Blame!

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.

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12 thoughts on “Blame!

  1. I do appreciate a visual storyteller who excels in showing and not telling (I really liked Aeon Flux for exactly that reason). I’ll keep this in mind. Nice that there’s a Netflix movie I could maybe get a taste from.

    Last night I watched Expelled from Paradise on Netflix. Eh! I can’t really recommend it unless one really wants to watch all the anime. There’s a squicky element in having the female lead, a mature digital being, in a 16-year-old nubile body.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The movie is definitely worth checking out. For the manga, I’d go through the first chapter and decide if it’s for you. It’s pretty representative of the style of the whole series.

      I saw Expelled from Paradise a few years ago. I remember it being ok. Definitely a lot of adolescent fan service from what I recall. Didn’t they explain the 16 year old thing from her being impatient to get out there before the body was fully grown? A pretty transparent gimmick. Netflix periodically dangles it in front of me as something I might want to watch again, but I’m not much of a rewatcher, particularly for stuff that was just ok.

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      1. Yeah, she was wanting to get ahead of the supposed competition. Pretty transparent, indeed. Netflix had been dangling it in front of me for a long time, so I finally gave in. At least it was just a 100-minute movie.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Forgive me if you’ve already reviewed this, but have you seen any of Captain Harlock and/or Galaxy Express 999? I’ve seen several anime movies set in that universe, and I have very mixed feelings about them. I feel like they could be really great, but I also always feel like something’s a little bit off, or maybe something has been lost in translation. If you have seen them, I’d be curious to know what you thought of them.

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    1. The only thing I’ve finished so far in that franchise is a relatively recent CG remake called Harlock: Space Pirate. It was indeed off somewhat but visually stunning enough for me to recommend it. I did start to watch one of the older movies, Arcadia of my Youth. It kept bouncing between the future story and one about Harlock’s ancestor (I assume) piloting an early model plane over some mountains, which was weird, and the aliens seemed a bit too cartoonish. I did mean to get back to it, but it slipped between the cracks.

      I haven’t been able to find a dub of Galaxy Express 999. If I understand correctly, Harlock was a spinoff of it. I know translations used to be much more heavy handed, renaming characters or changing their personalities in major ways, and sometimes cutting large swathes of story, all to ostensibly make things more acceptable for western audiences. The result was often pretty damaged. The problem is subsequent translations end up having to honor many of the decisions made in the earlier ones (like character names) so audience don’t get confused.

      By comparison, the original Mobile Suit Gundam, although from the late 70s, wasn’t translated until much later. (Or someone re-translated it at some point.) As a result, it seems more coherent. I’ve considered checking out the GE 999 manga, which might have a more straightforward translation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The CGI Harlock movie was the most recent thing I saw. I liked it, but it was very different from the anime.

        The different time periods in Arcadia of My Youth were kind of weird. I think Harlock has ancestral memories, or something. I’m not sure. It ends up only being tangentially relevant to the story, as I recall.

        Galaxy Express probably left the biggest impression on me. It is a bit whimsical. I’d almost say it’s straight up fantasy, rather than science fantasy. I looked into reading the manga at some point, but it was prohibitively expensive at the time.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. On Arcadia, ancestral memories was along the lines of what I was anticipating, that or full on reincarnation or something.

          Yeah, Galaxy Express doesn’t even appear to be available electronically through official sources, and it’s apparently out of print to boot, making any extant copies rare and expensive. But it would still be totally wrong to google “manga online” and use the very easy to use UI of the site that comes up to read it. Totally wrong.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Just read the first few chapters of the GE 999 manga. It’s moderately enticing. It uses awkward terminology (“mechanical bodies” rather than “cyborgs”), but I could overlook that. Although it might be a bit whimsical for my tastes. The space train appears to be an actual train with wheels, moving through space. It is hinted this might just be an affectation. It’s reminiscent of the Jolly Roger flag, an actual billowing flag, flown by Harlock’s spaceship. You have to wonder why everyone in this far future would be making their stuff look like 19th century machinery. Not bad through. I might read more.

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