I had the opportunity to read Blame! by Tsutomu Nihei. Blame! is a science-fiction manga that was first put out in Japan by Kodansha Comics and in English by Tokyopop. The Master Edition is now available from Vertical Comics in 6 large books. One note worth making, a more accurate translation of the title would be “Blam!” – a reference to the sound made by the hero’s main weapon. It seems the title was misunderstood, rendered as Blame! and then the title stuck.
Blame! is a far future science-fiction story about Killy’s quest to restore order to society. A great catastrophe occurred in the distant past when humanity enjoyed a level of technology far beyond what we know today. The results included the majority of humans dying, the Internet of the future (far more advanced then the one we know) becoming inaccessible, the system designed to regulate Internet access going haywire and the system of automatic machines that built and maintained cities and/or space stations also going haywire. A class of robots called Builders started building out of control and the result is the Megastructure – a truly immense structure that fills up a large portion of our solar system and consists of strata that are many stories high and separated by an almost impenetrable dense substance. Each strata of the Megastructure holds a seemingly endless city made of jumbled buildings and similar structures. There are no animals or plant life to be seen except for very few pockets where circumstances are shifted for various reasons.
Cibo joins Killy on his quest and proves to be an invaluable ally.
The Megastructure’s infrastructure is mostly damaged and the shattered remains of humanity exist in isolated pockets with no knowledge of each other. A new class of beings called Silicon Life, cybernetic creatures that vaguely resemble humans in appearance, range throughout the Megastructure and hunt humans mercilessly.
Wandering through this dystopian nightmare is Killy. Killy is a human with a cyborg body that is on a mission to find any human who still possesses the Net Terminal Genes. Finding a person with these extremely rare genes would allow authorized access to the Netsphere where the Administration (the Authority in Tokyopop’s translation) exist. If authorized by humans, the Administration could bring the damaged systems of the Megastructure back in line and restore society.
Killy, joined by human scientist Cibo, have to wander the endless city structure and contend with murderous Silicon Life, deadly robots of the Safeguard (a haywire security system that became so damaged it tries to kill all humans without Net Terminal Genes and all who try to access the Netsphere), distrustful and desperate human settlements and damaged remnants of the technological past.
Blame! is sparse in dialogue and character development. The art takes center stage and the result is a feast of surreal scenes and mind-bending landscapes. The large, empty spaces reinforce the sense of desolation and loneliness that permeates the story.
Although Nihei may not have intended it I think Blame! illustrates well the fallacy that many people currently hold about technology curing humanity’s problems. The highly advances technologies on display in Blame! couldn’t prevent the catastrophe that destroyed human society. Those technologies couldn’t put society back together again, either. The author included notes in an art book dedicated to Blame! where he shares the outcome of the story. Killy’s unshakeable perseverance and determination succeed in the end. He plants the seed that restores humanity’s control of the Megastructure and in this shows that it is people with good character who will help society – not advances in technology.
The lack of romance, character development and humor make Blame! lack wide appeal. These omissions, however, help the manga focus on its main themes and premise. Only true-blue science-fiction fans will enjoy this story. I regard it as one of the best additions to my science-fiction shelf.