Zombies are all the rage these days. The combination of transmitable infection and the inevitable onslaught of mindless horrors provides an easy source of thrills and the proper context to show people at their worst. Good thing Fujisawa Yuki could care less about popularity. It's one thing to overrun a country with running or shuffling undead or even to fill its landscape with creepy fish creatures, but if you want to see all the way into the dark depths of human nature, destroy Japan with a commodity.
The whole mess starts when some bio-meat--a genetically engineered food source--escape their facility in the heart of a Japanese city. Continually ravenous and capable of rapid reproduction, they quickly overrun the town, consuming nearly all of the residents. From here, the mangaka weaves together three escalating tales of atrocity where the heroic initial survivors fight the to save Japan from the ravages of unchecked human greed and legions of hungry creatures. Fujisawa performs best in the first and last parts of his tale where the monsters serve more as an environmental hazard than an adversary to overcome. In those segments, the human interactions take center stage, and the plot feels more like straight-up disaster fiction. However, all three sections balance heroics, cowardice, and avarice to show the full spectrum of human reaction to crisis and can keep a reader's interest well into the wee hours of the morning.
Here, Fujisawa's work is more than competent, but not quite amazing. The urban landscape of the manga offers few opportunities for impressive backgrounds and actually leads to some downright laziness in the second arc (a reader would be pressed to differentiate between the buildings different corridors). That said, the artist does milk the larger scale of events in the final segment for a few nifty panoramas but they serve as punctuation, not functional backdrop for the action in the manga. Much like in Metro Survive, expressive characters fill the pages of Bio-Meat. Each hero, villain, and minor actor's admirable traits and foibles read on in his face, the strong and noble characters appearing clear-eyed and strong chinned whereas the more villainous and weak characters possess shifty eyes and disheveled aspects respectively. The long time-frame of the story also affords Fujisawa the chance to grow up his main cast from school children into adult heroes in delightful fashion. While Maaya ages in a predictable manner, the development of Banba into a muscle-bound bruiser and Kanomiya's blossoming from a creepy little girl into a hard and beautiful woman by the third installment make their re-introduction sequence rewarding to read.
Of course, the real main characters are the bio meat themselves, and here the mangaka shows both flashes of brilliance and mediocrity. The Japanese version exudes equal parts practicality and horror. Curled up like a ball to hide its collection of teeth and mandibles, the creature resembles something fished out of H. M. Gieger's waste-bin; its design highlights both the benign purpose these animals serve and the terrible potential it contains. In contrast, the US incarnation, a monster of tendrils and one ravenous orifice suffers both from being harder to draw (as they get bigger and bigger their forms become messier and messier) and appearing more overtly menacing. This unfortunate shortcoming robs the bio meat of some of its cleverly constructed impact and prevents its initial attacks from generating the same level of horrific imagery that punctuated the first arc's initial, grisly deaths.
As characters, the two bio-meat species vary greatly. The U.S. incarnation, which features in the second arc, displays aggressiveness, adaptability, and true lethal intent. However, these traits which make it so interesting also detract from the human elements of the story during its time in the spotlight. The influence of the tentacled monster drags the narrative away from Fujisawa's strength--suspenseful interactions between normal people in extraordinary circumstances--and places the incident in the hotel firmly in the action genre. In contrast, the Japanese bio-meat demonstrates only hunger and patience as its defining characteristics, making it better suited to the mangaka's preferred form of narrative.
While not as nuanced a cast as the one that drives Metro Survive, Fujisawas collection of deeply flawed individuals stands out as the best part of Bio-Meat. To represent humans' boundless capacity for greed and hubris, the mangaka serves up a parade of vile and petty men who desire only to make the most money off the ravenous bio meat as they can. Across from them, the three main characters appear suitably heroic. Neither Maaya, Kanomiya, nor Banba receives the layered development that makes Mishima such a winning protagonist in the artist's later work, but their ingenuity, bravery, and sense of humor should win over readers anyway.
The action-packed plot, everyman heroes, and grim vision of the future offer something to any fan with a strong enough stomach to handle the manga's content. If you're interested in a survival story that plays out on a larger scale and over a longer period of time, you will find Bio-Meat visceral, funny, and satisfying.