Episode 3 of Junji Ito Maniac starts with Kazuko in her room, scared and refusing to leave. We then cut back one month ago. A woman called Terumi is found hung outside. There’s no suicide note but this woman is well-known in the entertainment industry. She’s an idol and incredibly popular. Her death ripples across school, with many pointing fingers at her boyfriend.
However, reports of Terumi’s head floating above the forest starts to gain traction. It spreads across school but Kazuyo is not convinced. Shiraishi phones that night though and reveals that Terumi’s been spotted again, moving north slowly.
That night, Kazuko shows up on her own at the phone booth where she finds the rumours are true. Terumi’s giant head floats lazily through the air, eventually arriving at a well in the forest. Shiraishi is there, on top of a tree, and attempting to get her down.
However, a noose inexplicably shows up and he ends up hanging myself, his head suddenly ballooning to the same size as Terumi’s. The two giant balloons begin to kiss, bumping back and forth in the air.
In the morning, things grow even weirder. More human heads with ropes dangling on them happen to be up in the air. They slowly float down, and what originally appeared to be hot air balloons, materializes into something much worse.
The four girls watch and eventually run for cover, as the ropes have nooses hung on the end, intending to string up the girls and kill them. These heads though are inexplicably linked to the human counterparts, and killing the head (like some guy does with a crossbow) also kills the human counterpart too.
This phenomenon gets worse, with news anchors telling everyone to stay inside and not risk getting close to these heads. Kazuko’s father and brother both fall victim to it, attempting to leave the house. When Kazuko’s mother just wanders outside and lets the noose take her, Kazuko is all alone. Eventually she allows the balloon to take her.
The Episode Review
Hanging Balloons is a fascinating tale of suicide and how news of one such suicide can spread across multiple teens and cause the same thing. This domino effect has been well documented in Japan before, with spikes in suicides within a 10 day period of celebrity suicides.
Within this story, Terumi’s death is a national shock and Kazuko is clearly mourning and grieving the loss of her best friend. When everyone else turns into balloons and she’s left alone to try and process her feelings, this is the perfect analogy for showcasing this feeling of being alone and not able to speak to anyone.
Of course, the horror elements seep into this as well and it’s definitely creepy seeing these balloons floating around and trying to grab their victims. This is a weird, tragic and ultimately very thematic tale that translates beautifully to anime format.
You can read our full season review for Junji Ito: Maniac here!