Tsutomu Nihei creates spectacular manga about giant, rotting, manmade landscapes where stern-looking men and bizarre-looking monsters stalk about and do their best to blow each other up.
That’s about all his previous Big Thing, Blame!, amounted to in my eyes, which showed up in English in both its manga and animated incarnations. I awarded it plenty of points for sheer visual exhilaration, and took away about as many for having only as much story as might be needed to hustle everyone from one act of violence to the next.
From what I can make of Biomega so far, it’s more of the same. Bad thing? Good thing? A good thing, I guess: many people I know are perfectly happy with manga that aims no higher than the part of the cerebral cortex that gets happy when things go boom. In Biomega, many things do indeed go boom, from a giant crumbling castle leaning out of the side of a cliff face to a whole fleet of ICBMs. The missiles, by the way, go boom in a way that had me gibbering “No … no … no,” long before I ever turned the page and confirmed that the hero was indeed going to make them go boom in the single craziest way imaginable. I suspect I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t done it that way.
Some plot summary is probably in order. Hundreds of years in the future, a virus has ravaged the face of the earth and turned most of the populace into shambling, protean monsters. A megacorp named TOA Heavy Industry has assigned a “synthetic human”, Zoichi Kanoe, to enter the crumbling island metropolis named 9JO and search for an uninfected survivor — a girl named Eon Green. She’s what they call an “Accommodator”: she has the virus, but instead of turning her into a monster it’s given her the power to regenerate from almost any injury. No prizes for guessing why TOA wants her, along with just about everyone else around.
Kanoe doesn’t take long to run into both Eon Green and his competition. One is in the form of her self-appointed protector, a bear — yes, a bear — by the name of Kozlov. (The bear wields a gun. Do not mess with the bear.) The other is the agents of the city’s Public Health Service Compulsory Execution Squad, faceless death merchants that resemble the Cenobites of Hellraiser merged with the sinister controllers in Dark City. Kanoe and the Squadsters dish it out and take it in about equal measure, and level enough buildings in the process to convince me that the only reason a wall, ceiling or structure of any kind is even shown in this story is so that it can be creatively destroyed. You’ve heard of Architectural Porn; here’s Demolition Porn.
Kanoe didn’t just go to Badass Polytechnic. He graduated summa cum laude. He dresses in head-to-toe black armor that stops bullets, knives, shockwaves, and harsh language. He drives a motorcycle (which can apparently do 666 miles an hour according to the dashboard) outfitted with an AI that serves as a digital sidekick. Jammed into said motorcycle’s trunk is an arsenal that would never clear customs: a handgun that could probably sink a destroyer, a battleaxe that could tear the bark from a California redwood like the peelings from a carrot, and a cannon that throws off a shockwave powerful enough to cause the ocean around the island to recede.
Stories like this inevitably lend themselves to be being compared to other things, not so much because a lot of conscious homage is taking place but more because there’s precious little to talk about otherwise. It’s not hard to see how Biomega links back to Nihei’s other work even if it isn’t a formal sequel or prequel to anything, but I spotted a few other references. “Island 9JO” sounds like a nod to “Island 8JO” from the Japanese cyberpunk action flick GUNHED, itself the subject of a manga adaptation by Kia Asamiya that was probably more interesting than the movie itself. Biomega echoes that movie in both its grimy industrial atmosphere and its minimum-plot, maximum-action aesthetic.
One could devise a video game from this story, one perfectly faithful to everything that happens in it without worrying about losing little things like character development, since there’s scarcely any to lose in the first place. It’s a thrill ride, and for me to demand it be more than that is probably uncharitable. I would also be lying like a wall-to-wall shag carpet if I didn’t say I enjoyed said ride, and that I wanted to come back for the other five volumes of this thing VIZ has lined up for us.