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Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega is a bleak, nihilistic vision of the future that is also surprisingly entertaining.
In the first pages of the book, a man on a motorcycle enters a town populated by people who’ve been zombified by a disease simply known as “N5S,” which is currently ravaging the planet. He’s looking for a young woman whose biology may be the key to modifying the disease and fighting off virtual human extinction . The subsequent pages follow him as he battles not only zombies, but sentient bears as well (yes, you read that right) in his quest to recover the girl and to stop a shadowy organization’s conspiracy to spread the disease to every part of the earth.
Unlike a lot of science-fiction or fantasy manga, there is no sense that Nihei is spending much time world-building, so much as the brutal world that the protagonist encounters just exists. The art is the real star of the book and it often feels as though we are perched right inside the main character’s brain, making it incredibly easy to follow the action. David Welsh aptly compared the book to a first person shooter video game in his excellent review, noting “With its fast pace and progressively escalating stakes, Biomega actually does a better job capturing the experience of playing a video game than comics that are actually adaptations of existing franchises.” Not being a fan of first person shooter games, I found the experience quite novel in comic book form. It made the book easy to digest, but also a strangely light, airless reading experience in spite of the heavy subject matter (human body parts fly quite a bit in parts of the book). While there is next to no character development, there is a strong sense of real space and time, as the strange motorcyclist proceeds to fight his way from one fantastically realized humanity-deprived environment to the next.
Oddly, I found reading the book enjoyable but am not entirely sure if I liked the comic. Post-apocalyptic manga may be a well-worn genre but there is certainly enough weirdness here (once again, the talking bear, who is wielding a rifle, is incredibly memorable) to distinguish this title from other artists’ attempts to destroy the earth as we know it. What may set Nihei’s vision apart is his ability to tear apart the fabric of human existence so stylishly.
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