Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano (Solanin) makes you feel uncomfortable at times… well a lot. Its haunting story wrapped in beautiful illustrations makes it incredibly atmospheric. Before I get ahead of myself, I should probably tell you what it’s about. Well… it’s about… uhh… it’s complicated. (Which is another way of saying it was confusing.) But it was confusing on purpose! So that makes it okay, right? The main reason why it’s so hard to describe is because it is all timey wimey and convoluted, except we don’t have a super genius timelord to help explain the story. Since it’s so tricky to summarize, I’ll give you the official description instead:
“Even as butterflies ominously proliferate in town, the rumor of a mysterious creature lurking in the tunnel behind the school spreads among the children. When the body of Arié Kimura’s mother is found by this tunnel’s entrance, next to apparently human traces, the legend seems to be confirmed. Is the end of the world coming? In order to appease the wrath of the beast, the children decide to offer it a sacrifice: The unfortunate Arié, whom they believe to be the cause of the curse, is shoved into a well that leads to the Nijigahara tunnel — an act that in turns pushes Komatsuzaki, the budding thug who has carried a torch for Arié for a while already, entirely over the edge.
But this is only the beginning of the complex, challenging, obliquely told Nijigahara Holograph, which takes place in two separate timelines and involves the suicidal Suzuki; Higure, his stalkerish would-be girlfriend; their teacher Miss Sakaki, whose heavily bandaged face remains a mystery; and many more — brothers, sisters, parents, co-workers, teachers, aggressors and victims who are all inextricably linked to one another and all will eventually — ten years later — have to live with what they’ve done or suffered through.”
Even though I read Nijigahara Holograph slowly and meticulously, I’m still trying to piece together the story. Maybe part of me always will, and that’s the beauty of it. I thought about writing this after I reread it to try and make sense of everything. But I felt the best representation of Nijigahara Holograph would be my confused, yet excited thoughts. And to be honest, the experience is part of the draw. It’s like a carnival ride that looks beautiful on the outside, but it’s all horror on the inside and it leaves you feeling really uncomfortable.
Speaking of uncomfortable. Shit gets dark, man. Real dark. But you know what? That’s life. Life is beautiful, just like the mysterious butterflies in the story. And life is fucked up, just like some of the characters in the story. I respect a writer who’s not afraid to have an unconventional plot and ending.
The setting seems mundane at first glance, but as the story progresses it’s transformed into an eerie town that’s filled with sadistic adults and children. Oh, that’s another thing. Asano shows us something we rarely see in stories, children committing unspeakable violence, sometimes at random. These kids are not possessed by any demons, they are just kids committing horrific acts of violence.
It’s hard to pinpoint the main character of the story, but one character that’s present throughout is violence. Violence in Nijigahara Holograph lurks just under the surface like a sea monster. Through the lens of this story, we all have that monster in us; some of us force it down forever, while others let it come up for air. Some people practically let it frolic freely without restraint. The only optimistic thought Nijigahara Holograph offers is a child’s wish to end the world.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Damn, Jamila. This sounds like a bummer, why should I read it?” Because it’s a brilliantly crafted story that will captivate you… oh and it’s fucking gorgeous!