Dragon Head by Minetaro Mochizuki

Dragon Head is a brutal, honest portrayal of a cataclysmic event and the effects it has on those left alive. Teru Aoki and Ako Sato are two such survivors, thrown into this new world crying and screaming, without a clue of where to go next.

What is the Dragon Head manga series?

Whilst heading into a tunnel, a train is derailed and trapped inside – killing all but three of the passengers. These are the aforementioned Teru and Ako, along with a third – Nobuo Takahashi.

The story then follows these characters as they struggle to come to terms with the situation they have been placed in. Teru and Ako eventually form a partnership, whilst Nobuo quickly begins to break down. Convinced of some entity out in the darkness of the tunnels, Nobuo ultimately falls prey to his own delusions. This leaves the two friends to escape from the tunnels, leaving Nobuo to his own insanity.

From there Teru and Ako’s journey takes them across very harsh landscapes and across the paths of some very violent adversaries. Although initially naive, they eventually toughen up to meet the demands of their new life. This adaption often comes at a price – the price of leaving behind the people they once were to become people they may not like to be.

A bleak vision of a post-apocalyptic world

Minetarō Mochizuki never lets you forget the world that you are in – many of the panels throughout each issue are of rubble; debris; dust; fire. The characters don’t find themselves travelling across open fields or down quiet desolate streets. No – this world is claustrophobic; it’s dirty; it is bricks and mortar with shards of broken metal between. It’s violent and unforgiving and all must learn to adapt.

Dragon Head can be a tough read to tell you the truth, not tough as in graphical violence as such, but instead in its dark vision of a bleak post-apocalyptic world. If you don’t mind your stories dark every now and again, then this one is definitely worth your time. Just don’t be expecting any smiles from these characters, unless it’s the psychopathic grin of someone trying to kill them.

In summary

Dragon head is an honest and brutal story about young people forced to come to terms with, and survive, an apocalyptic event. As you can imagine it isn’t for everyone and I think you’ll know if it’s for you within the first couple of issues. What I will say though is at least give it a try – I’m still yet to come across anything quite like it. Despite it’s darkness and apparent lack of hope, I thoroughly enjoyed it for the unique story it is.

Hellstar Remina by Junji Ito

What is Hellstar Remina about?

One evening, while watching the night sky, an astronomer discovers a mysterious new planet that seems have just appeared from nowhere. He soon believes that it has appeared from out of a distant wormhole sixteen light years away. He names this new planet Remina, after his only daughter.

The girl Remina, who coincidently is the same age as the planet – sixteen* , becomes an overnight star due to her new namesake. Fan clubs are popping up all over the world and people scramble in the streets just to see her. The world is obsessed with Remina.

*The new planet is sixteen light years away, which means it takes the light sixteen years to get to us. This means that at the point of it appearing to the astronomer, sixteen years would have passed since it actually appeared.

In the night sky

While the world is obsessing over the girl, the planet is observed as taking a strange, irregular path across the distant sky. Not only that, but the stars it seems to come into contact with disappear as the planet approaches. It isn’t long until the planet stops still completely, which leads the astronomers to hypothesise only one thing. They believe that this can only mean that the planet is now heading straight for Earth.

As the planet becomes larger, as it approaches Earth at speed, the population’s thirst for the girl’s love quickly becomes a thirst for her blood. She becomes the sole target of a full-on witch hunt, as the people believe that killing her will stop the impending doom that the new planet threatens.

What follows is an extremely harrowing experience for Remina and the few who are still trying to keep her safe. The growing hordes of angry people stop at nothing to get hold of the girl and hold her accountable for their fate.

A microcosm of organised religion

What I found most interesting about Hellstar Remina, was the people’s actions and beliefs towards the girl. When the new planet was a thing of awe and wonder, she was revered as such. However, once the planet seemed to pose an immediate threat, they direct their fear and anger directly at the only thing they could seemingly control – her. All of this because her father named the planet after her.

There is no evidence to support a connection between Remina the girl and Remina the planet. However, cast-iron beliefs are held that destroying her will destroy the planet. Even within the mobs of people there is a small sect of believers, dressed in spiritual robes, who believe that sacrificing her in a particular way will stop the planet.

To me this story is like a microcosm of organised religion, taken to the extremes in a way that only Junji Ito knows how. That’s not to say that I believe organised religions are bad – that’s not what I am saying. What I am saying is it’s interesting how an organised group of people come together under a common belief, to perform an act that they all believe will save them. Even though there is never any proof in this – they are all acting on faith.

Mob Rule

The most shocking things in this story are not necessarily what the mysterious planet does, although it does get crazy. For me, the most shocking actions come from the people and what they put this girl through. Remina gets beaten, dragged through the streets and strung up on a crucifix – as seen in the opening pages.

Whether they love her or hate her, people’s emotions are always taken to extremes by those who are near her. It’s often hard to remember that Remina is a sixteen year old girl. But when you do, it makes her struggle all the more harder to endure at times.

Summary

Another great story from Junji Ito – not that I’ve ever found a bad story of his. Less on the usual body horror front and more of a look at the human psychology surrounding the story’s events. A world-eating planet and the things people will do to try and stop it. All in all a good afternoon read that you could finish within an hour.

Army of One by Junji Ito

Army of One is a oneshot manga story by Junji Ito, featured at the end of his 5 part series, Hellstar Remina. Something about this story makes me want to re-read it again and again.

What is Army of One about?

Army of one follows some friends trying to organise their school reunion in the midst of a new killing spree. The killing spree involves victims being found in different places all sewn together. The number of people found sewn together grows exponentially as the story quickly moves forward.

Gather round, people.
All together now!
Nobody likes a lonely only
Everyone’s your friend, everyone’s your friend.
When you join hearts and sing – Army of one,
We’re an army of one!

The mysterious radio broadcast

Michio is a boy who hasn’t really left his bedroom for seven years. He prefers the solitary lifestyle in his family home. When he is called upon one day by a girl from his school year, he reluctantly begins mingling with his school peers once again – albeit briefly. The girl, Natsuko, is organising their school year’s reunion and coming of age party, which by definition will involve a large group of people. This can only end badly.

It isn’t long before some of those friends start to become victims of these “stitch murders”. People quickly realise that the safest place to be is alone.

An interesting spin on a horror trope

Normally in horror, of most kinds, the safest place to be is together. As soon as someone goes off alone, more often than not, they are picked off. Army of One spins that on its head, however, in that the victims are all people who go off in groups. It is actually safer to be alone in this world, which I think would have interesting consequences in the wider world had this been a larger story.

It is touched upon with the mention of phones soon to be cut off and networks potentially going down. If everybody was afraid to be in groups just imagine what that would do to society. Families would start becoming separated; people would cease going to work; people would be afraid to even go shopping. The world would go to hell.

In Summary

This is one of my favourite stories by famed Mangaka Junji Ito. It has great pacing and creates an interesting world, which I’d have loved to see expanded upon. That being said, Ito does use the lesser page count – thirty seven pages by my reckoning – to great effect. He gets straight into the situation of the “Stitch Murders” and escalates it at a really good pace.

You’ll never want to be in a group again.