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Manga Review: Nijigahara Holograph

English Title: Rainbow Field Holograph
Japanese Title: 虹ヶ原ホログラフ
Chinese (Taiwan) Title: 虹之原Horograph
Type: Manga
Volumes: 1
Chapters: 15
Status: Finished
Published: 2006
Genres: Drama, Psychological, Seinen
Authors: Asano, Inio (Story & Art)
Serialization: Quick Japan

Plot Synopsis: Suzuki is a troubled boy. He's lived with uncaring foster parents for most of his life, alienated from the other kids at his school, owner of a cynical, unhappy mentality. Komatsuzaki is a violent, unpredictable bully whose head trauma causes him to act in mysterious, inexplicable ways. Arakawa is a no-nonsense, normal girl who pines after Komatsuzaki but can never have him. A teacher with just one working eye. A mother who committed suicide. A daughter in an endless coma. Attempted rapes, murders, extortion, sexual deviance, and a freakish explosion in the butterfly population. All of these elements are whirled together in a story spanning 10 years, a tale of blackness, pain and apocalypse. And maybe just a bit of hope and redemption. It's a spiritual cross between the misanthropic suburban malevolence of Kyoko Okazaki's Rivers Edge and the eerie mysticality of Donnie Darko. (From: Mangascreener)

My PoV: 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.