Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Asano Inio: Nijigahara horogurafu (2006)

The author is Asano Inio 浅野いにお. The title is Nijigahara horografu 虹ヶ原ホログラフ (translatable as Nijigahara holograph, Nijigahara being the name of the town where it's set). It was serialized in the "subculture magazine" (trendspotter central) QuickJapan between 2003 and 2005 before being published in one volume in 2006.

The title is never explained.  It's that kind of book.  If I had to guess I'd say it that (a) the word "holograph" is being used as it sometimes seems to be in Japanese, as a mistake for "hologram", and that (b) Asano's trying to suggest a parallel between the way holograms create the illusion of three dimensions in two, i.e. seem to rotate as your perspective shifts, and his narrative technique here, which involves gradually and piecemeal revealing the identities and relationships between characters, on two timelines ten years apart, so that your understanding and sympathy changes with each chapter.  It's that kind of book.  (I'd also entertain the idea that he's using the word "holograph" according to its proper meaning:  I don't suspect that this manga is autobiographical [I sure hope not], but it may be told, arguably, in the first person, something that isn't always and immediately apparent.  It's that kind of book.)

I've read one other title by Asano (I'll blog it soon), and was impressed by his art and his serious themes, but not by his storytelling.  Here it all comes together.  This is a masterpiece.  As a narrative it's as fragmented, multiperspectival, and time-ruptured a story as any postmodernist could wish for, and yet despite its refusal to resolve itself into any final form, it's curiously satisfying anyway.  It's not about teasing you.  It's about fragmentation as a way to emotional truth, about the possibility that the only possible response to existential horror is myth and wonder.

The plot, as you might guess, can't easily be summarized, partly because you can't be exactly sure what it is.  But it concerns a group of people in the small town of Nijigahara (Rainbow Meadow).  One timeline follows them when they're all in the same 5th-grade class, and another timeline follows them all 11 years later.  We meet some of their parents, teachers, and some of their families.  But the narration is cagey about names - only gradually do we become aware that all the characters we're following in one timeline match up with those in the other timeline, and how.

But by the time the book ends, not only have we made all the connections (we think), but we've also learned how grotesquely they're all linked by horrible things:  suicide, murder, child abuse, rape, stalking, bullying, assault with deadly weapons.  We see a scar, then learn how it was administered, then realize we've been sympathizing with the administerer.

Thematically, then, I guess you could loosely say it's working the rich seam of anxiety about Kids These Days, with their bullying and their tempers and their shut-in tendencies.  But it goes so deep, and is so determined to invest all this melodrama with metaphysical significance, that it hardly reminds you of the typical social-issue story.  As this very perceptive (and much more coherent than mine) pair of blog posts on Manga Bookshelf Transmissions suggests, it's really trying to make its own myth about familial love and redemption, about where it all went wrong and how it might have turned out if it hadn't.

Yeah, I won't say any more than that.

(Hey.  I wasn't the first to blog in English about this.)

No comments: