Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino

What is Panorama of Hell about?

Panorama of Hell tells the story of a mysterious unknown painter who uses blood to paint his “Hell Paintings”. These paintings of his are depictions of a kind of hell on earth, although his own surroundings seem to be just that.

We join him at the point in his life where he is creating his masterpiece; a masterpiece that requires him to get large quantities of blood from his body. He achieves this through self-cutting and drinking Hydrochloric Acid.

After he briefly introduces himself, he goes on to describe the stories behind each of his paintings. Panorama of Hell is cleverly structured into an anthology-like structure. Each part reveals more about himself, his family and his surroundings that inspired the paintings. As he makes his way through each painting we are able to build up the bigger picture of his and his family’s troubled past.

From the bowels of Hell

This Horror Manga is not for the feint of heart; it is violent from start to finish and shows some pretty nasty scenes throughout. I found myself growing accustomed to the violence in general after a few pages, but now and again something would happen that would make me think again.

It’s hard to imagine a place described in this story as actually being a real place. The guillotine overlooking his house; the train that carries the severed heads off into the sunset; the river of blood and corpses running parallel to the train’s tracks. What I can imagine though, is these visions he describes being amplifications of fears and real-life traumatic moments. Like how we always seem to remember things from our childhoods being much bigger than they were.

This manga deals with the subject of domestic abuse quite heavily too. Within the context of the story’s brutal canvas, the history of his parents’ and grandparents’ abusive nature is particular hard to read at times. It pretty plainly discusses the fact that financial and life pressures, along with their own upbringing, leads each new generation into abusive life styles.

Dark beauties hidden within

At the risk of sounding morbid, I will say that there is a beauty in many areas of Panorama of Hell. I loved the idea of the blood drops across the train tracks causing blood-red flowers to bloom. Flowers he describes as being “Crimson Flowers of Hell” that glisten in the sunrise. The very idea of there actually being a sunrise gives me hope for this character.

As with most other manga, it is shown completely in black and white. The depiction of such huge amounts of blood throughout Panorama of Hell intrinsically link the colour of crimson blood we hold in our mind, with the black of night. Every panel feels drenched in blood, with it often being hard to tell where the blood stops and the shadows begin.

Drawing from Hideshi Hino’s own life

Key parts of the artist’s life greatly inspired parts of Panorama of Hell. Hideshi was born on the Japanese-occupied east coast of China in a town called Qiqihar. He manged to narrowly escape as a young child with his parents towards the end of the Second World War. I believe that the horrors of that time had to have affected the young Hideshi at a deep level. It is no wonder that he is exploring the subjects of Hell and violence in such a visceral way.

I don’t believe that the horrors of war can be captured fully in any art form – whether it be manga, film, or painting. But I do feel that the aspects of war that seem to have inspired this work, have helped birth one of the darkest depictions of everyday horror I’ve read yet. When I say “everyday horror” I mean that many of the violent actions in the story are well within the realm of real life, as opposed to fighting mythical beasts, monsters or demons.

In Summary

Panorama of Hell is a fascinating character study of the mysterious painter and his family history that has shaped him. In the first pages he just came across as this demented psychopath with no redeeming qualities. However, with each new chapter and each new painting, I found my empathy for him growing.

If you are feeling particularly brave and think you can stomach it, you should try and read Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino. It is a reading experience you wont be forgetting in a hurry.

Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito

Fragments of Horror features a hallucinogenic futon; a woman obsessed with being dissected and a twisted author looking for the perfect facial tic. All pretty much par for the course in Junji Ito’s world of Horror Manga.

I really enjoyed reading these stories and did so one at a time, letting each one sink in before moving to the next. I read one per journey travelling to and from work last week (some pages did get me odd looks from other train passengers). There is a lot of stuff here for fans of Ito’s other works like Uzumaki and Gyo, but I think this could also serve as a good introduction to him too.

Calmer Tales (relatively speaking)

Stories like Futon and Gentle Goodbye are relatively tame compared to his more infamous tales.

Futon is the shortest story of the book at just eight pages long. While it does deal with what are called ‘Dark nature spirits’ haunting a man from above his bed – with an excellent two-page-spread depicting said spirits, there isn’t any really scary horror in there. In fact just as the story was getting going it was over.

With the latter, Gentle Goodbye, it is a slower-paced story about a woman entering into a new marriage. Within this marriage is a family who have found a way to bring back their recently-passed relatives into what they call ‘After Images’. These after images are essentially ghosts but this isn’t written as a scary ghost story. Instead it deals with the idea of the loss, and the worries of losing, loved ones around us. It was nice to read this one as a mental break between two of the collection’s most horrific stories.

Dark side

On the other side of the Ito scale are stories like Dissection-chan and Blackbird.

Dissection-chan has a super simple premise, which also happens to be the most twisted idea in my opinion. A young woman, who has sneaked into a medical university dissection room, almost manages to get her wish of being dissected by pretending to be a cadaver. We then see how she has had this fascination from a young age and whether or not she gets her wish fulfilled.

Junji Ito has himself named one of his biggest influences as being H.P. Lovecraft. In Fragments of Horror this is most evident in the story Blackbird. In blackbird a hiker is discovered in the woods after being left injured on the ground for a while. He then goes on to tell the story of how a strange woman would come to him when he was hungry, to feed him as a bird would. She would regurgitate food into his mouth and he, starving at the time, would accept. The story then continues into an almost mind-bending conclusion that manages to come back round on itself.

In closing

There are four other stories that I haven’t mentioned here and will let you discover for yourself. What I will say is that my favourite story from Fragments of Horror is one called Tomio * Red Turtleneck. In this the eponymous character, Tomio, spends the entire story trying to keep his loosened head attached to his shoulders. How he gets in that state, I’ll let you discover for yourselves.

Now there’s an enticing premise if ever I heard one.