Oh, Hideshi Hino. Don’t make me take back all the nasty things I said about you! Alright fine, you big bully. You just had to write Hino Horror Vol 5: Living Corpse didn’t you!
If you started reading Keeping It Ghastly to find the scary and brutal best of Japanese comics that have made it across the pond, then congratulations you got what I was going for. Lately though, as I’ve been going further back into my bookshelf, I’ve been forced to reevaluate the kind of Japanese horror that has permeated the American comic book industry. Yes, there are the Hellsings and Trinity Bloods, the Gantz-s and Battle Royals, but an understated majority of Japanese horror that has made it to these shores is steeped in horror-tragedy. It’s pointless to argue against the fact that American audiences love antiheroes. Established canon ala Blood: The Last Vampire has proven that we can’t get enough. That’s why the premier of Blood the Last Vampire at Anime Boston 2005 was such a huge success at all 3 late night showings! (Seriously, packed theaters for all showings of the scare-the-nurse anime with the old-school monstrous vampires. It was incredible each and every time me and my 12 year old brother snuck down to see it). Fan art for franchises like Vampire Hunter D, or Devilman even shows a merger of East-meets-West that further verifies our love of of action heroes with a spotty past. And, lets be honest, these comics are wonderful for all the reasons that American audiences love similarly tortured characters like Hellboy, Severus Snape and Loki. Like Spider Jerusalem said in vol 4 Transmetropolitan: The New Scum, “Being a bastard works”.
Except when it doesn’t. Recently I’ve talked about such comics as Orochi: Blood and Hino Horror Vol 2: Bug Boy. The down, dirty bastards of these stories have hardly been the self assured rebels of popular punk, although they have certainly been self made. More and more writing for this column I have been getting the impression that in the 80s-00s there was a period of adjustment for the English publishing companies. Prior to the glut of manga brought on by Tokyopop, Viz and their various imprints there was more of an effort to bring comics which had proven their popularity in Japan over to the states with the hope that they would prove similarly successful. Sometimes it worked. Junji Ito, originally published in 2001 in the US, is about to receive another revival thanks to Viz, while Osamu Tesuka and Shigeru Mizuki with their horror-realism contributions remains a hot ticket for English companies like Vertical Manga and Drawn and Quarterly. Other translations were more of a Pyrrhic victory. Dark Horse released the Hino Horror series Vol 1 in 2004 at the same time that other horror series such as Juni Ito’s Museum of Horror and Kazuo Umezu’s Scary Book series were released. These titles, steeped deeply in the pitfalls of humanism with little to do with world changing events, have noticeably not received other editions since their original publications. And in the book publishing world, where instance success can make or break a genre’s success, that doesn’t bode well. In other words, get these small-picture books while you still can. Their big-picture plot alternative are going to be far easier to acquire in the long run.
Still, one can’t help but be impressed that Hideshi Hino made it to America. Hino Horror Vol 5: Living Corpse is yet another foray of the author into the world of human desire versus nature. Simply put, the plot of Living Corpse revolves around the question, “If you could prolong your death, how would your remaining time be spent”? According to Hino, a prolonged life in Living Corpse is a demeaning, inhumane hell.
As the author reflects at the end of the book, Hino wrote this plot while recovering from a serious illness that required hospitalization. While his wife and 2 children were trying to live their lives alongside a husband and father who was deathly ill, Hino had to continue to earn a living drawing comics despite the very real physical pain it caused him. Living Corpse is impressive in that it not only ponders what an extended life could be like akin to Hino’s painful existence post-hospitalization. Hino wonders what full consciousness at the time death would be like. Being able to rationalize everything that is happening as his body rots and disintegrates, the main character carries the audience through the 5 stages of loss: denial, anger, bargaining, grief, and acceptance. In the end, like Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, the protagonist in Living Corpse accepts his dissolution of self. But here Hino pushes beyond the classic tragedy of death and immortalizes himself.
(Spoilers) Even as the author was himself technically dying, he realizes that his character in Living Corpse must keep going. As the book concludes in the last 6 pages, the protagonist of Living Corpse dissolves completely from existence with the realization that, “This is not the end… But… the beginning.” If this facing and acceptance of inevitability isn’t the purpose of the horror genre, then I don’t know what the horror genre exists for in the first place.