Books I Read in 2022: Hellstar Remina

Front Cover

Hellstar Remina is an apocalyptic horror manga by the Grand Master of horror manga himself, Junji Ito. He may be more familiar to people as the author of Uzumaki and The Enigma of Amigara Fault, the latter of which you may know better as the one manga where ‘holes’ in mountainsides call to people who claim the holes are made for them. The book I have is entitled Remina, though I know it as Hellstar Remina from the olden days. I am not sure which title is correct, so I am going to be using both interchangeably since they refer to the same work.

There are two ‘characters’ in the work that are named the titular Remina – a young girl, the daughter of an astrophysics professor, and the planet Remina which the astronomer named after his daughter. This may sound confusing, but the conflation between the two is intentional. As we will see later, the planet Remina is effectively the girl Remina, and the girl Remina is effectively the planet Remina. At least, the two are misconstrued to be one and the same by people in the story. While they remain separate and don’t form some kind of Dragon Ball Z fusion into one entity, the two are closely linked thematically. Still, to avoid confusion in this post, I am going to refer to ‘the girl Remina’ when speaking of the professor’s daughter, the pop star idol (more on that later) and ‘the planet Remina’ when speaking of the planet discovered by her father. Again, in the book the confusion is intentional, but when reviewing the work like this I think it helps to provide some clarity.

Let me back it up a second here – I’ve gone a bit too far. Remina’s father, the astrophysics professor, discovers a new planet emerging from a wormhole (that he himself discovered some thirty years prior to the events of the book). Out of fondness for his daughter, he named it Remina. This causes undue attention to be brought to the girl Remina, who finds herself being thrust unwillingly into the public eye. An idol agent (or scout – I have no idea how this kind of thing works in Japan) named Mistumura manages to convince Remina to capitalise on her fame and become a pop idol, guaranteeing that she’ll be taken care of by his agency. Unbeknownst to mankind on Earth, the planet Remina is inching closer and closer, until finally it is discovered that the planet is sentient – and consumes other planets as it moves through space. The reason it is inching closer to Earth is the fact that we’re next on the menu.

This wouldn’t be a horror story if people behaved rationally and remained calm. In the apocalyptic panic that ensues, the public, once so adoring of Remina, suddenly turns against her, and conflating the planet Remina with the girl Remina, starts to believe that if they can kill the girl Remina, then the planet Remina will leave them alone. Why they believe this is not made explicitly clear, but it is this belief that fuels much of the conflict of the story. The first few pages, in fact, show Remina being tied to a crucifix as an angry mob chants “Kill Her!” while the planet Remina hovers ominously in the sky. 

Apocalyptic stories have one single trope that is the key driver behind much of their stories, and that is the breakdown of social order when survival of mankind is threatened. Hellstar Remina is no different. We first see society as a technologically advanced, scientific society that celebrates the achievements of even its astrophysics professors, with Remina’s father getting a nobel prize award for his discovery of the planet Remina. By the end of the book superstition and fear hold sway, with masked cultist figures and literal pitchfork waving taking place in the streets. While some apocalyptic stories sneer at the thin veneer that we call civilisation and claim we would be reduced to these stone age antics the moment the chance comes, Hellstar Remina seems to suggest that this veneer is not so thin, and that the animalistic and primitive urges of society will come to the fore when the survival of humanity as a species is threatened. Both are cynical takes on humanity, suggesting that we are animals that have convinced ourselves we are advanced beings when we are literally hairless apes that will devolve if the conditions are right.

And devolve we do in this story. The girl Remina is hunted, whipped, and has her head dunked in drain water before the crucifixion scene we come back to appears, suggesting that all it takes for us to be cruel to each other is a superstitious belief that justifies cruelty. It’s kept subtle in the manga which I appreciate – too many ‘religion bad’ rants in a lot of media are as subtle as a lime diluted in a large pitcher of water which is then smashed repeatedly into one’s face. While I am religious myself, I find I cannot blame anybody for this interpretation of faith. I’ve seen it myself. I find myself appalled when speaking to certain ‘religious folk’. It’s their eyes. Their eyes are dull and dead when reciting texts or performing religious rites, but light up with zealous fire when mention is made of an ‘unacceptable’ person, and their description of ‘what we oughtta do to ‘em’ is always told in excruciatingly graphic detail. To these people, religion doesn’t help them be better people, but are excuses for them to be as cruel as possible. They’d be at the head of the mob hunting the girl Remina.

There’s another layer to the torment endured by Remina, and I think this is Junji Ito commentating on how idols are treated in Japan. I think it happens worldwide, too. First, when Remina debuts things are all fine and dandy. She’s adored, beloved by the public, and she even has her own official fan club. One day later, due to circumstances completely out of her control, she is vilified, hated and the hunt begins. In this state, Remina finds herself doubting who she can trust. The president of her fan club claims to want to protect her with his life, but is most likely simply fanboying and obsessing over her, perhaps even lusting after her sexually. Her sponsor, the son of a construction company magnate, is open about his lust for her and when she rejects his advances, throws her to the mob to save himself. Not all her people are bad. Her agent, Mitsumura (mentioned earlier) feels such a debt of responsibility for pushing her into the limelight that he gives his life – literally – to save Remina, and dies apologising for everything he’s done and failed to do. This, I feel, is the draw of apocalyptic stories. They are not mere cynical takes on society and civilisation as I’ve drawn up earlier, but act as a pressure cooker for characters, who can embody the absolute worst aspects of humanity or embody the absolute best of it. Mitsumura dies a hero, while the fan club president lives to become a villain.

I honestly didn’t mean to meme there but there ya go. Moving on.

Idol obsession is shown to be something indulgent, something that the idol herself undergoes for the amusement of the public. When Remina appears on tv, for instance, people cheer and adore her, but the attention she holds doesn’t disappear when she is whipped – far from it. The more pain she went through, the more the public cheered, suggesting that for idols it doesn’t matter if what you did was something active or passive, or if what you put on is positive or negative. Either will do to feed the masses, who will be entertained by either your apotheosis or your crucifixion. They will cheer when you become an idol and they will cheer when you are to be sacrificed. This obsession has nothing to do with your talent, your art and your hard work, and can be both good and bad. 

There’s also the sense of ‘possessing’ the idol, shown through the character of the fan club president. He is somehow convinced that the girl Remina is ‘his’ somehow, and that they were fated to be together, despite him not knowing who she was before her father named the planet after her and probably not being a fan of hers if she had rejected the offer to become an idol. Fans and followers of celebrities tend to have this image of the people they adore, and that image might persist despite evidence to the contrary. This obsession can become extremely unhealthy, leading to stalking and other behaviour considered harmful to the self and to the idol. There may be some link to religion here as well.

Junji Ito is one of my favourite horror manga artists, since I first read his work in Uzumaki. While Hellstar Remina is more of a complete story from the start, Uzumaki is a bit more episodic, until things start coming to a head in the end. Here he is at the peak of his form with his chilling expose of human nature, throwing characters off the deep end and seeing what crawls out of the wreckage. Not to mention the Lovecraftian terror from space that is the planet Remina itself, rendered in his signature scraggly, ‘rough’ style. Not for the faint of heart – but extremely highly recommended.

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