After years upon years of consuming as many horror stories as I can find, it’s become a little hard for me to actually get scared by a story, even ones that are told well. It’s one of the reasons I value horror stories that actually have developed characters so much – when the initial thrill of being terrified beyond measure is harder and harder to experience, you begin to look for the other aspects of the story to keep your interest, and a compelling character can keep you invested. It’s very special, then, when a story not only has those wonderful characters I love, but finds a way to horrify me that’s so new and bizarre that in manages to shock me into senseless horror. Such is the case of Junji Ito’s Hellstar Remina.
The story begins with the discovery of the titular celestial body, a massive star that just appears in the sky one night out of nowhere. Astonishingly, the star doesn’t stay in a particular orbit, but rather moves through the sky with what almost appears to be purpose and intent. Stranger still, other stars disappear when it draws near them, and, ominously, it seems to be heading towards earth.
At first people love the star, which is named Remina after the daughter of the scientist who discovered it. Remina (the human) becomes a celebrity as a result, only to become an object of hatred when the Hellstar arrives in our solar system and begins eating planets. The horror reaches a new level when it reaches Mars, which, in this story’s world, has a small colony of humans upon it. Instead of simply absorbing the planet as it did with Jupiter, the Hellstar extends a long, curling tongue, and deliberately licks the inhabited part of the red planet, as if wishing to savor the taste of living beings. Then, of course, the Hellstar turns to earth.
Humanity panics as the Hellstar looms over us. As it did with Mars, the planet takes its time, licking earth like a lollipop to draw out the act of eating it as much as possible. Riots form in the streets, with a cult of people demanding that the human Remina be sacrificed in order to appease the Hellstar that shares her name. Things get progressively worse as Remina and her few allies try to evade getting lynched, all while the Hellstar slowly eats more and more of the planet.
The Hellstar is an interesting character because it manages to become more unnerving and strange the more it is anthropomorphized by the story. A cosmic entity that mindlessly destroys planets is, in a way, mundane – asteroids have done as much in our own history. Yet one that acts with intent is oddly alien and unnerving. Why would something that large need to have purpose? The apparent and obvious motive of Hellstar Remina makes it all the more ominous – can something so grand in scope really be so petty and trivial as to draw out the destruction of earth just for pleasure? The demented glee in Remina’s swollen, infected-looking eyes as it licks earth like a gobstopper is so unexpectedly human for an entity so bizarre, that it actually makes the creature more baffling.
Late in the story, a group of rich humans tries to colonize Remina, believing that the planet’s surface is inhabitable because they found a blurry video apparently sent by astronauts that landed on the Hellstar’s surface. When they land, however, we find out that not only is Remina’s surface incredibly deadly – filled with millions of smaller tongues, mouths, and eyes, all of which make short work of the colonists – but that the video was made by none other than Remina itself, animating an astronaut’s suit with one of its many tongues. Worse, when a colonist melts into the planet’s surface, what remains of their face slowly mutates into a face quite similar to the planet’s, implying that something worse than simple death may face those consumed by the planet.
The what and why of Hellstar Remina is never explained, as is typical for an eldritch abomination, but it speaks volumes of Junji Ito’s craftsmanship as a writer and illustrator that the few aspects of the monster that are understandable only highlight how goddamn alien it is. Hellstar Remina makes the familiar feel unsettling and alien, and does so while bringing a threat of an utterly apocalyptic scale that only mounts in dread and terror from beginning to grisly end.
Sorry if this ruins it, but it seems like it could easily be a “make everyone immortal” device with not-at-all-human-comforting aesthetics. (It’s really just an aid package! Which is so poorly wrapped that many of its recipients commit suicide rather than open it. Oops.)