I am a huge sci-fi fan, and a huge horror fan. So, typically, when these two genres mesh I am in my element. However, I tend to wet my appetite with live-action, novels, and comics. I tend to move slowly through the offerings anime and manga present for a fan such as myself because I know the sheer quantity and quality to be enjoyed. To purchase and read Biomega was a leap of faith and a personal treat. Not being the widest read manga fan in the world, I also managed to avoid high expectations by treating it as a continuance into new territory. So, it is within this context I chose to review my experiences of Tsutomu Nihei's fast-paced standalone title.
In a somewhat ambitious fashion, Biomega is an epic sci-fi horror (to use Viz's own words) that spans centuries - and lightyears - in a tight six-volume offering. The premise concerns itself with a virus that has resulted in a sparsely populated dehumanised future version of Earth, making the manga initially appear to be a violent zombie tale set in an authoritarian society. A glimmer of hope is presented in the form of a young girl who is resistant to the strain, and the conflict formed when she is kidnapped by a governing faction whose intentions are clearly malicious.
Where the manga proceeds from this point is down a byzantine labyrinth of ever-expanding plot that seeks to further heighten the sense of lavish self-fulfillment found within the intentions of the immortal matriarch, Niarudi. The first three volumes involve many personal battles, and alliances, and the pacing feels planned yet fluid. The atmosphere is then stripped back and reinvented in the final three volumes in a rushed and unrealised conclusive arc that suggests a concept too large for the lack of material present.
There is plenty to admire here, and upon multiple readings the story becomes more and more simplistic in its application of basic story elements. Biomega is the first manga I have read that truly combines artistic style with plot to create a more immersive cerebral story experience. To separate 'story' and 'art' into two different categories is to deny what makes this a worthwhile read.
However, this does at times make Biomega feel like a story developed from conceptual art. Where the style blueprint came first, and the plot was stencilled out and placed on top in a thin merging layer. At times, I was hoping the story to slow down, to plateau as a foundation and then be developed upon. However, this simply did not happen - the story elements continued to be compounded on top of one another and, while emphasising the urgency and burden of the main conflict upon the protagonists, really reduced the story as simply fun and amateurish when my first impressions were hoping for a final review of intelligent and brutally thought-provoking. The latter, however, it is not.
Viz Media's Signature publication brought the art to life in a larger format paperback where even the sharp inky smell heightened the slick yet stoic atmosphere. Online scans seemed to include unfinished art lacking the same final attention to detail Nihei has given the licensed release.
Biomega is dripping with style, mixing aesthetic cyberpunk elements with futuristic horror monstrosities from page-to-page. Anatomy and biology is taken to terrifying and detailed places to depict the lifeless yet instinctual reality of what the N5S virus has unleashed onto the world. Spreads are beautifully macabre, and most scenes are sumptuous eye candy for sci-fi horror fans.
Likewise with the story, the last three volumes experience a slight variation in art as the setting changes drastically. At times this is felt in less satisfying scenes where Nihei's imagination is both running wild yet held back, resulting in loss of detail and a more confused world concept. However, for some, these three volumes could present a more pleasing aesthetic to the original creations.
Nihei's pen style is scratchy and detailed, composition is effortless and overall the art is perfectly suited in grim black and white.
Exposition and action takes precedent over character development within the manga, and style seems to have been prioritised over genuine personality in the creation of the characters themselves.
The main protagonists include a practically mute immortal girl, an overpowered synthetic human, and a human bear. Zoichi Kanoe and the AI embedded into his bike, Fuyu Kanoe, are easy to connect with but we have no real reason to ever see their plight through to the end, if we even see the story as belonging to them at all. Many side style quests are interwoven into one overall aim to destroy the main antagonist. However, reader favouritism within the character ranks is more likely to be directly correlated to levels of baddassery over complexities of their natures. Practically all dialogue is exposition and backstory is delivered in bare drips and drabs.
So, what the heck. Shallow or not, let's just talk about how badass everyone is. The synthetic human/homonculus characters are few and far between and feared by all those with the propensity towards the destruction of humanity. If existed within our current time, the international threat of individual countries would be measured by how many synthetic humans they owned - forget about the budget size of nuclear programs. Zoichi, Nishu, and other synthetic types in the story are titans against everything that stands in their way thanks to sheer strength, resources, and infallible precision. Oh, and one really awesome weaponised bike.
On top of these badassery levels you have the immortal and increasingly omnipotent Niarudi, the ruthless and sadistically cool Higuide, and a motherfucking bear with a motherfucking hook hand.
For those that routinely consume sci-fi and horror, Biomega may be lacking for its shallow characters and oversaturated plot. But it makes up for these flaws in an arrogant form of style which would not work in any other genre or medium. While my final opinion may have differed from what I had hoped to come from the premise, I do not actually possess any disappointment toward Biomega. I am not angered by its downfalls and failure to fulfill potential because only upon finishing it did I realise the only potential Biomega truly presented was that of a mindless unrelenting mixture of sci-fi, horror, and action. It delivers this exact goal, nothing more and nothing less. For that, I can only seek to recommend to others.