Wednesday, November 5, 2014


NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH by Inio Asano, published by Fantagraphics.

One of the hosts of my favorite comics podcast – Jeff Lester of Wait, What? – extolled the wonders of Nijigahara Holograph, by Inio Asano, published by Fantagraphics Books, in an episode a number of months back.  So, I put it on my “to-read” list, an ever-expanding document that threatens to become overwhelming if I don’t find a way to subvert time.  [calling on the “Guardians of Forever”]  I finally got a chance to read it, and it is some kind of an amazing book. 

Revolving around a group of former classmates at a local elementary school in Japan, the story is told through flashbacks that enhance and reveal the contemporary narrative, roughly ten years on.  In a tunnel beneath the school, a legend has grown that a monster dwells there, and its ascension into the light will summon the end of the world.  This fear is cemented in the children’s minds when one of the students’ mothers, Arié Kimura’s mother, is found dead there.  This is the catalyst for a series of events that touches everyone in this class and reverberates across the years. 

The dead woman’s daughter gets pushed down a well into the tunnel and is hospitalized with a coma for years.  The bully who was sweet on her goes over the edge and becomes a prime suspect for a murder in the present-day narrative, a suspect pursued by a former classmate whom he cut with a knife, when they were younger, after Arié, the dead woman’s daughter, was injured.  And the links between the present and the past – like strands of webbing hidden in the harsh light of a summer’s day – intertwine more sharply, as the narrative pushes forward.  Tangential stories, subplots that appear, on the surface, to be off-hand remarks used to explain away a teacher’s injury (Miss Sakaki and the bandages around her head and one eye) or to merely flesh out another character, all come back around to impact the narrative with an importance thought to be lacking in the initial revelation. 

Like a David Lynch film, plot threads revolve around one another, like mists on a cold Halloween night, closing in on clarity, only to pull away at the last minute.  It leaves a reader (or it left me, at least) feeling as if one had managed to glimpse the answer from the corner of one’s vision, only to find it gone once one turns toward it.  Throughout it all the images of butterflies hovers at the fringes of the narrative, a metaphor of the fragility of life and its transformational nature, evidenced by characters we perceive in one way, only to have them veer off in chillingly unexpected directions, making choices that affect others in permanent and devastating ways.  And, in the end, Nijigahara Holograph wends its way through a magical realistic climax – if it can be called a proper climax – that is terribly satisfying, while also offering more questions – questions that feel as if they might be answered with subsequent readings. 

I should also note that the art by Asano is intricate without being claustrophobic. The inkwork is very precise and the use of shading throughout enhances the mood of this book.  But scenes and images and figures never feel cluttered – it all feels “just right.”  And the art is beautiful.  At times, photographs are used (or appear to be used) as backgrounds, with the figures and other ancillary aspects drawn over these filtered images.  The first time I encountered this technique, it was a bit jarring, but as I moved through the book, I became accustomed to it and, since it was used only sparingly, found that it worked quite well and even added to the overall feel of the book. 

If you enjoy manga, or you just enjoy good comics – the more quirky and offbeat the better – and are not easily offended (because there are scenes in here that are unsettling, for the violence or the sexual tension involved), then I cannot recommend Nijigahara Holograph enough.  It’s a fairly quick read, for a 300-page graphic novel, but a book that would certainly be rewarded with multiple re-reads.  Check it out here, from Fantagraphics.  

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