Nijigahara Holograph: Memory is the Hell You Carry With You

Nijigahara Holograph is a comic book by Inio Asano published for the first time in English by Fantagraphics.  It is currently available for pre-order and will be available soon at whereever fine comic books are sold. This is part of a three part series on the book.  The other two parts will deal with Beauty and Violence respectively. 

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The above is an image from Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph.  This image explains the core motif on which Asano’s human hellscape nails itself.  The story as it is explained above is that a beautiful girl is sent to a village by god, to prophesize on the doom that a monster living there will bring, but the people rather than addressing the monster, are so scared of the beautiful girl that they cut off her head and feed her to the monster, who as the cycle repeats grow larger and larger.  Feeding upon the repressed fear and unaddressed traumas of the village people.  In Nijigahara Holograph the girl represents the horrific divine beauty that the community can not process.  She instantly drives anyone who sees her face to madness.  Not because she is beautiful.  But because she represents beauty in its perfection.  It’s terrible perfection, which represents an outside world and a God who would put a monster under a village in the first place, and damn the villagers to a life away from beauty and within monsters.

Life in Nijigahara Holograph is depicted through the management of trauma and memory.  Adults become adults by what precious things they are stripped of as children, and how well they function as adults is down to just how well they can deny those memories.

Everyone in Nijigahara assumes that everyone else just forgets, and so they should as well.  But in actuality, no one in Nijigahara forgets, but because they never are able to exorcise the monster that is their separate memories they are forced through an unending cycle of hell and abuse.  A good example of this is when Kyoko Sakaki, the ex-teacher takes her husband that she is divorcing to an embankment where she foiled a rape of one of her students at the cost of her own eye.  She stands with her husband right there in the place of the most terrible event of her life.

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She is talking about how she can never forget this horrible moment that has happened to her, and Asano has put literal distance between her and her family, to show how her inability to reconcile this horror has cost her her ability to function within her family.  She explains to her husband that his ability to go on through life ignoring these memories(this monster), is why she resents him.

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In Nijigahara, emotions are expressed with no expectation of them either being heard or mattering.  Even though she has expressed the truly dark depths to which these memories have caused her pain, and caused her to hate her family, neither her nor her husband move.  In fact, Asano repeats the same panel frozen four times.  The only thing moving is Maki on a Vespa zooming past in the background uncaring or noticing, and Sakaki and her husband’s child who is being ignored by both parents.  This is a devastating page particularly when coupled with it’s follow-up page:

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Do you see that?  The bruises on the child’s arm?  The abuse and neglect visited upon the child because of the trauma of memories that have warped their parents and broken them.  In this page is the cycles of memory, trauma, and abuse, which inform the lives of every character in Nijigahara Holograph.  This is the monster in the tunnel–which if you had any doubts about that, the panel right before the child’s bruised arm is the dark brooding tunnel that we’ve been told holds a monster that will one day destroy the world.

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The origin of Nijigahara as given with the book is that it is the plane of the rainbow.  A rainbow, which is this happy prism of light that in some faiths is meant to be a promise of God’s grace.  But there is a darker origin behind that, which is that Nijigahara also means: Plain of the Two Children.  It got that name because sometimes a Kudan(cow with a human face) would appear to prophesied doom, and the people would kill the Kudan and send it down the river.  And the Nijigahara Embankment is where, after doing that two Kudan children would always appear.  The symbolism at play here isn’t hard to deconstruct.  That the shiny happy holograph of the rainbow is the disguise for a world where girls disappear, and the brutality and horror of one generation is magnified upon the preceding generation.

Characters like Amahiko and Sakaki live in hell because they are aware of this copy world, this horrible timeline, but are unable to bring about it’s end.  They are constantly as in a nightmare that they can’t wake up from.

The magic of Nijigahara Holograph is how understated and subtle the depths of all of this is conveyed.  Asano both through his panel construction and how he structures narrative focus, masterfully crafts a spiraling never ending hell where one layer merely lays atop another more horrible one.  There are characters like Makato and Khota who are so warped by the burden of the hell that they live in, that they seem to become insane monsters with no conscience.  But you would be wrong to think they are the monsters living in the tunnel.  The sinister oppositional force in Nijigahara is well hidden, and not really the emphasis of the book as a whole.  But the monster’s identity and reveal is another example of the understated qualities of this unfettered howl of a book.

You don’t need to play count the Evangelion quotes and references to understand the apocalyptic beauty that scars the pages of this book and testifies to Asano’s brilliance as an artist..

This is the best comic book that will come out this year in comics, and even if you have read it before in scanlation, it is a book that gets richer with every time it’s experienced.  I usually don’t say that kind of thing, because it feels like I’m selling something, and I’m not interested in what you do as a consumer.  So I’m not saying this in a “go buy this” kind of way.  I’m saying it in a, I can’t help myself from saying it as a qualitative statement about the experience of reading this book.

6 comments
  1. Jeff said:

    Thank you for this. I do have a tendency to be a consumerist proselytizer so I feel a bit like the boy who cried wolf on this one. But you’re right — not only is this the best comic book to come out this year in comics, but I think it could really be one of the best books of the year, period. I really wish I could get it in front of a literary critic with some pull.

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