Friday, October 1, 2010


 [This post written by contributing writer Chandra.]

My house is currently under a monsoon, so I’m curled up reading. Not under a blanket because the temperature continues to hover near 85F, but the thunder, lightening, and rain make for good reading. Especially when I have my new favorite manga about the end of the world - Biomega by Tsutomu Nihei.

Set in 3005 A.D., Biomega is the tale of humanity’s attempt to avoid contracting the ultra contagious and dangerous N5S. Should a person be unlucky enough to catch it, they get the pleasure of becoming a drone. Drones are basically traditional zombies in their shambling ways and desire for food, with humans being a particular favorite. But N5S doesn’t just turn people into movie monsters; it takes zombie to the next level by adding the terrifying ability of regenerating limbs and other physical aspects. This makes the drones of Biomega significantly more difficult to kill and simultaneously more deadly.

Of course, N5S was created by a corporation, Data Research Foundation (DRF), who wanted to control the planet. But it wasn’t created on earth; it was formulated on Mars. And it is a return trip to Mars that brings it to Earth. The ship from Mars never lands back on Earth, since all of the crew turned into drones. Nope, they made it close enough to get caught in the orbit, and one of the crew went outside of the ship. So the nameless Mars drone is orbiting Earth dropping spores of N5S onto the planet.

All of this information is simple back story, told in the books in conversations and flashbacks (typical manga style). The story of Biomega consists of the actions of Zoichi Kanoe, one of the operatives of the competing company, TOA Heavy Industry. Zoichi is searching for a girl, Eon Green, in order to rescue her before DRF finds her. He has a pretty nifty motorcycle that contains a computer link. The computer persona functions as a partner for Zoichi and makes him a better agent. Being a synthetic human doesn’t hurt him either. His super-human abilities make him a problem for DRF despite the ability of many of their agents to shape-shift.
The fighting ranges all over the cities and even makes it to the edges of Earth’s atmosphere. Fires, death, survival, and nuclear weapons all make it into book 1. Books 2 and 3 contain monsters more terrifying than drones and a mutation of N5S that infects more than people. Biomega manages to hit all of the fears surrounding the end of the world without making it unnecessarily dreary. Perhaps it is because Zoichi is completely focused on the mission. Or it could be the talking grizzly bear.

The series has an original Japanese release date from 2007, but 2010, marks the first time the series is being released in English books. The first 3 books are currently available from Viz Media, with the last books in the series to be published through early next year.
Biomega is a new series to me, and I picked it up in the bookstore because I liked the font for the title. The covers are interesting, with their mix of zombie art and character sketches. I was sold on the series in the first few pages and walked out with books 1 and 2. I found book 3 in a different bookstore a few days later. I’m glad I picked up all of the currently available books because I finished the first one in a few hours. I made an effort to have the second book take several days, but by the time I opened the third one, I had to know what happened.

The series is character driven with a decent amount of action scenes. Because the villains are essentially monsters, it can be difficult to track with the specific moments of the fight. But for being character driven, the series is surprisingly light on actual information about the characters. Tsutomu Nihei relies on the reader’s imagination and participation to make the story come together. But the author does not use the reader to write the story; Nihei uses the blank spaces all comic book style stories contain in one of the most effective ways I have ever come across. I had enough information to connect the immediate points in the story, but not so much as to ruin the twists. I think Nihei’s beautiful artwork makes the story so easy to connect with. The faces are expressive on the page, even in their blank looks. The mood comes through the lines even before the words include the grim information in the new twist in the story.

Each book stands on its own, but each part becomes much better with the other books. I am anxiously looking forward to the rest of the books to see how the whole story turns out. Because I’m from the U.S., I’m hoping for a happy ending. But I’ve also read enough manga, and watched enough anime, to know that my hopes will probably be dashed in the best possible way.

If you’re looking for a good series to curl up with and read as the weather changes, I definitely recommend Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega. The end of the world never looked so terrifying and awesome.

Biomega, Vol. 1Biomega, Vol. 2Biomega, Vol. 3Biomega, Vol. 4Biomega, Vol. 5Biomega, Vol. 6

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