Feb 6, 2009
Beatnik (All reviews)
False face, false money, false women, false status, false life.

Susumu Nakoshi is a beanie-wearing homeless man living out of his beat-up car. He hangs out at a park with other homeless people though not being one of them. This man is actually more displaced than the vagrants he surrounds himself with.

The mystery of this man, his real identity and motives is the highlight of this brilliantly disturbing psychological drama. Each chapter peels away like an onion, the more you read the more layers are uncovered about Nakoshi and his place in society, his relationship to other humans and how he ended up where he is when the manga begins.

But that’s only the outer layers. Deeper inside are some very strange ideas at play. Author Hideo Yamamoto dabbles with trepanation and the concept of homunculus, via a kooky surgeon, Manabu Ito, willing to use Nakoshi as a guinea pig. The idea of homunculi is that they represent the subconscious mind. The question of whether they're 'real' or just subjective delusions hovers in the air all throughout the manga. Things are never simple with Homunculus, and the relationship between Nakoshi and Ito develops and complicates as brilliantly as all the other people depicted in the story.

There is a main narrative of Nakoshi's experiences connected to Ito's operation, the after affects that he has to deal with by himself, and the larger narrative of who Nakoshi really is.

Nakoshi's relationship with Ito is an engaging cat and mouse affair that gets increasingly complex throughout the story. Who the cat and mouse are up for debate. Who is using who, and what for? The relationship is unpredictable and always entertaining. Yamamoto avoids convention all throughout the story and the twists and turns will continually surprise you. It’s never for shocks however, the story just flows from one turn to another without letting up so at one point you think you've got a handle on the story and a character; then a few volumes later your entire perception is changed.

The after affects of the operation on Nakoshi's skull are as if he suddenly gained super powers. If so, Nakoshi is surely the most messed up superhero ever. His so-called power is to see people's inner hearts and minds via imagery that would make Picasso vomit. The art is inspired and so disturbing; Yamamoto's ambitions in the manga are admirable. We get many dynamic panels, artistic point of views and designs of human anatomy re-arranged or plain replaced with inanimate objects or beasts.

Nakoshi is seeing the world in a way most of us would rather not. On top of being aware of the distortions of the mind and sufferings of the heart, he has to work for the answers. It’s no use seeing a woman with a zebra for a body; he has to figure out what the symbolism means in order to understand her problem.

Every story has arcs, in shonen the climaxes are battles, in shoujo they're confessions, but in Homunculus the climaxes to scenarios in this manga culminate in surreal imagery with symbolism and allegory all over the place. Its psychological battles of wit and mental fortitude that make the manga so gripping, you never know what the author is going to throw at you next, whether through narrative or stylistically.

The actual main story is pretty compelling. Yamamoto takes a typical post-modern predicament and distorts it in such a way it feels fresh whereas if he'd just told the story straight without all this hallucinatory craziness it would just be clichéd po-faced stuff.

Homunculus should ideally have hit the seinen manga scene like The Matrix hit cinema. Both are about/products of the post-modern condition and have crazy effects while showing more possibilities of the medium they're in. Whether you like it or not, Homunculus is definitely unlike any other manga out there, with great visuals and substance to boot.