Nijigahara Holograph

Nijigahara HolographCreator: Inio Asano
U.S. publisher: Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 9781606995839
Released: March 2014
Original release: 2006

Nijigahara Holograph, the third manga by Inio Asano to have been licensed in English, was one of my most highly anticipated manga releases for 2014. Originally published in Japan in 2006, Fantagraphics’ English-language edition is collected in an attractive, large-trim hardcover much like its other manga releases. I had previously read and greatly enjoyed Asano’s other manga currently available in English—What a Wonderful World! and Solanin, both published by Viz Media—so I was naturally interested in Nijigahara Holograph. But after seeing an early preview of the manga, I knew that I would need to read it no matter what. The sequence, taken from near the end of Nijigahara Holograph, was so chilling and unsettling and at the same time so striking and beautiful that it left a huge impression on me. I couldn’t get that short segment of Nijigahara Holograph out of my mind, my anticipation only growing stronger the closer the manga’s release date came.

Eleven years ago Arie Kimura, a young girl bullied by her classmates, fell down a well. As a result of her injuries she has been in a coma ever since. She told a story about a monster that lived in a tunnel along the Nijigahara embankment that would bring the world to an end, which terrified the other children. Arie’s accident is only one small part of an ongoing pattern of fear and violence. It isn’t a pleasant memory for anyone involved. Her friends, classmates, teachers, and family members have continued living their lives, but even more than a decade later they still can’t escape their pasts and the consequences of their actions. Some of them live in denial while others have tried to move on and to forget, but for some that is a complete impossibility. They have no choice but to remember, tormented with the knowledge of the suffering and pain caused by the unnecessary tragedy. The story of the monster in the tunnel may be more real than any of them could have imagined.

Nijigahara Holograph is a dark and disconcerting work. The manga deals with some very heavy subjects: suicide, incest, abuse, and sexual and physical violence, among many other serious matters. Instead of being sanitized or romanticized, Asano has created an intensely disturbing tale in which all of these elements are incorporated and intertwined. Nijigahara Holograph is open to several interpretations. It’s dreamlike ambiguity makes it difficult to determine just how much of Nijigahara Holograph is real and how much of it is simply the product of the damaged psyches of the characters. It cold be a waking nightmare, it could be some sort of afterlife, or it could all be true. It would almost be comforting if Nijigahara Holograph was a portrayal of hell or purgatory; the possibility that it shows the characters’ reality is terrible to contemplate. But life isn’t always pretty and sweet, and it certainly isn’t in Nijigahara Holograph where innocence, minds, and bodies have been shattered.

As horrifying and distressing as Nijigahara Holograph is, the manga is also extraordinarily compelling and engaging. It is both brutal and beautiful. Nijigahara Holograph is also remarkably complex and layered—the characters, their lives, and their stories connect and overlap, often in unexpected and surprising ways. This is reinforced by Asano’s artwork. Visual cues are incorporated throughout Nijigahara Holograph which tie the narrative together, drawing upon the similarities between the characters and their circumstances. The parallels found in both the artwork and the story of Nijigahara Holograph are marvelously effective, underscoring the ever-increasing sense of despair as the characters are caught in a never-ending cycle of anguish and misery. Nijigahara Holograph is a work that can be and maybe even should be read several times. The clues are all there from the very beginning, but many of the subtle connections can only be seen in retrospect. It’s challenging and not always an easy read, but Nijigahara Holograph is definitely a manga that I’ll be thinking about for quite some time.

My Week in Manga: March 11-March 17, 2013

My News and Reviews

Two reviews for you all this past week! First up was my review of Edogawa Rampo’s novella Strange Tale of Panorama Island. I enjoyed it quite a bit and am now even more excited for the release of Suehiro Maruo’s manga adaptation of the story, which looks like it will actually be published this year. (I’ve been waiting since 2009.) The second review posted was my monthly Blade of the Immortal review—Blade of the Immortal, Volume 19: Badger Hole. In this volume the women of the series get a moment to shine before the introduction of a new character diverts readers’ attention.

The biggest manga news from last week is that the digital manga service JManga will be shutting down. JManga7 is already gone, but more information regarding JManga’s closure (termination schedule, refunds, FAQs, etc.) can be found here. I personally never got around to using JManga (I still have plenty of print manga keeping me busy), but I am still sad to see the service go.

In happier news, Kuriousity takes a quick look at a couple of One Peace Books’ upcoming manga: Black Bard and Smuggler. Smuggler was previously published by Tokyopop, but Black Bard is a new English license. I’m actually somewhat interested in both titles, but especially in Black Bard since it will be an omnibus release and has a music connection, too. Over at All About Manga, Daniella Orihuela-Gruber takes on a 30 Day Yaoi Challenge. Check out the first post/review to learn more about the project and what’s in store for Daniella and All About Manga readers.

Quick Takes

Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl, Omnibus 2 written by Satoru Akahori and illustrated by Yukimaru Katsura. Hazumu is still trying to get used to being a girl, but in the second omnibus she has even more pressing concerns to deal with. While I vaguely enjoyed reading Kashimashi, it hasn’t really left much of an impression. As strange and original as Kashimashi tries to be, it ends up feeling very derivative. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, but Yasuna (one of the love interests) reminds me a lot of Tomoyo from Cardcaptor Sakura in both character design and personality. Seven Seas also made the bizarre decision to include the translation notes for the entire series in the second omnibus.

Paradise Kiss, Part 3 by Ai Yazawa. I continue to be impressed by the characterizations and complicated relationships found in Yazawa’s manga. Her characters come complete with flaws and are much more interesting because of it. In Paradise Kiss I was particularly pleased to see Yukari’s development and growth as a person. In the beginning, she frequently annoyed me, but as she matures I found her to be a more sympathetic character. Part 3 of the series also spends a little bit of time exploring Isabella’s backstory, which made me happy. (This also includes seeing George as a dapper young boy.) I was very satisfied with the ending of Paradise Kiss. It might not be the happily ever after that some readers hope for, but I think it was the right one and true to the characters.

Solanin by Inio Asano. In the afterword, Asano describes the characters of Solanin as “just your average 20-somethings,” with nothing particularly noteworthy about them. Meiko is a recent graduate who hates her office lady job. And so she quits, even though her savings won’t last that long. Her live-in boyfriend Naruo is faced with a similar dilemma: he doesn’t mind his job as an illustrator, but he would be much happier if his band could make it big. Searching for their place in the world, Meiko, Naruo, and their friends aren’t quite ready to become adults. Solanin is largely a melancholic work, but it has just the right touch of humor and hope to keep the manga from becoming too depressing.

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai by Stan Sakai. In 2009, Sakai celebrated the 25th anniversary of his marvelous series Usagi Yojimbo. As part of that celebration, Yokai was published as a standalone graphic novel. Although Yokai is written in such a way that newcomers to the series can approach it, established fans will probably appreciate it more. Fans of yokai will also get a kick out of the volume as Usagi encounters a fair number of yokai before the story is through. Which, considering the title, probably isn’t that surprising. What sets Yokai apart from the rest of Usagi Yojimbo is that it is Sakai’s first story to be completely hand-painted in watercolor. The volume also includes a nice interview with Sakai discussing a little about yokai the creation of the work.

My Week in Manga: April 22-April 28, 2011

My News and Reviews

I’m feeling lazy this week (not that that’s really anything new) and so I will be brief. I posted a few reviews of interest this past week. The first was Yasunari’s Kawabata’s novel Thousand Cranes which was one of three works to be cited when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. I read it as part of the Japanese Literature Book Group. I also reviewed Blade of the Immortal, Volume 6: Dark Shadows by Hiroaki Samura. Blade of the Immortal is one of my favorite manga and Dark Shadows marks the beginning of the second major story arc in the series. Finally, over at Experiments in Reading, I reviewed Ernest Cline’s debut novel Ready Player One, which is a treasure trove of geeky pop culture references. Among many other things, Ultraman plays a significant role and a couple of the important secondary characters happen to be hikikomori. It’s not breaking any new ground, but it is a lot of fun. I should also mention that I’ve reorganized the Review Index, separating the manga reviews from the non-manga reviews. Oh! And my next manga giveaway will begin this coming Wednesday!

Quick Takes

Gravitation Collection, Volume 6 (equivalent to Volumes 11-12) by Maki Murakami. I get the feeling that Gravitation was a series that was stretched out a little too long. I did like this volume better than the previous one, but I still greatly prefer the earlier books in the series. While it certainly has its moments, this final volume isn’t nearly as outrageous as a whole. I find this to be both a good and a bad thing. The art has gotten cleaner, but at the same time Shuichi seems to get younger and younger in appearance as the series progresses. This collection is a decent ending to the series. Unfortunately, in order to make it work, Murakami has to force characters to change their personalities and their motivations.

What a Wonderful World!, Volume 1-2 by Inio Asano. What a Wonderful World! is told through a series of vaguely interconnected stories and vignettes. Visual cues carry over from one story to another and many of the characters make reappearances. Most but not all of the characters are twenty-somethings struggling to find a balance between pursuing their dreams and reality, or simply coming to the realization and accepting (or not) that their dreams will never be fulfilled in the ways that they want. It can get a bit angsty at times, but it’s my kind of angst. The stories all have a somewhat surreal quality to them although some are a bit more obvious about it than others. It can be a little strange at times, but I really enjoyed this short manga series.

Works by Eriko Tadeno. I don’t think I’ve ever read another manga quite like Works. Sure, it’s yuri, but it also features honest-to-goodness lesbian relationships between adult women. I haven’t come across this before and it’s a shame that it is so uncommon in the manga that has made it into English translation. Works collects four stories (two of which focus on the same couple) plus a few extras. Even the cover art has a story behind it. The stories are short and sweet and, yes, include sex. But the sex is an extension of the development of the characters and their relationships. The intimacy feels genuine. The only drawback to Works is that it’s over too soon and that I want to read more.

Wolf’s Rain, Volume 1 written by Keiko Nobumoto and illustrated by Toshitsugu Iida. I have never seen the Wolf’s Rain anime on which the two-volume Wolf’s Rain manga series was based. Maybe that’s why I was so frustrated by this first volume. The plot is a mess and the pacing a wreck. Perhaps reading the second volume is necessary to understand what is going on in the first. Actually, I almost wonder if the series would have done better with more volumes in order to more fully explore the story elements introduce. As it is, things feel very rushed and sometimes even nonsensical. I did like the character designs, though. And I am interested enough in the world of Wolf’s Rain to consider checking out the anime series instead.

Sound of the Sky directed by Mamoru Kanbe. The 1121st Platoon, consisting of four teenage girls, is stationed out in the middle of nowhere making the war feel very distant. They do seem awfully young to be fully fledged military recruits, but maybe that just goes to show how unfortunate the world’s situation is. The series follows the girl’s day to day lives which mostly consist of trying to maintain good relations with the locals. Personally, I would have liked to have seen a little more attention given to the buglers’ training, but that’s mostly because I’m a musician myself. It’s a fairly lighthearted series on the surface, reinforced by the cute art style, but Sound of the Sky certainly has some very dark moments.