The Cosmic Horror of Junji Ito’s Remina
[The following essay contains MAJOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.
Although the various “eldritch abominations” conjured by H.P. Lovecraft—Cthulhu, Dagon, Yog-Sototh—are undeniably iconic, they are rarely the source of terror in the author’s best work. In many cases, they are but catalysts; occasionally, they are merely symptoms. The real root of the existential dread that they inspire is Knowledge—specifically the knowledge of one’s own insignificance. In the unexplored shadows of our universe, Lovecraft speculates—perhaps in the infinite void of outer space, or much closer to home, somewhere beneath the unfathomable depths of the ocean—lurk incomprehensibly powerful beings that are to mankind as we are to insects. They needn’t even be hostile, necessarily—just utterly indifferent. After all, how often have you crushed a colony of ants underfoot without noticing?
How would you cope with the realization that you might be the ant beneath something else’s boot?
With Remina (alternatively titled Hellstar Remina by some translators), Junji Ito snatches the mantle of “Master of Cosmic Horror” from Lovecraft—and what a worthy successor he is! The plot revolves around the eponymous celestial body, which emerges from a wormhole roughly sixteen lightyears away from the Milky Way galaxy. The scientific community’s fascination with the extra-dimensional object’s defiance of every known law of astrophysics, however, quickly turns to blind panic when it abruptly alters its erratic orbit, speeding directly towards our solar system—reducing every planet in its path to rubble. As mass hysteria erupts across the Earth, a bloodthirsty cult arises, convincing the frenzied mob that they must appease the “Demon Star” by sacrificing the innocent young girl for whom it was named.
While Ito paints the page with his trademark nightmarish imagery—from Remina’s gargantuan glaring eye to the prehensile, tongue-like tendril with which it slurps up the moon—it is the story’s oppressive atmosphere and pessimistic themes that truly resonate, lingering in the reader’s memory long after the final chapter. Faced with imminent destruction and confronted with the inherent meaninglessness of existence itself, society collapses almost instantaneously, rational minds are irreparably shattered, and humanity accelerates its demise by immediately resorting to senseless violence.
Such is the terrible burden of Knowledge, as Lovecraft described in The Call of Cthulhu:
The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
It isn’t the monster that drives people insane, but rather the haunting awareness of just how little they actually figure into the greater calculus of the cosmos.