By Hideshi Hino
208 pages, black and white
Published by DH Publishing
What happens when you mix Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis with a children’s book and a comic creator known for his horrific stories? In most cases, you’d end up with a mess. That’s thankfully not entirely the case with Hideshi Hino’s The Bug Boy, but it’s definitely one of the odder books I’ve read this year. In a good way, mostly.
Sanpei lives a pathetic life, picked on by schoolmates and family, his only friends being rescued animals and bugs that he keeps in a junk yard. Then one day a strange bug begins his transformation into something different… but the changes, as Sanpei learns, are not just physical ones.
This is a really odd book. On one level, it’s drawn and narrated like a little children’s book, the kind you give to toddlers to work on the fundamentals of reading and to slip in some morals while you’re at it. And early on, The Bug Boy really feels like that’s the route it’s going down. I’m not against all-ages books by any stretch of the imagination, but I did find myself wondering why people had recommended Hino’s books to me so whole-heartedly. And then Sanpei’s limbs start falling off, and I understood. It’s a great twist on the normal sort of progression of this book; people don’t learn from their mistakes, things never go well for anyone, and it’s pretty darn funny once you see it as a parody of those books for younger readers. What interested me the most, though, was a lot of little touches that Hino put into The Bug Boy. The origin of the transforming insect, for instance, wasn’t some random bug that Sanpei happened upon by chance. Instead it’s vomited out of Sanpei’s stomach, with the insinuation that this is something that was always inside of him just waiting to transform. It’s disguised as light and innocent early on, but there’s a lot of darkness lurking in The Bug Boy that is just waiting for the reader to discover.
This is the only book of Hino’s I’ve read so far, so I’m not sure if his art style is always this light and fluffy or if he shifted to it for this book. Either way, it really works. The art is a lot of why the opening chapters of The Bug Boy had me let down my guard, because it just seemed so sweet. Even then, though, Hino knows how to turn up the creepy factor. Sanpei’s veiny eyes, ever-threatening to jump out of their sockets, are hard to look at for very long. Likewise, just looking at Sanpei innocently play with his pet grubs made me cringe inside of myself, because Hino was able to make them both cute and gross at the same time. I’m not really sure how he does that. Even when the book gets positively vicious, there’s still Sanpei’s warped-cherub face on the front of the monster he’s become, innocently smiling through a bloodbath of violence and hate. It’s really not quite like anything else I’m seeing published these days, and I can see why Hino’s gotten such a following over the years.
Like I said, this is a really odd book. You won’t forget it, though, because Hino is really able to take something sweet and innocent and make it repulsive at the same time. I sometimes talk about the contents of books sneaking up on the reader, but I don’t think it’s ever been more true in recent memory to me than with The Bug Boy. You know what the best thing about this book is, though? On the spine it mentions that this is Hino Horror #2. Yep, that’s right, DH Publishing is bringing an entire line of Hino’s books into English. Trust me when I say that I’m buying more of these, and pronto. This is great stuff.