Even as butterflies ominously proliferate in town, the rumour of a mysterious creature lurking in the tunnel behind the school spreads among the children. When the body of Arie 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 Arie, 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 Arie 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 timeliness and involves the suicidal Suzuki; Higure, his stalker-ish 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.
This is one of those stories you tend to read over and over again just so you could make more sense out of it and no matter how many times you read it, you find something different about it, something you never noticed was right there. That is the beauty of Nijigahara Holograph, and the gift which comes from the genius mind of Inio Asano, the creator of the beautiful manga, Solanin.
It's funny how the name, Rainbow Field Holograph, is somewhat of a contrast to the theme of the manga. Where the title gives the reader the feeling that the manga will be full of
rainbows & marshmallows, the reality is much the opposite.
The manga starts with surrealistic, yet existent images; these images, spread across different panels and different pages, representing some pivotal moment in each character's life, are made up of factors affecting their present and future which in-turn are affected by their worn-out, conflicted, and secretive pasts. Try not to get confused as these confusing images may not seem related but, for your information, it is these images which prove as pieces to a jigsaw puzzle; once they end, they give rise to the start of a story which is, actually, the beginning of the end rather than the actual beginning.
Then, when the reader realizes that the story has followed into another story (one spanning over 10 years) – a story within stories (more like stories within a story) – this one more deep than the rest, and the rest even deeper when thought about later, the reader gets even more entangled in the web that is Nijigahara Holograph. Moreover, the general theme of the manga would be life itself – dark, dreary, without hope, selfish humans, humans taking without feeling. I came to face such horrors while reading this that I read this manga over three times with some kind of perverse incredulity about the fact that I live in the same world these people do. It's just bizarre how we tend to live under the same sky with such different people inhabiting it, with us, side-by-side, without us even ever knowing the tragedies facing them or what sort of mind-sets these people have – we will never know unless we come face-to-face with them ourselves – and I pray we never do.
The major aspect of the story is the butterflies, which may or may not make sense even when you have reached the end or you have managed to read the manga a couple of times. Apparently, after I did some research, Asano's Nijigahara Holograph is mostly based upon Taoism. There is an excerpt from one of the chapters' panel from Chuang Tszu's techings. It says, "Once upon a time, I, (personal name of Chuang Tzu), dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction." In my opinion, this manga revolves around a complex attitude towards life, in general. It has nothing to do with Religion or one's (or the characters') Beliefs. It is how things are and how things must be. Maybe Life, the life we are living, is not real. Maybe what we think is real, is just the trick of the mind. Maybe Reality is coexistent with the things which aren't real.
Whatever the case is, the butterflies signify the arrival of something important, a calamity, a revelation; whatever it is, it will change the flow of things, resulting in how things should have been in the first place.
These butterflies are associated with a character, a little girl. Every event that takes place in the story is irrevocably linked to her. We can say that she is the pinnacle, as well as the pedestal, on which the story is based on and on whom it ascends, and ends, with the help of.
When I start reading a manga, the art will be the first thing I'll notice. For me, good art matters a lot even if I don't like the story all that much. However, there have been times when I found the story rather more appealing than the art itself. Nijigahara Holograph, on the other hand, is one manga whose art actually portrays the story rather than being unidentifiably individualistic to it.
I just love this manga – not only does it capture the reality of life, it captures its essence and the art ascertains the fact that the reader establishes a strong connection to the story through it. The art is beautiful; it captivates the attention even if it does not wish to seek it. The details are a visual orgasm of things left behind for us to recall and reflect upon, to be curious about and to simply (un)acknowledge, to fear over and to be disgusted with.
The way things are drawn, it's difficult to conceive the beauty of things; what is most amazing is how every single object in the storyline (living or otherwise) has a personality. The magnitude of complexity of detail is astounding; focus is a MUST. Emotions are drawn vividly, without mercy, making the reader digest fully the nature of what is being read. Personally, I think the mangaka has paid complete attention to how the things are supposed to be drawn rather than what; my view is that he has fixated himself upon nature, overall. How nature effects all reasons of outcome.
All in all, the art is inconspicuously remarkable. The expressions are instantaneous and it's as if it is not a manga being read but a film with moving pictures; watching as the scene changes oh-so-smoothly.
The character design is explicitly subliminal; meaning that every character's personality has been described to the last detail without having to spell it out. It's simply amazing how the reader can grasp the entire persona of the character's, even how unstable it may seem. Every character is unique, having their own problems, their own dilemmas, and their very own secrets kept away from prying eyes & ears.
Suzuki Amahiko is a disturbed individual with disparaging views of those around him, hating the world for being so unfair; he rarely tries to connect with the people he's with, and refrains from having any ties with them; he has always been shunned from society, moving from one place to another with parents who he knows aren't really his, and attempting suicide more than once. Then comes the girl who seems to be at the centre of it all, Kimura Arie; ever since the manga starts, I have thought of her to have lost all innocence from the day she achieved ethereal beauty; I sympathize for her – all she ever wanted was something everyone desires, having it all go against her in ways which would extract profanities from the reader's mouth; the life she has led would be the cruelest, and most unsettling of all. Komatsuzaki is an aggressive character who acts in unpredictable ways and whose actions have a veritable significance. Sakaki is the trio's homeroom teacher for whom Suzuki has somewhat mature feelings for; she injured one eye in an 'accident' which fits yet another puzzle of the story. There are a few more 'main' characters whose roles are noteworthy in themselves.
I must applaud Asano on how he achieved such character depth within a mere manga spanning almost 300 pages.
At the end of the day, this manga needs concentration in every single way. It teaches every reader something new, something different – what I learned, or got, from it, would be unlike some other reader's life-lesson learned. For me, it indulges in the credence that everyone has a role in life to play and that everyone plays a vital part in someone else's role. People living interrelated lives, having complicated mindsets, yet existing in a clandestine past, and living a lie – this is what Nijigahara Holograph is. Funny enough, it is a whirlwind of feelings with characters that have none.
I know, I know that I gave the story the lowest rating possible.
I know it sounds harsh but it isn't.
If you actually read the reviews next to mine or ask a person who's read the story what's it about, I can assure you that no one understands the plot, if there actually was one.
The only things I understood was that their were hallucinations of butterflies and that everyone from the elementary school that had met a girl named Kimura could see them and had become psychologically unstable.
Now, the thing is, I don't know if it was about Monarch Programming, if it was the symptoms of
their type of insanity, if it was the idea of waking up to believe that you're still dreaming or if the writer had taken a healthy snort of cocaine and continuously smoked a bong while writing this story; the butterflies were almost everywhere and by the end of the story, you almost fear their presence.
I had read a similar story to this one, with similar illustrations but I had eventually gotten the concept but Nijigahara Holograph (aka. Rainbow/Two Children Field Holograph) was a blur of images and random moments that could simply be described as senseless.
It was like sitting through a (input horrible/nonsensical topic here) lecture, like someone juicing your brain. This story may or may not have hidden meanings but the writer failed, Failed with a capital F, to make that meaning comprehensible to a human being who's not possessed nor high on whatever the writer was high on.
The characters were... I don't know. To be honest I don't understand anything about the story; only bits and pieces to an enormous puzzle that had missing pieces already.
You just can't get your head around this story but I can tell you a feeling I had felt while reading this; it was the feeling that there was something desperately wrong with the story, I don't know what it was but there is something wrong, something deeply wrong.
The illustrations were the type that makes everything look putrid (similar to the story), where you'd find eyes that are one color: black. The whole story was in a theme that was macabre but it wasn't totally orthodox macabre, not the macabre that you or I have learned to acknowledge but it was like a new level of macabre, the story's illustrations sucked the life out of life, if you can comprehend the phrase. Was it realistic? I can't say so, everything looked so bulky and inhuman. Did it have details? Somewhat, I guess.
I will resolutely tell you not to read this story, whatever you've read or heard about this story be damned. Know that this story is nonsense, it was 291 pages too long, and that it can't be said to be a waste of your time. No, it's worse than that. I don't know how to describe it but just don't read it, no one should willingly get this confused.
Remember when you read great pieces of literature in school and then spent two weeks analysing the different themes, motives and subplots of the work?
Well, if there is one manga that deserves to be explored in such detail after the first reading, it is probably this one.
Let's get the obvious parts out of the way. This is an Asano manga and, as such, it offers the common elements of coming-of-age drama, existential anxiety and depression, hard-hitting social and psychological realism and the overall ugly side of human nature.
The unique aspect of this particular work is the amount of supernatural and philosophical elements who play a
decisive part throughout the story and which often blur the boundary between reality and imagination.
I found this work really enjoyable on a literary level, especially since I had never read a manga of such depth. Don't get me wrong, I have read many mature and "serious" manga, but this manga had more levels to it than any manga I have previously read.
The downside of this is that, maybe, it can be difficult sometimes to grasp the story during the first reading. I found myself focussing on the obvious parts of the story during the first go and I accepted that there were some elements that I didn't fully understand yet. In this regard, I often thought of a temporary interpretation of what some things could possibly mean. I assume that many readers will find it equally difficult to understand everything in this book right away and this is why I mentioned studying literature in school in the beginning of this review: Having read the book, I actually went on the internet and looked up sites where other readers had discussed and analysed this book in depth, offering both a summary of story in all its complexity, listing all the themes and motives and putting them in their historical, cultural and philosophical context. I had never done this before with any other manga. I simply hadn't felt the need to do so. But, as a result, this detailled interpretation of the book offered a whole nother level of enjoyment and appreciation for this work.
This analysis will cover specific details about Nijigahara Holograph, meaning: if you have not read the manga, it would be advisable to abstain from reading this review to avoid spoiling vital information.
A critical work to be familiar with while reading Nijigahara Holograph is the book of Zhuangzi (considered a foundational text of Daoism), by Master Zhuang. One of the key concepts that is taught through this work is the idea of spontaneity, and how we should eschew from artificial distinctions (i.e. good versus evil, beauty versus ugliness, and usefulness versus uselessness). In creating these dichotomies, we remove ourselves from the natural flow of
the universe — which, obviously, existed long before human cognition — thus, diminishing our chances of achieving ultimate happiness. In essence, like the “butterflies that have been pulled apart by fate,” we, as humans, have deliberately pulled ourselves apart as a species, neglecting the features that make us “one.”
The ubiquity of physical and mental anguish in Nijigahara Holograph accurately reflects the adversities of the real world. It reminds us of the iniquitous thoughts/tendencies that reside within all of us, waiting to be provoked with the necessary force. Unlike typical manga, Asano’s artwork immerses the reader into the cold reality of his fictional world, instilling palatable trepidation that is not easily consummated within the medium. We, as a public, hear about egregious stories in the news every day, but through some psychological mechanism within ourselves, we tend to overlook these abhorrent behaviors to maintain our own perceived happiness in this indifferent existence. Through his keen understanding of the human condition, Asano forces the reader to confront these abominable dilemmas without prior warning, clarifying the odious nature of the human species. Primal emotions (lust, anger, jealousy) serve as the impetus for much of the turmoil for our protagonists, reminding us, impertinently, how rudimentary we truly are.
The non-linear story, along with the constant transition between past and present events gives us insight into the relationship between time and reality. We tend to believe in the thermodynamic principle of the arrow of time, in which all events assume a “one-way direction” or “asymmetry” of time. But this, ostensibly, pertains to the known physical world, how does this scientific theory apply to entities of unknown mass or origin? I am speaking, of course, about human thoughts and dreams. Accept it or not, we view the world through the prism of our own experiences. We then use said experiences to construct a view of the world that we deem to be “real.” Since the concept of human thought and dreams are malleable entities, they have the ability to distort the perception of time itself. Establishing a reality that is indistinguishable from what we call the “real world,” obfuscating certain events, and giving us the opportunity to access them through our unconscious will; however, most dream-like events, are seldom pleasant. Perhaps the rigors of our ancestors having to survive in the wild for thousands of years imbued a biological tendency for us to remain in a perpetual state of fear, always reminding ourselves of the harshness of this existence. This may be why our minds latch onto the negative experiences of our lives to produce nightmares that haunt us time and time again. Similar to the physical scars Kyoko obscured through plastic surgery, the mental scars of each character cannot be forgotten, for as long as they possess the memories, the anxiety remains. Unlike prosaic manga characters, these psychological hindrances obstruct their forward progression, trapping them into a cyclical torture of the mind. The resulting physical catharsis is not desirable, nor justified; however, it is genuine to the human condition.
The prototypical protagonist/antagonist paradigm that is pervasive in the manga industry, does not apply to this work. Asano, most likely, wanted the reader to take a Daoist perspective to the character’s actions, understanding how artificial distinctions (like Narumi’s “ugliness”) clear the path towards cruel insults, limiting our potential of becoming one as a species. Each character portrays a certain level of malevolence, and it is not our job to find endearing qualities about them — giving “justification” for their actions — rather, we must understand how fragile their rationality is under complex situations. Take Kyoko Sakaki, for example, she exhibits a, seemingly, well-ground character with a calm demeanor and lax personality. On the day of her divorce, however, she confesses to a malignant emotional strain from her past efforts in thwarting a man from raping one of her students (resulting in a forfeiture of her own eye). Due to the inattentiveness of her soon to be divorced husband, Kyoko, placidly, threatens to kill him and the children. This gender dichotomy, in which a woman is prohibited from expressing rage — or else, she is viewed as being recalcitrant — and a man is permitted to feel angry, as evidenced by the bruises on the children’s arms, captures a pressing issue social issue that, along with subservient marriages, leads to a significant amount of depression and suicide. Furthermore, it hinders one’s ability to maintain a sense of presence, as Kyoko laments her past “careless actions,” she overlooks her role as a mother, and the future repercussions it will have on her children. On the surface, it seems absurd to compare her actions to say, Amahiko’s foster mother, but the omission of a parent’s compassion can be just as damaging as direct insults.
Speaking of blatant child abuse, Amahiko Suzuki, a socially withdrawn adolescent, experiences his maltreatment through verbal attacks from his uncaring foster mother. This frail family dynamic leaves Amahiko feeling depressed, and emotionally ill-equipped to cultivate strong bonds with his fellow classmates. In fact, he considers his botched suicide attempt — jumping off the roof at his old school — as the antithesis of a “clean break.” This hearken’s back to the spontaneity of life, and how through our constant attempts to manipulate the world around us, we distance ourselves from the natural flow of things. This does not imply that a predetermined purpose exists, but rather, as Asano put it: “every human being has their role in life.” But to fulfill that role, it is crucial to liberate oneself from past events, past arbitrary prejudices, and past the illusory divide we create through our incessant need to categorize things (consciously or unconsciously). Only then can we filter through the “bad” experiences of our lives to identify the “good” opportunities that lie in front of us — in Amahiko’s case, Narumi’s openness to friendship.
Nothing is spelled out in clear or unambiguous terms, yet the journey endeavored by those who seek to clarify the hidden “meanings” behind the mangaka’s intent, will undoubtedly be rewarded with enhanced mental acuity. Enjoy.