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 third of a three part series on the book. The preceding sections covered the role of memory, and the role of violence, respectively.
Moreso than the other pieces, this particular article will contain spoilers, because it is dealing with one of the central ideas threaded through the entire book. And while I don’t think it is possible to have an experience reading Nijigahara Holograph spoiled, because every read it reveals itself more to you and makes whatever surprises you may have felt the first read through seem small by comparison to the overarching considerations that Asano has put into the book. But some people are more sensitive to others on these things. So there you go. Anyways. Is it ever appropriate to start a critical essay with “let’s begin”?
I start with these two pages because they have in them one of the core thematic oppositions at work through all of Nijigahara Holograph. Which is to say, the opposition of beauty and the monstrous. The depiction of the dual nature of the sublime which is at once beautiful and horrible. These natures find their homes within the book in many different forms, but principally they are depicted through the characters of Arakawa Maki(the woman in the scene above) and Kimura Arie. These two characters are the vessels through which all of the world of Nijigahara Holograph pivots.
There is a central myth in the Nijigahara Holograph of the beautiful prophet who represents the word of god, who comes to the village and tells them of a monster in the tunnel who will bring about disaster. The villagers though are so afraid of her divine beauty that they chop of her head and offer her to the monster. And then another beautiful girl, the reincarnation of the first girl, appears. And the story is repeated over and over, as the monster becomes larger and larger feeding upon the misogyny and hatred of the community at large which is creating it’s own eternal hell around itself.
This is a flashback from Makato after he failed to rape and murder the young girl Arie Kimura, who after this would be pushed down a well by her classmates, and live the bulk of the book in a coma, and becoming illuminated. It speaks to this notion of true sublime beauty as being terrifying. Sublime beauty that reminds us of our imperfections and our degrees removed from its impossibility. Almost without fail every time Arie Kimura shows up in the book, a male character tries to kill her or rape her. We see this behavior fragmented out through the rest of the story, with a culture that is shattered in degrees across this violence towards women, because of man’s perception of them as a reminder of this divine nature under which they are unable to cope. In fact it is this cycle of violence against women which powers much of the childhood trauma that the kids of Nijigahara Holograph are themselves destroyed by. In some ways you could say that misogyny is the original sin of the world of Nijigahara Holograph, and the inescapable violent hell of the world around them, comes from this continual perpetuation of violence towards women.
On the other side of things is Arakawa Maki. The monster in the well. The collector of souls. The destroyer of beauty. Maki both feeds and perpetuates this violence. She manipulates the school children to push Arie down the well, which destroys Khota because he saw himself as some great knight, some great protector of Arie. But Maki manipulates that core value to lead Khota along a path where not only does he become trapped in the hell pictured above, but he is the one that finds the necklace, which Maki gives to Amahiko, which causes him to try to rape and murder Arie, his sister(and mother), once she reveals herself to him as God. Maki is the monster in the tunnel who grows fat upon the weakness and fear of man, and it’s inability to withstand the sublime. You can actually read Nijigahara Holograph, just tracking Arakawa Maki, and have the hell that Asano has crafted become fully revealed.
This is the same kind of hell from Dante, where demon’s are attending to the damned which ostensibly want to be there, and want to be punished, because they are incapable of accepting a notion of an eternal everlasting love. They choose pain over love. It’s more immediate and more understandable. This is the decision of the community of Nijigahara Holograph. And no matter how many times the beautiful prophet re-incarnates, she will always be killed–and the cycles of abuse, violence, and trauma will continue on and on without end. And this is in the end the disaster that Arie and her earlier incarnations tried to warn of and stave off. This central drama between Arie and Maki will play out for all time. The monster who feeds off of our weakness and hatred vs. the angel who reminds us of those imperfections.
I’m not really sure what to think about both of these forces being represented by women, because there is a way you could take this where it is absolving those caught in between these two women of blame. And that notion, that all of the horrors that men do towards women and the world at large, is as a result of their powerlessness against these two different kinds of women, is a fairly destructive idea. I think that’s why it’s important to understand that though Maki has a pro-active role in the destruction of Arie–the choices and actions are always left up to someone else. She only presents scenarios in which the community is offered a choice, and it is their choice to continually act against women which damns them. The monster didn’t make Makato into a house burning murdering rapist. The community did, because of how it reacted to beauty. Maki only organizes and tends to these impulses to direct them toward the end of perpetuating the hell that they have chosen. So if anything, I think Nijigahara Holograph acts as a criticism of our conception of beauty as something to react fearfully to. Violently to. And because we’ve feminized beauty, women take on these aspects for men, which for them, justify on some level the horrors they visit upon women. Our notion of beauty as something to control in some way, because the sublime horror of that which holds us in awe, but which we have no ability to desire to cage for ourselves is currently an impossibility. I think part of our survival mechanism springs from this notion of needing to capture and have beauty. Life is nothing if not the impossible struggle to wrestle the divine notion of death into a controllable vessel. If we were able to simply see the sublime without desire, in totality, it would be annihilatory towards our consciousness. Which is what Asano seems to say with Nijigahara Holograph, that once the community embrace the sublime “the butterflies which have been pulled apart by fate shall become one”. Instrumentality. Perceiving god, makes all god, and there becomes no self, or perception, only the eternal, without end. And then of course the notion that once all returns to god, new worlds can be created by the return of thought. Something like that. Neon Genesis Evangelion is a wonderful companion piece to Nijigahara Holograph, basically.