Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, March 07, 2010
      ( 3/07/2010 01:53:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“YOU WITH A COMPULSORY EXECUTION UNIT?” A crisp “Mature”-rated sci-fi horror series, Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega (Viz Signature) doesn’t waste any time plunging us into the action. Set a thousand years in the future, it opens on Earth’s “first manned flight to Mars in seven centuries.” Why so long between trips? We’re not told in the first volume, though it could have something to do with the virus that the space travelers bring back home. Called the N5S infection, it quickly spreads across the planet, transforming most of its carriers into droopy decaying zombies with extra bits of this-and-that dangling from their bodies. Cut to six months later, and we're following Zouichi Kanoe, a motorcycle riding agent for Toa Heavy Industries as he tries to navigate his way through the wasted city of a Pacific island, looking for a girl named Eon Green.

In addition to Kanoe, young Eon is also being pursued by agents of the Public Health Service, who appear to have sinister designs. Eon, we learn, is an “Accommodator” of the N5S virus, which means she has it but has not transmuted into a mindless “Drone.” As a carrier, she also appears to have the ability to rapidly regenerate parts of herself: small wonder that competing interests wanna get a hold of her. Protecting her from both groups is a talking Russian bear(!) named Kozlov Loewic Grebnev. He carries Eon to a castle-like Maxi-Security Containment Facility, but her presence draws the zombie Drones as well as the blank masked agents of the PHS.

There’s not much more plot than that in the first volume -- though we’re given hints of a third player called the Data Recovery Foundation which may know more about the N5S virus than it’s telling. Instead, Nihei provides a series of visually arresting action sequences and grotty looking zombies, as Kanoe careens his motorcycle though Nihei’s sinisterly towering architectural landscape. There are a lotta extended wordless sequences in this manga -- the most striking features Kanoe’s rescue of Kozlov from the exploding Containment Facility -- but not much character detail in this opening entry. The only two figures who display even a fraction of emotion in the first volume are the bear and a distraught newsman who provides much of the exposition. Our cycle-straddling hero largely remains a cipher in the first book, though we’re given hints that he, too, is somehow “enhanced.”

Nihei’s handling of his imposing future landscape, kinetic skirmishes, and quirky plot details commands our attention so strongly that you don’t really mind that you haven’t been given a whole lot of solid information in the first book. (The faceless PHS agents are a particular enigma.) Whether he can maintain this over the course of multiple volumes remains to be seen, but his handling of the opening is slick enough to get lover of horror action coming back for the next few books at least. Me, I’m hoping for some of that bear's back story.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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