Bug Boy by Hideshi Hino

What is Bug Boy about?

Sanpei is a young boy whose life is pretty much hell for him. Teachers and students pick on him on a daily basis; his parents treat him with contempt over his bad grades. His only respite comes in the form of stray animals and creepy crawlies that he befriends.

Outside of school he has a secret hideout in a local rubbish tip where he keeps a few of these friends of his as pets. He feels a kinship with them, so keeps them safe in his hideout. He loves them and they love him in return. For Sanpei, this is his own heaven on earth.

However, things take a drastic left turn when, after being sent to his room by his angry father, he vomits a large red bug that quickly stings him on his finger. This very odd happening starts off a series of changes in Sanpei that lead to his transformation into this horror manga’s namesake – The Bug Boy.

But just what will his life be like now that he is forever changed? We follow his new life; his new journey; and ultimately his new taste for human flesh…

Rooting for Sanpei from beginning to end

Despite where Sanpei’s change takes him, both physically and mentally, I couldn’t stop myself from rooting for him from beginning to end. We love the underdog as a main character – watching someone with the world seemingly against them rise up to meet it head on. This is pretty much what Sanpei does, but in that special way that only Hideshi Hino could depict.

Despite the horrors he brings down on those who meet the pointy end of his tail, I found myself always drawn towards Sanpei’s innocent centre, no matter how deep and hidden it became.

Because of this, and the journey he goes through, I found this story to be quite melancholic at times. Sanpei’s loneliness, and those things that would look to do him harm, made me want to bring him home to safety. He always felt like a lost little boy, alone in the world, no matter how strong he became.

Putting the ‘Gory’ in allegory

Sanpei’s story also works as an excellent allegory for the raising and nurturing of children. We are shown early on that his upbringing has caused him to essentially retreat into himself and his critter friends. Instead of his parents or teachers trying to address this or offer any help, they instead belittle and bully him.

We even see his father making out that he his essentially his least favourite child – something no child should have to feel. I strongly believe that Sanpei is a direct product of his environment. The idea of a bug ultimately saving him and turning him into a stronger being by stinging him, is a direct result of those bugs being his only friends in his life.

But what also interested me later on in this story was how Sanpei began looking back to his former self after a particularly traumatic event. He seemed to remember his human self as being overall happy – his father taking him to the zoo; his siblings playing with him.

So whilst this could be a lesson to guardians to pay closer attention to their children, it could also be a lesson to children to not focus in on the negativity in life. Yes, people in this story were nasty towards our hero, but they were the only things we were shown in his life. So of course, we assume him to have an abusive upbringing. But it could just simply be that from Sanpei’s young perspective, the world was against him – when perhaps it wasn’t so black and white when looking at the situation objectively.

Maybe it could just be that simple channels of communication needed to be opened between Sanpei and his guardians.

In Summary

This is as great an introduction to Hideshi Hino’s work as any I have read so far. It’s not quite as intense as his Panorama of Hell, but still packs a good punch in its short sitting. I read it through in about twenty minutes, which made it a great companion for my commute to work.

Hell Baby by Hideshi Hino

Hideshi Hino’s Hell Baby Horror Manga is one of the saddest Manga stories I have read so far. Although the titular ‘Hell Baby’ is grotesque and brutal in her approach to all things, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her from start to finish.

What is Hell Baby Manga about?

On a dark and stormy night, somewhere in Japan a baby is born; a beautiful baby girl. However, so to is a disfigured and slightly demonic twin. Instead of taking this baby in too, she is instead dumped in a bag at a huge dump known as The World’s graveyard.

It is in this ‘graveyard’ that Hell Baby dies and is subsequently resurrected by mysterious converging flames. Despite being taught nothing of the world, this child still manages to cling to her life by preying on the dirty insects and small mammals of the area.

Her deep-rooted desire for family, and the guidance of a mystery figure, lead her into the nearby city. It is here that she begins unleashing her own hell on the inhabitants whilst in search for something she is missing. This something just may be the very family, the father, who left her for dead.

A goodness in the grotesque

In all of the Horror Manga stories I have read, the more grotesque characters tend to be the evil ones; the antagonists. Whilst the more good-natured people generally tend to be on the side of good. But with Hell Baby, sort of like with his Panorama of Hell, Hideshi Hino turns these ideas of good and evil on their heads.

The Hell Baby, as it is called throughout the story, is no more than an unfortunate soul dealt a rotten hand in life. Not only that, but her own father chooses to abandon her for dead rather than feel ashamed by his second-born. The real evil one here, in my opinion, is that father.

The disowned child lives only the way she could to survive. Her learned actions then carry her through to the vicious attacks she performs later on. Although you can’t forgive Hell Baby for what she does to innocent bystanders, you do still have to look at it from her perspective. Here is an unfortunate girl who was cast out and left to fend for herself, looking for the missing love wherever she can find it.

Right to the bone – In Summary

This Manga story was a quick read for me – about fifteen minutes in total. I loved revisting the style of world that I had come to love from Hino’s other work. This is a lot smaller in scope, but no less accomplished in it’s whole. The artwork is just as graphic and raw as I remember from his style. He also retains that more cartoonish character look that he has over most other Mangas.

If you have a short wait, such as on your daily commute, why not give Hell Baby a read? If you are fed up with that commute, maybe you’ll feel a little better about it after reading about this girl’s life.

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.