Hell BabyBy Hideshi Hino (Blast Books; 1989/95)

A manga mind-scraper that offers further proof, after the astounding PANORAMA OF HELL, that Hideshi Hino is one of the world’s most potent purveyors of artful grotesquerie. The black and white HELL BABY was the second Hino volume to appear in English, courtesy of the New York based Blast Books (who at the time were set to put out an entire line of ero-guro manga but didn’t). It isn’t as powerful as the autobiographical PANORAMA, yet still packs quite a punch.

The title character is a baby girl, one of a pair of twins born in Tokyo on a dark and stormy night. The girls’ father freaks out upon seeing the “Hell Baby,” a hideously deformed mutant with bug eyes and wrinkly skin. He tosses the thing into a garbage dump where it promptly dies, only to be reanimated by a bolt of lightning. From there the undead Hell Baby subsides by sucking the juices from rotting animal carcasses, with the dump’s garbage-eating wildlife giving her a wide berth.

Inevitably the Hell Baby, under the spell of a mysterious old woman who urges her to avenge herself on those who left her for dead, makes her way towards Tokyo, the residence of her parents and twin sister. The latter was born normal, and enjoyed a carefree middle class upbringing. Yet her parents haven’t forgotten the Hell Baby, and nor has the latter put them out of her mind. In the meantime the Hell Baby terrorizes the city, killing a dog and cannibalizing the flesh of several unsuspecting individuals before finally confronting her family.

Those of you familiar with Hino’s other volumes, which in addition to PANORAMA OF HELL include RED SNAKE, LULLABIES FROM HELL and quite a few others, will recognize his inimitable touch in the depictions of freakishness and decay that proliferate here. Some of the plot developments could be a bit stronger and/or more coherent (such as the never-explained supernatural intrusions), yet the ultimate impression is both vile and unexpectedly touching. Hino demonstrates a real compassion for the Hell Baby, who despite her bad behavior longs for all the things most normal people take for granted in a book that unashamedly revels in grue yet also evinces a rotting, maggot-ridden heart.