Story and Art by Hideshi Hino
Originally published in Soubisha (1975)
Length: 1 Volume
“One part Kafka, one part Spidey”
Everyone loves a good allegory. Finding an entertaining piece that is layered with substance adds extra value in experiencing it. Not only can we immerse ourselves in a story, but we can then spend hours excavating what is left unsaid. These personal findings lead to greater levels of resonance, and remain with us for much longer. Bug Boy explores all the negative aspects society offers. Hatred, intolerance, suppression of uniqueness and a set of rules that often conflict with personal morality. Unfortunately, the manga is an unconvincing allegory, being more literal than it needs to be. There are no hidden layers of meaning or symbolism, everything is explained to the reader, and then we… just move on. That’s not to say that the manga wasn’t enjoyable, but apart from flicking through the art, I don’t see much reason to revisit this piece.
The story follows Sanpei, a young boy who is subjected to daily tormenting from people at school and in his family. The only beings that can understand him are a colony of stray animals and insects he visits in a nearby junkyard. One night, he is bitten in by a strange insect found in his vomit, a sting that leads to him transforming into a poisonous bug. While the transformation provides him with liberation from his life, he discovers that the world outside his own is just as hateful.
Hino’s crude artwork added to the vile imagery painted in this manga. But to be honest, this was necessary in ensuring this story remained allegorical. I don’t mean to brush over the deeper meanings of this story, but it can be simplified to a young man alienated from his world on various levels, so much so that he thinks of himself as an insect. Slowly, he realises that his “bugginess” (individuality) is actually a strength, and that the unique traits he possess provide him with purpose. But unfortunately, the traits further isolate the young man from others, leading to undoubtable loneliness, and ultimately lead to his demise (social rejection). Even if the boy’s transformation is from a bug bite, the bug itself was produced from within the boy, affirming a sense of agency. It’s hard not to liken it to Franz Kafka’s “metamorphosis”, in which a similar transformation takes place.
An inherent angst drifts over both pieces, and in order to emphasise the fictitious elements of both pieces, each relies on a different form of immersion (Kafka uses writing, Hino uses art). The physical isolation Sanpei experiences in the sewers and wilderness provided the story with melancholic undertones, and the protagonist’s interaction with himself led to some interesting reflections. However, every time the bug boy interacted with humans, the frustration of societal expectations filled the author’s pen, and fairly obvious observations were carried out.
A linear story can be quite tedious to read through for an adult, but the narration of “Bug Boy” plays out more like a children’s book. The cautionary tale is spoon fed to the reader, consistent with the style, but with content that was very much catered for adults. The contrast between these two elements of storytelling only strengthened a feeling of discomfort within the reader. It’s not a scary read, but to say it never evoked any feelings would be a lie. The innocence of the protagonist allowed the darker points of the story to really seep into our thoughts, particularly its inconsistency with our morality. It is meant to instil an “Ah ha” moment within the reader, being that morality conflicts with societal norms, but it was a bit on the nose for me. I don’t mind reading about obvious or even superficial motifs, as long as they can co-exist with other elements of storytelling, including entertainment. Having a story explore deeper feelings of fear and isolation was intriguing, but if too literal can at times become repetitious.
Bug Boy was a short but pungent read, one which carried with it an urgent angst. Whether it was to warn others about the dangers of societal conformity, or just explore the feelings of an alienated mangaka, this piece made it clear what one should be weary of. A better balance between the story, symbolism and explanations would have resulted in a more compelling read, but I cannot deny the grotesque charm of Hideshi Hino’s work.
Art – 8
Story – 6
Writing – 6
Overall – 6.5/10