Episode 2 of “Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre” shares an eerie story of a boy who lost his mother and then his whole family to a mysterious tunnel. The introductory scene missed a few slides, as was shown in the manga, which was essential to define the ending of the short story as it is left unfinished in the anime and a new story of an ice cream bus begins quite abruptly from the middle. The story of the first half, “The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel,” introduces the viewers to a mother walking with her son to the only mysterious tunnel in that village. She leaves her son standing near the tunnel as she walks on into the tunnel, only to never return as she dies on impact due to the train hitting her. The boy realizes the happenings as he witnesses his mother commit suicide. However, the train had absolutely no indication that it had gone through an accident. It is unclear if they really recovered a body for the funeral held for the boy’s mother. Their relatives come to pay condolences as the episode reveals other family members of the boy. His sister and his father, as well as the boy, are comforted by their aunt as they grieve together. This gives the viewers a little idea about the boy and his living conditions as he then lives with his sister and his father in the village.
What the beginning misses is the first few pages of the manga, where the boy grows up and returns to the tunnel in the village as the tunnel seems to be calling him back. The tunnel is situated in Demon Hill, and as ominous as those sounds, it has an even more ominous look as the adult version of the boy describes the tunnel as a jaw kept open for him to return and enter. This happens in the manga version of the short story, not the anime; the anime does not show any such thing in the episode.
According to the story, the boy, Gorou, is coaxed by his friends to join them on an adventure to explore the spooky tunnel a few years after Gorou lost his mother. As the group of four boys enters the tunnel to explore it, they witness a rather eerie atmosphere as they venture forward while telling each other the stories they have heard of the place. They come across a girl standing in the middle of the tunnel, and that spooks them all out. The boys leave Gorou behind in their panic to escape the tunnel. Gorou tried to escape as well but stopped when he heard the girl use honorifics to address him as her brother. He then realized that the girl was, in fact, his little sister Mari, who did not remember why she was in the tunnel. Gorou leaves the spooky tunnel with his sister, and they rush toward their home while Mari seems to be running a temperature. He tells his dad about the situation, and they decide to let her stay home the next day because of her sickness. Gorou also asks his father if Mari is actually missing their mother and if that is the reason for her ending up inside the tunnel.
The next day as Gorou returns from school, he faces his panicked father because Mari is missing. His father leaves immediately to search for her. As it gets late, worried Gorou searches for both of them. He ends up returning to the tunnel, and while walking forward, searching for either of his family, he comes across the flashlight his father had used. While picking up the flashlight, a drop of blood falls on Gorgeous cheek, which adds to the suspense and seriousness of the tunnel. He then comes across the Observatory and Laboratory of Cosmic Ray Research, where he finds a distraught Mari but not his father. He meets three new characters, Koyama, Professor, and Ishikura, who help him to find his father but to no avail. However, over the next few days, Mari disappears often and ends up in the Research Lab as the group of scientists call Gorou to come to pick her up. During his visit, the lab finds eerie evidence of spirits existing as they examine one of the pictures of the tunnel.
The next time Gorou is called, the tunnel and its locked spirits have started attacking the group of scientists as well as Mari and Gorou. Ishikara and Professor are the first ones to be absorbed right into the fall, leading to a sure death as Mari and Koyama are targeted next. Mari dies in a similar way while Gorou and Koyama attempt to escape the tunnel and the spirits. Koyama is the next to go as Ishikura’s body falls on her from the tunnel’s ceiling. In the anime, here, Gorou attempts to escape the tunnel, but as the spirits maliciously pass through his body, slowing him down, he gets killed in a similar way as well. Whereas, in the manga, Gorou successfully escapes the town and goes on to live with his aunt away from the village till he turns an adult. After many, many years, while discussing with his aunt about the mysterious disappearances in the village, Gorou decides to end the constant state of illness and tiredness he felt, which was similar to that of the condition the Scientists had suffered through after constant exposure to the series. He returns back to put an end to it all and surrenders himself to the tunnel as he recognizes the faces of the trapped spirits. The story in the manga metaphorically brings out the message that the ghosts of the past wears down even the strong-hearted over a period of time and that sooner or later, the person has to face their own past and deal with it. If they don’t, the past might kill them sooner than they would themselves.
The story abruptly begins a new short story surrounding an ice cream bus, completely fooling the audience and also leaving us scratching our heads as we tried to figure out the connection as well as the high jump the episode made into another story with a few minutes left for its runtime. It begins with an ice-cream bus visiting the children of the local town and also takes them for a little joyride around the town as they eat ice cream and enjoy the ride on Saturdays. The Bus is driven by a very attractive individual, which is why the parents of the children allow them to go on their little trips. This story introduces a father-son duo who have just moved in and are new to the colony. The father’s name is Sonohara, and the son is named Tomoki. Sonohara got Tomoki’s custody after his wife split up. As the duo left their apartment to socialize with the rest of the tenants and their families, they came across the famous Ice-Cream Bus and its dreamy conductor, as the mothers in the colony so described. Sonohara forbids Tomoki from having ice cream, to which Tomoki throws a big tantrum and also threatens his father with the idea of leaving him and returning to his mother.
The next Saturday, when the Ice-Cream Bus arrives yet again to take away the children for a short ride, Sonohara decides to buy Tomoki an ice cream and also lets him go on the ride against his niggling doubts about the suspicious boy and the Ice-Cream Bus. Tomoki’s story of eating a huge ice cream while riding around the town fueled the suspicious thoughts Sonohara had been having about the entire incident. The Next Saturday, when the time came for Tomoki to yet again board the Bus, Sonohara took a quick peek into the Bus and was shocked to see the kids really licking the pile of ice cream on the floor of the Bus. Their behaviors took a turn as Tomoki invited his new friends over, and Sonohara stepped on something sticky and gooey all the time after they returned from their trip. He figured out that the kids were sticky as Tomoki refused to take a bath because the kids were actually melting away at the same time.
The ending came as a major shock to Sonohara as the color of his world constantly flickered. This emphasizes how creepy the entire story is as Sonohara sways a little and enters to find the shoes of Tomoki’s friends but finds the house absolutely quiet and not the usual sound of a ruckus to distract. Sonohara rushes into Tomoki’s room only to find Tomoki licking and eating ice cream on the floor as his friends had melted away, only to become ice cream. This was a very bizarre scene as Sonohara tries to hit or jolt Tomoki a little to tell him to cut the behavior out, only for his head to fall off as he melts into ice cream as well. Meanwhile, the Ice-Cream Bus hypnotizes and takes away the lives of many children in the village as they drive away from the place. The glitch in the headlights of the Bus, as well as the deep-set and cold eyes of the ice cream man, adds a bigger dimension to the story.
The Ice-Cream story reiterates the fact our parents used to warn us repeatedly in our childhood to not eat something given by strangers or follow them when they so suggest. Well, another lesson that we got privy to was that looks can be deceiving as we saw how a handsome stranger became the reason behind the children dying. This was especially evident when all of the parents were enamored by the blinding looks of that individual in the story as they let their kids do as they pleased, ignoring all of the warning signs. It told us that physical looks weren’t a parameter to judge how a person was internally. It also introspects the idea of when kids do not listen to their parents and go ahead with what they want regardless of it being potentially harmful, they might just end up regretting their actions albeit a little too late.