|Written by||Minetarō Mochizuki|
|Original run||1995 – 2000|
|Directed by||George Iida|
|Produced by||Takashi Hirano|
Dragon Head (ドラゴンヘッド Doragon Heddo ) is a post-apocalyptic disaster manga by Minetaro Mochizuki. It was published by Kodansha in Young Magazine from 1995 and 2000 and collected in ten tankōbon volumes. It is licensed in English by Tokyopop, with Volume 10 released 2008-04-01. In 1997, the manga won the Kodansha Manga Award for general manga.
Arc 1: Escape from the tunnels
The story begins with Teru Aoki (青木 輝), the main protagonist, on a train to Tokyo after a school trip. Just before entering a tunnel, Teru briefly sees something in the distance, though he doesn't understand what he saw. Soon after entering the tunnel, a powerful earthquake makes the train derail and partially destroys it, and blocks both sides of the tunnel with rubble. Knocked unconscious during the derailment, when he reawakens Teru finds, much to his horror, that all of his teachers and classmates have died in the crash.
Wandering the wrecked wagons of the train, he finds Nobuo Takahashi (高橋 のぶお), a highly unnerved boy who apparently was being bullied at school, and Ako Seto (瀬戸 憧子), who is unconscious and wounded. Teru gives what medical attention he can to Ako, who wakes up after several days. While they find temporary shelter, food and water in the dining wagon of the train, Nobuo, shocked by the fact that the tunnel is completely sealed and they are buried alive, starts giving in to his fear, to the point where he declares that "something" is lurking in the darkness of the tunnel. Before long, he starts wandering the corpses-filled wagons, muttering incoherently to himself, and declares the wrecked train to be his and his only. This forces Teru and Ako to take supplies and build up a makeshift shelter out of the train, where they live for some time.
After a number of days pass without any sort of relief or rescue party coming, Teru decides to try and find an escape route out of the tunnel, and ventures into a partially collapsed ventilation shaft. Meanwhile, Nobuo has given in to his fear and has become crazy and deranged, painting his body as if he was a primitive savage and mutilating the corpse of a teacher, thinking he's still alive. He kidnaps Ako and almost rapes her, though she manages to escape. In the ventilation shafts, Teru is suddenly hit by a powerful stream of contaminated water, which saves him from a previous cave-in that almost buried him alive, and the shaft collapses while the tunnel is rocked by more powerful tremors.
In the chaos, amidst falling rocks and choking steam, Teru notices Ako chased by a crazed Nobuo, armed with a makeshift spear built from a pole and a kitchen knife, and comes to the girl's rescue. He gets stabbed in the shoulder, but manages to overcome and soundly beat Nobuo, before almost killing him with a rock. However, he and Ako soon escape after the tunnel starts collapsing and, incredibly, lava begins flowing in it. They succeed in escaping through the ventilation shafts, but Nobuo is left behind in the darkness, and is never seen again.
Arc 2: Searching for allies
After wandering through the shafts and a labyrinth of sewer-like tunnels, the two survivors finally surface in a destroyed and deserted wastewater treatment plant. For the first time they take a sight at the landscape, which is covered by a thick layer of grayish, dense dust. The sky itself is filled with ominous clouds, thick enough to almost blot out the Sun. A functioning TV, found in the plant among some other supplies, reveals to them that there is much danger in Tokyo, and that most cities have been taken over by looters. There appears to be no functioning government anymore.
While exploring the plant, Ako notices someone and, following them, they soon reach a small hospital in ruins, where they are helped by a group of teenage survivors. They give them supplies and clothing, and tell them they want to go to Tokyo, and initially Ako and Teru decide to go with this group, however after witnessing them dancing like madmen amidst dead cattle and wounding themselves in the frenzy, they decide to go by themselves. During the trek they are almost killed by a sudden mudslide, and soon after they see a squadron of military helicopters in the sky above them. Following the direction of the helicopters, they arrive to a deserted small town, which is completely in ruins. Exploring it, Teru gets separated from Ako after he notices a helicopter and, thinking they can be rescued, goes investigating.
The helicopter, which was part of the larger squadron saw by Ako and Teru before and got lost in the dust, is crewed by Captain Nimura (仁村), pilot Iwada (岩田), and crewmen Yamazaki (山崎) and Ōike (大池). While Iwada seems to be the voice of reason of the group, Nimura is a dangerous and unprofessional soldier, apparently unfazed by the devastation around him, calmly listening to music and reading pornographic magazines instead of focusing on more important problems - food and fuel for the helicopter. He even pulls a gun on Iwada when annoyed by him, and chases away Teru when he begs them for help. Meanwhile, Ako encounters Yamazaki, who left the rest of the crew in search of fuel and, under Nimura's orders, a girl, and tries to rape Ako, though she manages to fend him off.
Seeing Yamazaki return wounded and with knowledge that there's a girl in town, Nimura and Ōike grab guns and starts searching for her. Teru briefly tries to stop them, but he is knocked out by Nimura, though he manages to recover. However, the stress of the situation, the urge to defend Ako and the hatred for the soldiers leave him in a precarious state of mind, and he briefly "gives in to the darkness" much like Nobuo, hiding himself while the soldiers resume their search and preparing Molotov cocktails. Meanwhile, the weather starts to change, with the sky becoming reddish and lightning falling even though there are no clouds.
Nimura and Ōike separate in their search, and soon after, the latter finds Teru in a crazed state. He tries to reason with him, before noticing the petrol bomb in his hand and trying to disarm him. Unfortunately for him, Teru's grip slips and the petrol bomb crashes at Ōike's feet, burning him to death. He then confronts Nimura, though the situation is cut short by a huge conflagration which starts burning down the town. Meanwhile, Ako has managed to fend off Yamazaki, grab hold of his gun and force him to take her to the helicopter.
The conflagration quickly becomes a powerful firestorm, and Nimura and Teru have to quickly escape. At the schoolyard where the helicopter landed, Iwada and Ako take off, leaving Yamazaki behind when they witness the formation of a series of enormous fire tornadoes. Yamazaki is burned alive by the heat, and Nimura and Teru almost share the same fate if not for Ako's insistence to rescue them. They are saved in the nick of time when Iwada lands the helicopter near them and takes them aboard. The group leaves the town, now completely engulfed in flames.
Arc 3: Izu peninsula
After another near-brush with death, Teru finally gives in to his injuries and falls unconscious, much to Ako's worry.
After flying into a massive, thick cloud and getting lost, the team ends up landing by a cliff in search for fuel. Iwada and Nimura go over the geography. Because the ash cloud is between them and Tokyo and it's impossible to fly directly through it without damaging the helicopter's engine, they decide to take a detour through the Izu peninsula. Iwada worries about the lack of fuel, wondering if they even have enough to reach Izu. Before they can gather much, the road starts to collapse into the sea and they have to fly away.
They land in Izu, and meet a survivor, a former teacher who tells them that a tsunami hit, reaching far inland, and the main town has been taken over by looters. She has medical training and tells them Teru has tetanus, due to the untreated wound inflicted to him by Nobuo in the tunnel. Iwada stays behind to repair the helicopter, while Ako and Nimura, much to his annoyance, go to the nearby town searching for medicine and fuel. To not let Nimura doing anything dangerous, he is given weapons but no ammunition, which Ako carries instead, to give him only if the situation demands it. They are also given radios to remain in contact with Iwada.
During the trek to the town, Ako and Nimura have to camp out for the night, and they briefly see lights in the distance. The next day, they find mutilated bodies at a nearby lake, and soon after encounter survivors, a frightened young man and his companion, a seemingly disabled boy with strange scars on his head. Other people appear, these ones from the town Ako and Nimura are trying to reach, and attack them in a frenzy. The silent boy gets badly burned on his arm, but incredibly doesn't emit a sound even in that situation, as if completely numb to pain. A man from the mob, a policeman, shoots and wounds Nimura, and he, Ako and the scarred boy are captured and brought to the town.
Once they regain consciousness, Ako and Nimura find that the town is in ruins and mostly barricaded to prevent those inside from escaping, and that due to the tsunami, the Izu peninsula has now become an island separated from mainland Japan. This isolation left the survivors without food and, due to the dire circumstances, they all went mad and killed their relatives, burning them all in the town hall. They too plan mass suicide, though the sight of Ako makes them even more crazed, wanting to kill her as if she was a sacrifice before their own death. Fortunately, Nimura, Ako and the scarred boy, whose name is Kikuchi, manage to escape from the crazed mob, though they can't leave town.
The trio run to a building filled with gasoline, the place where the mad survivors of the town plan to kill themselves. They leave the building behind and manage to reach the town's hospital, though in the process Ako has to kill some of the townspeople to defend herself. In the hospital, Ako and Nimura briefly barricade themselves, and she finds the much-needed medicine for Teru. With the medicine secured, she tries to find out an escape route from the hospital, and while doing so notices that Kikuchi has wandered off. When she finds him, he mentions a certain painting believed to be related to the events, and calls himself Dragon Head.
Soon after, they are cornered in the hospital by the townspeople. Nimura and Ako fight through a wave of them and escape on a motorcycle. Kikuchi, left alone, is beaten into a bloody pulp by one of the aggressors, but scares him off when he doesn't die of his injuries, and mocks everyone for the fear they feel. Nimura, on the other hand, explains that he looks out only for himself, but says that he is different from the townspeople — he is afraid to die, unlike them.
Meanwhile, a less-defeatist, small group of townspeople find the radio in the forest, left there when Ako and Nimura were caught. They call Iwada and pretend to have hostages. Iwada flies to them and they invade the helicopter, trying to commandeer it. He is forced to land, but while they argue over who gets to fly away he takes a rocket launcher and blows them away. He takes off again to the town, but he is wounded when one of the invaders manages to enter the helicopter and shoots one of his ears off with a gunshot. Iwada fends him off and resumes his fly.
Ako and Nimura climb to the top of the funeral pyre building, just as the black cloud they tried to avoid before moves over the Izu peninsula. Iwada rescues them in time, and they manage to load a number of fuel barrels on the helicopter before leaving for good. As the town is completely engulfed in the massive cloud, a townsperson ignites the pyre and blows the building up, burning to death with the other survivors. Somehow, Kikuchi had followed, and they see him on the rooftop, on fire and showing no expression, as they leave, a sight that greatly disturbs Ako.
The helicopter lands back at the woman's home. Thanks to the medicine brought back from town, she heals Teru. Teru and Ako agree to look for their families in Tokyo, and to remain together. Remembering the words from Kikuchi, Ako reaches a nearby building where, reading through some books, manages to link the "painting" Kikuchi spoke about to Mount Fuji.
Iwada says he wants to go to Tokyo too, and also to see Mount Fuji. Everyone comes with except for the lady, who stays back to rebuild her destroyed town. Parting with Ako and Teru, she warns them not to give in to fear, and that fear itself can be faced and conquered.
Arc 4: Discovery
Thanks to Iwada's repairs, the helicopter's engine now can withstand the thick ash in the sky, and thus the group decides to try to fly through the massive black cloud. After a long, perilous voyage, they finally manage to leave it behind them, though what waits for them leaves them in utter horror and amazement. They find themselves in complete darkness, the only lights coming from plumes and rivers of lava on the ground, which is reduced to a charred, lifeless wasteland, where they see the wrecks of the helicopter squadron that Nimura's crew belonged to. Mount Fuji has vanished, and in its place they find a gigantic hole in the ground, miles in diameter. They dare to fly inside the hole to see how deep it goes, but after descending for a while, they are overcome by fear and ascend quickly, leaving the seemingly bottomless pit behind. Considering the abnormal weather, the continuous rain of ash and the black clouds so thick that they block out the Sun, the group theorizes that Mount Fuji suffered a catastrophically massive volcanic eruption, or that a meteor hit it and triggered the disaster.
Leaving that hellish landscape behind, the group fly through the black cloud once more, and manages to exit it, finding themselves in another surreal scenario: the sky is brighter, and the ash falling is almost snow-like. They land on top of a large ruined shopping mall, where they stop to search for supplies. Unfortunately, the place has been already looted and it is dangerously unstable. Their departure is hastened even further when a powerful tornado forms nearby and starts moving in the direction of the mall. In the ensuing chaos, while Iwada, Ako and Nimura manage to take off in the helicopter, Teru is left behind when the roof of the mall collapses under him. He barely escapes with his life when the tornado hits and destroys the mall by hiding into an elevator, where he falls unconscious.
When Teru wakes up, he finds out that the mall has been almost completely obliterated, and that he is alone. However, after wandering for some time, he comes across the wreck of the helicopter the group used until then, near which is a makeshift grave for Iwada, who died in the crash. Although initially overcome by despair, Teru finds a glimmer of hope when he looks inside the helicopter, where he find some beverages and a note from Ako, which tells him that after the helicopter crashed, she and Nimura went to Tokyo on foot. Hopeful to see Ako again, Teru embarks on the long trek that will lead him to Tokyo as well.
Along the way, he makes a strange encounter with a wounded man, who incoherently babbles about Tokyo being both Hell and Heaven, how he wants to escape from there, and how he wants to go back. In a fit of madness, the man runs away and dies soon after, falling from a cliff. After giving him a hasty burial, Teru resumes his journey.
He finally arrives in Tokyo, which is utterly ruined.
Arc 5: Tokyo ruins
Once a metropolis thriving with life, Tokyo is now reduced to a silent, decaying ruin. Entering the dead city, Teru wanders through the streets littered with corpses, clinging to the hope of finding some other human beings, though the search proves initially fruitless. Distraught and tired, Teru stops near the entrance to the subway, where he briefly hears a voice. Though convinced that it was a hallucination, when he hears it again he braves the darkness of the underground once more, bent on finding the source. The subway station and the tunnels are in ruin as well, and following them, Teru finds that someone has put radios in the tunnels, which all repeat the same garbled message. Deeper into the underground, the boy finds a man-made cave that leads him to another station, under which lava is flowing. Terrified, Teru goes even deeper, and finds himself in a massive warehouse filled with boxes of food, water and first aid kits, apparently stockpiled for emergencies.
It is there that Teru finds a group of survivors led by a man who declares himself a scientist, who welcomes Teru with a strange monologue about fear, about how everyone in his group cannot feel it anymore while the others have given in to it. The group of survivors itself is eerie, as many of them are covered with self-inflicted wounds, while others are painted and armed like Nobuo was at the beginning of the story. The scientist explains that the supplies in the warehouse were experimental and contained special compounds which numbed fear. After consuming them for a prolonged period of time, the survivors of his group stopped feeling fear completely, and longing for it again, started wounding themselves. Disturbed by the scientist's words and his followers, among which he recognizes boys with scarred heads similar to Kikuchi, who explain that the most primitive part of their brain, the one which controls fear, was removed through surgery, Teru leaves the group and makes his way to the surface once more.
Once again in the dead streets of Tokyo, Teru makes his way to his house, an apartment building now almost collapsed. He enters what's left of his home, finding it in complete decay and totally devoid of life, but he also find supplies and another note left by Ako, which urges him to go to their school. Meanwhile, the savages guided by the scientist assault a patrol of foreign soldiers, and a fleet of ships from another country (which country is, it is never revealed) is seen anchored in what was once Tokyo Bay.
Following Ako's notes, Teru leaves his ruined home for the school, and there he meets Ako and Nimura. Nimura pulls a gun on him and says he is taking Ako for himself. He holds Teru at gunpoint, and Teru opines that without fear — either by being numbed to it, or just never needing it — life is lessened. Unnerved by him, Nimura ultimately declares that he saw the graves where the victims of the disaster were collected, and among them there was Teru's whole family. He then shoots Teru, wounding him slightly, before being subdued by both him and Ako. However, Teru discharges Nimura's gun in the air and leaves him alive before leaving with Ako. Nimura, alone, is left wondering about himself.
Foreign soldiers storm Tokyo and are attacked by the survivor group. The scientist, now almost naked and holding a pair of severed heads, says to a soldier that he helped bring the apocalypse along. A document discovered by other soldiers indicates that there's the possibility that three nuclear weapons were on Japanese soil, and that weirdly the entire Japanese government vanished almost instantaneously. It also says that other governments are similarly unavailable. The document states that no one seems to know exactly what happened, but that the military is dedicated to retrieving the nuclear warheads.
During the chaos, another disaster occurs, and a volcano suddenly emerges in what was once central Tokyo. Teru and Ako see its rise, as do Nimura and one of the boys with the scarred head.
Teru and Ako sit together and watch the volcano, and Teru reflects that the world is what you make of it, and that even with the world in ruins good or evil still both have chances to triumph, leaving a faint glimmer of hope for things to adjust themselves, one day in the future.
The major theme in the books is fear. As the woman in the ruined village said, a balance needs to be found between feeling fear and giving into it. Giving into fear was Nobuo's prime vice, and the teenager survivor group. Numbing oneself to it was the problem of the Izu people and the researcher's group. Teru himself gives in to fear when Ōkie and Nimura beat him up, but recovers. At the end he realizes that one has to conquer one's own fear—still feeling it but not letting it rule him—before the world can be saved.
Another theme is mystery. It is never stated exactly what happened. The characters guess that a meteor hit Mount Fuji, but it seems that the researcher had something to do with it—perhaps by assassinating the Japanese government, or by use of the nuclear weapons. It is also not stated what condition the rest of the world is in—we learn that some of them have unavailable governments, but they seem to still have a working military. We do not learn any more than the characters.