A man with a mysterious past and habit of compulsively lying, Susumu Nakoshi may once have been well-off, but now little can disguise the fact that the only home he has left to return to is his car. Caught between two worlds and down to his last few yen, Nakoshi has little choice but to accept an offer from medical student Manabu Ito to be paid for undergoing a trepanation operation. When Ito explains that he wants to see if opening a hole in the skull enables the subject to perceive supernatural phenomena, Nakoshi is understandably sceptical, but after the operation, he discovers that he can indeed see some very bizarre things indeed…
No matter how extensive your manga experience is, or how many favourites you’ve accumulated over the years, every so often, something will happen to show you that there was just one more series you needed to add to the list. In this case, unsurprisingly, that series is Homunculus, the amazingly compelling and addictive tale of a man whose eyes are literally opened to a unique perspective of the world. Although I’m remaining deliberately vague in order to avoid spoiling the early part of the story, it should be mentioned from the outset that is not yet another tale of ghosts and the supernatural; what Nakoshi sees is something that originates within the human psyche. It is this factor that gives Homunculus its strength, enabling it to delve deeply into the minds of both its lead and those of the people he interacts with.
With that in mind, it becomes easier to understand just why Homunculus is so gripping; this is not just another tale of a hero using some kind of special ability to magically help everyone he meets, instead, it is one where the lead is learning as much about himself as he is about others. Nakoshi is possible as far from the likes of Furuba’s Tohru as you can get; far from being a paragon of virtue, he is a highly flawed man whose past and personality are rife with failings. Since we know so little about him at the beginning, however, half the enjoyment of the series is in learning about the lead alongside those of the supporting characters that shape the direction of the story.
Strong as the story is, however, it would not have nearly as much impact without that all-important visceral factor. The focus here is on detail and technical quality rather than aesthetics; many of the characters are far from pleasing on the eye, but the world they inhabit is richly detailed without ever feeling cluttered- in fact, the relatively low content of each page makes the series so swift and easy to read that it is all too easy to get through an entire volume in less than half an hour (especially as there are no chapter breaks). Unfortunately, this is something of a mixed blessing; not only is it easy to catch up with the series all too quickly, but even after seven volumes it feels like the story is only just beginning, with no end in sight for many years at the current rate of release.
Layout aside, the rest of Homunculus’ visual impact lies with the more extreme side of its graphics. The weird and wonderful things that Nakoshi glimpses are a somewhat enticing and chilling glimpse into what lies beneath the surface of the human mind- never before has a manga been able to send a shiver down my spine with its imagery alone. As you might expect, however, this is not a series to pull its punches when it comes to showing the uglier side of human nature- it may lack full on gore or explicit sex, but there are nonetheless more than a few scenes that will turn the stomach. Those of a more squeamish disposition will definitely want to think twice before trying the series, but anyone who has weathered the likes of Goth and Berserk should be able to handle the content of this series.
A highly addictive fusion of supernatural elements with a deep exploration of human nature, Homunculus entices you into its world right from the start and refuses to let go until you have read as much as is available. Provided you have a strong enough stomach for it, this manga should be added to the ‘must-read’ list as soon as possible.
Volumes: 7 [ongoing; Volume 8 due February]