Japanese Manga Review: “Nijigahara Holograph” by Inio Asano

By | January 5, 2022

The other day I wrote a review on the first book of “Oyasumi Punpun” by Inio Asano (浅野 いにお). In short, while there were some parts I didn’t like, overall I really enjoyed Asano’s art style and how he wove certain mysterious elements into the story. 

Looking to enjoy more of this author’s world with a slightly more normal main character, I ended up purchasing the first book of “A Girl on the Shore”, another work of his. Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting the (extremely) explicit sex scenes and overall didn’t enjoy that book very much.

However, when walking through my local library the other day I came across a large hardcover book in stark yellow and white with the intriguing title “Nijigahara Holograph”, and on closer inspection it turned out to be from––guess who?––Asano. Normally I prefer reading manga from Japan in the original Japanese, but I decided to take advantage of the free rental of the English version and see what it had to offer.

All in all, I was totally blown away by this book. I liked nearly every aspect of it, from the super-detailed art style to the touching internal dialogue, and especially the mysterious, surreal story.

While some manga tends to throw in detailed, beautiful scenes here and there amidst some less-detailed frames, “Nijigahara Holograph” really impressed me on nearly every page. The characters’ faces were extremely expressive, but above all I loved the artistic scenes involving nature and/or the city. Some of the frames I liked so much, I almost wish I had posters of them (like the breathtaking sunset scene in the first chapter). There is certainly a subjective element in terms of what makes a good art style, but I would be surprised to meet anyone who couldn’t appreciate at least some aspect of the beautiful art this thick book has to offer. 

I am not going to go much into the story itself except to say that (like “Oyasumi Punpun”) it is based on some mysterious things that happen in a coming-of-age setting where some of the key characters are going to elementary school. The content of this book is very dark, perhaps on the borderline of what I normally enjoy, and does have some serious violence as well as some sexually-sensitive parts (though fortunately the latter is much less explicit than “A Girl on the Shore”, and there are fewer scenes).

While I wasn’t really thinking in terms of the story as a “(David Lynchian) psychological horror”, when I read that description on the back cover after I finished the book I realized it is fairly accurate. (Perhaps it is no surprise I am a big fan of one of David Lynch’s films.) The surreal aspects are a double-edged sword, and I admit after a single reading I was not able to quite fit everything together. But I got the feeling that things somehow had to fit together, and if I ever get a chance to read it through a second time (hopefully in Japanese this time) I’ll understand how all the puzzle pieces fit.

I can’t make any confident statements about the difficulty of the Japanese, but judging from the other books I’ve read of his, plus the English content of “Nijigahara Holograph”, I think the Japanese version of this book wouldn’t be that hard for someone who has a few years of Japanese study under their belt.

Speaking of the English version––while I didn’t compare against the original text, the translation seemed pretty good, at least judging from how natural things were rendered. There were a handful of places where the phrasing was a bit unnatural (the phrase “touched in the head” jumped out as the worst example), but as a biased reader who already knew I was reading translated material, I can’t judge the translation fairly just from reading the English version. But accuracy aside, the English was definitely sufficient to convey many of the important nuances of the dialogue (both explicit and inner dialogue). There was even a guide to pronouncing Japanese names at the end of the book, which was a nice touch.

In summary, although the violence, dark story, and sexual content prevent me from recommending this to younger readers, “Nijigahara Holograph” (虹ヶ原ホログラフ) was a very skillfully drawn, memorable work that is definitely on my top-ten list. 

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