Tsutomu Nihei is a manga artist who specializes in science fiction. His stories tend to be dark cyberpunk in post apocalyptic settings. The more recent ones take place in space, which is checking a lot of the marks for the type of fiction I usually enjoy.
His first series was Blame!, which was adopted a few years ago into an anime movie, a Netflix original. The setting is a vast enclosed technological city. At some point millenia in the past, there was a catastrophe of some type, and the city stopped responding to the humans living there. The city’s systems actually started regarding all humans as trespassers, to be hunted and killed. In addition, the automation continues to chaotically expand the city in all directions. No one knows its full extent anymore, including how deep or high it goes, although it’s revealed early on that there are at least several thousand levels.
Scattered bands of humans eke out a living in the city, forming villages in small hidden areas and trying to find food while avoiding the predator robots. There are also cyborgs and other posthuman entities running around, as well as “silicon life”. In the movie, we see a scouting party of a village encounter a lone wanderer named Kyrii (often translated as “Killy”, although the pronunciation in the movie seemed closer to “Kyrii”).
Kyrii reveals that he’s on a quest to find the “Net Terminal Gene”, a genetic marker that would enable anyone who possesses it to access the Netsphere, the control systems of the city, and order it to take care of humans instead of killing them. He has apparently been searching for a very long time. It also quickly becomes apparent that Kyrii is not a typical human. For one thing, he possesses a powerful gun, referred to as a Gravitational Beam Emitter in the story. He also appears able to access electronic information, indicating that he is at least a cyborg. And the city’s systems do not seem to see him as a normal human.
As the story progresses, Kyrii teams up with the villagers to further his quest while also helping them reach a food source. In the process they encounter a broken down android which possesses the mind of a female scientist named Cibo. Cibo becomes an ally of Kyrri, often transferring her mind to a variety of different forms as the story progresses.
The movie only contains a portion of the overall story. It seemed clear that the intention was that this would be the first in a series of movies. However, it came out in 2017 and I couldn’t find any mention of a sequel anywhere. So, intrigued by the premise, I dug up the manga.
And discovered that the source material is…different. It’s the same overall premise and roughly the same characters, but the feel is much more surreal. Nihei mostly conveys the story with his art, and only spartan amounts of dialog. The result is something with a spirit very similar to the old Aeon Flux show on MTV, a story told through action, with dialog being rare. And the machines and cyborgs in the manga have a much more organic feel to them, often giving a sense of mangled and mutilated beings.
It’s a format the puts a lot of work on the reader. In addition, Nihei often doesn’t make his characters very visually distinct, so I was frequently confused whether I was seeing a new character or a previously introduced one making a new appearance. It didn’t help that sometimes characters had multiple instantiations.
Overall I enjoyed the series a lot, but I can only recommend it with the above as a caveat. In addition, the resolution Nihei provides is, like everything else in the series, pretty spartan. So spartan in fact that he had to provide a prequel volume called NOiSE to fill in the details on the history and extent of the city.
The series was good enough that it made me eager to watch his later and better known series: Knights of Sidonia, but that’s a subject for another post.