It’s a common refrain in late-teen shonen comics that humans are an unforgivably gross scourge upon the earth — nasty, brutish, selfish, etc. Series like “Death Note” and “Attack On Titan” have their teen heroes snarling that sort of nihilism to the wind. Seinan comics (manga intended for an older audiences) tend to temper that refrain: adulthood and humanity is embarrassing, but the world doles out moments of grace sometimes.
“Nijigahara Holograph” rests somewhere between, like Bret Easton Ellis in a schoolyard horror. Readers take heed: people are incredibly cruel in here, and they don’t need the gore of a slasher flick. It’s one of Japanese comic artist Inio Asano’s earliest graphic novels, but from the way Asano braids the various narrative threads together, you can already tell he’s one of the most talented comic artists working today.
The tone here feels similar to his more recent cult hits like “Oyasumi Pun Pun,” and less like the lighter, funnier “Solanin.” Schoolchildren obsess over a supposed beast living in the sewers behind their campus. Dead bodies are found, and the bullies appoint their sacrifices for the tunnel’s curse. Ten years later, the victims and perpetrators are still reeling from the consequences. It’s all expertly and ambitiously tied together across time leaps and fragments.
Asano may not always forgive his crueler characters under the warm blanket of “sympathy,” but he always knows where their yearnings lie. He writes (in his early works, anyway) in a vein of realism that urgently confesses his characters’ dirtiest sins. Some authors, like Tom Spanbauer and Chuck Palahniuk, call that dangerous writing.
Matt Thorn’s translation of “Nijigahara Holograph” will be released by Fantagraphics and hit bookshelves soon.