Homunculus Horrified Me; This Manga is Amazing

jhomunculus_v12p158_159

Nakoshi can see things in a crowd. The crowd isn’t wholly human, but something else.

I wouldn’t know if it’s accurate to categorize this manga as horror, but I am filled with it. It’s not so much the psychological mutilation that I see the characters undergo, but for two main things: the unreliable narrator that forces me doubt what I’m perceiving but not in an annoying, contrived way, and the deprivation in the fifth and sixth volume that is just too significant to spoil. Intense stuff, and excellently illustrated.

This begins as the story of a drifting character Nakoshi Susumu, 34 who spends his time with the homeless in a park in front of a big hotel. He sleeps in his car, and doesn’t count himself among the homeless, who tolerate him as a pathological liar because he ponies up for alcohol. Manabu Ito is a medical student who approaches Nakoshi with a rather indecent proposal: Y700,000.00 for a medical experiment – he’ll drill a hole in Nakoshi’s skull to see if he’ll awaken supernatural powers.

phomunculus_v11p118_119

Nakoshi agrees.

Soon enough, he starts seeing things, as if some – many people aren’t humans, but some kind of monsters. Only he can see these monstrous forms. I don’t want to spoil how this looks like for you, because it’s really worth seeing for yourself. Instead I’m going to ask you to use your imagination for a bit, but not without help:

image

The above image perhaps is how the trepanated Nakashi would see 21stcenturydigitalboy and myself had he encountered us on some Arctic beach, and if we were actually homunculi. As to what our homunculi forms say about ourselves, I can’t tell you, but I think you’ll have an idea once you’ve read deep into the manga.

It’s not difficult, because the layout is very straightforward, the paneling is mostly vertical, and the actual panels are quite large which is great because unlike the image I prepared, Yamamoto Hideo makes superb illustrations. Perhaps I can compare him to Asano Inio in terms of the cityscapes he makes, though Asano is more prone to write poetry with his illustrations as if to make love to his Tokyo, but Yamamoto is no slouch at all. I’d easily prefer Homunculus over Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph overall, not even close. But I’m not knocing Asano here, his drawings are gorgeous.

Before_Dawn_and_the_End_of_the_World_258-259solanin 28 12-13

I would have to comb the manga to get equally striking cityscapes by Yamamoto, but the following images should indicate his skill.

phomunculus_v11p080_081qhomunculus_v11p190_191

The Christmas tree image is a nifty study in perspective, albeit not up to the level of the first example from Asano, which takes the perspective game to an extent of simulating a camera lens effect that plays with our depth perception.

I find that photorealistic illustrations work very well in communicating horror and dread. When something truly weird shows up, it really breaks with our notion of reality that the manga lulls us into and makes for a striking contrast – something that isn’t supposed to happen is happening. But as I said, it wasn’t the illustrations and the style that horrified me. It’s the dialogue-driven exposition, mainly how the characters in words and actions go beyond the very bones of each other and exposing the lies, deceits, inauthenticities that distinguish us from all the other animals.

13 volumes out of 15 are scanlated, and I’ve read them all, something like The Sixth Sense almost meets Mushishi meets The Picture of Dorian Gray almost meets Onani Master Kurosawa. It doesn’t go too far in becoming any single one of these works, but it is an interesting monster all on its own. Read it and get back to me. Those of you who have read it, let’s talk (just put SPOILER WARNING if you want to go deep into the bones of things – I do!).

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in first impressions and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Homunculus Horrified Me; This Manga is Amazing

  1. sadakups says:

    Bad photoshop is bad. 😛

    Kidding aside, again, you’ve given me another title to check out. I have no idea what the manga is all about, but from this article, call me intrigued.

  2. chii says:

    ohhh good to hear. I’ve actually wanted to read this manga for quite some time now but well… when it comes to me and actually reading the manga always gets left behind 😛

    LOL at that picture of you and digiboy though. holy crap hilarious

  3. MarigoldRan says:

    Oh. Ha ha ha. So you ran into this manga too.

    I read a bit into it, and it was good, but it would have been better if it wasn’t F-ING FREUD. Why couldn’t it have been more like Stephen King, where the main character sees horrifying evil monsters hiding behind everyone?

    • I don’t have a problem with the oft-trodden (and much maligned) Freudian content. I didn’t really give it much attention.

      • MarigoldRan says:

        What do you pay attention to then?

        • Note what I wrote about, that’s a place to start.

          • MarigoldRan says:

            Oh, so you mean the “photorealistic illustrations communicating horror and dread,” 99% of which are Freudian?

          • I am not looking for what is not Freudian, the same way I am not looking for content in manga/anime that is not Sartrean/Nietzchean/Platonic whatever. I don’t know what your problems with Freud are, the backlash against Freudian psychology is like decades old already so I don’t see the point of making anything of it. But you may have an axe to grind but I wonder if the discussion of this manga is the place for it. Also, I don’t know if I can take it against Homonclunus for not having Berserk’s slapstick humor. Actually, I do know. I won’t hold it against it.

          • MarigoldRan says:

            One of the problems with psychiatry and Freud is a lack of humor. Does Homonculus have any funny scenes at all? Even Berserk has more funny scenes.

          • MarigoldRan says:

            We bash Freud because it’s fun. It’s much easier to bash something that has been bashed before, than it is to bash something novel. If it can be broken once, than surely it can be broken again. In other words, it’s an easy target.

            Sartrean/Nietzchean/whatever, despite their flaws, has not been mocked with quite as much intensity as Freud. And that’s the problem with Homonculus. It takes something that has already been discredited in many peoples’ eyes, and makes it its central theme.

            And by the way, your review did not do it justice. Nowhere did you mention the word, “Freud” in your review, even though it’s obviously there in the manga. It’s like writing a review of “Mein Kamph” without mentioning Nazism. The omission is rather odd, wouldn’t you say?

          • This is not a review I don’t really like reviewing. I advocated it, not reviewed it as some kind of objective critic. I am never that. So ok, you’re into Freud bashing. That’s quite irrelevant to my interests so I didn’t indulge it.

          • MarigoldRan says:

            Fair enough. Do you like eating bananas? I think they’re a lot better than apples. Much tastier.

          • I’m not into apples. Banana is my favorite fruit.

  4. I had to stare at the picture for a whole minute. The laughing, it won’t stop.

  5. animekritik says:

    What’s creepy about the aniblogger homunculi is that they look so darn happy.

  6. vendredi says:

    I’d even say in a sense this manga is remembering love for Tezuka, too – I recall that chapter in his Phoenix series about a man who, after a near-fatal accident, could perceive robots as human but humans as robotic. Definitely am going to check this one out.

    Good point about “photorealistic horror” – I think this is what makes titles such as Berserk and Uzumaki (or any Junji Ito stuff) very visceral. While not exactly in the same category, anime heavy on the blood – like Shigurui and Blade of the Immortal – also benefit from a photorealistic style a lot too; pain can be sympathized with a lot easier if the anatomy is recognizable.

  7. Matt Wells says:

    It’s strange. I’ve never encountered a manga with such an aura of fucked-upness, while still actually being rather light on fucked up content. The closest I’ve ever come to the feelings this manga evoked was the work of David Cronenberg, though this is more psychological than your average body horror flick. Also by the same author: Ichi the Killer, very different from its Takeshi Miike film adaptation. More of a straight crime thriller crossed with Hitchcock’s Psycho, definitely worth a look. The Japanese PTA called for it to be burned, which is usually a good sign of quality.

    I read this up till the arc with the school girl who’s homunculi form was herself made of crumbling sand. I loved the creepy atmosphere but the seeming lack of any plot development turned me off. I thought it might be going for a Black Jack type of formula where Nakoshi purges people of their emotional baggage with his powers, but the short length ruled that out. Did I bail out before it got really good?

    • I’ll definitely watch a Miike flick down the road.

      Oh man that school girl arc made of sand… oh man oh man. Some really intense shit there. Did you finish it?!?!

      • Matt Wells says:

        Nope, just up to the bit where she lets Nakoshi take the fall for her shoplifting. The whole sequence where her sandy face crawled out of her also sandy vagina was memorable though. So memorable that the merest thought of female genitalia has me waking up screaming in the middle of the night. I did genuinely love that first arc with the guilt ridden Yakuza boss though.

  8. TRazor says:

    Now I’m interested. I guess I’ll pick this up. It doesn’t have too much gore does it? I’m into mindfuck, but not guro.

    • Nothing gory, really. I never got the sense that there’s blood or mutilation for people to get off on.

      • TRazor says:

        Cool. Just started reading it. Too early to judge the story, but I will say it’s gripping so far. The art stands out for its detailing to shadows and other grunge features, not very unlike what you find in Yoshitoshi ABe’s works. But ABe’s works contain severe gore (much to my displeasure)

        • I can’t say I’ve seen any guro works, nor am I motivated to do so. But yes, the detail is quite good here, especially since the characters include the homeless so dirt, grunge, and other forms of physical decay makes a difference when illustrated.

  9. New reader here :).

    Just finished reading the 13th volume. I actually spent a full day for this series, started today am and was so drawn I couldn`t stop. It`s like the best thing for me ever, even better than Uzumaki, Drifting Classroom or whatever. It has some weak spots, but still. I totally don`t mind the “Freud-like” atmosphere, that`s what adds even more value for me.
    I had moments with laugh, tears (sand homunculus girl…), disgust (self-trepanation, anyone? It kind of reminds me of Aranofsky`s “Pi” as well). And there is also this hard to catch atmosphere, beetween creepy and warm, a deeply human thing.

    Anyways, love the blog, will stay & watch.

  10. Holy shit. I’m reading the sand-schoolgirl part right now. There’s just blood, and sperm everywhere, and somehow his sperm lets him see into the past, or maybe the future (Spermomancy?), and just what the FUCK?!

    No more time to chat, must keep reading.

  11. ***SPOILERS FOR VOLUME 5, BEWARE***

    Wow, I just finished volume 5. I have no idea what to think. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to think that Nakoshi is a total bastard, or if this is another case of the Japanese having some really fucked up ideas about rape. I thought the odd sort of power struggle that was going on between Yukari and Nakoshi at the beginning was pretty cool, and I understand how being seen by her mom made her more “whole” (she no longer has to pretend to be a perfect little girl around her family), but ultimately I found it very disturbing that the “solution” to her problem ended up being an act of sexual violence. A lot of things about this volume I didn’t understand, for example, when Nakoshi is telling her to become a superficial woman who uses sex as a tool, is he just goading her, or is that his honest advice? At first I though it was the former, but the diary on her phone seemed to indicate that she was saving herself for a special person who she could “become one” with, and her homunculus problem was solved, not by waiting for the perfect “first time”, but by getting fucked by a random homeless dude in his car, which points to Nakoshi being serious when he tells her to give up his idealism. Unless we’re supposed to assume that Nakoshi is the special person for her, which I find…unlikely.

    As crazy as things have been, this is the first time I’ve felt that that manga really “lost me”, so I think I might go back and read this volume again. In any case, I find myself very disturbed with the development of Nakoshi’s character, but also intrigued, especially as he begins to take on the homunculus forms of the people he’s cured. It’s safe to say that I’m hooked.

    • Nakoshi is quite the asshole… and it plays out. He has such a low opinion of himself that he isn’t quite surprised at his capability of doing low and reprehensible things. The interesting thing about it is how he started out wanting to make a difference in the girl. He started enjoying his power and how he “healed” the Yakuza boss. But see, the story won’t make it so easy for him. It’s not going to be like Mushishi or Monster where his touch leads to healing and goodness.

      He himself is a monster and he’s still on his way to figuring that out — the extent of his deceit and ugliness.

      • *SPOILERS AGAIN STILL FOR VOLUME 9*

        Yeah, this is actually starting to make a lot more sense after he has that weird confrontation (just after he gets his eye sewn shut) with Ito where he’s trying to figure out Ito’s issues and gets the tables turned on him, bigtime. The extent to which Nakoshi is an unreliable narrator is really starting to become clear.

        I like how the character’s backgrounds are revealed in pieces, like peeling the layers of an onion. First we got those flashbacks to him as a high powered actuary, his peculiar…habit, and now we find out he’s had plastic surgery and hails from the boondoks. Same with Ito, as shortly after that we see him interact with his dad for the first time. A lot of poorly written stuff (movies, comics, TV, anything) just dumps a character’s whole backstory on the reader all at once, it’s nice to see an author who understands how to pace these things. It’s much more like the process of getting to know a real person.

        • Good observations, I agree with the gradual reveal becoming more powerful.

          To be fair to most other stories, exposition dumps usually happen when the characters aren’t the leads and only have arcs within the context of a less character driven narrative (e.g. action, shounen, mecha, etc.). The narrative of Homunclunus is highly contingent on the characters. The surprises and twists are revelations about the characters themselves as much as the things they do/that happen to them.

  12. anon says:

    SPOILER ALERT

    why go to a psychiatrist when you could get yourself raped and get rid of any mental illness

  13. Owen S says:

    Noticed you don’t have Trapeze (aka Kuuchuu Buranko) on your MAL, which explains the lack of comparisons to it. Should give that one a shot, it is literally Homunculus, albeit with a less Freudian and more DSM-IV approach.

  14. The says:

    I liked NIjigahara Holograph! It’s so… strange. But what’s good about it isn’t what’s good about manga or fiction in general. I see it a bit like a puzzle. I’ve read it 4 times, first time I was mostly just confused but then my mind was blown by how I enjoyed decoding it.
    But still, it’s pretentious (like Really pretentious!) but I have to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a bit pretentious now and then. I enjoyed it, but not in the way I enjoy other manga. It is completely unique to me. Completely! That deserves kudos!

    Homunculus is also great in a very unique way!

    • I don’t think I can bring myself to read NH another time, especially given that I’m not that big a puzzle fan. I like my manga manga-ish. I wish new chapters of Homonculus get scanlated soon!

  15. OTL says:

    Ultra Heaven will surprise you
    it does everything Homunculus does but better
    mindblowing indeed.
    check it out

  16. freddy says:

    SPOILER!
    Mannn horrified indeed!! this manga was dark but I just didnt know the darkness it holded until the last volume. Ive read alot of manga but this masterpiece really hits haha!. I really liked Nakoshi and actually felt bad for him..but you find out who he truly is in the end. He was really evil from the begining thats why nanako couldnt see his face. Only in the end when there arguing getting to the truth in the blacked out car you see who nakoshi truly is..a DEMON. He was a compulsive liar trying to get stuff to go his way and even I gotta say for the first time I was hoodwinked by a manga character. (dammit lol)

    10/10 in my book.

  17. Dinoking says:

    The ending is confusing like hell. His tragic relationship with Nanako is most difficult to comprehend in the end. Esoecially the part when they make love and he begin to see his own face on her and just before she die her face on his….and called him jerk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s