Long before the latest translated-into-English title from award-winning transgender manga creator Inio Asano is due to hit shelves (fabulous Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphics lists an unspecified February pub date; Amazon lists March 19, 2014 and B&N March 5 for available shipping), the internet has been abuzz for years with fascinating discussions attempting to piece together what happens here. The Japanese original debuted in 2006; I’m not sure how long an English version has been available in the virtual world [forget Google –support the book!], but guessing from the dates of the substantial postings, I would say at least a couple of years, if not more. Having now read the book through thrice, I’m still not certain as the order and details of all the events, but I can say without a doubt that this is one head-spinning, un-put-downable, almost-300 pages of disturbing intrigue.
Composed as two overlapping narratives set some eleven years apart, the first page begins with butterflies, a set of crying twins, an open notebook, and a dark tunnel to nowhere. Dreams and reality become interchangeable over the decade-plus that separates elementary-school-aged childhood from adulthood for those infant twins who will witness mysterious, brutal occurrences that define their lives.
When a body turns up in the entrance to the Nijigahara (literally ‘rainbow meadow,’ certainly rife with meaning!) tunnel, rumors start circulating. The town’s young children insist that a monster lurks deep within: in a fit of terrifying violence, they decide to ‘sacrifice’ Arié – the daughter of a single father and the just identified corpse – and throw her down a long well.
While Arié lies in a coma, a new boy joins her fifth grade class; Amahiko, too, has survived violence, hospitalization, and is trying to fit in as the ‘new boy.’ Their teacher Miss Sakaki recognizes Amahiko as a troubled soul, and attempts to offer him special care. She has secrets of her own, however, least of all the cumbersome bandaging over one eye (again, certainly rife with meaning!) due to a recent injury.
Butterflies abound on many, many pages, fluttering in and out of the panels as if to gather the narrative threads together when they might seem to wander off too far. The winged prove uplifting and threatening both, children can’t fly, adults aren’t reliable, and the dead can still speak. Feeling lost? Go back to that first page to the bottom-left panels: the Nijigahara tunnel entrance with the handwritten journal pages. There you have the eponymous Nijigahara holograph: what follows is for you to decipher … do let me know what you find.
Published: 2006, 2014 (United States)