Remina by Junji Ito is the latest horror manga by the author to be published in English by VIZ media. This cosmic horror story was originally publish in 2005 as Hellstar Remina. In the not-too-distant future, year 20XX, the existence of a wormhole is finally proven after the emergence of a strange planetary body is observed from within it. Its discoverer, Dr. Oguro, christens the body “Remina” after his teenage daughter. The media around the event notices his daughter’s beauty, and it isn’t long until her own star rises to fame. All seems well, until the object is observed to be picking up speed and heading straight for Earth. Fear and panic begin to grip the populace as the extraplanetary Remina gets closer and closer. With seemingly no hope to be found, hysterical mobs begin to blame the girl Remina herself for somehow inviting the infernal planet’s attention.
Though many of Ito’s shorter stories are great, I’ve generally been fonder of the longer ones. I’ve read a good handful of collections by now, and they’re more often a mixed bag than something I get swept away by. So, when I started reading this book I was a little beside myself to find I was having the same feeling reading it as I do when I read one of his more average short stories. Though at first a little off-putting, I was also more prepared for this feeling and managed to temper my expectations for the rest of the book accordingly. Ito is capable of writing brilliant horror, but many of his stories are just pulpy and weird. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not brilliance either.
Remina fell much more in the latter category for me, though in a way that evoked cheesy monster/alien invasion movies you might associate with the 1950s, with a dash of cosmic horror. The characters are fairly one-dimensional, but inhabit familiar, digestible archetypes. For a story that deals with a threat at a planetary level, there are some astounding coincidences that develop in the plot too, which I just accepted due to the nature of the book. The setting is also vaguely futuristic in a charming way, with flying cars and people wearing jetpacks in the background that brings to mind visions of the future from decades past.
Though the approach of the Remina planet is an ever-looming threat, the immediate danger comes from the growing mob of terrified people who turn their malice toward Remina and her father, scapegoating them for having discovered the hostile planet. Though I would have better appreciated a slower-paced escalation to these events, I nevertheless enjoyed it as a story about humanity itself being its own worst enemy in the face of an external threat. Remina the girl is denied personhood by almost everyone around her: those who pursue her have twisted her in their minds into some avatar of the hostile planet itself, who must be destroyed, while many of those who protect her do so because of her celebrity, protecting more their selfish desires for her than her as a person.
As the planet Remina begins affecting the Earth itself, Ito takes some great artistic licence with how the characters are able to survive the calamitous conditions, but there was something to their determination that I couldn’t help but root for despite the absurdity. Conversely, I couldn’t help but sympathize with the mob a little too. The infernal planet is an absolute harbinger of doom and the further along I got I felt conflicting emotions. One, was a desire for Remina to escape persecution, despite the hopelessness of it all. She does not deserve to die horribly at the hands of other people, even in the face of planetary annihilation. On the other hand, with oblivion staring the whole world in the face, is the execution of one person so unforgivable if you believe it will actually help? As a reader not directly embroiled, of course it is. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but wonder, disturbing as that may be.
The art was a particular highlight of this book, which perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise. Regardless of how I feel about his stories, Ito’s art is usually excellent. The design and depictions of the planet Remina were beautifully ghastly to behold, whether looking at it as a whole or down on its surface. We are treated to some especially nice two-page spreads of the planet itself, which I would sincerely frame as a work of art on its own. The design of Remina’s surface is fantastic in its depiction of alien hostility, and the fact that it’s unclear whether the planet is some horrible amalgam of things or a colossal, singular entity was really effective. The best thing Ito does with Remina is not try to explain it, nor its motives beyond the base and obvious. It just is, in all its sublime horror.
There’s a lot I liked about Remina, but I’m still disappointed that there wasn’t more to it. The design of the hostile planet was great, the threat it presented was palpable, and the panicking populace chillingly believable, but the pace felt too rushed, everything unfolding a little too quickly for my liking. I can’t help but imagine the story with a slower burning pace, the impending doom really sinking in and the desperation slowly escalating. This desperation is the true horror simmering under the surface of the cosmic threat above them all, and I wish it had been given more time to develop, with characters I could connect with on more than an archetypal level and less contrived plot points. Definitely worth checking out, but not among his best work.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5