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Nijigahara Holograph

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Inio Asano


Page 45 Review by Stephen

“The promised day is near.
“The butterflies that had been pulled apart by fate…
“Shall become one.”

What a very beautiful book and, oh, you will love the clouds of butterflies glowing under the moon’s reflective gaze and erupting from the oddest of places. Look, there’s one now crawling from between Kohta’s lips!

Kohta has found a butterfly pendant in the pitch-black warren of tunnels behind the school, beneath the Nijigahara Embankment. It’s one of a matching pair of pendants which will be lost and found, passed on from one protagonist to the next throughout this book. Kohta entrusts this one to former classmate Maki, now waitress in the café Makota inherited so fortuitously from his dead parents. It is to be delivered, and soon, for the promised day is coming and the connections will finally be made clear.

If you’re paying attention, of course. Inio Asano, the creator of SOLANIN, won’t be holding your hand. He’s created an elliptical narrative which orbits a cast of characters, gliding in and out of their lives as adults and school children. It’s such a gentle, sleepy, dreamy read that when sudden acts of extreme violence erupt seemingly out of nowhere, it is altogether halting. Except that they don’t erupt out of nowhere: they come from the human heart – and what happened at school and around the Nijigahara Embankment eleven years ago.

It all begins with a girl called Arié who claimed there was a monster in that tunnel. It begins with what was done to her, what kept her in a coma for over a decade, and its effect on classmate Kohta who develops an… affinity… for those tunnels and, for a bully, quite the protective streak.

Or does it begin with Amahiko, product of a loveless home and ostracised at each successive school he’s moved to? As an adult he is visiting his dying father in hospital – the same hospital Arié’s still sleeping in – lost in reverie:

“These days… I have dreams. It makes me wonder if what I’m seeing now isn’t really just a dream. Each day, the dreams become more and more real. And yet…”
“… In the end… you wake up, and you are yourself. Isn’t that the way it always is? Simply by virtue of being alive, all persons have some kind of role to play. They just don’t realise it.”
“.. Who are you?”

He’s on old man on whose balding head a butterfly has alighted.

“Could you push my wheelchair for me?”
“Excuse me?”
“Over there. To where that boy is crying.”

There are a lot of dreams here whose meaning may at first elude you (you may want to have a pen handy for jotting down the vast cast’s names!), but I promise you it will all make sense in the end. A very worrying sense, I might add, for even some of the quietest and ostensibly sane prove to be monsters if you join the dots between far-from-random flash-panels and listen carefully to what prove confessions. Then there are those moments of casual conversation which suddenly take an abrupt turn for the hideously dark. Threatening. Brutal. Cruel.

I did have a pen and paper handy and jotted down all sort of questions and connections – the repercussions – but I only did that for my own benefit. School teacher Miss Sakaki, and eye wrapped in bandages, will have an edifying lesson for you about ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu who once dreamt he was a butterfly.

“A butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Tzu. Suddenly he woke up and there he was… Chuang Tzu. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Tzu who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu.”

No one here is going to be flitting and fluttering around, happy with themselves and doing as they please. Or at least if they do as they please they won’t be happy for long because there will be repercussions. As to the Nijigahara Embankment – about which the mere mention will begin to trouble you deeply – “Niji” can be written using the Chinese characters for “rainbow” or “two children”. It’s only recently that it’s become “the plain of the rainbow”; it used to be “the plain of two children”.

Rarely have I seen photography incorporated so successfully into exquisitely fine pen line like this. You’ll barely notice it’s there in the foliage, the overhanging canopies, the blinding sunsets with backlit clouds and trees silhouetted against the sky. I put it down to a skilled deployment of tone and indeed the light is exquisite throughout while the butterflies will leave you breathless. There must be thousands here.

SOLANIN proved to be one of Page 45’s most popular Comicbook Of The Month and this shares its contemplative nature, but its content is quite the departure, delving as the back-cover copy says into “David Lynchian territory”. There’s a lot more going on underneath than you may initially suspect but once it starts clawing its way up to the surface you won’t be able to look away.

P.S. I lied: it all begins with Arié’s mother, but it definitely begins with those tunnels.