Reviewby Lynzee Loveridge,
A grandmother gingerly shaves off her crying granddaughter's hair, telling her that it's a temporary, but necessary, process. Her hair will grow back, but she'll need to shave it again twice more in her lifetime. Elsewhere, a woman confronts her ex-boyfriend who never took her concerns seriously after a jarring experience where she almost drown in the bathtub. Something had grabbed a hold of her hair and pulled her down, down, down. Outside of their shared apartment complex, an old stone idol sits in the overgrown grass where it once accepted offerings of hair of the dead to Ogushi-sama.
Samson's long hair gave him the unsurpassed strength. Scottish folklore dictates that if a bird steals your cut hair for nesting, it means your imminent death. Long, cascading hair is wildly associated with femininity and the subject of pride by the owner and sometimes envy by onlookers. Shaving your head, especially when done by a woman, sends a message of penance while a drastic, shorter cut can mean heartbreak. How a person chooses to wear their hair can send a variety of cultural and personal messages about identity and personality. Hair holds power, and it's this symbolism that horror manga veteran Masaaki Nakayama taps into for PTSD Radio.
Nakayama's previous work is Fuan no Tane, a series of short tales, each running only two or three pages, but packing a terrifying wallop at each punchline. Fuan no Tane focused primarily on manipulating the human face to invoke a sense of dread. PTSD Radio treads similar territory. There are plenty of horrifying faces, flesh pulled back like clay, and a gradually snarling face leering at the reader between each short chapter cutaway. However, this time Nakayama's monster is singular and each new character's encounter starts to reveal a timeline dating further and further back to a time where an ominous deity guided the dead, punished the unrepentant, and could turn malevolent with one misstep.
Nakayama reveals his monster slowly and it isn't immediately apparent what is going on in the world he's crafting beyond an immediate sense of foreboding and dread. I was initially confused after reading the first two chapters and went back over them a few times to figure out how they were connected before realizing that they weren't, at least not immediately. The first third of the first volume plays out this way, jumping from one character to another or sometimes the same character but forward in time before gradually intersecting their shared interactions with Ogushi-sama, a god that ferries away the dead, grabs and holds people from the shadows, and traumatizes its victims.
Ogushi-sama's roots lie in tradition and curses centered around hair. J-horror fans will be familiar with long, wet-haired ghosts like Sadako/Samara from The Ring and Kayako from The Grudge. But this malevolent entity is no lanky, contorting girl as early chapters show it to be akin a legion of souls held together inside a cocoon of hair. How it operates, be it choosing its victims or its method of attack are vague and perhaps purposefully so.
The worst move Nakayama could make albeit not an uncommon one, is creating too many rules for his monster. Once horror begins to exist within a tightly built box, it becomes far too easy for a reader to simply step outside of it, knowing that it could never really happen to them. So far, PTSD Radio has effectively toed the line. One of the best chapters has a man going out to the store in a rural area, only to discover that it's so dark outside he can't see past his nose. He lights a cigarette and in the flicker of the flame, the readers see a terrifying face just a breath away from the man's own before the story changes gears again.
The somewhat impenetrable narrative is reinforced by Kodansha Comic's treatment of the title. Beyond it being a digital only release, the company opted out of writing anything resembling a plot synopsis. Instead, the synopsis runs a few sentences of broken words, like listening to a radio station cut by static. I suppose this approach is meant to entice the curious, but Nakayama hasn't established a widespread name for himself among English readers, and Kodansha's decision is more likely to keep browsing readers away who aren't interested in dropping $11 on what is essentially a blind buy.
This is unfortunate because Nakayama's art and pacing are masterful here. His art style is distinctive for its excellent, clean line work and detail perhaps best exemplified in an early chapter's window reflection showing a toothless, bald young woman grinning widely backed at a passenger. Nakayama takes time to crease and contort faces with a visceral sense of weight and force. There were a handful of times where I felt I could put my own hands on my face and manipulate it in the exact same manner. It was a creepy feeling.
PTSD Radio is risky, in both its format and growing mythology. While the characters continue to enter each other's lives, Ogushi-sama's back story continues to add more and more detail and could run the risk of creating the aforementioned narrative box. If and until that time, the first two volumes mark a decidedly impressive entry into the horror manga catalog. I only wish I could buy a hardcover version to put on my shelf next to Junji Ito and Usamaru Furuya.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A
+ Unique narrative format expertly builds a sense of unease and dread in daily surroundings while slowly tying it to a larger mythology, unsettling artwork takes full advantage of premise
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