Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #351: Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano

It's no longer shocking to be told that kids can be cruel and violent, six decades after Lord of the Flies. Any purity or innocence we could have reflexively expected in middle-schoolers has been thoroughly disproved, in both fiction and real life. But we can still be amazed to see the details of that casual cruelty, to see how spite and bullying and group violence and random attacks can be so much of the fabric of everyday life.

Inio Asano's Nijigahara Holograph is the story of a cluster of violent events in one school in one small town in Japan -- either absolutely typical or shockingly unique, take your pick. Or maybe it's the story of how those events are the manifestation of something more supernatural and surprising. Asano will show the reader many scenes and many characters, but he won't explain it all in the end.

Most of Nijigahara Holograph takes place "eleven years ago," when most of the characters were in middle school. In the present-day side of the story -- Asano switches between the two timelines without warning or visual representation, rewarding careful readers -- those kids are now twenty or so; young adults with their own budding lives. The two characters we follow the most are boys eleven years ago: Amahiko, who fell from the roof of the school in a suicide attempt and says he has a metal box that can grant one wish; and Kohta, leader of the bullies until one day he goes too far, who seems slow and quiet until his temper is up.

But at the center of the story is Arie, a girl in a coma for most of the story. Her estranged mother was found dead in the Nijigahara drainage tunnel behind the school -- and, before or after or both, Arie would tell all of the other children at school about the monster that lived in that tunnel and would end the world. Because of that, or maybe because she was too pretty and had hair the other girls coveted, Arie was "accidentally" knocked into a well that led to that tunnel.

She's not the only one that falls into that well. Most of the violent acts in Nijigahara Holograph happen more than once, to more than one person: hit by concrete blocks, punched in the face, stabbing, falling out a window. There's a lot of returning and recurrence in Nijigahara Holograph, a lot of characters running in the same circles.

And, between and around them all, there's a cloud of luminous butterflies, unnaturally many and unnaturally active. Or maybe it's just the moonlight shining on the butterflies. Like so many things in Nijigahara Holograph, Asano will not tell you what to believe about them.

Asano's art is precise and detailed, with only the slightest hint of caricature in his faces. And he's very assured here, telling his story in bits and pieces, placing each fragment of this story just so and then moving on to the next, trusting that the reader will understand it all. This is not an easy book, for a number of reasons, but it's a deep and rewarding one, worth reading more than once and remaining in the mind for a long time afterward.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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