Panorama of Hell Vol. #1 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Release Date: Saturday, April 01, 1989
Translated by:Screaming Mad George, Charles Schneider, Yoko Umezawa
What They Say
Panorama of Hell is a shocking, torturous journey into the depths of one man's postnuclear Hell. Through the confessions of a fiendish Hell painter born in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima, Hideshi Hino tells a nightmarish story, creating a manga masterpiece of black humor, stunning vision, and unflinching imagery.
The "growing up post World War II" autobiography you've never seen the likes of before.
As with Hell Baby, this release is from a company called Blast Books that no longer publishes manga actively, and it was released quite awhile ago (almost seventeen years ago in this case). This is one of the few manga that I've gotten someplace other than the comic shop, Borders, or The Right Stuf, and it's the only one I've paid more than the cover price for. In this case, it was worth it. I ordered through Amazon.com, but it looks like Blast Books still might take mail-in orders through their website, so you might try that for a cheaper copy if you're interested.
It is unflipped, but you may not guess this by looking at the cover. As with Hell Baby, the inside artwork is unflipped, but the cover gives the illusion of it being a left-to-right book, which is sort of weird and I'm not sure if I like it. But it is quite revolutionary considering everything was flipped when this was published, so I give it marks for being really old and unflipped. I have no idea if the cover uses original artwork from the Japanese edition or not. It's pretty plain, the logo's simple but effective, and the cover image features simply a picture of the main character in a gruesome pose against a black background. The back cover features not quite a wrap of that same image taking up the majority of the space, with the summary crammed in the upper right hand corner. It's okay, but it doesn't look very good when compared to contemporary covers, and it's also an oversize volume (about the same size as the old CPM manga), so it'll definitely stick out like a sore thumb in your collection.
There weren't any extras per se, but I did enjoy the somewhat thorough author biography stuck in before the two pages of text ads that round out the book. It really sheds some light on the story, and after reading the extremely disturbing, grotesque tale, it was interesting to find that much of it was based in Hideshi Hino's own life. There are two notices on each of the endpages about how to read the book, the title page features a lightened version of the cover with text laid unceremoniously in the middle of it, and the table of contents features some illustrative elements.
The text is actually pretty stiff and awkward in this... but it works. It works well, and that is because of the gruesome story it has to tell. Somehow, having the mechanical dialogue narrating this horrible story takes away from the Painter's humanity just a bit more, and I really liked the effect. There were no grammar or spelling errors that I remember. The pages were all numbered, and the trim size was good, there were no elements bleeding off the page or running into the gutter. The sound effects are left in their original Japanese with a translation nearby.
Hideshi Hino's artwork is remarkably cartoonish. There is little effort to make his people look realistic, and they almost all feature some sort of comically exaggerated proportion and extreme flatness. The children have large, round heads and the Painter has strangely bugged eyes. There are people who turn into cartoony lumps of flesh, and his beasts and creatures are somehow never quite that scary. Sometimes his artwork is better than others, but here it has a level of detail it usually doesn't have in shadow details and also gore and things of that nature... and there's something about the way the smiling people commit the atrocious acts here that makes the tale that much more unsettling.
The gist of this one-shot is that we have a man, simply known as the Painter, telling us about his life and his work. The story is prefaced with a poem by an anonymous Chinese poet entitled "Oh Hell!" and the book is divided up into several short chapters where a new aspect of the Painter's family and life are revealed each time. Each chapter is led into with a painting by the artist of whatever he is about to describe, but often we don't see the paintings, only the scenes the paintings represent. It starts off with the painter in his studio explaining his works to us. He paints scenes of hell in his own blood, and has just started a huge new painting that will be his life's work entitled "Panorama of Hell." Then, he takes you outside his studio, which is nestled below a large and very active guillotine. After each execution, fireworks are launched and the heads are gathered into a large hopper where they are carried off by train. The train cars leak blood onto the tracks, and where the blood drips bright red flowers grow and naked birds come and eat their fruits. The artist then goes on to describe in graphic detail the Bottomless River of Hell, the Creamatorium of Headless Corpses, and the Graveyard of Executed Prisoners. He then goes on to tell you about his two children who draw scenes of disturbing violence and collect various body parts. Next is his beautiful wife, who runs the Hell Tavern. The headless corpses come to life to eat at the Hell Tavern, and the Painter's Wife gladly serves them pieces of their own bodies. The Painter then goes on to talk about his past. His Grandfather, Father, and Brother were all men involved with the Yakuza who met violent, twisted, and gristly deaths and led similar lives. He speaks of his mother, a mad woman. He then goes on to detail his own life, how he was concieved by a beam transmitted by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and other details that tie into a post-WWII existence. Then it goes on to detail his artistic beginnings as a young boy, more twisted and horrible than can possibly be imagined. Then, the story goes full circle and comes back to the Panorama of Hell.
The above was a pretty general summary of the entire book. I don't think it is possible to spoil the book... the book has its charm in the details that make up all the above characters, places, and events. I can say, without exaggeration, that it is the most twisted, violent, horrible, gruesome volume of manga I have ever read. There were things that Hino did in this comic that just made me absolutely ill, things that I thought crossed well over the line of good taste, things that made me uncomfortable... and I'm an extremely open-minded individual who goes in for that sort of thing. That being said, after I got over the initial shock of reading the volume, I realized what an absolute masterpiece it was. It was easily one of the most powerful manga I'd read this year... not necessarily powerful in any sort of significant or meaningful way, but it held a great deal of power over me as I read it, and its hard to explain. Most of it had to do with the shock value, yes. It goes places it shouldn't. You will see small children being beaten, abused, and dismembering and mutilating live and dead animals. The same small children will draw scenes of human torture and enjoy grave robbing. They are extremely upbeat, happy children (well, except when the Painter is depicted as a child, he's pretty morose), and it makes it that much more unsettling. There are many similar "cute" details that are extremely inappropriate and out-of-place, and yet so enjoyable. You want to laugh, but the horrible things going on will not let you. Hino wants you to laugh though, I think. His works are generally black humor as well as horror, and when he turns the black humor up to a degree where you really don't know if you're supposed to be laughing or not, you know you're reading a great volume of manga. The actual plot of the story is quite amazing and I loved the way it used the one-shot format to its full advantage to tell a full 200 page story about the Painter. Starting off with one man, moving out to his surroundings, then his wife and kids, then his parents and grandparents, then to his childhood, then back to his paintings for one final push to let you know this guy is definitely off his rocker... it works extremely fluidly, each new piece of background and history works to help illuminate the next, and it all does a good job of referring back to the Painter in the end. The scope zooms out, then zooms back in again, and it is extremely cinematic. It is a simple, eloquent tale. The biography of one man that happens to include the most unimaginable details. Each of the individual characters works solely for the purpose of having a gruesome story that somehow relates back to the Painter, nothing more and nothing less. I've never seen a technique like this used quite as effectively before... looking back and thinking about character interaction, it's amazing how all the stories fold together and not only inform the Painter, but also inform one another as well. There is also something to be said about the parallels of this story to the life of Hideshi Hino. There are obvious parallels between the Painter and himself (a horror manga artist who has said before that "Panorama of Hell" is his favorite work). Both have families who have ties to the Yakuza... possibly the link is paternal, but I can't quite remember. Hino himself was also born in Manchuria after the Atomic Bomb blast in Japan, and his family also had to flee the city with many other Japanese refugees. He also began drawing at an early age. Past all that, I'm not sure how much of him is in the Painter and what parts of the rest of the story ring true for him, but its an interesting connection, all the same. This is an absolute must have for anyone with a strong stomach who likes horror manga. It's a shame that this is so old and unknown... it seems like something that would either fit right in or stick out horrifically among either Dark Horse's new horror line or the Hino Horror line released by Cocoro Books.
This is truly a great manga that I think almost no one knows about. I didn't even read about it on the internet, I just found it when I was ordering Hell Baby and there was a link to it on Amazon. It is really not for the young or squeamish, and I can't advise against that enough, but anyone who likes horror manga and wants a good one-shot volume to read, definitely take the time to track this down, because you'll want it in your collection.
Mania Grade: A+
Art Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: C+
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: All
Released By: Blast Books
Orientation: Right to Left