Heads by Keigo Higashino and Motoro Mase

horror horror-manga keigo-higashino manga motoro-mase

What is Heads about?

Jun has a pretty decent life. After having finally plucked up the courage to ask his dream girl on a date, they become a happy couple.  He is hard working, friendly and pretty skilled as an artist. However, this all comes crashing down when he is shot in the head protecting a little girl during a robbery.

The bullet would have left Jun in a vegetative state, if it wasn’t for an experimental operation performed on him. The Doctors take lead in this and only need his girlfriend’s direct consent to advance with it. Due to her desperation to see her love again, she gives them that consent. The surgery is a complete success and results in Jun having the damaged section of his brain replaced with a brain slice from an unknown donor.

At first Jun seems to be back from the brink of death and back to his loving woman. But things are different somehow - there are changes happening slowly inside him that begin showing themselves more and more often. As time marches forward, parts of Jun’s character begin to alter into a person that he doesn’t recognise. As expected, this scares Jun and even those around him, as he starts becoming violent and short tempered.

The story takes us with Jun on his journey to try and discover the mystery that is his altered brain. He attempts to track down the donor of his new section of brain, in order to shed some light on this new behaviour. And to work out where this change of personality could possibly be leading him.

Fearing the loss of identity

I think this may be the first horror manga story I have read, where the horror is presented primarily through its psychology. The main antagonist in this story is the unwanted change within Jun’s brain. The brain slice that seems to be slowly causing him to lose himself. The fact that it could be trying to take him over from inside his mind, makes for a terrifying premise.

The fear over losing ones own identity is something that we all have the potential to face in life. Because of this fact, I feel that Heads is one of the most relatable horror manga stories I’ve read up until now. How it handles its complex relationships, along with the themes of trust and betrayal, is done so with great skill.

It treats those directly affected by Jun’s condition with a lot of respect too. Megu is the woman by his side and probably the best woman in this world he could ever hope to be with. We would all be better off with someone like her by our sides.

note: I feel I’m just as lucky as Jun with my own lady. :)

The crisis of identity is the thing that Jun is fighting against and, although the surgery is firmly within the realms of science fiction - for now, it’s no less scary to imagine it happening to ourselves.

A slow burn that consumes all

This story felt like a slow burn to me, and I mean that wholeheartedly in a good way. It demanded the building up of a likeable and believable central character in Jun. And not only him, but his hardy - yet sensitive - girlfriend Megu too. She was one of the strongest characters in this story and probably the one I was most rooting for. I know it’s Jun who is having all this happen to him, but what she has to deal with from him - along with the guilt of letting the surgery happen - makes her the strongest character for me.

I am grateful to Keigo Higashino, the writer, for taking the time to tell this tale with a good amount of space to breath. The story never felt rushed or shoehorned to fit a pre-determined endpoint at any time. I found it to be a natural path that weaved it’s way through Motoro Mase’s beautiful artwork with great finesse, to its satisfying conclusion.

Despite the tough journey we join Jun on, and the horrors he both witnesses and performs, Heads left me feeling positive when I had finished its 36 chapters. I loved that out of all the devestation that occurs, something beautiful can come of it in the end. There are many elements too that came full circle for me, both thematically and within the story’s locations. A lot of care has been written and drawn into this, and it’s a story that will stay with me.

In Summary

This is slightly longer than the past few mangas I’ve been writing about. But it is one that drew me in well enough to only put it down to sleep at night. The characters throughout this story were very believable in my mind. The way that Jun was built up in the opening chapters made his transformations all the more scarier to witness.

Heads has next to no graphical horror presented within its pages. Despite this, it still manages to have a very brutal side to it - especially when Jun’s alter-ego gets pushed too far. I think the reduction in physical violence throughout, made those moments when it did come all the more shocking.

If you’re looking for a deeper narrative to read in your next horror manga adventure, you should check out Heads. And I’d like to add that it has one of my favourite closing panels I’ve seen so far. It is absolutely beautiful in how it closes the story for our lead characters. Just stunning.