by now begin to catch up and ramp up to a climax, until Yuuma is backed into a corner and must come forward to apologize for his crimes. With the devil comes the devil’s work.
Like most Ito works published in English, Dissolving Classroom comes with a couple bonus stories. “The Return” is more of a sort of folk tale about the power of love. “Children of the Earth” tells the tale of a kindergarten who vanished into the hills outside of town. But it may have been better for them to not have been found again.
Dissolving Classroom definitely felt like a return to more frightening ground after reading Junji Ito’s Cat Diary and Fragments of Horror, though it is a lot more trope-filled and to the point than his more epic-length works like Uzumaki or Tomie. This is one I’d recommend, though, as the body horror is some of the most stomach churning. The cynical critique of society also comes to the usual over-the-top Ito ending, so I’d recommend it just for that final page, which is a worthy payoff for the whole story.
Dissolving Classroom is available through Vertical Comics.
Banner image by Anton Oxenuk.