by McCamy Taylor
Inside many of us, there is a child hiding within a giant robo. You
know, those big suits of robotic armor that the Japanese are so fond
of. Think Robotech and Gundam .
We keep that scared,
lonely little child protected behind a big wall of super tough, fire
resistant metal alloy that allows us to strike out at the world---but
keeps the world from hitting back. We don't go there very
often. Most of the time, we are quite comfortable within our own skins.
But occasionally, we need someplace safe from which to confront the
dangers of the world---angry bosses, belittling parents.
A few of us are always afraid. These people construct an identity which
is based upon the invincible, impregnable armor of their
childhood heroes. If you pay attention, you can spot those who act big
because inside they feel very, very small. However, most of us can not
actually see the dysmorphic way which others
If we could, we might be alarmed to find ourselves suddenly
in a world of monsters, straight out of Hieronymus Bosch.
In Homunculus, a ten volume work in progress by Ichi
Killer mangaka, Hideo Yamamoto, the main character
perfectly ordinary man who agrees to undergo the cranial procedure
known as trepanation, drilling a tiny hole in the skull. Well, maybe he
is not totally ordinary. He lives in his car
beside a luxury
hotel whose staff know him by name. Though he is obviously healthy,
intelligent and used to the finer things in life, he now spends his
days hanging out with the homeless in parks. The only thing he needs is
his car, and when the vehicle is towed away, he agrees to undergo
trepanation at the hands of a medical student in order to get the money
needed to get that car back.
That is where his problems begin. The medical student hopes to disprove
the theory that trepanation awakens psychic powers. However, after the
surgery, Susumu Nakoshi discovers that if he covers one eye, the other
shows him a world inhabited by freaks. The first he encounters is a
yakuza boss who appears to him as a small, crying child inside a suit
of robotic armor. And that is one of the more ordinary
"homunculi"----alternate body images---- that appears in the
psychically enhanced vision of the hero.
At first, the manga seems to be a traditional "hero gets super powers
and helps out a lot of people" story. However, as the tale progresses,
we learn that while Nakoshi may have acquired the ability to
learn a lot about the secret fears of strangers, he is still woefully
ignorant when it comes to himself. Once, he was a well paid
actuary at a life insurance company, who assigned monetary value to
other people's lives. Once, he kept the photos of the hundreds of women
he had bedded at his desk, like trophies.
Now, as he comes to understand the complexities and fears of others, he
begins to recognize his own weaknesses. He can not help doing so, since
every time he aids another stranger, his own body assumes a piece of
that person's dysmorphism.
I have reviewed many fine adult (not hentai) manga titles in this
column, but Homunculus may well be the best for
like serious, thoughtful science fiction with strong spiritual (but not
overtly religious) themes. The basic premise----man can see a different
world if he looks only through one eye-works perfectly in graphic
fiction form, since the reader also gets to "see" the woman with the
elongated neck or the girl made of sand. The reader is never quite sure
if the hero has actually acquired a psychic ability or if he has simply
become much more sensitive to visual cues that were there all
the time, with his own mind creating the homunculus or dysmorphic body
as a way to explain the idiosyncrasies that he notes but can not
understand. The mystery behind these monstrous body images and an urge
to help people who seem to be hurting becomes the motivator
which leads Nakoshi on a journey of self discovery. Like the
author/artist's other famous work Ichi the Killer,
this manga is
loaded with Buddhist themes. Unlike Ichi, there is
no over the
top violence, though there is a rape scene which may disturb some
And now, as promised, a few words about giant robo anime. Anyone who
has watched any anime knows what I am talking about. I am not going to
attempt to discuss the whole genre (that would take at least a couple
of books). There are giant robos for adults ( Neon Genesis
Evangelion ). There are giant robo "chick flicks" such as
Escaflowne and Magic Knights Rayearth.
If you watch
Gasaraki you can hear one of the most
musical soundtracks of any animated series. My own favorite
giant robotic armor anime is Martian Successor Nadesico
at once a serious work of science fiction and a commentary ( bordering
on spoof) of other famous science fiction works about giant robos, star
ships, wars between alien races and the Japanese tendency to make all
female characters young and cute no matter how great their
Speaking of youth, one thing that all giant robo series have
in common is they are about young people who are waging an internal
battle while attempting to define themselves as adults. Conflict with
father, jealousy over a lover, anger that has no focus---all of these
can become the motive for pilots to take to the sky in a ridiculous
suit of armor, where they battle other, equally conflicted people. If
all goes well, by the end of the series, the pilots have found their
new place in the world, much like caterpillars who metamorphose into
butterflies. I think that this is one of the reasons why the pilots in
these animated series are (usually) so damned young.
© 2009 McCamy Taylor
McCamy Taylor is Aphelion's current Serials and Novellas Editor (if you have a story longer than 7,500 words, or long enough that it would be suitable for publication in two or more installments, she's your girl... er, woman), author of many short stories and longer fiction, here and in other publications, and is now Aphelion torchbearer for the cause of Japanese graphic novels and animation.
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