Written by O'Brian Gunn
Impostor syndrome. It’s something we all get, but it’s especially palpable for writers, visual artists, and practically every other creative occupation. We have a deep-seated fear that nothing we do is good enough, that we can chalk our accomplishments up to sheer luck rather than raw talent. In Suehiro Maruo’s The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, main character Hitomi Hirosuke experiences a different type of impostor syndrome - one that leads him down a dark criminal path to assume the life and luxury of a legitimate and proven success, one who goes by the name of Genzaburo Komoda.
When we’re first introduced to Hitomi, he’s dreaming of a beautiful island filled with tropical birds, gorgeous landscaping, towering waterfalls, actual towers, and people (mostly women) frolicking in the nude. He wakes up in his tiny, cramped apartment brimming with books and echoes of his setbacks as a writer. His latest work, “The Tale of RA,” mirrors the work of Edgar Allan Poe and is the story of a man with a limitless fortune who builds his own paradise in the form of a remote island.
Hitomi goes on to lament being stuck in a creative and financial rut. Then, he receives word that one of his old classmates, Genzaburo Komoda, has died. While shocked, Hitomi remembers how the two of them were often mistaken for twins, and how Komoda was the noble son of a wealthy family. The seeds of a nefarious plan are sown by hands wracked with desperation. From there, Hitomi hatches a scheme to essentially kill his own identity and take on his friend’s identity.
To that end, Hitomi digs up Genzaburo’s body from his grave, extracts his gold tooth (yanking out his own tooth in the process), and removes Genzaburo’s burial clothes so he can wear them himself to make it look as if his friend washed up on the beach, miraculously alive. When he’s found and assumed to be Genzaburo, he infiltrates Genzaburo’s life. Hitomi struggles to truly mold himself in Genzaburo’s image, holding his chopsticks the same way, reading without his glasses, and remembering the names of those closest to him...eh, Genzaburo, rather. His biggest obstacle is fooling Genzaburo’s wife, Chiyoko.
While enjoying the Komoda family’s wealth, Hitomi enacts the lofty goal presented in “The Tale of RA.” He plans on turning an island into a tourist destination, complete with an undersea tunnel, and is willing to displace families living on the site, sell businesses, and offload Genzaburo’s expensive art collection to bring his dream to life. It’s here that the meat of the story starts to sizzle...only to quickly fizzle out.
Maruo has some fantastic panels and arrangements, ones that easily transport you into the inner workings of Hitomi’s mind and the beauty of his island. It’s easy to see that our main character has some psychological issues that go deeper than wanting to be rich and leaving behind a legacy, and it’s apparent that Hitomi has “some thoughts” regarding sexual liberation. The set up was great, but the follow-through left a lot to be desired.
One of my biggest gripes is the story feels a bit rushed. There are only eight chapters, but I think that adding two more would have fleshed out the narrative better. I would have loved to dive more into the motivation regarding some of Hitomi’s actions that come later in the story, one specifically that I won’t spoil if you’d like to check the story out yourself.
Here, I need to point out that The Strange Tale of Panorama Island is an original story by novelist Edogawa Rampo that Suehiro Maruo adapted. Rampo himself was an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, so perhaps if I were more familiar with Poe, I’d have a deeper understanding/appreciation of this particular tale.
This is most certainly an adult manga, one with graphic depictions of sex. That said, I didn’t find it to be terribly pornographic (your mileage may vary); it’s more frank than anything. There’re drawings of both male and female genitalia, as well as both heterosexual and homosexual sex, but neither is so overwhelming that I felt like I was reading Samuel R. Delaney’s Hogg (a story you can explore on your own).
All in all, I don’t want to write off The Strange Tale of Panorama Island. If you’re looking for a solid story, this one may not sate your appetite. That said, the artwork and detailed page spreads are certainly enjoyable to behold. At the very least, it got me wanting to explore Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, so that’s something. Maybe what makes Panorama Island truly strange is that it’s a getaway destination where you don’t realize where you went or what you saw until you’re back home.
Page Length: 274 pgs
Recommend Buy New, Buy Used/On Sale, or Skip: Buy Used (if you’re in it for the artwork, or want to explore Japanese manga), or check out from your local library
Next Up: Genius, written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen, is the story of quantum physicist Ted Marx and his desperate attempt to keep his job at a think tank. When you’ve got the chance to steal a secret idea from Albert Einstein, is it possible to make the math of your moral calculus equation add up?