Blame! (pronounced like the onamonapia “Blam”) is the first outing by Tsutomu Nihei, the mangaka who would go on to do Biomega and Knights of Sidonia, and it’s an incredibly strong start to what has become an extremely impressive career.
The manga follows, initially, a man named Killy, who is exploring a massive industrial gothic landscape known as the “Megastructure”, searching for a person who has the “Net Terminal Gene”. It turns out at some point in the distant past the automated machines responsible for construction and maintenance went out of control, and the structure has begun expanding out of control. The Net Terminal Gene would allow a human to access the computer system that controls the MegaStructure.
Because of the nature of the setting, the story of the system doesn’t focus heavily on character development, instead focusing on the journey as Killy goes through the megastructure looking for settlements, and trying to find out if any of the residents of those settlements have the Net Terminal Gene. This doesn’t mean that the characters we get aren’t fleshed out – it’s just that there aren’t very many of them. Killy is the only character who is in every volume of the manga, with a few supporting characters like Sana and Cibo coming in later volumes – and over the course of the series we get a degree of development for each character, though each is defined by the goals that drive them – Killy by his search for the Net Terminal Gene, Cibo for a better understanding of the Mega Structure, and Sana by her joint attraction for Killy and Cibo.
Probably the biggest strength here is the art. Nihei is a fantastic landscape artist, and this series features the “Industrial Gothic” design esthetic that would later get featured very prominently in Biomega. In particular, the last volume of Vertical’s reprints has some spectacular two-page landscape spreads.
While it’s almost impossible to track the route of Killy’s journey, Nihei does a fantastic job of getting across a sense of scale and power as he makes his way through the Megastructure. This particularly comes up whenever Killy fires his signature weapon – the Graviton Beam Emitter. The gun’s beam keeps going for a tremendous distance whether it hits an opponent or not, and Nihei does a great job of getting this across, with great use of wide-shots showing the additional damage of the beam.
The series does lack the sense of humor of Knights of Sidonia or even some of the quippy one-liners of Biomega. It makes for a read that I’d describe as “Angel’s Egg with Explosions and more dialog.” The series isn’t as navel-gazy or philosophical as Angel’s Egg is, but it has the dark atmospheric tone of that series.
The series was originally licensed by by Tokyopop, but recently got a re-release by Vertical which is a much more enjoyable read, with larger pages that really let the detail in Nihei’s start to stand out.
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