“Whatever you do, don’t go outside.” – Biomega Vol. 1 review.
Title: Biomega, Volume 1
Art/Story: Tsotomu Nihei
Genre: Seinen, Cyberpunk, Action, apocalypse, ZOMBIES!
Rating: Mature (17+, rated for graphic violence.)
Whilst everyone else is writing about Vampires, Werewolves and the supernatural, we can forgive Tsutomu Nihei for being a little behind the times. Biomega began serialization in 2004, towards the latter stages of the zombie revolution, it wasn’t completed until 2009, and took a further year to reach the UK audience, and whilst sharing some parallels with the Resident Evil franchise, Nihei’s cyberpunk nightmare vision of the future retains its uniqueness in the manga industry.
As you browse through shelves in book stores, or stands at conventions, I’d wager a large number of people have fumbled upon Biomega’s striking monochrome cover out of curiosity, perhaps even marvelled over its dark and alluring cover art, and maybe even had a quick flick through before taking in the blurb. With me, however, it was the blurb that lost me.
I find it difficult to be inspired by a zombie apocalypse and the notion that it was caused by the “NS5 Virus” left me far from enthralled. I returned the book to its shelf for the next inquisitive browser to thumb through. However, having finally happened upon my own copy of Biomega, I was surprised to find the manga far more engaging than I had previously expected.
After a brief scene of a Mars rediscovery and excavation mission in the year 3005A.D., we enter Nihei’s world 6 months later, just outside the high-walled limits of island city 9JO, where protagonist Zoichi Kanoe of Toa Heavy Industry gains entry to the city by claiming to be part of the ”purge”. It is revealed that a virus, named the NS5 virus has spread across parts of the world, morphing infected people into zombie “drones”, and that a wide spread culling of the infected is being employed to control them.
It isn’t long before Zoichi finds what he has been looking for, albeit in a rather spectacular motorcycle accident. As this target, a young looking girl, miraculously heals herself, Zoichi is left cornered by a sniper wielding anthropomorphic bear who is the girl’s guardian. And so the chase begins. Zoichi’s computer reveals the girl to be 17 year old Eon Green, an accommodator of the NS5 virus (an accommodator being someone who is infected by the virus, but retains human appearance and brain function, but also benefits from the virus’ ability to regenerate and heal), for the entirety of the first volume we follow Zoichi’s attempts to track down and chaperone Eon to a secure location.
Nihei appears to have taken the view that less is more with Biomega, choosing frugality where others may swamp the reader with over-information. In fact, the first volume is surprisingly sparse of text, telling the story instead through the images, and leaving much to the imagination. This can make the plot a little hard to follow at points, with some of the more intricate details occasionally lost in the shadow-heavy and sketchy artwork. Sadly this approach also leads to the main weakness of the first volume of Biomega. Although presumably the book is used to set the scene and story for the future volumes to elaborate on, I can’t help but feel that nothing much happened over its 220 pages, as the dense action fills page after page and the plot is barely furthered, with much left unexplained.
The contents of the book follow the covers example, sticking to the shaded black and white style that Nihei has become known for, he is also well known for incorporating large structures into his work, such as that of 9JO. Nihei’s work has gained a strong cult fan base in Europe and Japan alike, and Biomega follows up on what is arguably his most popular work, Blame!.
As an initial sceptic to Biomega, I am left pleasantly surprised with the outcome and found it further from the generic zombie horror category than I’d expected. It uses its heavily shaded and often vague imagery to evoke the atmosphere of despair in Nihei’s dark and desperate distopia, posing more questions than it answers and urging you to read on. Whilst the first volume may only set the scene of Biomega, I left somewhat intrigued as to what Nihei may have in store for us, I can only hope that it is nothing that resurrects the overdone under-inspired zombie fiction that appears to have infected much of mainstream horror in the past.
Biomega comprises 6 volumes, with the final volume due for publication on 26 May, and is available from our shop here.