Fans are soaking in an array of spine-tingling horror stories as Netflix releases Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre. They've been waiting for this for a long time, curious to see how his manga stories are adapted. And, while some don't translate well to anime, others, like "The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel," are terrifying ghost stories.
The anime short "The Bully" does make changes to its source material, masking its big reveal at the end. Fans are treated to a cerebral story about abuse as well as a warped revenge story centered on a woman who ends up nodding to DC's Joker.
Kuriko is Painted as a Demented Torturer by a Maniac
Episode 10 of Maniac, "The Bully" dissects a young girl named Kuriko at a park as she crushes on Yutaro. However, boys will be boys, so they spurn her, which leads to Kuriko constantly abusing a kid she's tasked with taking care of. She vents her frustrations on this shy boy, Nao, warning him not to tell. It gets very disturbing when she even goads him into getting attacked by a dog.
Notably, the anime leaves out the fact that this is a flashback; Ito's manga intersperses this journey with her and Yutaro in the present. He and Kuriko are about to marry, but she wants to exorcise her psychological demons and tell him what she did to Nao. Yutaro doesn't mind when the episode later introduces them as a couple; he forgives her. She does appear to have changed, though knowing what she did is quite disturbing.
Kuriko Becomes a Vengeful Joker in Junji Ito's Maniac
However, the big twist in both the Maniac anime and manga is that the older Kuriko is leaving Yutaro for Nao. They reconnected when he moved back to town, using his charm to seduce her. Nao and Kuriko end up marrying, and having a kid named Hiroshi. Mind you, the anime omits any insight into their romance, but the essence is still there. Shockingly, Nao leaves Kuriko, who realizes this was his revenge -- sticking her with Hiroshi, who looks just like him.
It culminates in Kuriko abusing Hiroshi, who, like Nao, is timid and always crying. He can't help but create a sympathetic figure who is tragically thrust into a nasty vendetta. All romance and love are thrown out the window, which is exacerbated by the mother justifying her actions as Nao wanting and enjoying punishment. As a result, she believes Hiroshi is a sadist who enjoys it as well, putting on makeup and heading to the same park with a maniacal smile.
The episode ends like the manga, with the mom looking like a mix of Martha Wayne-Joker from Flashpoint and Harley Quinn, taking the boy to dole out the same punishment she gave to Nao. Ultimately, it's emotional chaos, moving away from the supernatural aura of say, Tomie, as the psychopathic Kuriko repeats a vicious cycle of violence. It nods to how Jokers just can't cull their addictions, especially the Martha who lost her son and broke. In Maniac's case, Kuriko broke again once Nao left, blaming Hiroshi and opting to exact unnecessary revenge, painting her as one of Ito's nastiest monsters.