In this episode we enter the long, dark, desolate corridors of BLAME! It’s a manga written by Tsutomu Nihei and for this review I read the Master Edition. However, I haven’t been able to finish the series yet, so this episode only covers the first three volumes out of six. (tankobon release is 10 volumes).
It’s a manga that combines two of my favourite things — science fiction and seinen. There’s even a whole lot of psychological horror and I can’t wait to get into it with you.
BLAME! is a cyberpunk story set in a post-apocalyptic world that has gone mad with disease. Humanity is seemingly on the brink of extinction, with many genetically altered. Our hero Kyrii is a loner and silent protagonist with a voice that he prefers not to use much.
He travels The City, a cyber megalopolis that has outgrown our world and spans an extremely vast distance beyond. It is ever expanding thanks to mindless machines called Builders, whose sole purpose is to keep building. These automatons share the world with humans, cybernetic Silicon Life and the enigmatic Safeguards.
Facing peril after peril, Kyrii rises up The City’s innumerable layers to find humans with a thing called the Net Terminal Gene. It is some sort of genetic marker from the world’s past that served as a man-machine interface which allowed humanity to access a super internet called the Netsphere.
This is another story about the perils of AI and technology but from a relatively different perspective. Imagine if you invest in the best security for your home and then one day lock yourself out. That’s more or less what has happened here. Only this time, the Netsphere is connected to The City, its systems and even the Builders. This means The City will continue to expand forever, man becomes an endangered animal and no more internet.
Now normally, I wouldn’t give you guys this much information upfront, but the thing about BLAME! Volume one is that it willingly provides very little information. You learn what’s going on mostly from the deep and complex panels of art that chronicle Kyrii’s journey. The dialogue in that first 400-page book is less than any first issue of any comic book I’ve ever read. But rest assured, there is a story here and it’s a deep one if you give it a chance.
Along the way, Kyrii meets a host of characters, like CIBO the scientist, Sute the Electro-Fisher and Sanakan the meek. Some of them join him on his quest while the majority die quick and miserable deaths.
Plus & Minus
Volume one leaves you with a lot of questions and like I mentioned earlier, dialogue is particularly sparse. But together they made me very curious. Curious enough to get my hands on volume two and three. Enough to also check out the prequel, NOiSE. The first volume focuses mostly on setting the atmosphere and world building. Which I believe is why volume two begins with a flashback that helps explain some of the circumstances at the end of the first volume.
Because of that, I don’t think you can get a complete picture of BLAME! until you read up to volume two. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, unless you’re on a serious budget because the Master Edition is not cheap. But I think the mangaka’s intent was to drive us crazy with enough suspense to keep reading. The fact that I did in fact keep reading, means it worked too.
Here are most of the things I loved and loathed about BLAME!
I’m a sucker for grunge art. Just look at the VersusNG logo. The art of Blame! has a deep dark personality that sucks you into its terrifying world. The locations are meticulously crafted too, with the art reminiscent of charcoal drawings or Japanese Sumi-e.
If you’ve watched or read Bakuman, then you should remember the scene where we’re told one of the requirements for manga to get published in magazines is to be able to tell a story without words. BLAME! Does that superbly in volume one and there are chapters in other volumes that pull it off too.
This manga is not for the impatient as it’s filled to the brim with suspense. It’s nothing like Indian soap operas and if you stick with it long enough, the payoff is big and satisfying.
The creature designs are cool and scary at the same time. The Safeguards are spooky and shiny smooth, Silicon Life have cybernetic limbs all over the place and the transhumans look very alien. Then lets not forget the very robotic Builders and techno-organic imagery.
I mention the art style here too because as much as I love it, there were many times where it was unclear what was happening on the page. It was far from a deal breaker but a little annoying that I couldn’t tell wind, swipes and slashes apart..
This is another one regarding the art and it’s about how depressing situations and locations were in the book. BLAME! is definitely not for the faint of heart, but I think it should have some sort of warning and age rating. Otherwise, it could become a trigger for those with poor mental health.
Many of the characters look alike, forcing me to track some of them using their clothing, injuries, and so forth. If only they looked as distinctive as their facial expressions.
Nihei-san’s first manga was a one-shot called Blame. The Jiro Taniguchi Special Prize winning submission clearly shares more than just the title with BLAME! We see Kyrii in law enforcement, his trusty gun with lots of destructive force at his side and some sort of techno-organic creature in his sights.
In my opinion, BLAME! is a much better tale, with even the fantastical aspects of the story told in a convincing voice. His art also evolved into our charcoal grunge fest that makes his work uniquely cyberpunk.
One of the most intriguing things about BLAME! is how The City, their world, is like a living organism. Within it we have an infection – humanity, white blood cells – Safeguards, and all the other – impurities and mutations living like parasites and tumours.
Yes, BLAME! should be read by fans of sci-fi and psychological horror. It ticks all the right dystopian and cyberpunk boxes, but that’s exactly why it won’t be for everyone. I envision most people will either be for or against it. No middle ground.
I intend to read all remaining 3 volumes of the manga and the huge but fancy Master Edition has become part of a collection I’d like to complete. It is heavy though, so watch your wrists if you do get this version. It’s also available online on Viz.com, Amazon, and a few other digital storefronts in Japanese.
If you’re a fan of BLAME! then you should check out other works by Nihei-san. Take a look at his one-shot Blame, and NOiSE, the prequel to BLAME!
I don’t think NOiSE’s writing is any special, but I’m adding it to the reading list because it’s sort of an origin story. The concepts introduced are intriguing and we also get to see the origins of Silicon Life and the Safeguards. Then there’s Biomega, which takes several references from BLAME!
BLAME! – https://amzn.to/3ygEhdZ
NOiSE – https://amzn.to/3CgxWAy
If you’ve heard me gush and still don’t think BLAME! is for you, then give another one of its spinoffs a chance. It’s the same characters stuck in a funny high school drama. It’s called BLAME! Academy and So On.
This episode is all about cyberpunk, so pick up Appleseed by Masamune Shirow. Not only is it written and drawn by one of my favourite mangakas, but it’s much lighter than BLAME! I’m not talking sunshine and rainbows but it’s a fine mix of action, adventure and comedy with all the other things you’d expect of a sci-fi tale.
BLAME! Academy and So On Vol. 1 – https://amzn.to/3T2tFr8
Appleseed Vol. 1 – https://amzn.to/3rADNfd
I hope you enjoyed this episode of Lyfeblerd. If you did, please review and rate on iTunes and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. Using the links provided to purchase any of the books mentioned during the show will greatly help us keep the lights on, so thanks in advance.
The theme song is called Dreams, provided by Argofox and created by Rewayde.
See you on the next layer.