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The Spring 2024 Manga Guide
Panorama of Hell

What's It About? 

PANORAMA OF HELL is a shocking, tortuous journey into the depths of one man's postnuclear Hell. Through the confessions of a fiendish Hell painter born in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima, Hideshi Hino tells a nightmarish story, creating a manga masterpiece of black humor, stunning vision, and unflinching imagery.

Panorama of Hell has a story and art by Hideshi Hino. This volume is published by Star Fruit Books (April 1, 2024).

Content warning: Depiction of abuse and gory imageries

Is It Worth Reading?


Panorama of Hell is a story that immediately tests where your limits are as a reader. The amount of blood, gore, and horrific imagery that is displayed in the first chapter of this book is more intense than most things I have read in my entire life which is interesting considering the rather simple art style. Almost all the characters in this book look like Muppets with their wide faces and big eyes. But that cartoony approach contrasts with the horrific and violent imagery displayed. I'm trying to make this as crystal clear as possible, if you have a weak constitution for blood and body horror, do not read this story at all!

As for what the point of it all is, that's a bit hard to say. The whole volume is a collection of short stories told from the perspective of an artist who seemingly made a name for himself by creating art pieces using his blood. He is obsessed with creating his magnum opus but before we get to that, he walks down memory lane by telling stories that inspired some of the other art pieces that she did. A lot of these art pieces are based on things from his own life such as his children, his town, or even his grandparents. All these stories have similar setups and executions with the overall message seeming to be that life in general is just hell before it builds up to an incredibly surreal and brutal death of somebody.

I will say, the imagery is rather creative when you look past the general gore of it all. There's just something fascinating about a headless body eating its own body parts or a man violently chomping on dice before he dies. This book is far from what I'm usually used to but even I can respect that there is a strong level of creativity here. Then we get to the final third of the book and suddenly a lot of the stories are recontextualized under a different lens. A lot of questions about the world and how some of these people can exist the way that they do suddenly make sense. It is an incredibly simple yet clever way of uprooting everything that came before.

I do have a lot of respect for this volume even though I don't think I ever want to look at it again. I think of all the stories by Hideshi Hino that I've read so far for this preview guide, this is probably the strongest in terms of narrative and art. However, there is still a high hurdle to engage with the material if this level of self-indulgent violence might not be your thing. It's definitely more than what it sells itself as but how much that value is worth will vary.

Rebecca Silverman

There's a very big difference between terror and horror, and Panorama of Hell seems to fall firmly in the latter camp. For nearly three-quarters of the book, it relies on the disgusting: maggots wriggle from rotting faces, heads drip blood as their eyeballs bulge, and a blood-filled river carries the detritus of the dead in the form of body parts and deceased puppies. It's a lot to take, and if I hadn't been reading it for work, I would have put it down. If given the choice, I'll take terror over horror any day.

By about the three-quarters mark, however, we begin to see a subtle (as much as anything in this book is “subtle”) shift in the story. Up until roughly halfway through, the plot wasn't so much a story as it was a collection of mad ravings from the artist's main character, but at that point, he begins describing his family. He starts with his children before backtracking to his grandparents, but it's when we reach his parents that things begin to make sense: he was born in 1946, and his mother was pregnant with him when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although his family was in Manchuria at the time, he sees the bomb as his father. He presents this literally in the text, but the implication is that the end of WWII shook things up so badly during his mother's pregnancy that it affected his entire life. The child of parents with PTSD, he saw the war's end as the ultimate driving force in his and his brother's lives, a hell from which he was born and to which he wants to return.

As metaphors go, this one is a little clumsy, although perhaps it only feels that way because to us the end of the war is largely history, especially now that the generation that lived through it is dying off. The book also takes a bit too long to get to its point, instead reveling in the disgusting with undisguised glee. (And also in abuse – women, children, and animals are all tortured.) It's still an interesting story, however, though I can only recommend it to the strong of the stomach because the underlying metaphor gets a little lost under all of the maggots.

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