[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
Junji Ito’s “Hanging Blimp” features a brilliant moment of dark comedy. Quite near the end of the short story, the protagonist’s family huddles around their television set, watching an emergency broadcast about the apocalyptic invasion of the eponymous monsters—gargantuan sentient balloons shaped like disembodied human heads, which strangle their prey with steel cable nooses. Literally seconds after the reporter warns citizens to remain indoors, the father stands up and casually announces that he really should be getting back to the office; he has a lot of work to finish before the weekend. When his wife and children understandably object to his cavalier attitude, he arrogantly dismisses their concerns, insisting that he’s formulated a foolproof survival plan. Abandoning both rationality and the safety of his home, he sprints towards his car, raising his arms to protect his neck—and is immediately lassoed around the waist and hoisted aloft to his grisly demise.
Later, our heroine’s younger brother likewise ventures outside, albeit for a more justifiable reason: he realizes that they will eventually run out of food should they continue to shelter in place—and as the newly appointed “man of the house,” it is his responsibility to provide for the weak, helpless, vulnerable womenfolk. His overconfidence proves to be equally fatal: when he next appears, he’s been unceremoniously slain between panels—impaled by the umbrella that he wielded as an improvised weapon.
Although this social commentary is too brief and incidental to the plot to qualify as a proper theme, it is nevertheless pointed and purposeful. Indeed, the presence of such mundane horrors as machismo, patriarchy, and toxic masculinity enriches the narrative, grounding the (potentially absurd) premise by juxtaposing its supernatural elements with comparatively ordinary, recognizable, relatable conflicts and characterization. Additionally, these relatively humorous (but still macabre) scenes prevent the tone from becoming excessively monotonous, alleviating the relentless tension by lending the otherwise oppressively bleak scenario some much-needed levity—which, in turn, lowers the reader’s guard, thus making the tale’s tragic conclusion significantly more impactful.
While fans tend to reductively emphasize “Hanging Blimp’s” grotesque, nightmarish imagery—particularly the iconic visual of a schoolgirl’s skull melting into a misshapen blob that resembles a deflated soccer ball—its satirical subtext is what truly elevates it. As insightful, subversive, and culturally relevant as it is disturbing, the manga transcends such superficial genre trappings as gore, jump scares, and a creepy atmosphere. These surface-level pleasures are, of course, perfectly enjoyable, but they do not exist in a vacuum; their function is to support the work’s underlying meaning.
And any critical analysis that omits this deeper context is inherently incomplete.
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