Junji Ito Month: Layers of Fear

Horror has a lot of layers, and nobody’s better at peeling those layers away than Junji Ito. In honestly my favorite story this month so far , let’s talk about Layers of Fear (no relation to the horror video game of the same name). Trigger warnings for some REAL bad body horror.

Now NORMALLY, I would talk about the story first then share my thoughts on it. However, I feel like this story in particular is one that is best experienced without knowing anything about it. It is legitimately one of Junji Ito’s most original concepts, and the body horror illustrations in this story are some his best.

Read Layers of Fear here!

I’m not gonna go into full spoiler town territory for now, though. Let’s talk about medical conditions. Humans have gotten lucky with mutations for the past thousand years or so, but every once in a while, a strange disease rears its ugly head and latches onto an unfortunate person. It can be as simple as being allergic to the most mundane of foods like shrimp or peanuts, or in worst cases, even start turning your body into a mass of bone and muscle.

Image result for “Tree Man Syndrome”

For example, Tree Man Syndrome will cause turn their skin into a tree bark-like texture made of keratonin, the same stuff as dog’s claws, only tougher and stiffer. Those with the condition undergo immense pain, and lose any use of their afflicted limbs. A less extreme but just as infamous growth-like disease is related to history’s most popular medical condition, the Elephant Man Joseph Merrick.

Image result for joseph merrick

His disease is actually still not known for sure to this day. Most scientists have agreed it’s likely a combination of several different medical conditions stunting and deforming this one poor man, namely Protean syndrome and neurofibromatosis. Both conditions in conjunction seemed to have caused poor Joseph to develop excessive growths on his skin and deformed his bones.

Why am I talking about this? Well, obviously, that’s what Junji Ito’s prodding in our psyche again!

Spoiler Town

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Our story begins in 1996, with an excavation site of a strange burial ground. One of the younger archaeologists notice that the hole they found had strange ridges, all in the shape of a human face from the side.

As it starts to rain, the expedition team covers up the hole and we unceremoniously skip to the year 2017, where a mother and her two daughters are driving along the road.

From their interactions, we gather that the mother has preference for the youngest, Reimi, because of her beauty. From a young age, the mother had wanted to groom her into a TV star, but Reimi refused to out of shyness. The older sister, Narumi, is annoyed at all the attention her younger sister always gets from her mother. The mother, being established as a huge bitch, says this:

Parent of the Year (2017)

This causes Narumi to retort in anger, and she takes her eyes off the road for a few seconds. Reimi tells her to look at the road, and Narumi swerves to the side and crashes onto a tree, and we are greeted by this horrifying scene.

Ah, it can’t be THAT bad, right? I mean, you guys just saw a few pictures up there of people with horrible skin diseases. On a completely unrelated note to the panel above, have you guys heard of degloving? No?

Well, here’s a crash course.

That’s her face.
YOU DID NOT HAVE TO ZOOM IN, I GOT THE IMAGE SCARRED INTO MY MIND.

So yeah, Reimi got degloved. I think you know why it’s called that based on what I just subjected you to. It’s a horrifying injury that happens often in car accidents, and one of the most infamous incidents happening of this was during the filming of a Resident Evil movie. I’m not linking any of THOSE images here, thank you very much.

Back to the story, Reimi somehow survives this whole ordeal, and they bring her to the hospital. When the doctor cleans the wounds, they discover something extremely strange.

Now here’s where the body horror starts to kick in. As it turns out, Reimi does not have any internal organs or bone structures of any kind. Instead, she is composed of a series of layers, much like a tree. What are these layers made of?

Well, have you ever seen a Matryoshka doll?

Image result for matryoshka

Basically speaking, Reimi is a living Matryoshka doll, as presented in this MRI scan.

Her growth is actually similar to that of a tree and its’ rings. The layers of “her” she has inside her correspond to how old she is in years. So that’s about nineteen Reimis of slightly varying sizes living it up inside her and wearing her like a skin.

Understandably, everybody is horrified, but the mother, being the huge bitch established, refuses treatment of her daughter under the pretense of “not being seen as a freak.” Look, I know that a lot of stories show that disabilities aren’t something to be ashamed of (they’re not), but this is one of those “HOLY CRAP, A PERSON HAS NINETEEN PEOPLE INSIDE HER” situations where a medical professional would be incredibly needed.

The mother and Nerumi go out and sit on a bench. Nerumi realizes that this must all be some kind of curse. It turns out the man from 1996 was none other than their own father, the one who discovered the layered burial ground. He had grown obsessed with the skull found at the dig, and died of mysterious causes years later. The curse, she theorizes, passed on to the two daughters. WAIT, TWO DAUGHTERS?!

Admittedly, that feels like something somebody should have said sooner (try saying that sentence five times fast), but it’s a pretty damn good reveal nonetheless. By the way, unlike Reimi’s condition, Nerumi’s is a pretty real condition (though maybe not to that extent) called Hyperdontia, the excess growth of teeth. No, I am not sharing real images of that.

The mother waves away the theory as superstitious hogwash, and instead tells Reimi they’ll find a doctor to fix her. This in large contrast to how she was adamant against medical help, it seems the mother is just on a neverending crusade to crap on her eldest.

Reimi,upon hearing her sister’s theory, wants to try and bury the skull as Nerumi suggested to lift the curse, but her mother is having none of it. Finally, she lashes out.

In the middle of the night, as Reimi sleeps, her mother approaches her and starts calling to her two-year old self, believing she’s still there under all the layers. To her delight (and my horror):

I honestly have no words for what comes next. It’s just-

Just look.

Junji Ito, you are a mad genius. This is, without a doubt, some of his most gory, provocative and unique panels so far. The gentle peeling away of the face eventually devolving into mad swiping away of flesh to get to the center of this human tootsie pop is not an image that will leave me for a while. The images of an insane mother literally peeling away at her own daughter to reclaim some sense of motherhood, and the horrified screams of her daughter coinciding with the yells of delight of her two year old self, is an amazingly macabre set of panels.

Speaking of her two year old self-

I’m guessing you’re looking like this right about now:

Image result for jontron reaction gif

So yeah, that was terrifying. At this point, i know you’ve already read the whole thing, but everything after this is just the same level of WTF. Nerumi is coaxed into helping her mother peel away the rest of Reimi (who are all probably sentient in some way, by the way), and they are greeted by-

Uhhh-

Okay.

Nope.

Nope.

I’m-

What’s happening-

Image result for jontron reaction gif
Image result for jontron reaction gif

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So Nerumi goes to the university where the skull was last heard to be kept, but unfortunately, it seems that it has disappeared. Now, the mother and “Reimi” stay in that dark room, muttering insanely. I’m about 99% sure “Reimi” was just a glorified cocoon for whatever eldritch horror their father released to the world.

This is by far, the BEST Junji Ito standalone story I’ve read so far. The nonstop back to back panels of page/stomach turning gore and horror is unprecedented. It combines Ito’s skill in illustrating body horror in a unique way with his fascination of eldritch horror. It’s a fantastic story, and perfectly encapsulates the best of what Ito can do.

The horror of discovering something’s wrong with your body to that extent and being torn apart by your own mother is one of the darkest stories in his reportoire, which is saying something considering what we’ve seen this month. I’m actually kind of scared we’ve peaked so early in the month!

Here’s a nyanpasu to cleanse yourself:

Image result for Nyanpasu gif

-Lumi

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