Killy is a man of few words. He wanders, seemingly endlessly, through a lonely, gargantuan labyrinth of concrete and steel, fighting off cyborgs and other futuristic nightmares, searching only for something called Net Terminal Genes. And he has a very powerful gun, which he uses without hesitation whenever anything resembling danger rears its ugly head.
Who is this quiet, violent, determined man and what are these Genes he seeks? The small communities he finds tucked into the crevices of this towering, dystopic ruin hardly give him leads on his treasure, driving him to find larger enclaves of civilization where people can reveal more about the world he lives in and the quarry he seeks.
In 2015, Blame! received a 6-volume shinsouban reprint.
The series was published in English by Tokyopop from August 9, 2005 to November 6, 2007; this release won the Harvey Award for Best American Edition of Foreign Material. Vertical Inc. re-released the series in English following the Japanese shinsouban reprint from September 13, 2016 to December 12, 2017. The manga was also published in Italian by Panini Comics under the Planet Manga imprint from March 16, 2000 to November 18, 2004 and was re-released in a 2-in-1 omnibus edition from October 22, 2011 to July 22, 2012; in Polish by Japonica Polonica Fantastica since April 14, 2016; and in Russian by XL Media since May 24, 2017.
As expected of most cyberpunk titles, Blame! is a dark futuristic story laced with enough action to keep you at the edge of your seat. Unlike other works in the same genre, however, Blame! avoids most of the philosophical/existential questions usually associated with cyberpunk. Also not present are the verbose in-battle rants/soliloquies that some would find unnecessary. Instead, the author demonstrates that actions do speak louder than words sometimes.
One of Blame!'s unique features is its lack of narration: only a few details are tossed in and it's up to the reader how to connect the dots (the
"no spoonfeeding" policy). Because the author doesn't specify how everything comes together, there are multiple interpretations of how and why events actually happened. The story parallels The City itself in having endless possibilities and the imaginations of the readers are given plenty of room and materials to roam freely and do as they wish. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing would depend on the reader’s attitude towards open endings. Although some would be left unsatisfied due to the lack of details, others may also take it as a form of interaction with the story.
It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and in Blame!, pictures do almost all of the talking. Rather than describing how powerful Killy’s gun is, Nihei spends a few pages showing the havoc caused whenever the trigger is pulled. Instead of saying “The Megastructure is vast and gloomy”, the artist shows the characters wandering through the labyrinth for months, through endless hallways or under pitch-black skies. More often than not, the deafening silence is only broken by the humming of machines or the roar of explosions. To say that the art simply complements the story would be incorrect since the art is pretty much integral to its delivery.
As for the quality of the art itself, it’s nothing short of impressive. The character designs may take some getting used to at first but Nihei’s style gradually improves throughout the series and his illustrations in the latter volumes are flawless. Also, the settings and action scenes are smoothly drawn and insanely detailed. Given his background in architecture, it’s no surprise that Nihei is exceptionally good at drawing colossal structures and perspective shots.
Not many manga out there could offer straightforward action, extraordinary art, and a little grey matter exercise at the same time. While most of the characters aren’t exactly emotionally charged, it’s a refreshing break from the clichéd personalities of anime and manga.
"Don't think; feel. It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory." Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon (1974)
Nihei Tsutomu is quite simply the Bruce Lee of the cyberpunk genre. Unlike other cyberpunk titles that often centers around the philosophies of existentialism or nihilism, Nihei carves out his own path in BLAME!. There is no thought-provoking or multi-layered story plot. There is very little dialogue and narration. What you get here is just stunning visuals which act as the principal mechanism for story progression, and Nihei accomplishes it with aplomb. To
be able to transcend the boundaries of normal storytelling is nothing short of a masterpiece. It is an extremely satisfying read that made me finish it in just two marathon sessions.
The BLAME! universe is a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Whatever little that’s left of the human population is scattered into small communities across the vast and seemingly unending darkness of the mega landscape. We join our protagonist, Killy, in his quest to search the gigantic labyrinth for the Net Terminal Genes. I won’t spoil too much but the Genes are the key to save the world which has spun out of control. He wanders around aimlessly for (amazingly) long periods of time, hoping to find clues to his goal. Equipped with his trusty SFG (little brother to the Big Fucking Gun), Killy is a force of nature. Well, I jest. It is actually called the Gravitational Beam Emitter. (Cool name huh?) In any case, this incredibly powerful little gun can blow a hole that extends for miles in anything that stands in its way. On his journey, Killy’s encounters with other strange creatures (cyborgs, machines and the like) usually explode into high octane battles. Surprisingly, there is no lack of action scenes despite the passive nature of the manga. The fighting is straight to the point. The characters do not make any cool poses for the sake of it, and we are also spared the annoying in-battle blabbering found in most shonen mangas. Yes, it’s pure, unadulterated, actual fighting. Absolutely fantastic.
Another highlight is the glorious artwork. Nihei’s experience in architecture really shows in the manga. Never before have I seen colossal structures being drawn is such detail and cool angles. It may take a while to get used to his style, but be prepared for a barrage of eye orgasm. You’ll have to see it to believe it.
As I’ve described earlier, the artwork replaces the role of narration. The characters seldom talk, unless absolutely necessary. The resultant slow pace of the story might be a turn off for some people. However, it accentuates the gloomy atmosphere very well. The delivery also adds a different dimension to the reading experience. Little details are revealed as the story progresses. It may seem confusing to some due to the lack of explanations and spoon feeding by the author, but it allows the reader to interpret the events in their own way. While the plot may not be particularly remarkable, it is very engaging. It fits Nihei’s style perfectly as it lends it a mysterious touch. The reader is constantly left wondering about the history of the events, backgrounds and motives of the characters. It certainly tickled my curiosity. As we follow Killy’s exploits, we watch as the world of BLAME! slowly unfolds before our eyes. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself (spiritually) living in it!
This is not a thinking manga. To truly enjoy it, you must heed the words of the grandmaster. Activate your sensory perceptions and immerse yourself into the world of BLAME!. Don’t just think. FEEL.
Well, instead of writing a few more paragraphs, let me try to summarize the whole thing using a few descriptors and keywords:
Atmospheric; Dark Ambience; Vast Universe; Colossal Structures; Explorative; Passive; Surreal; Explosive Action; Magnificent Artwork, Grotesque Character Designs; MASTERPIECE
How I wish I could do a review using drawings instead.
Story & Art - 10 & 9
The art is the story. BLAME! has extremely little dialog and no narration except for an occasional "39216 hours later" or so. Therefore the development of the story is almost solely communicated through the visuals. It is entirely up to you to perceive, ponder about and interpret the present and the past. As you get more familiar with the universe you might be able to draw conclusions about something that has happened earlier, which back then wasn't quite completely understandable and so on...
A critic might call BLAME! confusing, as a bad thing, but the thing is, if it is
confusing in a bad way is up to you. Whether you actively engage in interpreting it or not and how far your imagination takes you. Personally I'm rather tired of much of the modern day's entertainment which sole purpose seems to be passivate the perceiver to do nothing but sit back and enjoy a ride. BLAME! however is very stimulating and I've spent endless hours thinking about it from different angles just because it can be interpreted in so many ways and that is a beauty in itself. A friend of mine told me, after I had forced him to read it, that he found some of the parts of the manga to be extremely confusing and he had no idea what was going on, my response to him was going on a rant about how I've interpreted it, but I ended up apologizing to him for ruining the pleasure of figuring these things out for himself. On a side note, my friend did not think badly of the manga overall, rather he said that it was one of the best manga he had read. So it could be perceived as confusing so perhaps it's not a person-who-dislikes-confusing-and-cloudy-stories' first choice but I would still recommend it because in essence it's not a mystery manga or anything like that. It is a cyberpunk / action with an intensely dark and brooding atmosphere which sticks like feathers to tar, to the back of your mind. In that aspect it is emotionally provocative, it creates an unique and perhaps disturbing emotion within you which stays with you even after leaving the manga, when you're onto doing something else.
A critical aspect of the art is it's portrayal of this vast and seemingly endless setting filled with colossal structures which seem to have been abandoned since who knows when. Great drawings of cold machinery, some seem to have broken down from having been put out of use, while some still function for the sake of functioning after all this time. Our protagonist's fate is to wander these hallowscapes and when reaches new areas we are given no clues to where we've stumbled into other than our surroundings and the people we meet. The detail is not only fantastic but Nihei Tsutomu's ability to draw perspective truly creates a world in 3d. Even the character design immediately captivated me. This pale, grim expression on the character's face, led me to believe that this was a hardened man who's been through a lot. I felt as if I was getting to know this character by looking at him, even though I've just begun reading the first chapter and he has barely uttered a word.
As for the action scenes, we're allowed to witness the devastation and intense power depicted very clearly. They are for the most part, in contrast to the story, easy to follow. This straight-forward approach spares us the self-righteous rants and interrupting one-liners and just delivers plain awesome action.
Character - 8
It's a cold and harsh world which has no room for harboring the soft or the weak. This is a fact which we are constantly reminded of as we meet the characters of BLAME!. The characters show no particular depth, yet serve their purpose very well. Some have their logical reasons while some remain a mystery. There is not much character development but there is some, it is enough, but there is left room for more. Most of the characters portrayed somewhat cold and indifferent, it is after all understandable and I wouldn't have it any other way, weep scenes would feel kind of out of place, besides there's nothing quite as beautiful as when you catch a small glimpse of emotion through that hard shell which they've grown over time.
Enjoyment - 10
I barely took a single break while I was reading the manga for the first time, I was glued to it. That said, it's not the absolute most enjoyable read. However, like I've said before, I've spent endless hours just thinking back on it, going over it in my mind and attempting to interpret it from as many angles as possible. I get a slight tingly feeling in my stomach just thinking about it. BLAME! has continuously kept me stimulated even when I'm not reading it, practically infinite enjoyment.
To put it simply, there is a reason Blame is such a renowned cult hit. It's art style is both captivating and horrifying, it's story extremely minimal, it's atmosphere thick as syrup, and with it Blame has always been seen as a modern classic of cyberpunk and experimental manga. If you are in for something strange and off the beaten path then you will surely enjoy this bizarre and complex piece of cheese.
Blame is about a lone wanderer named Killy, who in keeping up with cyberpunk standards, is not 100% human. Killy begins a quest to find net terminal genes, a genetic code that may
or not be extinct, To find net terminal genes, Killy wanders in the setting of the manga, known only as The City. The capital letters and context alone may show its quite the mysterious place. The City is a vast technological world whose bizarre nature borders on surrealism in some parts. The City seemingly has no vertical or horizontal end, stretching on endlessly forever, everywhere. No government can be seen in any form, and machines run rampant doing crazy stuff. Factions of silicon based life forms and trans-humans struggle to survive in a very unforgiving and relentless enviroment, constantly put on the pressure of the Safeguard, a relentless machine god horde of creatures seemingly out of God Emperor of Dune. Killy attempts to find the Net Terminal Genes for a human faction, in an attempt to bring control to the City and the Megastructure inside. The Megastructure is an infnitely expanding series of floors in the City, seemingly making it impossible to go up or down to another floor due to it's nature of a being a gigantic infitely long space wall that is several hundreds of miles thick. Killy is the only human able to traverse these megastuctures due to his possession of a bizarre weapon with unknown origins, the Gravitational Beam Emitter, a gun so powerful that it can potentially punch through the normally indestructible Megastructure.
Blame!'s story is not really a story in the typical sense. Usually in a story you have some characters with their own development, backdrop information, and instances that drive an overarching plot forward. All of these things are virtually non-existent in Blame, which is hardcore minimalist. Dialogue rarely occurs, and you can never understand what characters are thinking. All you are presented with is Killy going around, his reasons mostly unexplained, the setting unexplained, a glossary of terms that does not exist etc. But you can figure things out about the story, however its never directly presented to you, so you have to pick things up from the details completely, which are subtle at best. Needeless to say, that makes the story completely open to interpretation, but it's interesting interpretation in the sense that it can make sense in a concrete way. Lets say you finished the manga and then went to forums to see what people thought of the ending, if they reference a particular part in the series to construct their theory, you can say "Ah, I remeber that part." It's interesting.
Art is pretty crazy. You can probably get a good idea what the style is like from this spread I posted with the review. It's very sketchy and unpolished looking, but it works well. Sometimes I like to say that "bad art is not a style, even if its consistent" but I never really found Blame's art to be bad. The only thing that was a bit strange looking was the faces, but you have to keep in mind this manga is damn old. Nihei however, has always had this sketchy style which makes the setting, and ESPECIALLY the enemies look eldritch level insane. There is not a single way I can describe the designs of the Silicon based life besides that, they look like they literally climbed out of a wormhole. Guts spill out of random places, their metal skull based on some animal thing, bizarre needle arms like Bokurano, you name it. They are all unique in overall design and they are all crazy looking.
Conclusively, its very hard to review Blame in a concrete way due its nature of being so broad in interepretation. I loved it due to it's unending surrealism and mystery and the minimalistic plot, along with the art style. I will probably never understand the intention of the story as a whole and especially the ending, if it exists. But without a doubt this rather short cyberpunk classic deserves to be read by all fans of manga.