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Tsutomu Nihei’s BLAME! — Classic Cyberpunk Manga

by Emanuel Magno
Tsutomu Nihei’s BLAME! - CyberPunks.com

BLAME! is a cyberpunk manga with presentation and form

Tsutomu Nihei’s BLAME! is a manga published from 1997 to 2003. Composed of 65 chapters, also called Logs, BLAME! was a revolutionary step in the cyberpunk manga genre, challenging accepted concepts and forms. As big and new as the concepts of BLAME! are, sometimes the sweeping, illustrated landscapes and inspired use of negative space can overshadow the narrative, causing the reader to suddenly jump out of the story to appreciate these fine details.

The six-volume set is sometimes full of characters, briskly aggressive and nihilistic; other times, the pages are almost desolate in engulfing silence, devoid of life. BLAME! is as dark as it is beautiful . . . as endearing as it is brutal.

Still, as the narrative gets closer and closer to the end, and the silence grows, the reader may feel like life itself feels like is gradually falling apart.  Just then, a faint glimmer of hope starts to sparkle. In the universe of BLAME!, the remnants of humanity find hope in the form of perseverance, the only thing that keeps them going.

The universe, or all that is known of it, is the City of BLAME!, the swallower of all hope, the avatar of Time itself.

Kyrii and Cibo roam the City

The series follows Kyrii, a man with a hazy past and a very powerful gun known as a gravitational beam emitter (GBE for short), and his main companion Cibo, a former scientist from a remote time. The pair roam the City searching for the Net Terminal Gene or perhaps a human with the gene. Since an event known as The Infection happened sometime in the unknown and distant past, humanity has devolved, losing a synthetic genome that granted them access to the Netsphere, a code embedded in their very genomic structure that qualifies them as citizens of the City. Since then, all of humanity’s remnants have lost access to the Terminal of control.

The Safeguard, the system created to protect the City and its citizens, began attacking anyone non-citizens, which comprise most all forms of organic life. The Builders, AIs devoid of General Intelligence and tasked with manual labor such as construction, reallocation and repair, continued to perform their tasks blindly, resulting in the overgrowth of the City’s structure. No one knows how big the City has become since The Infection.

Tsutomu Nihei’s BLAME! — Classic Cyberpunk Manga

Comparing The BLAME! Netflix movie to the original BLAME! manga

The BLAME! movie, released by Netflix in 2017, isolates a small portion of the manga and changes it significantly to fit a more cohesive and self-contained cinematic experience. We still follow Kyrii and Cibo, but Cibo’s backstory is drastically changed.

To simplify things narratively, the movie implicitly applies more significance to Cibo’s backstory: unlike in the manga, in which she was a scientist for a corporation trying to regain control of the City, Cibo is likely one of the original scientists from times past when humanity reigned the City through Netsphere access. 

To make some of the characters’ more aesthetically appealing to a general audience, the brutalistic city radiates less of an inhumanity in lieu of cutesy anime-like demeanor:

  • Note how small and weak the Electrofishers look, due to generational starvation. This isn’t mentioned in the movie
  • Compare the hair ornaments Zuru, one of the Electrofishers, uses in the manga and anime (see pictured). 

This aesthetic change is similar to the one performed for Knights of Sidonia, another manga from author Tsutomu Nihei that got its own Netflix anime adaptation.

Tsutomu Nihei’s BLAME! — Classic Cyberpunk Manga
Original Manga
Tsutomu Nihei’s BLAME! — Classic Cyberpunk Manga
Netflix Movie

And who is to say Netflix isn’t dipping their toes with the movie to see if an expanded series adaptation isn’t out of the question for BLAME! as well? One can only hope. Despite the changes, the movie is well worth the watch and a great introduction to the manga and expanded universe of BLAME!.

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Tsutomu Nihei’s BLAME! — Classic Cyberpunk Manga

The City and its Factions

There are no villains in BLAME!. There are only victims of contingency trying to survive. And the City, arguably, is also the avatar of contingency — with a capital C — the kind of absolute Contingency where virtually anything is possible. Some of the differing factions may serve as serious antagonists for Kyrii and Cibo, but only because the pairs mission is effectively to annihilate unwanted folk such as the Silicon Life (for whom Kyrii is basically the Antichrist).

The Silicon Life, as their name implies, are an obscure form of life that is a hybrid of non carbon-based organic and synthetic life. Although their thinking and cultures are foreign to the reader, their motivation is simply to survive and adapt in the midst of constant threat to their species. Their beginnings are hazy, not unlike Killy’s amnesia, but the text proposes that they may be the result of the rituals from an extremist cyber-cult that existed and perished while the City was still fully under humanity’s control.

Silicon Life comes in a variety of forms, and although they may possess something almost akin to a hive-mind, each individual of this species is morphologically unique, despite sharing a resemblance to the Safeguard units.

The Safeguards operate entirely as a hive-mind, dispatching units of increasing power according to the situational threat level they perceive. The most common of the Safeguard units are the mass-produced Exterminators, and threats involving humans usually only need a handful of Exterminators. But as Kyrii and Cibo forward their mission, they begin to encounter more difficult Safeguard units. One of these is Sanakan, arguably a central character in the manga and certainly the main antagonist of the movie. The Safeguards were the guard-dogs of the City, once operated by the Administration under direct orders from either humans or automated systems.

We say automated systems since the Administration is the composite AI operating from the Netsphere and the virtual space outside the base reality that comprises the City’s structure. They appear to be on the side of humanity, wanting to help Kyrii and Cibo find the Net Terminal Gene so that the City may be controlled once again.  They hope that humans may be able to reconnect to the Terminal and again give a purpose to the Netsphere (and stop the City’s blind growth).

The current humans in the City however, for the Administration and Safeguard both, are not really humans. For to be human in the City is to possess the Net Terminal Gene (which is what qualifies one as a citizen and gives one access to the Netsphere). And so, the Admins help Kyrii in his search, not necessarily helping the remnants of humanity that are now hardly human.

Stay tuned for more, as soon we will be expanding on the more philosophical implications of the City of BLAME! as a narrative (and meta-narrative) concept, as well as proposing some fresh interpretations behind the narrative and its factions while expanding on the speculative technology of this fictional universe’s dark futurology.

Tsutomu Nihei’s BLAME! — Classic Cyberpunk Manga

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