This time on “Keeping It Ghastly” I’ll be crawling out of the catacombs of my English-language horror manga collection and going over something a little more recent – Inio Asano’s 2006 horror/drama Nijigahara Holograph.
As part of the selective manga titles published by Fantagraphics Books, Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph fits right in alongside Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream, and Other Stories and Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. This is, quite simply, an exceptional story. The concept is in many ways a high concept sci-fi horror (which is very rare), and a psychological horror/ drama in the realm of a ghost story melded with Donnie Darko.
“Even as butterflies ominously proliferate in town, the rumor of a mysterious creature lurking in the tunnel behind the school spreads among the children. When the body of Arié Kimura’s mother is found by this tunnel’s entrance, next to apparently human traces, the legend seems to be confirmed. Is the end of the world coming? In order to appease the wrath of the beast, the children decide to offer it a sacrifice: The unfortunate Arié, whom they believe to be the cause of the curse, is shoved into a well that leads to the Nijigahara tunnel an act that in turns pushes Komatsuzaki, the budding thug who has carried a torch for Arié for a while already, entirely over the edge.” This is the introduction that Fantagraphics gives Nijigahara Holograph, but as anyone who has read it can attest to, this is barely the first layer of Asano’s onion of a story.
Like Grant Morrison’s The Filth, this is a book that ill require several reads before you begin to really grasp what is happening. Unlike The Filth, the plot of Nijigahara Holograph does gradually make cohesive sense. Of the four times that I read it cover to cover there wasn’t a single time that I felt like I was reading the book for the first time. Nijigahara Holograph just kept getting better the more you read it. Inio Asano has very effectively created a narrative that is literally elliptical, but reveals its nature in such a way that the reader isn’t sure they are really reading a story that ended exactly where it began. Again, think Donnie Darko. And I mean it when I say that this story is elliptical. From personal experience this is a book whose chapters can be read in reverse order and the same plot threads will unfold. Nijigahara Holograph is that well crafted.
Inio Asano makes great use of framing to create an expansive and tangible, but claustrophobic, world. As the reader travels around town through a complicated web of interconnected lives Asano’s art selectively reveals faces, a necklace and layers of symbolism. The soft use of tones practically makes the reader feel the hot, hazy Japanese summer. At the same time it underplays the nefariousness of what is happening to everyone.
The implications of the big twist that drives Nijigahara Holograph is another matter entirely. (SPOILERS) In comparing this book to the plot of Donnie Darko, I would leave out the complexity of what is effectively time travel by so many background characters, but to compare it to Another, would leave out the unnerving depths that a curse can take. But are the characters stuck on a mobius strip of time by God, an abused woman’s revenge, a monster underneath a local playground? (EXTREME SPOILERS) To effectively summarize: Amahiko, whom the mobius follows, has a blood mother who is his sister, whom he grew up apart from but meets later in life and rapes, thus she gives birth to herself and a son, who is her brother. At the same time Amahiko grows up apart from his sister whom he meets later in life but doesn’t rape, thus growing to be an old man who meets the alternative time line version of himself as birthed by his sister. The necklace they possess is passed off and the story continues. At least that’s one interpretation.
Nijigahara Holograph did very well upon its North America release in 2014. At the time of its premier it made #6 on the New York Times Best Seller list of manga for the week of March 23rd. The talents of Matt Thorn were chosen to translate Asano’s masterpiece, fresh off his work on Fantagraphics’ A Drunken Dream, and Other Stories. This coupled with a mix of Fantagraphics’ own publicity and an internet full of wonderful comic book nerds, meant that the fan buzz for this title was and remains intense. Nijigahara Holograph is a genre bending horror title that will not be going out of print in the near future.