Biomega – It Ain’t Your Grandfather’s Cyberpunk
by Karl Fischer
Over the years, I’ve tried to get my peers into manga and I often run up against the same critique: “It just doesn’t interest me.” What I think they mean to say is that they’re not interested in saccharine love triangles with bubble-breasted schoolgirls fighting tentacle demons from Beyond the Veil. Fair enough. My go-to cure for that stereotype is artist-writer Tsutomu Nihei.
You may have seen this image in an internet meme, such as Bears with Guns. Thing is, it’s not photoshopped, it’s lifted directly from Biomega, a six volume sci-fi/horror set one thousand years into the future. It’s the story of a mysterious virus called the NS5, which can turn humans into mindless, biomechanical drones (read: cyborg zombies) and of the warring mega-corporations that are attempting to either stop or propagate the virus. It’s one half cyberpunk, one half zombie apocalypse, ultraviolent, and grittier than a gravel yard in hell.
One thing that sets Nihei’s work apart from other manga is the focus on physical space. Nihei originally studied to be an architect and it’s an aspect that comes shining through in his art.
Between lightning fast action scenes, the reader’s POV will zoom out to encompass vast and intimately detailed spaces. Characters go zipping along on roads that span the sea, plummet down buildings that reach thousands of stories, and fight in rooms that could house cathedrals.
By the second half of the series, events are taking place on an interstellar object that’s nearly 5,000,000,000km in length. The story is intensely visual, forgoing dialogue in favor of movement almost every chance it gets. Everything has a sense of grandeur, and yet, is mercilessly bleak. The pace only increases by leaps and bounds.
When the dust has settled, there’s something disquieting about Biomega. Our main protagonists are biomechanical androids fighting viciously on humanity’s behalf. One gets the impression that they do this only because they were designed to. Technology has outstripped its creators, in true cyberpunk fashion, yet that technology never “rebels.” In Nihei’s conception, our most powerful weapons will serve us faithfully and eternally, even as we drag one another screaming into the Void.