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Manga / Homunculus

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Homunculus is a seinen manga by Hideo Yamamoto, who also authored Ichi the Killer.

So imagine that, like in the Matrix, you have a subconscious self-image. It represents your deepest desires and fears. And no one can see it but you. You, and a homeless man named Susumu Nakoshi, who agreed to let medical student Manabu Itoh drill a hole in his skull for a total of 700,000 yen. Itoh is interested in studying human minds, ESP, ghosts and the occult, and he thinks that he can potentially unleash the hidden psychic potential of Nakoshi's brain.

Nothing seems to be happening, until a few nights after the operation, Nakoshi briefly closes his right eye, and starts seeing nightmare-shapes and monsters everywhere with his left. And then things get weird.

Not to be confused with the little people who live in your brain, or with other uses of the word.


This manga provides examples of:

  • Accent Adaptation: The scanlators translated Nakoshi's backwater Tohoku accent as something akin to Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel's bumpkin accent.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Nakoshi had a compulsion about masturbating at work. When he turned in his resignation letter, he did it on his desk as well.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Although there is not as much sexual imagery (ignoring all the outright sex) as usually is associated with Freud, all the focus on repression and subconsciousness and the unconscious is enough to make any psychology student cry.
  • Anti-Hero: Nakoshi can be seen as a deconstruction of the Samaritan Syndrome-inflicted hero. He goes around helping various people with their issues so he can better understand himself and face his own. Not to mention that his method of "helping" is not always well thought-out or clear. When you try to save a girl by raping her, you know you're not quiiiite balanced in the head. Trepanning Nanako helped her and Nakoshi to see each other's homunculi, but there may have been dire consequences.
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  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Itoh is constantly called "pretty" when he's dressed as a woman.
  • The Blank: Nanako's homunculus in its true form is a completely blank face, with comparisons to the noppera-bo. Eventually, it morphs into a bowl-like shape in which Nakoshi's original face is mirrored.
  • Blob Monster: Yukari's homunculus is that she turns into sand which breaks and reforms in disturbing ways to move and has a nasty habit of taking unsettling forms and seeming to infect what it touches.
  • The Casanova: Nakoshi after getting plastic surgery, before he decided to throw it all away because none of the women could make him feel anything.
  • Downer Ending: Nakoshi possibly accidentally kills Nanako by treppaning her. He abandons her and goes insane, seeing his own face on everyone he meets. A year later, he is still a hobo living in his car alone, and we see he's treppaned himself two more times. Itoh has fully transitioned into a woman it seems, but she is horrified and heartbroken over what her experiments have done to Nakoshi. The story ends with some cops approaching Nakoshi, possibly because of Nanako with Nakoshi too far gone into his delusions to realize who they are.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Justified in that Nakoshi only associates with people whose homunculi he can see, meaning he can only see the homunculi of people who have the same issues he does.
  • Easy Sex Change: Averted by Itoh, who takes a year to fully transition.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: A suitably weird twist. Yukari's family's dog barks furiously when the homunculi of Yukari and her mother manifest as a symptom of their tension.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • There's like two volumes straight of various characters masturbating and having sex. It's not played up to be hot.
    • The sex scene in the final volume. Screw you, indeed.
  • For Science!: Itoh's justification for doing the experiments.
  • Foreshadowing: In the beginning, Itoh explains that many trepanation patients can come out of the experience better, but some may show poor mental side effects later on, such as being Driven to Suicide or going insane. Nakoshi seems to have cracked similarly in the endgame, especially with how many holes he's drilled in his head.
  • Freudian Excuse: Ties into All Psychology Is Freudian. Basically all Homunculi exist as a result of previous traumatic or otherwise depressing events or circumstances.
  • Gainax Ending: That's to be expected in such a Mind Screw series. But this is made even more unsettling by the fact that for a moment it seems like we're heading towards a Happy Ending with Nakoshi realizing Nanako's role in his life and freeing himself from the Homunculi. The exact opposite happens: he throws Nanako aside (after trepanning her), stays prisoner of this world and totally loses it, even trepanning himself two more times. Additionally, given Nanako's final scenes and the people Nakoshi is running toward in his final scenes being dressed like cops, it's possible that she died from blood loss. Itoh himself is utterly horrified by how his experience turned.
  • Girly Run: Nanako regularly runs like this. Turns out she actually knows how to run, and does so whenever she's in a tight pinch or nervous.
  • Gonk: Nakoshi and Nanako in their youth. And that's pretty much the cause of everything happening in the series if you think about it.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Nakoshi and Itoh.
  • Heel Realization: Nakoshi has one while he was still working. After ignoring the plight of the people he was screwing over with his work, he comes across a former employee who became a taxi driver after being laid off. The state of his poverty, his deteriorating relationship with his son, and his good nature despite it made Nakoshi realize just how ignorant he's been, and he resigns.
  • Homelessness: The homeless play a huge part in the story, given that they give our protagonist a place to come back to and talk to him frequently. We later learn that Nakoshi may have put some of them out of work during his time as a worker.
  • Homeless Hero: Literally with Nakoshi. Technically he still has a "home" of sorts with his car, but he doesn't have a permanent place of residence. His resolving the matters of different people carrying Homunculi aren't well-intentioned at first, but he eventually develops an honest desire to learn more about people and get to the hearts of their problems.
  • Hope Spot: Ita's conversation with Nakoshi made him realize that despite all the hardship he's been through, he still has a home to come back to through his daughter. The scene is portrayed as cathartic and uplifting, giving him closure on his life. The next time we see him, he's hanged himself feeling like he's thrown everything away, especially since he abandoned his daughter in the first place.
  • Hypocrite: At least for Nakoshi, his condemning of the materialistic society he became disillusioned with and people who don't look at the "real" person within, when he changed his face and became richer to chase after that exact crowd and happily ignores the feelings of the people he's been with, including the person he claimed was the only one who cared about his true self. Nanako ends up calling him out on it.
  • I Just Want to Be Beautiful: Itoh, Nakoshi, and Nanako had this as their central conflicts for a while; the former because Itoh was denied the chance to fully express themselves as a child and the latter two because they believed that beauty may be their key to finally becoming satisfied with themselves.
  • In-Series Nickname: The homeless in the park call Nakoshi "Car Guy" since he lives in his car.
  • Loves Me Not: A variant - Itoh plucks petals off a flower, with the options "man" and "woman".
  • Luminescent Blush: Adorably, Itoh frequently does this later in the series, starting from when he's forced to crossdress.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's apparent that Nakoshi's ability to see Homunculi is directly related to his trepanation, but it's never made clear if the trepanation itself somehow heightened his senses, somehow supernaturally allowed him to breach another level of reality, or frankly made him go completely insane. Regardless, his mental state by the end is not at all sound.
  • Mind Rape: Nakoshi accuses Yukari of this.
  • Mad Scientist: Itoh seems to be one at first, but turns out to be pretty mentally sound aside from his repressed gender issues and comes to regret what he's done.
  • Mind Screw: For both the reader and Nakoshi.
  • Mirror Monologue:
    • Nakoshi looks in the water and says that isn't his face - apt enough, considering he had plastic surgery.
    • He has another one when he has a serious talk with Ita. He is talking to the man, but by nature of how the Homunculi work he's also doing a lot of talking to himself.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Itoh again.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Usually, if a person Nakoshi talks to has a realization while with him, they'll devolve into this:
    • The Yakuza boss, after realizing where his habit of taking pinkies comes from (misplaced guilt for accidentally cutting off his childhood friend's pinky), decides to cut his own pinky off in penance and quits the gang life.
    • Ita finally accepts the consequences of his running from his responsibilities and abandoning his daughter. The guilt of doing this became too much and he hanged himself shortly afterwards.
    • At the end of it all, Itoh shows a lot of regret for starting the experiment in the first place, now that Nakoshi has gone off the rails.
  • Nominal Hero: At the end of the day, Nakoshi's this. He helps people, but does so largely out of a need to find himself, and in the hopes that someone could see him for who he really is. Some may see this cause as innocent at the very least, until the ending happens, and all the emotional turmoil he's endured throughout the story as a result of excessively empathizing with others drives him totally insane.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: An extremely weird example. The sex scene in the car between Nakoshi and the schoolgirl Yukari goes from semi-rape to consensual to violent rape and back to consensual again. It's intended to be unsettling especially since the final shift is Yukari throwing her sexuality in her mother's face. Also subverted in the semi-rape in so far as that Yukari says she felt nothing.
  • Of Course I'm Not a Virgin: Itoh.
  • Our Homunculi Are Different: Averted, they really are different.
  • Psychological Projection: A possible reason Nakoshi views Homunculi the way he does is because while his trepanned brain is able to intuitively pick up on people's insecurities in an extremely detailed fashion, he is only able to view the Homunculi in forms that his brain can comprehend. As such, he projects his own fears and flaws onto others, which translates into their Homunculi's forms. As the situation gets weirder and weirder, even Itoh, who had proposed that the Homunculi were just projections of Nakoshi in the first place, believes there's more to it than that.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Nanako lays into Nakoshi for his speech about wanting people to see the real him, citing his own shallowness towards others and his getting plastic surgery to make himself more attractive, ultimately calling him a huge hypocrite.
  • Sanity Slippage: It is implied that the reason Nakoshi goes completely mad by the end of the series is because his excessive abilities to empathize with others, his recklessness in dredging up his own traumatic memories, and his general desire to have his own Homunculus seen by someone drove him insane. When he ends up trepanning Nanako and seeing a reflection of himself as her Homunculus, he leaves her behind (possibly to die), and begins seeing everyone as a reflection of himself.
  • Self-Harm:
    • The Yakuza boss' Homunculus is portrayed as a little boy who tearfully cuts his pinky with a sickle every time his real self commits yubitsume on his men.
    • Yukari habitually cuts the back of her left shin to cope with her mother's controlling, prying nature. When her mother finds her and Nakoshi having sex in his car, she slams her foot against the window, essentially slapping her mother in the face with the bleeding wound.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: More often than not, the Homunculi are largely a result of singularly traumatic incidents or circumstances. This is possibly justified by the fact that they're also pretty much psychological projections by Nakoshi onto others; his mind interprets the trauma in ways he can comprehend. Maybe.
  • Snow Means Love: Snow finally begins to fall after Ita and Nakoshi have a heart to heart about how they abandoned their old lives, by remembering the loved ones who tried to stand by them in their times of need.
  • Sparkling Stream of Tears: Itoh, at the very end.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: When Nakoshi realizes that the homunculi he sees are manifestations of his own inner distortions, which he projects on other people around him.
  • Transgender: Itoh, who eventually transitions.
  • The Unreveal: Nakoshi finally finds a photo of his pre-surgery face after quite some buildup and vague glimpses. It's variously covered up by the panel angles, a leaf, and even a dialogue bubble. The same treatment is given when Itoh later gets a look. It is eventually revealed in the final volume.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Itoh's entire motivation stems from a need to be acknowledged by his father.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Nakoshi writes a kind word in the hotel room for Nanako saying he will be right back. He won't. In the epilogue he just says that Nanako was useless to him in the end and we never know what she became. And considering what he did to her, and that she may have died or at least suffered brain damage from the trepanation, judging by the blood seeping through her bandages and the police at the very end, maybe it's better we don't.
  • "Which Restroom" Dilemma: Itoh is shown deliberating over this when he excuses himself while crossdressing.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Itoh is made to crossdress by Nakoshi as part of his working through his homunculus, and ends up doing it on his own. Later on, it's revealed that he crossdressed as a child.
  • Yakuza: They show up prominently twice. The first is a boss who Nakoshi sees as a blocky mecha which is hiding himself as a young boy, a manifestation of his grief over a childhood accident where he maimed a friend. The second is one of Nanako's sugar daddies, who confronts her and Nakoshi over money Nanako stole but leaves them be when Nakoshi helps him express his repressed grief over putting out one of his sister's eyes as a child.
  • You Can Always Tell a Liar: The manga makes a good point of emphasizing tells when time comes to try and break the characters out of their comfort zone. Nakoshi usually moves his mouth to the left, Itoh pulls his nose or looks right, and Yukari looks left, for example.
  • Yubitsume: The Yakuza boss Nakoshi encounters with the mecha homunculus has taken many of his subordinates' pinkies. This drive is a side effect of his repressed grief over cutting off his friend's pinky with a sickle as a child, and he finally exorcises it by performing yubitsume on himself.


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