When Mystery and Psychology fail: Heads

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Heads is a mystery and psychological manga heavily centered around the theme of insanity, multiple personalities and what makes us, “us”.

It was written by Higashino Keigo, who didn’t write a whole lot of manga, and most of what he wrote can be summed up as one-shots centered at the shoujo demographic. Heads is different in the sense that it targets a different demographic and is his longest manga with 4 volumes and 36 chapters.

Outside of his relatively small work in the manga department, Keigo Higashino according to this site:

“Is one of the most popular and biggest selling fiction authors in Japan—as well known as James Patterson, Dean Koontz or Tom Clancy are in the USA.

He won the Edogawa Rampo Prize, which is awarded annually to the finest mystery work, in 1985 for the novel Hōkago (After School) at age 27.

In 1999, he won the Mystery Writers of Japan Inc award for the novel Himitsu (The Secret), which was translated into English by Kerim Yasar and published by Vertical under the title of Naoko in 2004. In 2006, he won the 134th Naoki Prize for Yōgisha X no Kenshin.

The Devotion of Suspect X was the second highest selling book in all of Japan— fiction or nonfiction—the year it was published, with over 800,000 copies sold. It won the prestigious Naoki Prize for Best Novel— the Japanese equivalent of the National Book Award and the Man Booker Prize. Made into a motion picture in Japan, The Devotion of Suspect X spent 4 weeks at the top of the box office and was the third highest‐grossing film of the year.”

So as you can clearly see, Keigo is highly praised for his mystery writing skills in Japan, which came as a bit of a shock to me after I read the manga called Heads, which story he wrote. Because of the fact that the “mystery” aspect of Heads can only be described as highly predictable, obvious, generic and even bad.

The basic story is about a shy, weak and cowardly character called Jun Naruse, whose other primary traits include the fact that he likes to paint and is unable to disobey his superiors, he is generally a conformist person who doesn’t try to stick out like a sore thumb in the community he is in. Also despite being an overall Beta-male, Jun still has a girlfriend as well a job.

Everything seems to be going well for him, but then one day he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. A shooter arrives to rob the building he was in, and when the wannabe robber brandishes his gun at a little girl, Jun proceeds to jump in the way (contrary to his previously established cowardly personality, this is a drastically heroic act from him), the bullet hits him in the head and everything fades to black.

He awakens 4 weeks later from a comatose state only to learn that he is in a hospital and that they somehow managed to save him despite his injuries to the brain. At first the doctors tell him that his brain could be repaired because “science was on his side” and that he was very lucky. But it doesn’t even take a chapter for Jun to accidentally stumble across the freezer (talk about coincidence), which contained 2 damaged brains in a jar, one of them was labeled Host J.N. (Jun Naruse), while the other one was labeled the “Donor.”

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Naturally even our dumb protagonist manages to connect the dots and the next day he asks the doctor what really happened. The doctor proceeds to inform him that he is the first person to successfully receive a brain transplant. By brain transplant here I don’t mean full brain transplant, as only Jun’s left side of the brain was injured, they took the left side from the donor and did a “partial brain transplant.”

As you would expect, Jun immediately has worries about this alarming development, but the Doctor reassures him that everything is alright and that the operation went smoothly, so he has nothing to worry about (ha-ha). It becomes evident in the very next chapter that the partial brain matter from the Donor is influencing him anyway by “manifesting” the personality of the Donor.

Most of the “mystery” aspect of the manga is centered around this Donor as Jun tries to find the parents of the donor, learn about his personality and see how the changes in his persona are correlated to the persona of the donor, several important chapters are wasted on this.

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And I really mean wasted, because the identity of the donor was obvious to anyone who paid some attention in the first 3-4 chapters, where they mention that the shooter who shot Jun also died. It was honestly such an expected cliché move to fuse the shooter’s and victim’s brains together that anyone could see it coming the moment it was mentioned. Yet instead of averting this cliché, Mr. Keigo decided to play right into it.

This is arguably one of the worst mistakes made in this manga, because as I said Jun is sent on this wild goose chase where he chases after the donor and tries to rationalize his changes with what he finds. Only for him to eventually find out that the donor’s identity that the Doctor gave him was a fake who was actually a nice and friendly person, but they bribed his father to tell a complicated lie about how he was basically an unwanted devil child with a temper that no one liked.

Anyway, Jun only finds out about the “connection” with his brain and the shooter in the last 3/4 of the manga, which is in all honesty a waste of the reader’s time due to how obvious everything was.

The second worst mistake of the author was the fact that he didn’t restrict the narrative of the story to the protagonist’s perspective. What do I mean? Well many mystery maintain their mysterious atmosphere by only showing everything through the eye of the protagonist or what the protagonist sees, because of this, the reader knows only as much as the protagonist. This works quite well for any mystery series since the reader can figure out and notice things that the protagonist didn’t realize himself.

Meanwhile Heads is ruined by the fact that it makes use of two perspectives, the fact that it shows scenes without the protagonist being there, and most of these scenes are what lead to the ruin of the mystery. For example it becomes clear as early as chapter 4 that The Doctor and his two assistants are experimenting with Jun and toying with his life for their own benefit, we are shown this in scenes where they are talking to each other without the protagonist being present.

Again the whole “mystery” aspect is thrown out of the window as there is no anticipation, excitement or anything for the reader to uncover, we always know everything that the protagonist doesn’t, and this is a huge sin from a mystery writing standpoint. Jun Naruse only learns of The Doctor’s manipulation in the latter half of the manga. Once more the manga wastes a huge amount of time for things that the reader knows from the very beginning to be revealed to the protagonist via the story.

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Now that we thrashed the mystery lets turn our attention to the psychological aspect of the manga. If you expect some ground breaking or unique portrayal of character psyche change, then you will be in for a disappointment as Heads is very generic in this department.

All that really happens is that our protagonist Jun will start to suffer from paranoia and dual personality, the personality of his old self and the personality of the killer. And as you would expect it, the killer’s personality is the complete opposite of Jun’s, so our character that was previous gentle, shy and somebody who wouldn’t talk back no matter what, now became a character who would slit someone’s throat for the slightest insult.

He is the cliché 1 dimensionally evil second personality. I’m not even kidding, whenever the killer got “dominant” he always tried to kill someone to the point that he was willing to chase someone for several streets just so that he could light them on fire. There is nothing that would make the killer’s persona sympathetic since all we are shown is that he is arrogant, impatient and highly dangerous, a terrible combination of traits.

Well the manga tries to make him more sympathetic, but the word is really on the try here. They give him a bit of a back-story about how he was a victim of his father who abandoned him and his mother and all he did was just a revenge to get back on his father (by robbing his office). But none of that really makes him a better person.

Its hard to not see him as a psychotic killer as he:

  1. Attempted to shoot a little girl with a gun
  2. Attempted to light someone on fire for simply annoying him with loud talking
  3. Attempted to stab someone for being ungrateful to their parents
  4. Strangled the woman that comforted him because she lied to him.

The revenge on his father would have been relatively justified, but none of the things I mentioned had anything to do with that. So how is he not your average unrelatable killer who is devoid of empathy?

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The synopsis of the manga tried to make it seem as if the change in the protagonist’s character would be ambiguous, as if he was just potentially just imagining and deluding himself into being the shooter. So I logically expected something among those lines, but what I got was far worse.

There is no ambiguity here that the protagonist is going crazy, the manga makes it seem like its 100% certain that the brain is influencing him, this is all the more evident due to the fact that manga’s artist alters the eye design and switches to this “dramatic shading” whenever the two personas switch.

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The mere fact that the otherwise peaceful, quiet, cowardly protagonist turns into a complete maniac who is willing to kill someone for simply annoying him without any hesitation, makes the whole thing come off as cheap shock-factor.

What’s worse is that even though we have this obviously crazy protagonist present, the side characters do not react accordingly, meaning they do things that wouldn’t make sense in reality, which is a minus as the manga clearly tried to go for the “realistic appeal”.

What do I mean? For example: Jun Naruse frequently visits the hospital for checkups and regularly informs the doctors of his experiences and his mood and personality changes. Even when the changes become really drastic, the doctors still don’t do anything about it. They don’t give him any treatment, nor do they lock him up for his own safety, they just let him wander back into the city, where he might just murder someone at the given opportunity.

Or lets just look at the women. Jun Naruse has two love interests, one of them is the Doctor who the killer’s persona has fallen for, and the other is his old girlfriend before the accident. The doctor obviously knows about his unstable condition as she was one of the three doctors who were on his case, yet despite knowing about his condition, the female doctor still decides to feign a relationship with Jun and have sex with him on a regular basis in order to gain access to his diaries.

Needless to say, Jun eventually finds out and proceeds to strangle the female doctor, who honestly deserved it due to her stupidity. His other girlfriend, Megu, isn’t any better. She witnessed Jun’s deteriorating condition first hand (as they were living together), this escalated to the point where she left his home in fear of his behavior, up until this her actions were logical.

But then a few chapters later she decides to go back to him anyway. What happens you might ask? Well Jun’s condition has gotten to the point that he feels no remorse or shame whatsoever about telling her how he killed the Female Doctor and cut her up to tiny pieces (while presenting her with the bloody saw). Despite being told such a gruesome story and seeing the evidence, she barely shows any sign of shock and still decides to be with Jun Naruse.

In response Jun immediately proceeds to physically abuse her.

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She manages to avoid being beaten to death by uttering the following cliché lines:

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Its hard for me to emphasize just how utterly stupid and illogical this whole situation is. I get it that its supposed to be a “muh love” type of message, but its still retarded when you think about it from a logical perspective. First off, these characters weren’t together for years, they have only been together for a few months. Their relationship and love wasn’t particularly deep to begin with. If anything it was just a casual relationship between two young adults and it has always been presented like that.

Both of them were still young and it was their first relationship. Due to the fact that the relationship wasn’t that long to begin with, Megu should have been able to get over Jun and break up with him when she noticed that he was no longer “him”. Yet as you could see, she decides to risk dying for being able to stay together with the man that is no longer Jun Naruse, but the shooter. The said shooter who had no problems whatsoever in almost stomping her head in. You can’t tell me that this is how a twenty whatsoever year old girl would act like in the same situation.

Hilariously even after this the killer almost chokes her to death like he did with the doctor, as she is only saved by a sudden deus ex machina of the original Jun Naruse personality returning for a moment and saving her by preventing the killer from killing her.Which is utter bullshit, as the whole thing that was going on since the beginning of the manga was how the killer’s brain matter was eroding and slowly taking over Jun’s personality, not the other way around. This is not the first time the killer tried to kill someone, yet coincidentally for the plot, this is the only time Jun decided to take over. Why didn’t he save the Female Doctor? Because it was convenient for the plot, as it was the Female Doctor’s death that set the events into motion that would end this shitty manga.

In the latter half of the manga it is suddenly stated that Jun’s brain operation was actually an experiment approved by the Illuminati. Okay it doesn’t say Illuminati, but it says a group of old and very rich people, so its still the same thing. Basically the old, rich people wanted to prolong their existence on Earth by brain transferring their consciousness and Jun was just the unfortunate victim of this experiment.

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This wouldn’t even be such a bad plot twist, if everything else in the story were made to fit this narrative, but it doesn’t fit. As I said above, Jun was let to freely wander around and cause all kinds of havoc at his workplace, home and pretty much everywhere he goes. While it would have made much more sense for the Illuminati organization to just confine Jun to a hospital and don’t let him wander around freely.

They could have come up with a 1000 excuses to achieve this, yet they didn’t do this. Even though it would have allowed them to publicly notice any changes within his persona and experiment on him further accordingly to the abnormalities observed. Please note that the Female Doctor only died because Jun stopped coming to the hospital and the Illuminati ordered her to gather data from Jun personally. Her death obviously wouldn’t have happened if Jun was simply confined to the hospital.

Later the Illuminati tries to kill him after they learn of the Female Doctor’s death. But again why? Why would they want him dead? That is completely illogical from the men who apparently rule the world from the shadows. It was made quite clear by the old doctor in the initial chapters how much of a miracle the whole operation was and how lucky Jun was for coming out alive. Yet despite this, the Illuminati still tries to kill and eliminate their only successful and extremely rare sample, for simply killing an expendable doctor.

When they could have easily just kidnapped him and locked him up somewhere where escape was impossible. Jun was just one man, he couldn’t have possibly opposed a bunch of wealthy and powerful old men. Despite this the Illuminati still tries to kill him, but not even in a simple manner, but in the most contrived manner possible. First they kidnap him and knock him out, then they transport him to an abandoned warehouse, where they proceed to pour gasoline on him. After this they wake him up (????) just so the doctor can proceed to gloat about how he will kill him and what not in the most cliché manner possible.

And as you guessed, this cliché move is exactly what allows our protagonist to escape and survive this ordeal. After this the protagonist decides to finally end his life. (Because apparently burning to death wasn’t his preferred method of suicide.) He moves to the building where everything started, meaning the place that the killer originally tried to rob and where Jun was shot in the head.

He proceeds to rob the place, goes to the rooftop, scatters the money he stole, which the passing pedestrians immediately proceed to pick up. Then when the police arrive he proceeds to end his life in the most anti climactic suicide possible, by shooting himself in the head.

Rating: 5 Jekyll out of 10 Hyde

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