Tsutomu Nihei, A Manga Creator for America
Tsutomu Nihei has been knocking on America's door for ages now. Tokyopop released his ten-volume epic "Blame!," pronounced "blam" like a gunshot, and its prequel, "Noise" in the United States. In 2006, he earned a coveted spot in the amazingly awesome (and financially successful) "Halo Graphic Novel," standing shoulder to shoulder with superstar artists like Moebius, Simon Bisley, and Geof Darrow, among others. Marvel, knowing a good thing when they see it, contracted him to produce "Wolverine: Snikt!"
Keeping with Nihei's trend of having sound effect-related titles, "Snikt!" is about Wolverine being zapped to the year 2058 against his will and his mission to rescue an enclave of surviving humans from a species of genetically-engineered monsters that are vulnerable only to adamantium. The bulk of the book, once you get past the somewhat clunky exposition, is full of vast monsters, efficient battle scenes, and Wolverine doing what he does best.
The post-apocalyptic setting, the way the monsters look like twisted human beings, and the relatively silent lead character are all trademarks of Nihei's work, most of which add up to a very, very creepy atmosphere.
If you missed the boat the first few times, Viz Media's release of the first volume of "Biomega" is your latest chance to get with the times. The story is set on Earth a few hundred years in the future and during the first outbreak of a zombie-esque plague. Like "Blame!" and "Snikt!", "Biomega" a protagonist who is a little quiet, a little skinny, and very effective. Zoichi Kanoe is a representative of Toa Heavy Industry, and one of humanity's last hopes for the future. Luckily, he's got a holographic AI named Fuyu Kanoe built into his motorcycle, inhuman speed, a sharp sword, and a handgun that can take out zombies and ICBMs alike.
Like many of Nihei's works, the main character and plot are almost secondary to the world itself, which in "Biomega" is slowly being overcome by a zombie plague -- until the events of the book kick the plague into overdrive. It's a storytelling engine, a setting that is so ripe with promise and menace that the only thing it needs is for a character -- personality, motivation, none of it matters, just that the character exists -- to enter the area and wait for things to happen.
Nihei's art feels like the lost child of Katsuhiro ("Akira") Otomo and Mike Mignola. Nihei is an expert at building a moody atmosphere, and "Biomega" may the best example thus far. The setting is claustrophobic, despite the often open areas Zoichi finds himself in, and looks as though the apocalypse has come and gone, leaving the streets clear of everything but monsters, human or otherwise. The city is broken down and stark, full of hard edges and haunted house-esque structures. Every building, every antenna, and every access hatch stacks around and crowds Zoichi -- every page in the book is more black than blank. As Zoichi rides the freeway into the city at a cool 666 km/h, the buildings of 9J0 loom over his tiny figure, menacing in their darkness and looking like monsters and characters in their own right. Once the action moves inside, towers thin to pinpricks and stairways begin to look like deathtraps. Call it "bleak."
Fortunately, Nihei's style lends itself to action scenes very well. He plays with the passage of time in scenes, ramping up the pace for certain scenes while slowing it down to almost frame-by-frame in others. The first confrontation is a brutal back and forth battle, with brief bits of slow motion for effect and subtle bullet wounds that result in explosive exits. Later, Zoichi takes down five soldiers in the time it takes for one to fall to the ground from the dinner plate-sized hole in the back of his head. In other words, if you want action, explosions, and violence, "Biomega" more than delivers.
I'd be a fool if I didn't point out how weird this book is, too. One character is a talking bear who is deadly with his rifle. The bear, of course, is later revealed to be Russian. Kind of. The bear is protecting a young woman named Eon Green, and she may be able to reverse the plague. That doesn't stop her from wearing a cute bear costume, sans head, for most of the book. Imagine a woman with a haunted and tired gaze. Now imagine her with a cute little bear tail being chased by a tall executioner. Now add explosions.
That isn't the weirdest thing about the book, though. No, that prize belongs to the sexy zombies. While most of Zoichi's enemies are your normal misshapen and nude male figures, full of warts and tumors and teeming with disgusting limbs, there are a few zombies that are decidedly female. The first sports a fashionable black dress, along with a pair of semi-detached limbs and a neck that is entirely too long. Another wears a similar dress, but her face is just a bare skull. The third is wearing a sports bra, or most of one, and a pair of panties. The one on the back of the book, and mirrored on a pinup inside, prefers lowrise undies, as evidenced by the crack of her zombie butt. It's never presented as something hot, but it is definitely something to make you say, "Hmmmm."
Regardless, "Biomega" is your chance to dive in with Nihei with no strings attached. Fans of Jae Lee, Mike Mignola, Katsuhiro Otomo, and scenario-driven horror, rather than character driven, will get a kick out of it.