The first half is a little weak, but “Ice Cream Bus” is a horrible little idea brought to frightening life here.
This recap of the Netflix anime anthology Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre Season 1 Episode 2, “The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel” / “Ice Cream Bus”, contains spoilers.
The second episode of Junji Ito Maniac is the first of the anthology’s two-parters. “The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel” is the title story in the fourteenth volume of Horror World of Junji Ito, while “Ice Cream Bus” is the opening chapter of the tenth volume from the same series, House of the Marionnettes. It’s also one of Ito’s better-known stories and supplies enough horrifying imagery and ideas to make up for what was, by all accounts, a relatively tame premiere.
Junji Ito Maniac Season 1 Episode 2 Recap
To be fair, on that subject, “The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel” isn’t the most thrilling either. It’s about a kid named Goro and his sister Mari who are being raised by their father after their mother was lured into the eponymous tunnel, never to be seen again. All kinds of rumors swirl about the tunnel, most about ghosts and disappearing people, giving the episode that universally scary quality of the dark and the unknown.
When the episode opens up more it’s revealed that there is a Cosmic Ray Observatory inside, intended to use the abandoned tunnel to search for strange phenomena, but this isn’t the cause of the weirdness, simply another angle to view it from. The scientists there are all fatigued, the experiments go awry, and something is definitely up. The scientists determine that strange human-looking “somethings” are passing through them, causing their physical well-being to deteriorate.
The stakes are raised here by Mari and Goro’s father disappearing. There is some fun ghostly imagery, and the climax is a frantic thing, with Mari and the researchers disappearing into the walls and floor of the tunnel, as if it’s eating them alive. However, this all pales in comparison to the second half of the episode.
“Ice Cream Bus” is a properly nasty bit of work. The idea is that an ice cream truck driven by a handsome but enigmatic man arrives in a neighborhood, picks up a bunch of local kids, and drives them around, giving them as much free ice cream as they want, which they lick from giant piles. Nobody, including Sonohara, the recently divorced father of a young boy named Tomoki, can figure out why he’d do this.
Tomoki is resentful of living with his strict father. When he moans, Sonohara eventually allows him to ride the bus, but when he does he begins to change, refusing to eat his home-cooked meals. Sonohara asks to ride the bus and is turned away by the driver, though through the window he glimpses the kids ravenously lapping up the giant mound of ice cream.
Eventually, the kids begin excitedly licking each other. The climax of the episode finds Sonohara returning home to Tomoki excitedly lapping up his friends, who have all turned to puddles of ice cream, and when Sonohara tries to pull him away the young boy sloughs into a pile of ice cream himself. Nobody’s sweet tooth is going to be troubling them after this.
You can stream the Netflix anime anthology Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre Season 1 Episode 2, “The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel” / “Ice Cream Bus” exclusively on Netflix.