In a world where all feeling is artificial and where everyone is a potential drug addict, nothing has really changed: the excess is near at hand and very few substances are considered dangerous and put under a strict control by a hygiene office, which has full power on the drug addicts, who are in extreme conditions.
The main character is Kabu, a little peddler and heavy addicted. Used to any kind of hallucinogenic trip, he is able to feel
the happiness through the ecstasy of the drug, while on the same time hypocritically hating those who gave birth to that society which has forced him to the excess. After an overdose caused by mixing two incompatible drugs, he spends his days looking for stimulants until he encounters an enigmatic man who offers him a new kind of illegal substance: Ultra Heaven. From that moment his incredible journey begins, where dream and reality are fused in an undivided world, causing him hysterical or joyful reactions and unrestrained pains.
But what really is Ultra Heaven and who's really behind it? And who is the guru who is promoting the meditation as a powerful way to influence the whole universe surrounding us? With the help of a special amplifier helmet, Kabu starts a trip into the deep and hidden layers of his conscience, diving into a nightmare he would never discover...
Ultra Heaven: A hidden gem written over a decade ago. That's obviously my opinion on the piece, but let me explain what it is and why I enjoyed it so much.
Ultra Heaven was written in response to the re-discovery of DMT in the early 2000s. DMT is a psychedelic compound known as the "Spirit Molecule", as it is a compound the brain naturally creates and releases during certain stages of REM sleep, and more importantly, the instants before death. It marks transcendence from conscious states, being sleep and wake, or life and death. Kabu, the main character and protagonist of the
story, comes across this powerful drug and experiences life-changing moments of oscillation between different states of consciousness. It is important to know that in the story, drugs are represented in such a way that they are immediate routes to change your state of consciousness and have emotions available at your very fingertips. When drugs were legalized, it was meant to be a landmark in human development, but addicts like Kabu got caught up in the ride. He says it this way. "When I was a kid, there was a TV show I liked. It aired once a week, and I could hardly wait. I was already beside myself, 30 minutes before it started. However, excitement gets tiresome, and I'd doze off eventually, and by the time I woke up again, the show was already over. Thats how I feel right now (before dosing). But, that was when I was a kid. Now, you can just ask for whatever show you wanna watch."
I give the concept and execution a 10/10. Ultra Heaven REALLY reminds me of "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley. However, UH is more accurately a dystopia hidden within. I felt the total freedom associated with the world, but knew first hand what kind of slavery it housed for addicts like myself. Kabu was entirely relateable to me, and not just to me. Other people I know who have read the book, even kids who dont have a drug problem, got something off of Kabu and the world he lived in. And still, the execution was groundbreaking. The trip scenes did what Palestine did to comics, and stretched the medium beyond its original intention, creating an alternative style. Then, when the style became regular, its chronological sequencing was very unique. One of the most compelling examples is in the first 3 pages. I feel like explaining it would be a spoiler, though.
The art gets a 10/10 as well, because it is very intricate. I almost believe that Koike Keiichi tried psychedelic drugs himself before writing Ultra Heaven. The development in his art is just outstanding.
The character gets a 9/10, and a high 9 at that. There aren't too many characters in the manga, but theyre all interesting in many ways. They each represent some involvement in the spiritual movement and in the drug culture. Kabu has already been explained as a drug addict and small-time peddler, who is trapped in the new world order. The girl, who oddly doesnt need a name, is the most pitch-perfect example of a neo-hippie, who uses an amplifier to send and receive magnetic frequencies used to "highten consciousness." Everything she does with it assumes its true, too. Seven is a really cool steampunk guy, and a great friend I would love to have by my side. He doesn't show up enough, though, which is the only reason i knocked it down.
If you are interested in Drug Culture, seeing where Manga can go, or you like alternatives to the realm of storytelling, read Ultra Heaven. I promise you that you wont want your time back.
Ultra Heaven is a "trip" (in every sense of the word) through the human psyche, in which themes of obsession, addiction, pleasure, and the very nature of reality are examined and questioned. Manga and anime series rarely focus on drugs and stimulants, since this is considerably more taboo in Japanese culture than in many Western societies. So I was surprised to find a manga series which seemed to be entirely focused on a society in which drugs permeated it so thoroughly. At first this manga reminded me of Akira, degenerate urban slums permeated with drug dens and decay, but I quickly realized
that Ultra Heaven was going to develop in unimaginable ways.
The premise of the story is that society has developed several ways to escape reality, both in the form of drugs which can evoke any emotion and machines which tap into a person's subconscious, forming virtual worlds which can be controlled with enough mental discipline. At first you think you can tell when the protagonist is hallucinating; but before long, you cannot even tell what is real. The protagonist's perception of time gets very distorted, coupled with flashbacks into his memory, and bizarre reflections of his inner psyche; you will certainly be hesitant to say that any particular moment is "reality". After all, Ultra Heaven is a drug which makes what you experience seem more real than reality itself. The story is very complex, and there is a great amount of symbolism through-out it. I would often spend several minutes thinking about what a certain image might represent. I spent a great amount of time pondering what the protagonist ultimately desires, why he does what he does; is he simply seeking his next high, or something deeper and greater? I must say that this series does psychological in a way that few Seinen titles attempt, and even fewer succeed. At first look, it will seem to be pointless tripping on drugs, but if you look further, and really ponder what things may mean, the story will take a whole new meaning.
While the story and characters are interesting, especially if you spend the time to examine each facet carefully, the true strength of this manga lies in the way it constructs itself. This is what turns this manga from good, to ground breaking. First of all, the art is exceptional, with incredibly complex and "trippy" depictions of the protagonists "trips" down the path of his subconscious. But the truly amazing thing is how the author uses the panels of the manga. Many series today never break conventions of how panels are used, and some just blatantly waste them. One of the reasons I despise the Bleach manga so much is the way that the author will just waste whole pages with some black smear which is supposed to represent a "suspenseful" moment of "action". Many manga fan's don't give proper panel use enough credit, it really controls how a manga flows, and the impact it leaves by looking at a page. Well, the panel use in Ultra Heaven is truly ground breaking. While moments of order and mental stability tend to use the standard square panels, moments in which reality begins to break down will begin to feature very unusual panel shapes. The panels will begin to warp around each other, or feel like a moving shutter. Furthermore, the author often uses a concept to "ideologically" connect the panels, so that they flow not only physically on the page, yet also mentally. You can often see a similarity between two objects as they "evolve" between the panels. Ultimately these panel techniques allow the author to effectively imitate a dream. In your dreams you may find yourself in a certain place or time, yet you cannot remember exactly how you came to be there. In this way, a dream can continually evolve without you realizing it. The panel techniques do something much the same; you will sometimes wonder how you came to a certain point, this is not due to poor story telling, but just because your mind has flowed from point to point until you find yourself in a whole new world without remembering exactly how you got there. I had never even considered the idea of manga panels being used in such a way; couple this with outstanding art, a complex evolving storyline with little attachment to standard chronological development, and equally complex psychological character development. This manga blew my mind in the ways which manga was used as a median of expression; while I have many series which I love for their stories, they rarely have ever made me reconsider my perspective on manga as a whole. Ultra Heaven is an under-appreciated gem, which has not just given us all a good story, but also a new way to tell it.
Every now and then, there comes about a ground-breaking manga, something which revolutionizes the way manga is done and redefined the genre. Throughout his career, Tezuka Osamu revolutionized manga by introducing new techniques and longer, more complex stories; pushing manga into a serious median of expression. While before manga had been just as it's name implies in Japanese, 漫画 (Rambling Pictures) which were often only a few panels; Tezuka began to write epics which were targeted to a larger and more mature audience. Later Tatsumi Yoshihiro would introduce a cinematic approach to manga, incorporating many dark and morbid themes into his short stories; later coining the term 劇画 (Gekiga: Dramatic Pictures) in 1957. At the time manga was targeted towards children, and this movement towards an "alternative" manga which appealed to a mature audience truly redefined the genre. While Tezuka's work greatly inspired Tatsumi, Tatsumi's work would in turn influence Tezuka's later works. Indeed, the current state of Seinen manga may not exist if not for both these groundbreaking authors. Ultra Heaven pushes the boundaries of how stories are executed in manga, and even more so in its usage of panels. While Tatsumi used panels to give a cinematic feel to his series, Ultra Heaven manages to create a diverse panel selection which flows mentally unlike anything I have seen before. I can with total confidence state that Ultra Heaven has the potential to revolutionize many aspects of manga; if it was only more widely known and acknowledged.
I cannot guarantee that you will love this series, after-all it definitely takes a certain perspective to approach it as any more than a bunch of people trippin, but if you pay close attention, it can very well revolutionize the way you perceive manga. Definitely worth at least checking out.
When it comes to manga I have found barely any series that have impacted my perception on both the medium and my entire life as much as Ultra Heaven.
Ultra Heaven is a profound experience and it is a shame that so few have ever been introduced to it. Ultra Heaven's obscurity is due to it's heavy dealing with drug use and it's non linear storytelling. If you only take what you see it comes off as very outlandish and weird and you most likely will not enjoy. Now if you're feeling like taking a step back and truly analyzing the message behind Ultra Heaven
you will find more than you can even hope to decipher.
Ultra Heaven is without a doubt the most sublime and psychedelic visual experience in all of manga. The characters are drawn extremely accurately to actual humans and their emotions are portrayed vividly. The background art is fantastic but most of all it is the manga’s use of panels and the incorporation of psychedelic elements that make the art a true standout. Ultra Heaven loves to break the boundary between dream and reality and it does that best through the panels. Typically in manga, the panels are very structured and box like and the pictures are stuffed inside. Ultra Heaven has these panels more when the characters are not “tripping” and makes it feel more like reality. Then when the “trip” begins the panel usage completely changes becoming curved and morphing into the line art and moving you along with the story. Ultra Heaven’s art style and use of panels is revolutionary as there are no manga that are willing to break apart the structured style and to go with something so unique. I would not be surprised if the author had experimented with hallucinogenic drugs before because the art is so vivid and realistic that it truly feels like this is what a drug trip is like, not that I would know. The art style is truly sublime and ground breaking in its beauty and use of panels and is something you will not find anywhere else, in any medium let alone manga.
The story of Ultra Heaven also breaks manga conventions and maybe even more strikingly than the artwork. Stories about drug abuse do not come around often and if they do then they are meant to steer people away from drugs. Although Ultra Heaven could have that effect it is not against drugs, more it shows how drugs can unlock deeper levels of the human consciousness that are otherwise inaccessible and maybe even give us a view into the fabric of time and space, meet with God, or to see the instance of death only to return to life. Because of this dealing with psychedelic drug "trips" Ultra Heaven's storytelling is extremely non-linear and follows a very distorted yet surprisingly ingenious and captivating style. It combines flashbacks, reality, and dreams without ever revealing to the reader which is which.
The most profound aspect of Ultra Heaven is its questioning of why do humans choose to escape from reality. Whether it is Kabu and other drug addicts, the pseudo-Buddhism inner evolution cult, or just regular people we all find ways to escape reality. Why is it that you watch anime or read a manga? Why do we play music or watch movies? Why do people take drugs and risk their lives? Ultra Heaven constantly asks these questions and it is executed to perfection and allows the reader to not only view them in the context of the story but also in their own life. Watching Kabu "tripping" on Ultra Heaven or diving into his inner subconscious we wonder why he chooses to do this and we also wonder why we choose to escape reality. Is it the euphoria? The sanctuary? The didacticism? Is it a weakness of sentient beings? Or is it a combination of all this? In all honesty, I don’t know I would dare to say that is a combination of euphoria, feeling of sanctity and didacticism along with an overall weakness of beings that possess higher intelligence to want to escape into a different realm of consciousness. I can guarantee however, that I never would have thought of any of this if it were not for Ultra Heaven. That is another fascinating aspect of Ultra Heaven. It merely turns on the switch and your brain does the rest, the imagining, the thinking, the being. Our minds are merely the machines that allow us to perceive and interpret the infinite expanse of the universe. As the story of Ultra Heaven twists and morphs into something more then manga itself your entire understanding of the medium will change. The life you live will come into question; the faith you have will be questioned; the evolution of humanity onto a higher plane of existence, all of these topics will be presented to you and it the only way to understand them is to think. For whatever reason you were born with the ability to think, you may know nothing but you can at least think and therefore you exist, don't waste the life you have, dream or reality.
Ultra Heaven is also extremely successful in its use of visual symbolism. Although I do not know the author’s, Koike Keiichi, intentions in creating this manga I will give a short analysis on some symbols, or what I took as symbols, that appear in the manga. The religious symbols and allusions are numerous. Seeing beings of light during a trip, going to a faraway place, the roller coaster to paradise, Ultra Heaven itself, and the pseudo-Buddhist cult all are symbols of god, and religion. The constant recurrence of eyes could be seen as a symbol of the breaking of reality and dreams, perception becomes distorted and too numerous to differentiate. The boundary to life and death being seen in the flat line is there even one at all. There are more symbols that I cannot even begin to uncover from this manga as I am not capable of discerning all of that information.
I would like to quickly mention that Ultra Heaven’s characters all possess personality and human emotion but the manga is short and very few are fully looked into aside from Kabu and his female friend, who may be named Sally. They are interesting and help to create an advent for the story. Kabu’s trips provide the perfect perspective in which to convey the overarching messages to the audience and allow for full artistic expression. Kabu is so realistic I wouldn’t be surprised to walk into a rehab clinic and find people just like him. I would dare to bet if you are a recovering drug addict you will be able to connect even better with Kabu’s struggles. The exploration of his mind takes the meaning of psychological manga to a new level as we truly journey in his subconscious and see what he sees, which happens to be extremely sublime and psychedelic.
In an attempt to find a flaw in this manga, seriously I tried, the best I could come up with is this: Ultra Heaven is not for everyone and may very well leave you with a negative impression due to the outlandishness and obscurity of its central topic and art style, and if you are not prepared to analyze it on a deeper level, or don’t think it can be analyzed, and only see what is presented to you than you will not gain much from reading it aside from a strange trip with funky art. If I can even call those flaws of this manga, I don’t think I can.
Ultra Heaven is more than manga; it is a transcendent work of human thought and emotion. Ultra Heaven is profound, it may be flawed and I would not disagree if someone were to point one out, yet I could not find anything of significance that holds this manga back aside from the aforementioned reason, again if that reason can even be considered a flaw. With a story rich with thematic and personal relevance, symbolism, and possibly even allegory, it has inherent literary value. The artistic style and use of panels is revolutionary and distinct in the medium that no other work I have read compares to the mastery of blending together page, word and picture into one that creates a sublime visual experience. The series is accurate in its psychological development of the human mind and in its description of the effects of drugs on the brain. The manga should have changed the entire scope of the medium with its usage of panels and unique storytelling execution but has remained so obscure due to its central topic which remains taboo in many cultures. Ultra Heaven is a manga masterpiece with a revolutionary and unparalleled art style, daring concept, unique and brilliant storytelling, immense thematic reach, and abundant personal relevance, a mind melting trip that will open your eyes to the brilliance of the unconventional and reconstruct what you thought manga could achieve. Thanks for reading, Quaz Out!
(Review originally posted on my Anime Amino page however I edited it to not include spoilers so I could post it on MAL)
Story: 10 out of 10. A story every drug-user (or non) has thought about, but in a whole new level. From religious and scientific references to quantum physics and philosophy talking. **********SPOILER ALERT*********-- That Evangelion-ish finale didn't fit well for me, though.
Art: H O L Y S H I T. That's all I have to say.
Character: Really well done, Kabu is the average young man who hates his life and the way our world is.
Enjoyment: I read it in less than 6 hours. That's all I need to say.
Once again, overall score: 9,5 (just
because what I mentioned in the story part)