The 200,000 KM diameter artificial celestial body of APOSIMZ. Most of its volume is its core space, which is covered by a superstructural shell. Fifty centuries ago, the people who lost a war against the core lost their right to reside legitimately in APOSIMZ, and were left behind on the extremely cold surface. They face the spreading Frame disease. And aggressive automatons which appear frequently on the ruins level. Yet even so, somehow people survive.
Writing a review for a Nihei Manga is kind of tricky. Do you draw comparisons with the his previous works like Blame!, Biomega etc? Or do you come up with something that may capture the imagination of some other fellow readers to go out and buy the manga?
The story starts like any other generic sci-fi storylines.... it is an unforgiving world, where the people living on the surface are subjected to brutalities and hardship to the extreme. And our unlikely protagonist rises by a chance and he must travel far to defeat the enemies one by one, gathering power and allies incrementally. Very formulaic, right?
So what makes it different?
It is the Nihei touch. It is that artwork, the death and fatalities shown in the most soul-crushing way and the transitions on the scenes with measured jumps. You feel both detached from the harsh reality of that world, at the same time be drowned by the darkness it submerges itself in. Violence of massive proportions get omitted on the next page and you just see the resulting doom and destruction in incredible details. You reach the depth of you imagination to visualize what may have happened. Yet there's a fluidity in the story here. Even if you feel lost or struggle to fill in the gaps, the rhythm feels uninterrupted. Take a deeper look and you may realize there's a master behind the art.
And our author has probably made larger strides in character development, they serve a higher purpose than to just continue the story. You can relate and tax your imagination a bit further with the characters, this is a great catalyst for the reader's appetite. Yet that trademark minimalism hasn't been lost in any way.
So that's what this manga is. It carries forward the celebrated qualities and skills of the artist, at the same time it expresses Nihei's desire to produce a "Tezuka-level mass appeal".
This might end up to be his most polished work till date.
I was excited to pick APOSIMZ up. Is it worth the read? Yes and no. I'm a big fan of BLAME! but Nihei's more recent works have been quite disappointing, despite the settings and concepts being very intriguing time after time.
That sentence probably summarizes all of Nihei's works – unique and exciting concepts, but time after time, I find myself thinking about how the storytelling itself could have been so much better. APOSIMZ, or Ningyou no Kuni, is not an exception. It reminds me more of a grittier version of the high-school drama that is Knights of Sidonia, instead of the doomed, vast and apocryphal
world of BLAME!. While the latter sparks an enormous interest towards the world Nihei has created, the former always failed to do that for me. As far as I know, Nihei himself has apparently dissed or disowned his earlier works, which is a shame since there are quite a few good things about them that he could explore.
Nihei's drawing style for APOSIMZ is light and fragile, and that's what I've really liked about it. A wasteland covered in indecipherable materials, bio-mass akin to some kind of dust, ice, snow... A lot of things in existence in the world of APOSIMZ are things of legends and traditions passed down for generations for so long their workings or mechanics have been rendered unknown. Tribalism has emerged since the downfall of whatever existed before the wandering groups of the cold Surface.
Some of the things strike a resemblance to Berserk, Nausicaä or even Made in Abyss. In the unique world Nihei has created, they feel disappointingly unoriginal. It would have worked out quite nicely if they were clear homages to the works Nihei has found inspiring. I can't say I enjoyed reading the dialogue, as most of it is frankly quite boring. It's monotonous to the point I started to question whether the numerous characters have a personality of their own at all. It feels like all of the characters are simply copies of one another, mere cannon-fodder for gore.
In short, Ningyou no Kuni features biomechanical samurai armor-battles, battle droids in gothic lolita -esque outfits, gore and a little bit of fanservice. It's a biopunk re-telling of BLAME!, where Etherow is Killy and Titania is Cibo, filling the tropes of Marty Stu and Ms. Exposition, respectively.
It would seem that Nihei is searching for a synthesis of a gritty apocalyptic world and the contemporary Japanese society, but so far the amalgamation that is APOSIMZ feels rushed and not original enough. Disappointingly so, since I always keep an eye on Nihei's new works, waiting for a polished masterpiece he is more than capable of creating.