Manga Review: N


Author: Inio Asano

Manga genre: Horror

Number of volumes: 1

Still in print? Yes

The blurb describes this comic as “David Lynchian”, and it’s not hard to see why. Nijigahara Holograph bears some distinctive similarities with the movie Mulholland Drive. There is a little tin box that is passed between differently aged versions of the same character (yes, believe it) – a box that, when opened, will grant the owner a single wish. Even if that wish is the end of the world itself.

In a sleepy small town, where time seems to stand still. Where everyone’s past is linked to everyone else’s, and evil simmers just below the surface. Here, now, something is about to happen. There is an unusually high number of butterflies hatching all over town, and a girl who has slept for ten years is about to wake up. And her former classmates are about to face a reckoning…

On the surface, Nijigahara Holograph could be the story of a monster. A monster that lives inside the open drainage tunnel at the Nijigahara embankment, invented by Arie, a lonely little girl, and Makoto, the older boy who has an unhealthy crush on her. However, their story becomes so real to Arie that it spirals out of her control, and she unknowingly traps herself in it. The monster in Arie’s story requires a human sacrifice to be placated, and by convincing her classmates that the monster is real, she also sets herself up as the obvious sacrifice. In a sinister flashback sequence, we see her classmates linking hands, singing the song from a children’s game as they force Arie to walk backwards…Straight into a well that leads to the Nijigahara waterway, where she’s told them the monster lives. As a result of the injuries from her fall, Arie ends up in a coma. Ten years later, when the story starts – or does it? – she still hasn’t woken up.

Arie isn’t alone in being bullied – in an eerily similar sequence, another main character, Amahiko, is forced off the roof of his elementary school in Tokyo. His classmates join hands, since the same song, and walk towards him until the steps off the edge. Amahiko, in a strange way, almost ends up taking Arie’s place in the class as their next bullying victim – he even transfers into the school right after her “accident”, and is puzzled when he’s told to take the empty desk – because there are two. The second desk is Arie’s, left there in the hope that she will wake up and return.

So you can also say that Nijigahara Holograph is a story about bullying, and its aftereffects – both on those who were bullied, and the bullies themselves. Because there is also Kohta, the class bully – hopelessly in love with Arie, he wants to protect her. Not just from their classmates, but from her own father, who Kohta senses is dangerously attracted to his daughter. But, in his rage at having failed to prevent her “accident” at the hands of his friends, Kohta goes too far.

Kohta ends up being thrown down the well himself, and though he wakes up, the head-injury he sustains has changed him. Now, Kohta has trouble remembering things, and he becomes a slow, docile adult. Still, there is still rage inside of him, even if Kohta himself isn’t too sure why that is… And, almost inevitably, Kohta finds himself becoming the monster from his childhood, as he is forced into the waterway, hiding there after he commits his first murder.

On the very first page of this manga, there is a picture of new-born twins, and twins, we slowly come to realise, are a recurring theme in this manga. Sakaki-san, the children’s teacher, becomes the mother of twins, and two of the characters, whose paths never really cross, are twins who were separated at a very young age. Twins can be said to reflect each other, and there are several “twinned” pages, too, in this manga – such as the upturned umbrella in the parking lot where Kohta kills his boss, mirroring the upturned umbrella when Makoto assaults Arie at the embankment.

This is a story that defies easy explanations, and needs more than one re-reading to be fully appreciated. Like Mulholland Drive, or Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore, this manga is a carefully crafted riddle. A story you must piece together yourself, from the fragments you’re given. Nijigahara Holograph runs on a time loop; treating time like the rings of a tree, rather than a straight line. There are points when the timeline intersects, when characters meet, or briefly see, their future or past selves. You can ask yourself, what does the box actually contain? Amahiko’s lost memories of his first family, which will “end the world” as he has known it? Or, does it contain the power to break the time loop, finally setting Amahiko’s life – and everybody else’s lives, too – on a different track?

As for the art, the style is consistently realistic, and beautiful – which makes all the violent scenes, not to mention the two rape scenes, even more disturbing. Probably Asano’s finest work since Solanin (which is very different, but also very good), Nijigahara Holograph is a fascinating, unforgettable read. Just make sure you’ve got someone to talk to afterwards.

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