Saturday, December 17, 2016

Army of One, or why Junji Ito hates your sanity (and possibly also Christmas)

Hellstar Remina cover. That's a tongue by the way.

I wanted to write something about a Christmas manga considering this is December and everything.
I considered writing something from a vanilla feel-good manga but then I thought: “Nah, fuck it, everybody is going to write about warm and fuzzy feelings so let’s look at something different.”

And then I remembered Junji Ito’s Army of one, an extra story to his Hellstar Remina manga. First of all, let me tell you that Remina is really not that good in my opinion. Sure, it has many of the things Ito loves to show, but it isn’t as messed up as Uzumaki or Gyo and I think it’s even a little boring.

But Army of One… heh, that’s another thing entirely.

It’s one of Ito’s most fucked up works. No, I’m not kidding, it’s creepy as hell.

And it’s set during Christmas, too. I can picture Ito and his editor talking about the tankoboun release for Remina, I wouldn’t be surprised if it went something like this:

Editor: We’ll publish Remina next December, can you do a bonus story for added value?
Ito: Sure, give me a couple of days to think of something that can hurt people’s brains even more and I’ll work on that.
Editor: You know, that Christmas thing is coming, and it’s always kind of bothered me how here in Japan we made it all about couples and being together and shit.
Ito: *Scratches head* Being together… You know, that kind of gives me an idea.
Editor: Is it fucked up?
Ito: *grins* Oh yeah.
Editor: *Sips coffee* Cool.

Anyway, on with the story!

The story starts when a man finds a dead couple floating down the river. It’s something that would be scary and all by itself, but the bodies are actually stitched together.

Don’t believe me?

Look:

You’re welcome.

After this we meet our loser hikikomori protagonist, Michio, a young adult who has refused to go out of his room for seven years because the girl he liked in High School saw him only as a friend and he was too shy to tell her about his feelings.


He also won the "most likely to be bullied" award in High School

In other words Michio is a little bitch.

One day, Michio’s classmate he liked, Natsuko, shows up to invite him to a bar where he can talk with the gang from High School because they want to include him in the organization of a class reunion. 

This is Natsuko, she likes cool guys.

Once in the bar, and while talking with his old classmates, Michio learns that Natsuko is engaged to Noriyuki, who was the cool guy in class and surprisingly he’s still cool seven years later. This is where Michio decides to show everyone he’s beta as fuck and excuses himself so he can go back to his room to cry and cut himself.

Ok, ok, he doesn’t cut himself. But you almost think he does. When nobody is looking.

As he walks back home, Michio sees more dead people, stitched together of course, and at the same time, the Army of One planes start dropping fliers with the lyrics to one stupid jingle of theirs that they have been occasionally playing on the radio. Obviously, people freak out about the killings and that night, while Michio is doing some research on the internet, the Army of One takes over the radio and starts broadcasting their jingle non-stop.

The Army of One jingle, so annoying it'll drive you nuts!

This jingle ounslaught causes the number of stitch murders to increase a lot.

And by that I mean this shit:

You’re welcome again. 

The result is people starts to freak out even more. Michio tries to convince Natsuko and the guys to postpone the class reunion because it is believed that the Army of One attacks large groups.
Of course nobody fucking listens to Michio because everyone kid of thinks he sucks.

And so, the day of the reunion comes, and Michio goes there to look at things, thinking that he may be able to help. He gets in trouble with the police who are there to stop the Army of One in case they attack, since now everybody thinks it is a terrorist group. Lucky for Michio, Natsuko helps him by telling the cops he’s just shy and he’s also a former classmate.

So Michio and Natsuko enter the hall where the class reunion is to be held, and they find it empty.

Fear the horror of the empty hall!
Well, there were about 500 guests already in there, so I’m sure even the Army of One would have trouble stitching that many corpses together and then displaying them somewhere without anyone noticing, because that would mean that…

Crap.

This many people killed at once sends society down the drain, and nobody wants to leave their houses anymore or gather in crowds, which means things are approaching apocalyptic levels of we’re all fucked.

On the other hand, now that Noriyuki’s out of the way and people no longer want to meet because that would put them in danger, Michio somehow gathers his courage to go and see Natsuko. 

"I know your boyfriend just died, but... wanna hang out?"

Wow, who would have thought mass murder and mass hysteria was all our hikikomori protagonist needed to man up?

So he goes to see Natsuko and sees that the air force is finally getting off their butts and doing something about the Army of One planes.

Michio is convinced his butt is saved so he rushes to Natsuko’s house to tell her all will be ok and that he loves her and…

She's really keeping the family together.

But damn. Even the poor dog.

And now the air force planes are dropping the fliers, too.

So.

What. The fuck. Happened at the end?

Well, there are many theories floating around the internet, but I personally think the song and fliers drive contain some sort of hypnotic command that drives people nuts and forces them to kill and stitch each other together.

But then if you apply logic then it makes no sense. I mean, the song driving people nuts and into killing and stitching others I can buy. But how the hell do you move up to 500 people and display them like it happens here without anyone noticing?

That is the part that makes no sense at all.

And that is what makes this creepier. Because yes, there’s something out there that is forcing people to kill each other and stitch their victims together and even that is unclear because the corpses don’t show any injuries or signs of struggle. So, while the jingle may explain how corpses end up stitched together, it doesn’t explain the killings or who the fuck moves the corpses or who’s really behind the Army of One.

And that’s the scarier part.

Ito’s art is top notch as usual (if you like his style) and I like it he keeps the gore to a minimum, we only get to see corpses but there’s no blood here.

I didn’t like the protagonist that much, but for the story Michio actually works well as a character so that’s a plus. The ending is shocking enough but not that unexpected as the song features prominently during the story so we know it has something to do with the whole thing, but I do like that all it explains is the stitching, nothing else. It does keep the mystery intact and that’s commendable.

Grades:

Art: 10 skulls out of 10. Ito’s at his best here and his style really drives home the horror of the situation.

T&A: 0 skulls out of 10. There’s a few boobs here but you don’t want to see that. I promise you that.

Story: 8 skulls out of 10. I really like it a lot, but the unexplained ending drives me crazy.


And before I forget, Merry Christmas!