While I do my best to appreciate manga art, I generally do not choose to read a particular series solely because of it. The exception to this is BLAME!, a ten-volume series by Tsutomu Nihei that boasts “an endless labyrinth of cyberdungeons filled with concrete and steel.” Thinking that sounded pretty durn awesome, and prepared to encounter an occasionally incomprehensible story, I took the plunge.
And man, is BLAME! gorgeous! Killy, the unemotional and practically unstoppable protagonist, spends most of his time roaming a giant structure known as “The City,” looking for humans who might carry Net Terminal Genes, which pre-mutated man once used to communicate with the Netsphere (overseen by The Authority). It’s not unusual for a whole chapter to go by with no dialogue at all as Killy continues his journey, sometimes reduced to no more than a tiny speck on a narrow bridge spanning a dark chasm. The place is gloomy and cavernous, filled with pipes, corridors, stairs, and the occasional abyss. Nihei excels in creating his enormous and dangerous world, and also in conveying Killy’s progress, as demonstrated by a couple of pages from volume six that I scanned for a recent Let’s Get Visual column.
Killy encounters a few small pockets of civilization but has no luck finding anyone with the Net Terminal Genes, which are necessary to curtail the endless expansion of The City, since the builder bots who construct it were never given the instruction to stop. He does team up with a former scientist, Cibo, whose attempt to access the Netsphere with synthesized genes ended in disaster and introduced The Safeguard to The City. The Safeguard are mechanical creatures who can derive their bodily forms from the City itself. Originally designed to protect the Net from unauthorized access, their chief focus now is exerminating humanity. Humans must also contend with the Silicon Creatures, a race of cyborgs who also want to access the Net.
Killy and Cibo engage in countless fights against the Safeguard and Silicon Creatures, resulting in some pretty massive damage. Cibo goes through about three bodies throughout the course of the series, while Killy must lose his arm about eight times. (There is a lot of limb loss in this series, as well as quite a few still-conscious partial people.) It gradually becomes clear that Killy is not exactly human himself and that he’s able to heal from even the most devastating injuries. He also can’t remember where he got his gun—a powerful Graviton Beam Emitter that creates a straight line of destruction 70 kilometers long—but it’s awfully similar to one carried by Sana-Kan, a powerful Safeguard who was able to get close to Killy and Cibo in a humanoid guise.
Eventually Killy and Cibo enter a quasi-independent realm, which seems to be the headquarters of a company called Toha Heavy Industries. The artificial intelligence in charge has stored the genetic information of humans that used to dwell within, and it’s from there that Killy finally gets his sample. Unfortunately, it falls first into the hands of a pair of sympathetic temporary Safeguards (seriously, one utters the line “Also, you might see my arm lying around somewhere. If you could pick it up, that’d be great.”) and finally into those of a Silicon Creature, whose attempt to access the Net somehow leads to one final mutation for Cibo and a pretty crazy resolution to the story. The final page gives one a lot to ponder, and I’m sure there are a variety of fan opinions on what exactly happened.
This is, of course, a vast simplification of the plot, and I am omitting quite a lot that I am at a loss to understand or explain. But here’s the thing… it doesn’t matter. BLAME! is so fascinating and its world so grimly compelling that it simply doesn’t matter if sometimes one has to stare at a panel and wonder what the hell one is even looking at. From someone like me, who usually demands that a plot make sense, that’s pretty high praise indeed.
BLAME! was published in English by TOKYOPOP. All ten volumes were released.