Hino Horror 14: Skin and Bone

Hideshi Hino – Cocoro Books – 2004 – 14 volumes
“Hino Horror” is the name for this series, but they are mostly unrelated volumes of horror stories by Hideshi Hino.

I liked these a little less than the quirky themed short stories from last volume, but the stories here were certainly more developed and of a higher quality.  The themes are pretty common horror fodder again, with a girl whose spirit is haunting the school until her body is discovered, kids who are teased and take extreme measures that usually involve death and/or vengeance, and a particularly good story that loops back on itself about a pair of sisters that may or may not exist.

Common Hino Horror themes, like transforming and being identified with insects, pop up again, as do protagonists who are ostracized finding peace at the end of the story.  The peace they find isn’t the healthiest or most conventional kind, but the stories still end on a positive note.  Of course, just as often, the children seek vengeance on those who teased them, and that can be pretty great as well. There’s a little bit there for everyone.

The story about the sisters is interesting because it is divided into three chapters.  One tells the story from one sister’s point of view, the second from the other’s POV, and the third tells a story of “reality.”  Except reality doesn’t really match up at all with either of the stories, and then it loops back to the beginning of the first chapter.  I love stories that do this, but admittedly, this isn’t really the smoothest use of that technique.  Red Snake, the first volume of Hino Horror, is an excellent use of that technique, however, as is Reptilia by Kazuo Umezu.

Hino seems fond of turning his children into insects, animals, and vermin in general.  I wonder how prevalent this was (or is) in children’s horror manga, because I know that Kazuo Umezu is prone to doing the same thing.  It’s a bizarre story device to use as extensively as they seem to, but I always seem to like the stories at least a little, so I can’t argue with results.

I think the last two are some of the better volumes of Hino Horror, but you will want to read the series for “Red Snake,” the first volume, which is one of the best horror manga you’ll find.  The Collection volumes are also good, as are several other volumes.  There are a few duds mixed in, and I suspect that these stories are from Hino’s more contemporary work and probably fare poorly when compared to his 70s horror stories, but all the same, they are entertaining reads, and you really can’t go wrong if you’re looking for cheap, bizarre thrills.

Hino Horror 13: Zipangu Night

Hideshi Hino – Cocoro Books – 2004 – 14 volumes
“Hino Horror” is the name for this series, but they are mostly unrelated volumes of horror stories by Hideshi Hino.

I can only talk about Hideshi Hino in October, but sadly, it’s been a long time since the last new volume of his work came out in English (or Japanese, as far as I can tell, at least on Amazon Japan).  I’ve got nothing left to talk about once these last two volumes of Hino Horror are covered here.  Maybe I’ll just loop back around and start again with Hell Baby next year.

This is another more contemporary volume of short stories, these are circa 1997.  Now, as I’ve mentioned before… these stories aren’t… well, they aren’t good, by most conventional methods of reckoning.  You have to know what you’re getting into.  They’re cheap thrills for children, and there’s not much to them.  They get the job done, though, and if you go into it knowing what to expect, you’ll probably wind up enjoying it.

I liked this volume better than some of the others because of the esoteric themes of the stories.  It reminded me a lot of Mantis Woman by Senno Knife, and I suspect Knife probably owes a lot to Hino.  We’ve got a little bit of everything here, from rat girls to children who wake up with their head backwards or with gigantic brains… an onibaba-type that appears to be feeding children pieces of other children, and a grim reaper teacher.  The stories never really go any farther than the gimmicks they’re based on, but I like that every single one of them takes place “so long ago that nobody remembers the exact details” even though they all seem to take place in the present.

While the art is nothing like Hino at his best, there are still plenty of shocking visuals.  The grim reaper teacher chapter in particular has a lot of little kids being decapitated, stabbed through the head, and otherwise maimed and dismembered messily.  For maximum shock/vomit value, there’s a story with a woman breastfeeding a baby.  Without warning, her nipple pulls off in the baby’s mouth and maggots spill from her rotting breast.  That has to be one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in a manga.  For kids?  Not so much, but it sure does seem like it was written for that audience.

Yeah, this was probably one of the better Hino Horror volumes… but again, there’s not a whole not to these stories.

Hino Horror 12: Mystique Mandala of Hell

I know, it’s not October anymore, but let me get through these last few volumes of Hino Horror on the site.  They’ve been waiting for their turn in the spotlight for years.

I was disappointed with the last few volumes of short stories, but this returns to the one-shot format of some of the earlier volumes.  The story itself is pretty great: a girl named Mandala is names sole savior of the Eastern demons, though through a mistake she makes she winds up wandering the Earth as the last of her kind, looking for a special crystal.

But this makes it sound like something it’s not.  It starts off with an oddball girl starting at a new school and all the children speculate on her.  A bully finds out her secret and is basically threatened in one of the most cosmic manga scenes you’re likely to see.  Later, a nice boy begins to follow her around in an attempt to make friends with her, and he unwittingly stumbles on her lost crystal.  Woe follows him as a result, and a very Junji Ito-like misfortune haunts him.  Mandala helps him out, and eventually has a showdown with a crow, leader of the Western Demons.

There’s plenty of gore.  Mandala’s crystals are actually her eyeballs, and they get popped out a fair number of times throughout the volume.  Plus the scenes that play out in front of the little boys are suitably horror manga-esque in a way that is entirely unique to Hideshi Hino.

The story’s a lot tighter than I make it sound, and is really pretty good.  It’s not even close to Hino’s best work, but it is more than a decent one-shot, and the surreal bully threatening scene alone is worth the price of admission.  The three before this one are probably worth skipping, but this one is for sure a worthy read.

Hino Horror 11: Gallery of Horrors

This will be short and sweet, just like all the stories in this volume.

Well, I like Hideshi Hino.  A lot.  I’m not going to lie to you.  I liked this volume far more than I should have, but it’s the sort of thing I could see a lot of people easily disliking.  To be fair, the stories are not that good.  They are all based around simple ideas and play out over the space of a few pages.  There’s not much to them.  But they are pure physical horror tinged with humor, just like I like ‘em, so I still eat it up despite the fact this is probably not one of the better volumes of Hino Horror.

The title comes from the framing device, which is sort of like Night Gallery, except there’s a Vincent Price-looking narrator.  Each story is based off a color and an initial painted image introduced by Mr. Price.  My favorite was the green story, which was about a boy who was literally and figuratively a vegetable.  The ending was surprisingly heartbreaking for what it was.  I also kind of liked the red story, which was sort of abrupt, but had what I suspect was a cameo from the main character of Panorama of Hell, save he was weilding a knife instead of an axe (the story itself is about a little girl with an aversion for the color red and a repressed memory).  The gray story, about a statue and a scientist, had an excellent premise, and would have been much better in an expanded format.

I can’t really comment too much on the stories themselves since they’re so short.  The critique mainly comes from their shortness since there’s not much to them.  They tell their stories well though, and they get across the bizarre idea in Hino shorthand in only a few pages, so they accomplish what they set out to do.

Meh.  It’s good enough for me just by virtue of being Hino Horror.

Hino Horror 10: Death’s Reflection

Okay.  That Faust review took it out of me tonight.  Let me do this one short and sweet and on-theme for this month.

This volume was more shoujo Hino, which is still vaguely disturbing and wrong.  I liked the stories in this volume a lot better than in “Ghost School,” though, even though it had a story very close to the title story from last volume where a class of seniors disappears in the middle of lunch one day, appear as apparitions occasionally, then reappear as rotting corpses after graduation day.  It’s not… REALLY close to the Ghost School story, but the classroom full of rotting corpses is a hard image to shake from one story, let alone two.

Even better than that, “Death’s Reflection” was the best story in the volume and had by far the most memorable image.  Three girls smoking see a reflection of a hanged woman in the bathroom mirror at school, and after spreading the rumor, the bathroom is closed down (because a teacher really did hang herself in there years ago), and the three girls now have a private smoking room.  Except the teacher in the mirror doesn’t really like that.  Let’s just say one girl meets her end by first vomiting cigarette butts, then having a geyser of them coming from the stump of her neck after decapitation in place of blood.  It was really amazing.

“Cutter X” is a good creepy stalker story, and is very close to something you might find in a Kazuo Umezu short story collection.

And the last story, “Curse of the Black Hair,” might remind you of a Junji Ito story.  Specifically, the Junji Ito story “Long Hair in the Attic,” which is also about killer long hair.

I liked this volume a lot, much better than the last, though I still don’t think it’s among his best work.  It’s… perhaps his best shoujo work though, how about that?

Hino Horror 9: Ghost School

Woah, Hino does shoujo!  There’s something so wrong about this, and it’s reflected in these stories.  I can’t help comparing it to Reptilia, Umezu shoujo, for obvious reasons, but these are definitely less… er, polished and subtle than the stories in Reptilia.  And I don’t know that Reptilia was all that subtle.

This volume also reminded me a lot of Mantis Woman since I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not the stories were taking themselves seriously.  I… I think they were.  I’m not sure if that’s a problem or not.  Generally, this is not such a problem when reading Hino’s short stories (which are usually either straight-out horror or comical over-the-top horror), but here it is a problem since these stories are somewhat weaker than his other ones.

For some reason, while I didn’t like the first story about a girl being kidnapped and kept in an abandoned school full of dead bodies guarded by a crazy man, I did like the second story about a girl who is stalked relentlessly by a creepy boy who eventually enlists his parents help in abducting her for use in a crazy ritual.  They were very similar stories, but I just liked the second one better.  Maybe it was because the creepy guy in the second one was a doll collector, a fact that was utilized pretty well in the story itself.

The fourth story, about a boy who dresses like a girl, was a little unsettling because the horror element was based on the fact the boy reveals the truth about himself to a classmate, who is then very terrified and is descended upon by the boy’s family.  That the girl was torn apart or something in the end is just as ridiculous as anything else that happened, but I just didn’t think that the horror element, the boy’s real gender, was really something to be scared about.  It just seemed… er, yeah.  On the other hand, I shouldn’t be looking for really PC stuff in a manga where little girls are sacrificed in bizarre rituals.

The best story in the volume was also the longest and most confusing.  It reminded me a lot of an Umezu-like psychological horror story, except Hino isn’t quite as good at it.  We are led through a horrifying situation where a young girl, a recent beauty contest winner, wakes up one day looking like an old lady.  She doesn’t go out anymore, and basically we are run though the paces as we see her life fall to ruin.  The time frame isn’t terribly clear though, nor are some of the things at the end which reveal what is actually happening.  We do get a bit of what Hino does best, seeing the old woman disintegrate into a rotting lump of flesh, but this is a bizarre story for more reasons than one.

Sadly, this is one of the weaker Hino Horror volumes.  There are better ones to come, though again, if you’re looking for a good horror story, look no farther than the first volume of the series.  Red Snake is still one of the finest horror manga in English.

Hino Horror 8: The Collection 2

More stories, this time in the framing device (adult Hideshi Hino tells us the stories of his youth, “Night Gallery” style, by showing us something typically in a jar and flashing back) Hideshi Hino gets progressively crazier and crazier.  He’s plagued by many versions of himself who apparently do things like drink, draw manga, go crazy, etc.  It’s apparently a copy of himself who’s done all the bad things in the stories in the collection.

In another framing device, he goes insane and the manga loops in on itself forever.  Wrap your brain around that.

We get to know a little creature that possesses Hideshi as a child (who we’ll call Hideshi-kun to avoid confusion) that was born last volume from one of his yakuza grandfather’s boils.  I hate seeing the animal torture in his manga, but thankfully there’s only the one chapter of it in this volume.  The evil spirit that possesses him is apparently all the bad things that his grandfather did in his lifetime.   One of the more badass things from last volume is that the souls of people his grandfather killed sprang from his boils, only to be cut down by the grandfather’s sword.  What a badass, slaying enemies born from your own pussy eruptions.

Hino-chan meets an old man down in the sewers who helps him paint a really nice, pleasant scene on the wall of the sewers to help summon a mermaid.  That was probably my favorite story this volume, because it managed to be weird and uplifting.

Actually, there were two of those, the other one about a little girl who kept a spot of paradise in the extremely industrialized city Hideshi-kun refers to as “hell” throughout all the stories.  The souvenir from this story was a bonsai tree  with a ton of copies of her head on it, chattering away pleasantly.

Hino eventually tells of his step-mother, and the book ends with her disembodied hands massaging a boil on his face, appropriately enough.

Yeah, these two volumes were great.

Hino Horror 7: The Collection 1

In case Panorama of Hell and (sort of, I disagree on this) Lullabies from Hell weren’t enough autobiography for you, the next two volumes of the Hino Horror series feature short stories about the life of Hideshi Hino as he imagines it.  He tells you these stories, all stories from his youth, via items in his collection, which includes lumps of flesh, different types of creatures, fetuses, hands, friends, and multiple personalities.

One of the first stories in this collection talks about how he met his wife, and how they murdered separate groups of bullies with a magic mirror.  Aww.

Some of the stories intersect with both Jigokuhen and Red Snake, for instance his father having the spider tattoo on his back (which Hino maintains is true, he says people were afraid of them when they went to public baths, which is kind of funny), his grandfather being a yakuza, the massaging of pussy sacs on one’s face, the gathering of eggs for eccentric purposes, things like that.  The stories get told slightly differently here than in Jigokuhen, though.  Jigokuhen is a much better work than these two volumes are, but the stories in these two volumes are somewhat more fascinating.

Some of the other stories in this volume include the way that friends hatch from eggs laid by grandma, who’s turned into a chicken.  There’s a story about how Hideshi collects his father’s spider tattoo.  There’s a story about how Hideshi’s mom went insane because he was born clutching the tiny fetus body of his twin.  Most of his family members die.

It’s not Panorama of Hell, but it’s still pretty awesome.

Hino Horror 6: Black Cat

It’s still Dia de los Muertos, isn’t it?  I can still talk about horror manga, can’t I?  For, like, 20 more minutes?  Eh, I’ll keep talking about these until I’m through with them anyway, but I was hoping to finish by Halloween.

This one’s slightly more interesting than the previous three volumes.  We’re presented with a framing device, in this case a black cat, which has a beginning and existence very much like the Hell Baby.  His brothers and sisters are all adopted from the garbage dump he was born in, and then only he is left.  It jumps abruptly from the life of the Black Cat to the lives of people he eventually lives with, which was kind of weird, but the stories of the people he then lives with are just… awesome.

The first person he moves in with is a clown who takes tickets at a circus.  He’s also a big drunk, so the other workers use the clever double entendre  “red nose” as his name.  This somehow morphs into a creepy ventriloquist doll story.

The story in the middle I didn’t like as much, but was about a small boy who started keeping a pet dog when his mother disappears and he’s left at home by himself.  This dog kills people, much to the delight of the little boy.  Later, his mother comes back complete with stepfather, and things get weird, and the weirdness may or may not have anything to do with the dog.

Another story has an elderly couple that abuse the hell out of each other by constantly yelling vulgar insults back and forth.  This story morphs in strange and wonderful ways too, and is the only situation the Black Cat later comes back to so we know the full resolution.  Except… well, there’s no explanation given, but it’s a full resolution all the same.

Really, I liked this volume a lot.  The stories in it aren’t very solid, and aren’t even very good.   But the rules about sensical, continuous narrative that they break make them unique and  wonderful.  Black Cat as a whole will leaving you asking yourself what just happened, but in a good horror manga kind of way.  Not the strongest of the Hino Horror stories, but cool all the same.

Hino Horror 5: Living Corpse

There’s actually an interesting essay in the back which makes this kind of interesting story much better. Hino explains he wrote it at a time when he was very sick and his family was a little tight on money, so he was constantly worrying about what would happen if he died. This manga is actually much more interesting if you keep that in mind as you read it.

On a side note, in the time leading up to the above illness, he wrote Jigokuhen/Panorama of Hell, his big “fuck you” farewell to drawing manga, and immediately afterwards, Red Snake, because he knew he had at least one story left after he turned in Jigokuhen. It’s interesting that both those fantastic stories came at a time when he had given up on drawing manga and was basically retiring and in a state of physical decline.

Now that my requisite mentions of Panorama of Hell and Red Snake are over with, let’s talk about Living Corpse. So, a man wakes up to find himself a rotting corpse, not sure who he is, where he is, or how he got there. He is arrested and experimented on, and eventually tries to beg with the scientists to let him die, that he doesn’t understand. He escapes his confinement in the labs (complete with artificial skin, to cover his rotting, smelling body), and eventually recalls who he is and that, at the time of his death, he wished real hard to be able to be with his family again. This rather depressing story ends with a reunion and a sendoff for the living corpse which is rather sad.

My roommate compares it to Hell Baby, but I think the two are much different. This is only marginally a horror story in that it contains a rotting corpse for a main character. Take that away, and this plays out as a rather sad story about a man who doesn’t want to die for love of his family, but just can’t remember this fact due to amnesia. It’s a very simple story, and clumsy in parts… really, sort of mediocre, but it was good enough for me. It gets its point across, and you really do feel sorry for the main character, rotting corpse though he may be.

It’s a lot different from Hino’s regular fare, and kind of middle-of-the-road as far as a one-shot manga story goes, but yes, I liked it a lot.

I forgot to mention, I love the no-eye characters in this one.  They’re quite striking.


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