My affinity for Japan pointed me in the direction of JRPGs, anime and a broader appreciation of Asian cinema as a whole. But somehow I never really got hooked on manga (Japanese comics). I guess I just prefer moving images over static ones. That doesn't mean I'm completely oblivious when it comes to manga though. Last week I revisited one of my oldest and biggest favs, all the more reason to grant it a little review here.
Blame! is a comic drawn and written by Tsutomu Nihei, an architect by profession who ended up drawing mangas. Blame! was his first big series and it hit the underground manga scene like a storm. His flavor of cyberpunk is so pure and insane that fans everywhere rose to support his success. As a cyberpunk fan myself I can only join the hordes of others complimenting his style: nor literature, animation or film ever got this close to capturing the true cyberpunk spirit.
The universe of Blame! is impossible to grasp. Slowly tiny tidbits of information are revealed to the reader, but most of the time we just follow a young boy named Killy on his journey through seemingly endless structures. This post-apocalyptic setting was created by a virus striking down most of humanity. Not the machines though, who kept on doing their job as programmed. Centuries later the world is dominated by concrete structures and wiring with groups of people scattered throughout, living in small communes.
Killy is sent on a mission to find an uninfected terminal that can connect him to the network, but the contamination has spread everywhere. Silicon mutant creatures and governmental agents cross his path, sometimes helping him but often creating major havoc along the way. Killy's journey takes him higher and higher into the structure, slowly revealing the true severity of the situation. Getting to the top isn't as easy as he suspected when he started his journey.
Nihei's architectural studies are apparent from the very first panels. The structures are wide, grand and overpowering, really bringing the desolate and deserted atmosphere of the Blame! universe to life. Many parts of the manga are dedicated to hiking, walking and climbing, lending these parts a nice contrast with the grand action sequences.
The creatures inhabiting these structures are a combination of gothic influences, tech designs and biomechanical mutations. In short, they look absolutely stunning. Through the 10 volumes Nihei brings a very varied and impressive cast of mutants and monsters, some so grand they hardly fit onto a single page.
While I can only praise Nihei's visual style, there is one small glitch that keeps annoying me every time I read through the series. Some pages appear in full color, but the coloring really doesn't do the visuals any justice. Nihei made some very odd choices in color, resulting in images that don't correspond in the least with the impressions I'm getting from the black and white artwork. Luckily most pages are drawn in black and white so it's only a minor quirk, still odd nonetheless.
Apart from the vastness of the universe, Blame! shines when it switches gears between the desolate trips and the insane action. Humans and creatures alike are quite apathetic, nihilistic and amoral. They kill without hesitation, and considering the advance in tech equipment this results in some seriously over-the-top mayhem. Complete structures are demolished, bodies are torn apart and enemies morph into masses of flesh, blood and wires.
Nihei switches gears often and even though it seems like each climax is impossible to top, he succeeds in pushing the action beyond previous limits every single time. The scope of the story grows with each volume and by the end of the series it's almost impossible to grasp the vastness of Blame!'s universe.
There has been a short anime adaptation (underground anime stuff) and lots of talk about a CG feature length film, but I don't really see how they could do the manga justice like that. They need to free a large amount of money, donate it to the likes of Shinya Tsukamoto or Franck Vestiel and leave them to it. That's the only way to keep the current Blame! fans happy.
If you like cyberpunk there's no better than Blame! It's grand, fast, strong, insane and keeps getting better which each new volume. A definite recommendation and without a doubt my favorite manga series. Absolutely recommended but only if you can stomach the cyberpunk spirit in which it is drenched.