Panorama of Hell tells the story of a mysterious unknown painter who uses blood to paint his “Hell Paintings”. These paintings of his are depictions of a kind of hell on earth, although his own surroundings seem to be just that.
We join him at the point in his life where he is creating his masterpiece; a masterpiece that requires him to get large quantities of blood from his body. He achieves this through self-cutting and drinking Hydrochloric Acid.
After he briefly introduces himself, he goes on to describe the stories behind each of his paintings. Panorama of Hell is cleverly structured into an anthology-like structure. Each part reveals more about himself, his family and his surroundings that inspired the paintings. As he makes his way through each painting we are able to build up the bigger picture of his and his family’s troubled past.
This Horror Manga is not for the feint of heart; it is violent from start to finish and shows some pretty nasty scenes throughout. I found myself growing accustomed to the violence in general after a few pages, but now and again something would happen that would make me think again.
It’s hard to imagine a place described in this story as actually being a real place. The guillotine overlooking his house; the train that carries the severed heads off into the sunset; the river of blood and corpses running parallel to the train’s tracks. What I can imagine though, is these visions he describes being amplifications of fears and real-life traumatic moments. Like how we always seem to remember things from our childhoods being much bigger than they were.
This manga deals with the subject of domestic abuse quite heavily too. Within the context of the story’s brutal canvas, the history of his parents’ and grandparents’ abusive nature is particular hard to read at times. It pretty plainly discusses the fact that financial and life pressures, along with their own upbringing, leads each new generation into abusive life styles.
At the risk of sounding morbid, I will say that there is a beauty in many areas of Panorama of Hell. I loved the idea of the blood drops across the train tracks causing blood-red flowers to bloom. Flowers he describes as being “Crimson Flowers of Hell” that glisten in the sunrise. The very idea of there actually being a sunrise gives me hope for this character.
As with most other manga, it is shown completely in black and white. The depiction of such huge amounts of blood throughout Panorama of Hell intrinsically link the colour of crimson blood we hold in our mind, with the black of night. Every panel feels drenched in blood, with it often being hard to tell where the blood stops and the shadows begin.
Key parts of the artist’s life greatly inspired parts of Panorama of Hell. Hideshi was born on the Japanese-occupied east coast of China in a town called Qiqihar. He manged to narrowly escape as a young child with his parents towards the end of the Second World War. I believe that the horrors of that time had to have affected the young Hideshi at a deep level. It is no wonder that he is exploring the subjects of Hell and violence in such a visceral way.
I don’t believe that the horrors of war can be captured fully in any art form - whether it be manga, film, or painting. But I do feel that the aspects of war that seem to have inspired this work, have helped birth one of the darkest depictions of everyday horror I’ve read yet. When I say “everyday horror” I mean that many of the violent actions in the story are well within the realm of real life, as opposed to fighting mythical beasts, monsters or demons.
Panorama of Hell is a fascinating character study of the mysterious painter and his family history that has shaped him. In the first pages he just came across as this demented psychopath with no redeeming qualities. However, with each new chapter and each new painting, I found my empathy for him growing.
If you are feeling particularly brave and think you can stomach it, you should try and read Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino. It is a reading experience you wont be forgetting in a hurry.