Review by Ian Keogh
If it wasn’t enough that Hideshi Hino ranks among the top authors of Japanese horror comics, on their back cover blurb Dark Horse invite readers to take a look inside the mind of a madman. Invitation accepted!
Four stories await, the title piece a brilliantly grotesque and funny faked autobiography detailing the crimes Hino’s committed in the name of art, and the surroundings that perpetuate his fetid mind. As a youth he discovers he has the power to draw what will then happen. Be warned, though, your very life is endangered by reading the story as Hino can’t let you know the truth and live!
Best skip the opener, then, and head straight for the second of four stories, ‘Unusual Fetus, My Baby’. Hino is also present here, beside his heavily pregnant wife dreaming up distasteful story ideas based on her condition. Is this why the baby is born deformed? From there Hino escalates to world destruction.
‘Train of Terror’ is young Shuichi’s nightmare come true. He’s always believed that if a train spends too long in a tunnel it’s entering a parallel universe, and who’s to say he’s not right about that? ‘Zoroku’s Strange Disease’ lives up to the title, being an exceptionally disturbing tale of persecution and redemption.
These are comedy horror stories, with Hino’s exaggerated reactions and staged lighting accompanying the terror of the protagonist. He’s surprisingly unsentimental, with Shuichi thoroughly terrorised for around ninety pages in the longest story, the location changing every few pages as Hino hilariously subverts what should be safe environments. Any child reading ‘Train of Terror’ is likely to store enough fears to keep a therapist in business for life.
Hino modifies his art for the final story of one man and his unsightly boils, which is told almost as a fairy tale. It’s a more traditional approach, discarding the large sound effects and exaggeration of terror, although the cartoon people remain distinctive. Some of the language used in taunting the unfortunate Zoroku will be considered insensitive at best, but then how to convey the intent with language that doesn’t offend? Although seemingly taken more seriously, the dark humour present in the earlier stories is continued for this fable, just more subtly, and in one sequence stomach-churningly.
Energetic and creative, Hino’s stories provide constant gruesome thrills, and it’s a shame more aren’t available in English.