Occasionally, I like going with the flow when selecting the topic for a Tentacle Tuesday. I recently traded for a Junji Ito book I’d never heard of, Remina, and as one of its highlights (um… possibly the only highlight, but more about this later) is the profusion of tentacles within, it seemed like a natural fit for a topic of discussion.
We have only mentioned Junji Ito once before (in Tentacle Tuesday: Octopods Dig Manga!), but I am a fan of his work – or at least of the best of his work. In my assessment, that would be the genuinely disturbing Gyo (with the catchy subtitle of ‘The Death-Strench Creeps‘) and the haunting Uzumaki, as well as a handful of excellent short stories.
I’m by no means a horror manga pundit, but I’ve sampled a certain number of works by mangakas whose work has been translated to English, and found most of these œuvres quite unappealing, be it because of incompetent art, more human cruelty than I can stomach, far too much soap-opera-style drama, or glaring plot loopholes. Ito is not without his flaws, but something sets him apart from other authors working in a similar vein: he can depict stomach-churning gore and moments of quiet dread with equal aplomb. Cartoonists who rely on carnage to horrify their readers are ten a penny, those with a more subtle approach are few; those who can effortlessly transition from one to the other are something special.
As in that old joke about the horse that always takes its rider to the nearest pub, Ito does have a favourite approach: he starts with a most mundane object or incident, elicits a delectably menacing atmosphere out of it, and then gives it all a good twirl until the spiralling events send the protagonists (and sometimes the whole country, if not the whole planet as well) into the welcoming arms of total, uncompromising Armageddon. One might argue that he does that because it’s easier to finish it all than to think of a ‘proper’ ending, but it gives his work a certain surreal quality I really appreciate – everybody is going to die, and now that this little matter is out of the way, we can concentrate on the creative ways this is going to happen.
Remina was serialized in Big Comics Spirits from September 2004 to July 2005. The English volume (released by Viz Media, who have published the bulk of Ito material in English, slowly making their way through his whole bibliography in excellently designed hardcover editions) was released in December 2020. The plot concerns itself with a scientist who discovers a new planet and names it Remina in honour of his beautiful daughter. Of course, the planet turns out to be hurtling towards Earth at physics-defying speeds, annihilating everything in its path (which the main scientist somehow is completely unaware of, until his many lab assistants inform him of the latest developments).
In (not entirely unbelievable) leap of logic, Japanese citizens decide that the impending destruction is caused by Remina, previously an immensely popular and celebrated girl, and that executing this ‘witch’ is going to solve the problem. What follows is a series of chase scenes, with a giant crowd pursuing Remina throughout the progressively more and more destroyed city. Remina’s three protectors (the president of her fan club, her manager, and some uber-rich fanboy who tries to rape her later in the book) drag her around, trying to keep her safe from the murderous crowd, but they don’t do such a great job – she gets crucified next to her dad but survives, set free, captured again, flogged, tortured, crucified again, and so on.
It doesn’t help that Remina, like a lot of Ito’s pretty creations, doesn’t really have a personality. She just sobs, screams for her daddy and her lost love (the manager, who apparently she was profoundly in love with), and implores people to just leave her alone. Scenes of crucifixion and the creepy robes worn by her pursuers indeed suggest religious fervour – as the earth’s gravity changes, cities are destroyed, volcanoes erupt etc., the only thing almost everybody is interested in is Remina’s mutilation and dismemberment.
Still, there are some fun moments, most of these involving tentacles! Remina the planet has a giant eye and a coquettish, tentacular tongue that it flicks out to swallow the moon just as Remina the human is about to be killed.
It uses the same ‘tongue’ to lick Earth and accelerate its spinning…
… which sends everyone airborne, and gives rise to funny kung-fu-in-the-air scenes as yet another protector kicks the collective asses of Remina’s would-be executioners.
Then there’s planet Remina’s surface, all writhing tentacles, acid pools and noxious fumes. That’s where most of the tentacle enjoyment lies.
Somewhat atypically, there is even a happy ending, albeit one involving some of the main characters floating around in space in an atomic shelter bunker with a year’s worth of provisions (and hopefully oxygen?)
As you have probably surmised, this is not Ito’s most subtle work. However, some loved it – for instance, check out Manga Judgment: Hellstar Remina (地獄星レミナ) by Junji Ito (伊藤 潤二).
Love Ito’s artwork, but this story didn’t work for me either, mostly because Remina was a damsel in distress the entire time and had zero personality.
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I totally agree – it was hard to be interested in what was happening to her when she was such a non-entity!
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