a review by the Crow.
The works of Itō Junji, Part 3
In our continuing series on the works of Itō Junji, following Gyo [+related stories]) and Mimi no Kaidan [+bonus stories], we now arrive at Hellstar Remina. Or rather, Hellstar Remina arrives at The Corvid Review.
We’ve been quite slow with reviews, lately, and I wanted to write a nice big post about this manga. However, due to the nature of the story, and how quickly one can be spoiled, I won’t be following our typical structure this time around (synopsis/analysis/etc.). This will simply be a traditional review.
Now that I’ve cleared that up, let’s whip out our telescopes and take a closer look at Hellstar Remina!
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
Set in the future world of 20XX AD, Hellstar Remina begins with a dramatic scene: a young girl, tied to a stake, about to be burnt alive. And through the night sky above her, a pair of colossal eyes watch over the proceedings.
The story rewinds to one year prior, and we start working out way up to the opening scene. Astrophysicist Professor Oguro Tsueneo‘s prediction that a wormhole exists in the Hydra constellation is proven correct when a strange planet suddenly appears at the stated location.
During the media frenzy over his prediction and his subsequent Nobel Prize win (the Nobel Committee sure work quick in this future, given it’s only July, and the discovery of the planet was only early in the same year), he reveals the name he’s given to the planet: Remina — after his only daughter, who was born on the same day Planet Remina appeared in our part of the visible universe.
Oguro Remina thereafter is launched into stardom and spends some time getting used to the life of an ‘idol’, and everything seems to be going okay for once (in the case of an Itō Junji work) until Ikeuchi — professor Oguro’s assistant (I assume) — reveals a bizarre new development: Planet Remina has stopped its strange path through space and has turned towards Earth. And it’s rapidly closing in on the solar system.
And how does he know this? Well, he made eye contact with Remina, after all…
I can sometimes be that fun guy at parties who likes to spoil moments with a healthy heaping of science! But this is Itō Junji, and given how much fun the rest of the story becomes once you throw science out the window: I’ll allow it. I’ll allow it all.
There’s no better way to ruin weird fiction/horror than to try and rationalise it. These stories are fuelled by the vast amounts of ‘unknown-ium‘ they have in their vats, after all. And I’ve come to the conclusion that Itō Junji is a master of letting the unknown just be.
We’re introduced to most of our core cast fairly early on. They’re all men, and they all revolve around Oguro Remina. Primarily, we have:
- Mitsumura Yasumi, Remina’s agent
- Mineishi Kunhiro, the heir-apparent to Mineishi Construction, the company whose sponsorship is Remina’s most lucrative deal
- As well as Mineishi Gensaburo, Kunhiro’s father, and the man at the top of Mineishi Construction (his wife makes some appearances as well)
- Naoyo Goda, the leader of Remina’s official fan-club
Over time, other characters become introduced to us; but oh: are these guys ever a colourful bunch of characters! Kunhiro and Goda are both obsessed with Remina to different degrees, and both of their obsessions play out in different ways. Yasumi’s connection to Remina is “purer”, and it plays out exactly how one should expect it to play out in a work by Itō Junji.
As the planet approaches Earth and the public are thrown into panic, the situation quickly devolves into a full-on witch hunt for Remina. Now, I haven’t myself seen or read any accounts of literal witch-hunts in fiction, but I’d wager that the witch hunt for Remina that appear in the pages of this manga are a solid contender for the Top 10.
As one of our characters later puts it: this is the human instinct/drive to survive showing itself. And during this manic chase (which effectively takes up most of the story), we hit twists, turns, and bumps. Almost nothing is static in this world as Planet Remina closes in on the Earth.
The chaos of the story is channelled through the meandering structure of the plot, and it’s channelled well. Everything flows smoothly up until the moment when Remina finally arrives. And thereafter, the story takes on a whole new speed.
Following the planet’s arrival, and after a few glimpses of what the surface of the planet is like — by way of a team of astronauts who are sent to study the planet from up-close and personal, the story starts moving in a sequence of set-pieces.
Looking at the story’s structure solely from an analytical perspective, this would usually be a bad idea. This sort of structuring is often jarring, and makes the reader less-able to properly follow what’s going on. However, in Hellstar Remina, it works quite well.
The witch hunt continues throughout the story, and there’s one sequence I just have to point out. Without telling you too much about it, let me just say that there’s an ‘aerial aspect’ to the chase at one point. Weird as it is, it’s by far one of my favourite sequences in the story. It’s just the right kind of delightfully bizarre.
By reducing the female characters to essentially just Remina helps highlight her isolation during the witch-hunt. The only other woman prominent to the story is Kunhiro’s mother, but she’s barely here.
To return to the topic of the characters: there’s a wide range of characterisations explored within Hellstar Remina. There’s this one character (not naming him right now) who we later find at the heart of a twist. It was exceptionally jarring, and had me in shock.
On my second read-through, I paid a little closer attention to him, and it seems that the twist works on two levels: one is that the twist is set up (always necessary with twists), but only to a certain degree — it doesn’t go the full 100%; and two is that the twist is capable of tricking one into questioning the events that have transpired in the plot so far.
It’s something quite simply explained, to be fair, but I don’t like twists that sneak up on me like this one did.
The few glimpses of Remina (the planet) that we get are pretty damn interesting. Remina is quite a hellish place. I’m glad that Itō Junji, like most mangakas, works mostly in black-and-white: I fear our views of the planet might be gravely harmed by the use of colour.
We find out certain aspects to Remina’s environment; but of course, nothing is ever truly made clear. At some points, I was reminded of the ice-asteroid from the Zephyr Campaign of Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles at times (fond memories! I was such a kid at the time!), even though Remina is hugely dissimilar from it.
What we do find out raises a lot of questions and only spells more doom for our characters. (Or did Kunhiro’s runaway older brother make it, in the end? Does he have the answers to our questions?)
Overall, this is a strange, but delightful romp. There are certain moments that leave one’s jaw slack at the visuals presented on the page. The most significant aspect of this manga — to me — is that the absurdity and tension are balanced in excellent fashion. I haven’t seen this level of balancing of the two since PKD’s Ubik (which has long been lingering in our drafts as our to-be first book review).
It’s a look at the futility of the “Man vs Nature” style of plot conflict when Nature is given the freedom to use all the weapons available to her (and borrow a few from who-knows-where. It’s a hugely satisfying story by a writer who has his pacing down pat, and excels at rendering the strange as an artist. I don’t think there are many people who wouldn’t empathise with poor Remina as she’s hunted by the world, across the world, under her namesake’s eager eyes.
And as for her namesake… while we might never know what planet Remina wants (maybe it only does, who’s to know?), we’re told fairly early on what it will probably do, in the end. And it’s up to us to stop it. Its journey through our solar system while the witch hunt begins to gather steam out in the streets is handled quickly — but I’d advise against reading too much into it.
In this story, almost nothing is certain. What is certain, though is the nature of humanity when made desperate, and the fact that despite the madness coursing through the veins of the populace at large, humanity still is capable of sanity and caring.
Hellstar Remina comes highly recommended by both myself, as well as by the Azure-Winged Magpie. It’s a wonderful read, and we recommend one go through it in one sitting (it’s not too long; don’t worry). It has shades of horror, shades of science-fantasy, is very much weird fiction, and has tons of criticism about human beings and the way you people act (which Corvidae always like seeing).
A great job, all around. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we’ll ask everyone to give it a shot, anyway.
HELLSTAR REMINA | FINAL RATINGS
THE CROW: 8/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 8.5/10
ARMY OF ONE
Revolving around missing persons suddenly reappearing dead and stitched-together, Army of One follows Michio, a loner who has been following the incidents from the privacy of his own room. It takes the reappearance of his high-school crush Horie Natsuko to bring him out of hiding — a feat not even his mother can achieve.
Cue a class reunion, a meeting with old classmates, and a dashing of Michio’s hopes… and then Michio comes across the second incident: a group of six stitched into one. And then, leaflets drop from the sky. On them? The lyrics to the creepy song Michio heard over the radio earlier in the story.
Army of One flows smoothly until the ending, which is jarring, and leaves one wondering what the heck just happened — but just for a minute.
The story told is actually easier to parse than one might think about at first. Yes, there’s definitely something weird and unexplained going on under the surface of the story’s skin, but the ending — on a second thought actually explains quite a lot about the mysteries of the story so far. It just doesn’t hand you a full picture.
Aside from all that, I like the criticism of social expectations the story presents, and the implications of how Michio’s reluctance to join society makes him less of a target for the Army of One. I would even propose that this story has a clearer non-literal meaning that would explain it completely, but I’ll save that for another time.
After all, what would be the point of that? This is weird horror, after all.
ARMY OF ONE | FINAL RATINGS
THE CROW: 5.5/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 7/10
Hellstar Remina is one of Itō Junji’s finer works. I thought it’d be hard for me to pick whether or not I liked it more than Gyo [+related stories]), but I think I do. And while that leaves Mimi no Kaidan [+bonus stories] in last place, it doesn’t mean Mimi no Kaidan is a poor work — just that the other two are better.
I had quite a bit of hell thanks to issues with the images I’ve prepared for this post, and with how trying these posts seem to be for me, I think I’ll be giving this Itō Junji series a bit of a rest for a while before proceeding on to Part 4.
And on that note, in other news:
We’ve been hard at work with making sure we’re up to date with our current Call for Submissions (the window closes tonight, but I might extend it a little to cover the weekend), so haven’t been able to post as regularly as we usually do. We still intend to publish at least one more review before the month is out, but that’ll most-likely fall to the Brown-Necked Raven since the Azure-Winged Magpie has been in shut-down mode, lately, when it comes to writing reviews.
We should be back to our regular speed within a week or so. And we’ll have quite a bit of content for all of you. Congratulations to Manchester United for the Europa League win, and condolences to those in Manchester.
Coming up in part Four: