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 second of a three part series on the book. The preceding section covered the role of memory. The last section will focus on beauty and the characters of Arie Kimura, and Maki Arakawa.
One of the things that I have always found interesting with Inio Asano’s work is how Asano depicts emotion through physicality. His works are so tied up in their emotions that it ends up permeating into how characters stand, how they move, and how they physically interact with one another. From the muted depression of the sex in Girl By the Sea, to the pulled back violence of Nijigahara Holograph, Asano’s work is constant in communicating its emotional themes. And I mean, this kind of thing has been part and parcel of successful comics going back to Eisner and beyond. Body language, and how you depict movement in unmoving frames is a huge device both in terms of characterization, and in thematic mood.
I wanted to focus on these things specifically in the violence of Nijigahara Holograph, and maybe sometime later in the year I’d like to write about the sex of Girl by the Sea or the molestation in Oyasumi Punpun. But for now, it’s enough to focus on the violence of Nijigahara.
Violence is an important theme in Nijigahara, because one of the core aspects of the book is the constant repression by the community of prophecy, and the violent feeding of the monster who lives beneath that said community, in the tunnel at the Nijigahara embankment. Nijigahara Holograph is a world where emotion is something that is expressed without the expectation of being heard. Which is to say, it is emotion that can never find release. Nijigahara is a kind of purgatory time loop of horrors visited continually from one generation to the next. Many of the principal actors of these horrors appear over and over through time. The concrete block. The unbuckled belt. The cast aside umbrella. The pocket knife. In some ways, it’s a very morbid joke by Asano to create this hellish game of clue where every room is a crime scene, but there is no investigation.
Violence in Nijigahara Holograph has no difference from screaming, or saying something brutal to emotionally harm someone. The physical and the psychic have no barrier both in terms of what goes in and what comes out—and what is more, neither is given more importance over the other, which gives both their effectiveness. To see how this works, I thought I would break down a few pages so you can see how this works, particularly in terms of physical violence because I think there are some lessons in that which have application beyond this particular kind of book. Even though Asano’s comics aren’t action comics per se, when his characters throw punches it is always with bad intentions. The brutality of the violence in Asano’s comics is extremely affecting.
I wanted to start with this segment because it’s one of the more extended sort of fight scenes in the book, and shows really well how Asano creates the brutality of this world. With Asano the action is typically shown in either long or medium shot. He chooses similar distance when characters are saying hateful things to one another. It is effective in both instances because of how often Asano uses close-ups for everything else. The shot is far enough away here that Asano hasn’t even drawn in the faces of the perpetrators of this violence. This speaks to the dull impersonality of the violence in Nijigahara Holograph. The violence in Nijigahara Holograph is rarely personal, because it all stems from an inability to express the horror of the world they’ve been cast into and feel unable to escape from. Which on the other hand is where a lot of violence happens anyways. It comes from a lack of options in terms of expressing one’s own internal horror. Notice in this scene Khota’s friend says “He just wants to hit someone”. There’s a loading up here when the knife is introduced. As I mentioned, the knife actually pops up all over Nijigahara Holograph. Not only does it pop up in scenes like this where it’s utility to try and cut another person, it also shows up with Amahiko Suzuki’s step mother, who is always shown with her back to Amahiko saying something about how she hates him, while cutting carrots. Which again speaks to how Asano has mirrored violent action to psychic action.
Anyways, once the knife is introduced on this page, there’s a tension in the next two panels of a new level of danger—no longer is this simply kids playing at violence, this is about inflicting long term pain and agony. The stakes have been revealed, and those two panels create a buffer to this:
Those two panels allowed this medium shot top panel to hit harder—and what’s more the barriers between friend and enemy have been completely broken down now, because no longer is Khota beating up on Takahama who he has always bullied, but he has turned on his partner in crime Hayato. This is narratively important too because Hayato actually was part of the group of kids who pushed Arie down the well which put her in a coma, so in a way Khota is now directly acting against those responsible for his misery—even though he is himself unaware of this. And what’s more is that the scar he gives Hayato will follow Hayato into adulthood as a reminder of his own burden. We see the loading up device again here as Hayato grabs the concrete block(which re-occurs several times, like the knife—it may even be the same exact concrete block—it might as well.) This is the musicality of action, it’s something I’ve talked about in terms of Hiroaki Samura and the silent loudness of his action scenes in Blade of the Immortal. But this type of technique is firmly entrenched in Japanese comics and fighting video games. The notion that one action precedes another more violent action—this escalation is integral to making the punches have weight.
The sound effect is almost unneeded. And again we’re back at a long shot. Which gives the hit a kind of lonely isolation. There’s also some really nice things in the composition with Hayato and Khota forming the top part of a triangle, but also how the left to right counter clockwise spin of the action, bends you back to the kid trying to push himself through that wall and disappear from the trauma. With Asano trauma radiates out like a grenade embedding it’s shrapnel in all who happen to be near it.
This sequence shows these similar compositional elements:
Again here we have the long shot, and we also have the triangular composition. We also start with a low angle which makes the hit seem more elevated. The best thing about that panel though is the spiraling top of the broom and how Takahama is watching the broom head from behind his mother, and Amahiko’s teacher, Ms. Sakaki is also following the arc of the broom handle. Their aversion from the actual violence adds to its impact, because it makes the reader want to look away as well. We again have the child witness to the trauma in the right of the panel, the girl Arakawa Maki. It actually wasn’t until I started writing about this that I even noticed that that was Maki. If you read Nijigahara Holograph and JUST pay attention to Arakawa Maki in the book, it is quite an experience. She absolutely haunts Nijigahara Holograph. Also interesting because Maki in Oyasumi Punpun, who is drawn in a similar way, also haunts that book, even though neither book is directly focused on either character. Arakawa Maki is arguably the most important character in Nijigahara Holograph though. Her and Arie Kimura are the books two most singular influences.
Anyways, we get that lovely second panel of the broom handle hovering in mid air, which underscores its attention in the first panel. Asano is underlining the impact, by the time you see blood coming down Narumi’s face in the bottom row you can see how this entire page has been constructed to underscore both the brutality of this page—but also it’s trauma. The page operates as a reflection. This is one of the events that happens in these people’s life which will choose the direction their life heads in. Which is of course one of the central themes of Nijigahara Holograph. That the horrors we are exposed to or create as children are perhaps unfairly navigatory in the horrible lives we end up living. The fragility of children in a horrible world, and how it predisposes them to perpetuate an eternal hell from which there is no salvation. Wire Seaon 4, ya.