Blame! Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Jarred Pine
Review Date: Thursday, September 01, 2005
Release Date: Friday, August 05, 2005



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Tsutomu Nihei
Translated by:Stephen Paul
Adapted by:

What They Say
If Killy is going to find the treasure he seeks, he will need more help and information than the inhabitants of these beleaguered outposts can offer. He needs to find a larger cluster of civilization, but he'll have to survive the trip to get there, first...

The Review
Most likely to become one of those love-or-hate titles, TOKYOPOP brings us one of the more interestingly told cyberpunk stories, featuring some amazing artwork that art enthusiasts should very much enjoy.

Packaging:
The front and back cover are for the most part identical to the original Japanese tankubon. The coloring is really lovely and vibrant, especially the artwork on the back. The print reproduction is a mixed bag for me. The gray tones are not quite as smooth as the original Japanese printings that I have seen. There is a little bit of a checkered or speckled effect going on, giving the tones a much more rougher appearance. With most manga it’s not as noticeable, but with something that features strong tone work, and a lot of it, it becomes more apparent. For those wondering about the thin lines that appear to be fading, that’s how they look in the original.

There is also a really bad alignment problem with the first couple pages that include the volume header, table of contents, and the title page. It corrects itself quickly, but unfortunately does so on the title page that spreads across two pages, so together they are quite misaligned. There are no extras.

Art:
Many people will say that this manga is nothing more than an art book, and it’s a very good one at that. It comes as no surprise that Nihei studied architecture academically, as his designs for this vertically sprawling metropolis is a structural wonder. I sat for long periods of time just staring at certain panels trying to completely take in the whole environment.

Nihei is also a master of the tones, creating a landscape that brings to mind Moebius’s Fifth Element, Escher, and the twisted, alien nightmare illustrations of H.R. Giger. The perspectives do a wonderful job at giving off the feeling of just how vast, and pretty much empty, this world is. It can feel overwhelming at times, leaving the reader bewildered, which is exactly the mood I think Nihei was trying to get across. Amazing work.

The one small gripe I have is that the humans in the story have little to no facial features or characteristics, keeping to very thin line work to the point where it looks faded. In a way, this does give off the impression of pale faces that have never seen the light of day, which seems likely, but I just felt as though I wanted a bit more. The wondeful designs of the other inhabitants and creatures make up for it though, my favorite being the grotesque silicon mutants.

Text/SFX:
With maybe a chapter or two worth of dialogue in the entire book, not much can be said about the translation other than it’s good. The dialogue is kept very cryptic on purpose, with most conversations quick and to the point. It reads exactly as how I would it expect it to.

The SFX are translated and subbed both in the margins and in the panels themselves. Now with a manga where the selling point is the artwork, subbing SFX in the panels would normally be a no-no. However, TOKYOPOP has done a wonderful job with keeping them extremely small and unobtrusive, fitting right in with the original SFX. The subbing in the margins are also done with small text, keeping the pages from becoming cluttered. Great work.

Contents (Watch out spoilers ahead):
“Blame!” is a 10-volume seinen manga that originally was serialized in Kodansha’s Afternoon Monthly. For a while now “Blame!” has picked up quite the cult following by those who are enamored with its unique art style and mysteriously crafted tale. This is a title that has been sitting on my wish list for quite sometime, and the first volume has finally arrived, so far living up to the hype.

To talk about the story in this debut volume is not an easy task. It leaves quite a gamut of questions open for the reader, nothing on the surface to give the reader a sense of direction or purpose. It is by exploring the tenebrous layers of the world that Nihei has created that the reader can begin to understand the structure of this never-ending labyrinth and the purpose of its inhabitants. No, you won’t find many answers to your questions in this introductory volume, but the vagueness did leave quite a lasting effect on me, as a sat flipping through the pages for quite sometime, generally interested and intrigued with what Nihei has presented in a veil of darkness and gloom.

This first volume introduces the reader to this dystopian world, that may or may not be Earth, through the eyes of a man with few words named Killy. With each chapter, we learn more and more as Killy makes his way through a dungeon of steel and stone in some sort of metropolis that has grown like a living organism, sprawling out seemingly vertically and horizontally, constantly building upon itself and shedding it’s dead parts. Killy is evidently climbing upwards, some 5000 floors by book’s end, in order to find human settlements with Net Terminal Genes, for what purpose has yet to be determined. Along the way, Killy runs into quite an array of cyborgs, silicon mutants, large laser-firing insects called Watchers, as well as search and destroy robots who are with some organization called The Authority. Everyone seems to have their own motivations, effortlessly killing those who get in the way. Security robots obliterating anything that moves in their sector. The hive-based Watchers that splatter all moving targets. Silicon creatures also seem to be after the NTG specimens, but are temporarily distracted by trying to do away with Killy, after he blows up one of their embryo manufacturing centers with his small but powerful gun. There is a lot of killing and it all feels quite apathetic, like these inhabitants have all been pushed to their limits and whose only instincts are to survive by destroying everything in their path. All the characters are so hell-bent on survival, a journey to avoid extinction.

Nihei crafts his environment in a way to tell the story visually, rather than relying on narrative dialogue, and with this setting and journeyman type of story, it works quite well. There is on average about twenty lines of dialogue total in each chapter, with a few chapters having little text at all other than SFX. With so little dialogue between characters, it is essential that Nihei tells his story through his artwork, doing so with great effort, albeit a little convoluted and cryptic (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

The mood that Nihei projects onto the reader is something that I have rarely experienced while reading manga, with the only comparison off the top of my head being TOKYOPOP’s Dead End. It’s all so very surreal and horrific, with a nice feeling of suspense as the possibilities of what is coming in the upcoming panels feels endless. The terse interactions between characters and their environment leaves me feeling very alone and cold, matching this overall fight for survival feeling. It’s not a feeling that everyone will enjoy, but for those who find something interesting in a bleak and seemingly hopeless dystopia, this is going to be right up your alley.

Comments
Blame! is not going to be a title that has mass appeal. In fact, I am willing to bet that there will be quite a strong line dividing those who love and hate Nihei’s unique and convoluted cyberpunk journey. Those who dislike this first volume will most likely become frustrated by its terse, minimal narrative and apathetic characters inhabiting a cold world. In reading this first volume, I would suggest looking past the immediate surface and let Nihei’s artwork pour over you, as he submerges you in a bleak dystopia using his illustrations to tell this story.

This first volume is an introduction to this gloomy, possible future Earth where metal and stone reach infinitely into the sky, creating an overwhelming environment of darkness and despair. A place where sunlight rarely shines, grotesque cyborgs and silicon based creatures hunt, and even more disgusting mutants dismember their prey. It’s a world where everyone only cares about survival, and those in their way be damned. The story is about the journey of one man named Killy, as he does he best to stay alive and find the answers to his burning questions.

I give TOKYOPOP major props for putting out this manga, introducing English readers to a title that breaks a lot of conventions that most readers are used to. It fits quite well next to another current seinen release of theirs, Shohei Manabe’s Dead End. This volume will both challenge and frustrate you, but more importantly, it’s a title the requires discussion and thought. I found myself spinning this title in my head for the better part of two days. There is a lot of great potential with this one, and it’s going to require every bit of my patience to wait for the next volume. Score another solid seinen pick-up from TOKYOPOP.



Mania Grade: A-
Art Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
MSRP: 9.99
Pages: 256
ISBN: 1-59532-834-3
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left