Glenn Hough (gallyangel) is a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. In this series on SF Manga Glenn will provide an overview of the medium and the place of science fiction within it.
The last four mangas I’ve blogged about, Twin Spica, Planetes, 7 Billion Needles and Chobits, all have a core slice-of-life normalcy to them that the SF elements wrap or entwine themselves around. It’s time to leave anything and everything of the mundane world totally behind and enter Killy’s world.
Tokyopop says this about Tsutomu Nihei’s Blame!:
In a future world rife with decay and destruction, Killy is a man of few words who packs one very powerful gun. He wanders an endless labyrinth of cyberdungeons filled with concrete and steel, fighting off cyborgs and other bizarre silicate creatures. Everyone is searching for the fabled Net Terminal Genes, but no one is quite certain what kind of power they contain. The answer may lie hidden among the scattered human settlements of this vast and desolate future world.
This is SF that’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from the comfortable and familiar SF that only extrapolates slightly from the Now. Not a blade of grass, not a glimmer of sky; just the City, which is a world unto itself. This world is cold, gray, metal and stone, constructed materials. The only organics in sight are the rare and elusive human creatures, and then, enough time has passed for speciation among the divergent human populations.
Killy’s world is a world of high technology rife with architectural madness. It is a world humanity made for itself, sometime, no one knows when, in the remote past. Endless. Floor after endless floor. Levels that go on past the ability to see into the distance. Enclosed open spaces big enough to swallow whole countries; big enough for independent weather patterns. Elevators which require 800 hours to reach their destination.
And Killy walks the endless ways, searching. Sometimes he encounters an isolated tribe of remnant humanity, living on in a little chink which remotely resembles something we might understand as a human dwelling place. Sometimes these meetings are peaceful, more often, they are not. He asks about their genes, or scans them, before moving on.
This brings us to the plot, the basic formula which is no more complex than the first era of video games: search, endlessly, level after level, in this dark, dangerous, and depressing all consuming techno world of madness. Search the City for a cure. And as Killy searches, like all video games, the quest for the net terminal genes gets harder and harder. The opposition get stronger and stronger. The City is now growing out of control. Those beings on the control level of the netsphere, the Authority, need the net terminal genes to stop the growth which has spread the City like a cancer in all directions. The City is beyond even their knowledge since the connections between the levels are breaking down. So Killy must search. Killy must never stop, never falter, never question.
Time passes. No one knows how much, least of all Killy. Occasionally, he will discover a whole city operating within the overall structure of The City. It’s self contained and isolated. Someone from outside is a rare, if not an unheard of, situation. Occasionally, he will meet an ally, like head scientist Cibo. She wants to go to the next level, but the mega-structure has always frustrated her, just like the Safeguard. They guard the netsphere from unauthorized access. But there is no legitimate access now, since no one seems to remain with the fabled net terminal genes. But with Killy’s graviton beam emitter gun, the mega-structure is easy to pierce.
And what awaits Killy and Cibo? They walk straight into the slow genocide the silicon creatures are waging on the humans living on this level. The silicon creatures thrive the more the netsphere breaks down. They can only live with it in disrepair. To ensure their survival, kill the humans, kill the Authority. Destroy the netsphere since silicon creatures are forbidden access to it.
Killy’s world seems like a nihilist wet dream of violence, genocide, and the bleakness of unfulfilled and unfulfillable goals. That is the question: is this story a dark reflection on our own world problematic, served up on a cold platter of violence? Or is this just fiction that is thinly disguised game? Both perhaps? Neither, probably.
To write this, I returned to Killy’s world for the third time. I found the trip just as absorbing as before but for different reasons. This time, the architecture held my attention far more than the action. Bleak and empty. A place of high knowledge twisted into uselessness. It’s also a place of shoddy make-do, operating far beyond intended. I wonder, do both of those descriptions fit both the architecture and the beings Killy finds?
There are no easy answers in Blame!. Noise, as a prequel, is a bit easier to take since it happens who knows how much earlier, on a more human scale. Scale, I think, is one of the keys. The City was meant to be on a human scale but that’s been lost, long ago. The majority of the entities Killy meets, and their technology, are no longer on a human scale. With ambiguity, comes plenty of space to ponder. Sort of like the City. Plenty of space and time there. Have your firefights with graviton beam weapons that destroy in the Km. range. Wander endlessly, search endlessly, ponder endlessly. Killy has the time. Do you?
Finding Blame! and Noise is a challenge. It’s long out of print since Tokyopop went belly up. Most issues of the series can be found at reasonable prices in the secondary online markets, but several of the issues are priced quite high. This makes a set quite expensive. Blame! is a real investment for serious fans only. It’s far easier to get this one online at mangafox.me or mangatraders.com.
There are also several Blame! side stories which never had an official translation and release. These include Blame! and so on, Blame! NSE, Blame! Academy Afternoon, Blame! Academy, Blame Academy 3, and Blame! Squared. They can be found over the scanlation networks, like mangafox.me or mangatraders.com.