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Manga / Dragon Head

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Teru Aoki is returning with his classmates from a school trip when he sees a weird beam of light in the distance. The train passes into a tunnel just before an earthquake hits. Teru manages to survive, but everyone else in his car is killed. When he escapes the car to explore, he finds two other survivors — Ako Seto, an unconscious girl, and Nobuo Takahashi, who is rapidly degenerating into insanity and claiming that he sees 'something' in the darkness in the tunnel. Both ends of the tunnel are also blocked, and the whole thing is getting steadily hotter for no apparent reason.

Thus begins this horror manga by Minetaro Mochizuki, which ran in Weekly Young Magazine from 1994 to 1999.

As the story continues, Teru and Ako have to deal with Nobuo and escape the tunnel into the outer world... which they find is almost completely destroyed by some mysterious cataclysm. Cities are abandoned, there's no edible food or drink, and the sky is obscured by a thick cloud of ash which makes navigation and travel nearly impossible. The two run into a few other survivors, including a teenage cult, deserting soldiers (who note that the military is completely unable to cope with the disaster), and the Dragon Heads — people with scars on their heads, who seem to be completely unable to feel any fear, even given the disastrous surroundings. Teru and Ako only want to return to Tokyo to find their families, and maybe figure out what happened, but the route to Tokyo is a long and torturous one, and the survivors they meet along the way aren't necessarily any more stable than Nobuo.

The series is largely a meditation on the nature of fear and the proper way to react to it. Nobuo and the cultists react by completely surrendering to their fear, which results in disaster. Teru tries to feel fear without giving into it, but given the circumstances, is that even possible?

Provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Pretty much every (living) character to an extent, but most importantly the main cast, especially Teru; the amount of trauma, both physical and emotional, that he suffers nonstop through the series would be enough to kill the average man ten times over. Those include surviving a bullet train crash, being crushed by boulders and conked on the head by a falling pillar, surviving a city-wide fire, a tetanus infection (with very little medicine), being dragged by a flood and thrown around by A FRIGGIN' TORNADO. All while starving, thirsty and scared out of his wits.
  • Alien Sky: The thick cloud of ash makes navigation nearly impossible, and screws up Iwada's helicopter when it clogs the engines.
  • America Saves the Day: Averted. We find out at the end from the television station that they can't contact any heads of any government. Nimura also says, at one point, that if America could save the day, they would have, so their lack of presence indicates that they're screwed too.
  • An Aesop: It's disastrous to let your fear rule you, and just as bad to block fear out entirely. Learn to feel fear without letting it control your life.
  • Apocalypse How: Somewhere between class 0 and class 5; as there's no reliable sources of information, neither the characters nor the reader ever find out for sure. We never even find out what caused the disaster. Nimura theorizes that a meteor or a nuke may have hit Mount Fuji and triggered massive earthquakes throughout the entire country, but Iwada points out that they really have no idea.
  • Attempted Rape: Nimura's intention on landing in Sakurayama is to find fuel, weapons, and women. Yamazaki tries to rape Ako, but she manages to beat him up and escape.
  • Ax-Crazy: Nobuo. The few Izu survivors who gave into their fear rather than shutting themselves off from it also qualify. Lastly, The Researcher.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The reconnaissance team is slaughtered by the Researcher's cult, Izu (and, for all we know, all of Japan and possible the world) is slowly being covered with ash, and Tokyo now has a brand-new volcano. Oh, and the unnamed foreign country, itself having problems, is preparing to use 'every available option' to try to find and secure the missing nuclear weapons — and if they can't, the Researcher might use them for his own psychotic ends. Yet Teru refuses to give up, either by giving in to his fear or shutting it off completely, and he vows to pull through and survive.
  • Bottomless Pits: Mount Fuji.
  • Brick Joke: The Dragon Heads aren't even introduced until about halfway through the series.
  • Corporal Punishment: How Nimura works out his anger at having to go into the Izu town while Iwada fixes the helicopter.
  • Crapsack World
  • Dark Is Evil: Nobuo's descent into madness is often described as him 'giving in to the darkness.' Also, the thick cloud of ash, and the pitch black void that once contained Mount Fuji.
  • Dangerous Deserter: Nimura and his crew flee to Sakurayama, where Nimura wants to find women to rape. They actually last better than the rest of their squad, which is killed very soon after when it flies by the remains of Mount Fuji.
  • Driven to Suicide: Most of the Izu survivors.
  • Drugs Are Bad: The Tokyo survivors found an emergency cache of food. The food is laced with drugs to suppress fear, on the basis that a terrified populace will be ill-equipped to survive a disaster. Unfortunately, the effects of the drug are such that fear would probably have been preferable.
  • Dying Alone: Flatly defied, even in the final chapter title: "I Don't Want To Be Alone When The World Ends". Teru and Ako are much happier to be together as everything continues to collapse.
  • Emergency Broadcast
  • The End of the World as We Know It: No food, no drink, and constant environmental disasters. As one character puts it, "Humanity is finished."
  • The Engineer: Iwada ends up as this, as he's the only one who knows how to fix the helicopter.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Teru, who thinks that he's almost certain to die whatever he does, yet continues on regardless. Subverted by Nimura, who calmly lies down and waits for the world to finish falling apart... only to become terrified again as Tokyo gets its shiny new volcano.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Teru, temporarily, when he gives in to fear.
  • The Faceless: The faces of the news broadcasters are blurred out because of the terrible reception.
  • Fingore: How Ako deals with Yamazaki.
  • Ghost Town: Sakurayama. Unfortunately, not Tokyo.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Nimura. He starts off a rapist, seems to be getting more moral during the Izu arc, and then falls again when he makes it to Tokyo.
  • It Has Been an Honor: As Tokyo completely falls apart, and their survival becomes even more in doubt, Teru and Ako agree that they're really glad to be together. This is contrasted with the now-friendless Nimura, abandoned in the capital with his gun and whatever insane survivors he happens across, and the Dragon Heads, who are barely able to understand what is happening or why they should care.
  • Karmic Death: the Izu survivors get their death wish. Yamazaki is incinerated. Ooiki is also burned to death.
  • Karma Houdini: Nimura somehow survives, even those his last acts are to try to abduct Ako. The Researcher makes it too.
  • Kent Brockman News: Teru and Ako catch an emergency broadcast, which features one announcer breaking down into hysterics and ranting that nowhere is safe and everyone is doomed.
    • Averted in the end, when the television station reads the Document, which provides more description of what actually happened and is happening than any other point in the story.
  • Law of Conservation of Detail : Only the three initial main characters get full names. The supporting characters get a first name. Most of the others, including virtually all of the insane people, only get nicknames.
  • Lethal Lava Land: Mount Fuji. This, as well as a pit that may well extend into the Earth's core, for all the characters know.
  • Mad Science: The Researcher seems positively gleeful about the end of the world.
  • The Mentor: The Lady, possibly the only sane person the characters encounter after arriving in Izu.
  • Mildly Military: Given the circumstances, Iwada's palpable contempt for his commanding officer is perhaps understandable.
  • The Medic: The Lady.
  • The Movie: Was made into a live-action movie. Notable differences included meeting the Researcher earlier, and Nimura's death.
  • The Mutiny: Nimura decides that the military situation is untenable, and orders his helicopter to desert. later, all the other helicopters are destroyed approaching Mount Fuji.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Nimura. Seems to die down somewhat while the group is in Izu, but once they return to Tokyo, it kicks back in.
  • No Ending: What caused the destruction? What is the significance of the Dragon Heads? Did any of the characters survive and rebuild? No one will ever know.
  • No Name Given: Teru, Ako, and Nobuo are the only characters who get full names. The soldiers get one name each, as do Teru's classmates and one character who introduces the Dragon Heads. Everyone else is known by nicknames or descriptors (The Lady, The Cop, Bandage-Man, The Researcher, the Dragon Heads).
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Averted. Iwada has no problem leaving Nimura behind, until Ako puts a gun to his head. When Iwada dies, Ako and Nimura bury him and leave the body.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: When the group arrives at what used to be Mount Fuji, they begin to descend. they can't see anything. The next two pages are what the characters see — completely black, with no detail or information whatsoever.
  • One-Man Army: Iwada, while Nimura and Ako are in the Izu town and Teru is convalescing.
  • Pater Familicide: The Izu survivors do this for the whole town.
  • Redshirt Army: The helicopter fleet that Teru and Ako see is, excluding Nimura's helicopter, completely destroyed offscreen by the Mount Fuji ruins.
  • Scenery Gorn
  • Science Is Bad: Played With. While scientific advances are the only way that humans can even go on living — all that remains is processed and bottled food and water, and helicopter is the only way to travel large distances — the Researcher also says that science tried to eliminate fear, with disastrous results.
  • Self-Harm: How the survivors in Tokyo act so they can try to feel something. They try so hard that most of them have slings, crutches, eye patches, etc. It doesn't work.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Teru lectures Nimura on how, while he's afraid, his urge to find out what happened to his family keeps him going. Nimura calmly informs Teru that his family is dead and buried.
  • Sidequest: Upon arriving in Izu, Teru collapses due to an infection, necessitating a two-volume detour into a city full of insane, suicidal people in order to find medicine.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Nimura.
  • The Squad: Nimura, Iwada, Ooiki, and Yamazaki.
  • Tactical Withdrawal: Both in Sakurayama and the cliff, the only sane option is to retreat.
  • Trend Aesop: Nimura notes that the apocalypse made it remarkably less relevant who has the best jewelry, car, or job.
  • Walking Armory: Iwada hides a bazooka in the helicopter; he stole it from the base before the squadron left. It comes in handy in Izu.
  • We Interrupt This Program: Averted, by the time Teru and Ako reach the surface, nothing is broadcasting to be interrupted by the emergency bulletin.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: At the shopping mall, Iwada notes that it's freezing and they have no fuel to start a fire, since the various disasters have destroyed almost everything. Nimura gives him some thick sheaves of bills, pointing out that this is all they're good for.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Averted.
  • Zerg Rush: How the Researcher's minions deal with the scout teams.