Writer/Artist: Inio Asano
Inio Asano is a Japanese manga artist who is known for his many works telling unique stories focused on both good and (very very) bad parts in life. His often heartbreaking stories are illustrated in his beautiful, realistic style of art. From 2003 to 2005 he created Nijigahara Holograph and this got published by Fantagraphic Books in 2014. The format of this book, a big hardcover, does not automatically remind of manga but rather an indie graphic novel that happens to be read from right to left. The size is somewhere between an A5 and A4 with stark white pages that frame Asano's art perfectly. The bigger his art, the better.
Explaining the story of Nijigahara Holograph is difficult since it is like something I have never read before. Getting too deep into the story here would spoil the experience of reading this for the first time. The plot is however so interesting, it is also hard to not talk about. (If you need inspiration for a book club, I highly recommend this one because it will for sure create some conversation.) In this review I want to express my feelings about the book, without picking apart the story.
As we get introduced to the characters and their town it becomes immediately clear that this is no run of the mill place in Japan, despite most of them living a very regular life. There is this tunnel near a park called Nijigahara that seems to (have) trigger(ed) many events and emotions for the inhabitants of this town. The tunnel is described as dark and mysterious with a beautiful twist: it appears to erupt (glowing) butterflies.
One of the main aspects that make this story so interesting, is the timeline. As I finished reading, I was instantly reminded by the Tenth Doctor's infamous quote: “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.” Asano succeeds perfectly in making past events intertwine with the current as we (seem to) go back and forward between the main characters' school and work lives. I immediately went back to the beginning of the story, curious about how it all tied together.
The emotions and events triggered by the tunnel practically always turn violent, in some instances extremely so. During my read through I gasped and was often dumbfounded by the sudden dark turns this story took. This is an exceptionally horrific slice of life that should be digested with caution. Do not pick up this book if you're sensitive to being devastated. As remarked in the synopsis on the back, with this psychological horror story Asano delves into David Lynchian territory. Inio Asano is also heavy on mentioning symbolic tokens that play a significant part in the story but never get explained. There is a lot for the reader to interpret by themselves, which can be interesting for one and confusing for the other. This might be something to take into consideration when thinking about getting this book. Combine the violence, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey and interesting thoroughly thought out characters and I am indeed reminded of the recipe that created the amazing show Twin Peaks.
The fact that these violent events seem to be connected to the tunnel also reminded me of Stephen King's storytelling, where an unknown entity or general atmosphere make people do things that are questionable for the reader but seem perfectly normal to the character.
Comparisons aside, Inio Asano doesn't feel inspired by these other amazing creators and seems to really create his own genre of manga, taking it to unseen levels. While it is not the most straight forward horror story, this seems like a perfect read for the spookiest month of the year. This is not an easy read, but so worth it once you decide to go for it.