Reviewing the Planet Toys' Hino Horror Figures!
Every Halloween season, for perhaps most of bogleech.com's existence, I've repeatedly intended to write something or other about the horror manga artist Hideshi Hino, but with his huge body of work I'd just never quite settled on exactly where I wanted to begin.
Until now, I guess, and it honestly should have been obvious, because it ties directly into how I first became familiar with his name...
It was all the way back in the year 2000. I was basically still a kid, didn't even have my driver's license or my first job yet, but already living far from home for the summer with a girlfriend in upstate New York. On a fairly routine but rushed trip to the mall, I passed by a kiosk selling Japanese imports and caught only the quickest glimpse of whatever the hell this thing was. Lacking money, a camera, or even enough time to really stop and examine anything, I'd ultimately only remember that beautiful, beautiful sticker in the corner:
Burned into my memory, this sticker all alone would actually inspire the very first doodles of what would, in turn, eventually evolve into the first ever Mortasheen monsters, and Hino's design style continues to be one of my biggest influences as somebody who sometimes draws stuff.
But I still wouldn't have any idea who he was, or what these things were, until at least a couple of years later, when I'd visit a then-famous, now-closed toy store in South Street, Philadelphia and stumble upon them once more. Snatching up three of the four characters on the spot, I'd soon unravel their origins through an internet that existed before Wikipedia, before facebook, before tumblr or twitter or TVtropes or youtube or any of the myriad resources we enjoy today.
So, let's meet these goofs, in roughly the order that I personally learned all that I know about them today.
THE BUGBOYSo a goblin-green caterpillar with a horrible baby face was obviously love at first sight for me, translated as "DOKUMUSHIKOZOU" on his packaging, which actually reads more like Poison Bug Boy, and precisely how these came to be three of my first Japanese words beyond the universally understood "konnichiwa," "sayonara" and "sushi." Speaking of that packaging, check out the lovable little drawing of Bugboy on the back:
A grubby brown seems to be the more "canon" interpretation of Bugboy's color scheme, and the figure was released in a brown alternate, but I really couldn't resist that lovely bright green, fading to an almost metallic blue down the back, with those lovely puke-yellow eyeballs and rust-red horns. You can't see it here, but the smaller barbs down the back are each a completely different color, adding a nicely psychedelic dash to this venomous worm.
The figure is only articulated at the head and a point towards the tail, which only looks "right" when lined up exactly as we see here, but that's okay, it's a perfectly nice enough default pose.
...So just who IS this monster, anyway?
The Bug Boy is actually one of Hino's single most famous tales, and easily the most appropriate introduction to his storytelling style. Our protagonist, Sanpei, is just a little boy who loves to play with insects, reptiles and rodents in the woods, earning him exactly the same nickname as both the title of the book and what other children called me when I still went to public school.
It is not an affectionate nickname. Sanpei's classmates revile him for his "weird and gross" interests even more than mine reviled me, and his own family hates everything about him, wishing he would get lost or run away or even up and die.
Then, one day, Sanpei's curiosity and passion for the natural world gets him stung by a weird, unidentifiable caterpillar with an almost human face on it, and he soon undergoes a slow, hideous, tortured transformation.
If this all seems a bit excessive and not entirely fair, that's pretty much the point. While Hino has written his share of "karmic justice" horror, most of his stories are of pure, senseless tragedy. Sometimes his characters deserve what befalls them, sometimes they don't, and sometimes it just isn't that easy to rationalize, just like in our own grim and miserable reality.
When at last Sanpei transforms into a giant grub and flees his abusive home, he actually ends up having the time of his life as a burrowing, sewer-dwelling mutant monster, breaking into buildings to stir up harmless mischief and exploring the land to his heart's content...until, through an unfortunate sequence of events, he discovers that his venomous sting is deadly to human beings, and he's rather quickly caught up in a new hobby.
As you can imagine, there isn't any happy ending here. An abused child becomes a literal monster through no fault of his own, graduates to an out of control mass killer and finally meets an end. Again, no rhyme or reason...just the pointless horror that life can be whenever it just sort of feels like it.
ZOWROKU...Wasn't that fun?! If you enjoyed that ultra-condensed romp through one abuse victim's Cronenbergian hell, you'll adore Zowroku here, which you'll notice is a variant on the first figure we looked at. This glow-in-the-dark green edition was the first one I purchased, and I think it may be my true favorite of the set. He's got weeping boils for EYES, and he's as cheerfully colorful as a birthday clown. Even his proportions are appealing to me, from his egg-shaped cranium to his little feet.
So what's his story, then?
Spelled Zoroku in the original manga, this much shorter story introduces a mentally handicapped, mostly mute, boil-stricken resident of a remote farming village where he's treated pretty much as badly as you might suspect. This isn't helped by the fact that he shows zero interest in any work other than drawing and painting, contributing to nothing his family considers truly worthwhile or productive.
Call Hino redundant if you must, but Zoroku's body eventually erupts with enormous, multicolored cysts, his family exiles him to a shack in the swamp, and he spends some time happily adapted to his new lifestyle...using his own rainbow of blood, pus and bile to paint pictures more vibrant and realistic than any he was capable of before.
...Until his eyeballs fall out.
There's a little more to Zowroku's story, and an ending that's actually very slightly sweeter and nicer than that of Sanpei, but I won't spoil it, in case one man's adventures in infected sebum are something you're eager to experience for yourself.
FRANZINThe third figure I nabbed at that great little shop should be immediately recognizable. Franzin here is Hino's own original take on Frankenstein's Monster, with the bloodshot eyes and abundance of maggots you probably came to expect from Hino in record time. This figure is also available in a browner edition, but I had to go with the more garish one again. I get so quickly tired of dingy colored monsters.
This time, we don't have an accompanying manga to go with the figure; we all know the story of Frankenstein by now, and "Franzin" was designed especially for this line, as far as I know. You can see what a superb job they did directly translating a Hino drawing to three dimensions.
This concludes the three figures I originally landed, but I'd finally track down the fourth just last year, from an ebay auction miraculously under thirty dollars for a figure that quite often fetched more than a hundred:
HELL BABYI only had so much money when I first saw these toys in person, and I opted for the three that stuck out to me the most at the time. There's certainly nothing wrong with Hellbaby, but when I had to make just one sacrifice, I opted to keep the giant maggot, the pustule clown and the Halloween classic.
Those three magical figures would come with me to every single home I'd ever have, however briefly, always displayed somewhere prominent enough to remind me almost every day of that little inspirational spark they first gave me, but reminding me just as frequently that I wasn't completing the damn set for a full fourteen years. SHAMEFUL.
Now that I actually do have Hellbaby, I appreciate her simpler design and palette a lot more than I did way back when. She's the least weird and least gaudy of the figures, but if I could do it all over again, I might have actually chosen her over Franzin in a heartbeat.
That shiny, slimy, pale custardy flesh is simply glorious.
...And what's her story??
Oh, you know. Two little girls are born, one's a flesh-eating monster, the other one isn't, and one of the two has to go live in the city dump where she subsists on corpses, dogs and rats. No prizes for guessing which one.
Like I said in the beginning, Hideshi Hino has turned out a pretty high volume of work, and even if more than half of it is almost the same story of a battered child turning inside-out and sucking someone's brains out, it's well worth checking out for that charmingly crude, grungy, Irradiated-Charlie-Brown aesthetic sense, and if nothing else, to get a further glimpse into the man I've been shamelessly ripping off for going on two decades.