Tsutomu Nihei is a creator who has been moving ever closer to the mainstream over the course of his career. Looking at his multi-volume series, you get the feeling that after he was fully able to indulge his artistic impulses in “BLAME!” Nihei viewed creating a series with mass appeal as a real challenge to overcome. Which is how we got the more coherent yet still deeply weird “Biomega” after that and then “Knights of Sidonia,” his most successful grab at the big brass ring yet. “Sidonia” started off as a conventional humans vs. aliens series with mecha elements but showed that the mangaka hadn’t abandoned all of his weird, violent, and violently weird impulses.
Now the print edition of Nihei’s latest ongoing series, “Aposimz,” has arrived and I’m feeling the strangest sense of deja vu as I’m reading it. It’s an opening volume that strikes the same (mostly) conventional notes that “Sidonia” did in its first outing. So I’m ultimately left hoping that it’ll become as interesting as that series did over the course of its run.
“Aposimz” is the name of the place where the series takes place. It’s an artificial celestial body 120,000 kilometers in diameter. There was a war fifty centuries ago that saw a great many people expelled from the structure’s core and forced to live on its cold, unforgiving surface. The people living on the surface face a hard life from the elements, gathering food from the biological growths on pipes, and the frame disease which turns people into zombie-like automatons.
Most people apparently live in small communities on the surface and the series begins by following one of their scout parties as they’re on a resource-gathering mission. It’s all going according to plan until the group’s leader, Etherow, spots some airspeeders from the Rebedoan Empire chasing a flying girl. While Etherow wants everyone to hide from them, one of the younger and more excitable members of the group, Eo, jumps out and tries to save the girl. Etherow’s sniping abilities save the day, leaving them with the girl’s transformed small automaton body, a device known as a “code,” and some mysterious bullets.
Etherow is worried that this incident will draw Rebedoa’s attention and ire, and after relating this information to the village leader the decision is made for everyone to pack up and leave the next day. Which the community manage to do without incident and the rest of the volume follows the many wacky hijinks they have on their journey to their new home… JUST KIDDING! The Rebedoan army shows up just as you’d expect and murders nearly everyone in the village. Those of you expecting “Aposimz” to break the storytelling mold will likely be thoroughly disappointed by this and how the rest of the volume plays out. Much of the plot developments play out as you’d expect from a series that borrow liberally from the playbooks of shonen and post-apocalyptic adventures.
What gives me hope for the series, and what sets it apart from other series with this kind of setup, is its protagonist. Reading through the opening chapter, it really felt that Eo was being flagged as the main character for the series since he’s got that boundless enthusiasm and willingness to disregard the rules that every notable shonen hero has. He also comes across as teeth-gratingly annoying in the subdued context of this series. So I was really happy to find out that Etherow was actually the protagonist here. Usually older and competent mentor types like him are flagged for a quick death in stories like this. That his near-death experience proves to be… transformative for him does give me reason to be optimistic about the overall direction of the series. If nothing else it’s more fun to see a quiet and calculating leader take on the challenges in front of him than an obnoxious loudmouth like Eo.
More promising still are the little flashes of weirdness and horror that peek through this first volume’s sheen of conventionality. There’s a panel which shows a human head after being impacted with a girder to highlight the awfulness of what’s to follow. Characters in the settlement are dispatched with ruthless, uncaring efficiency in the Rebedoan assault. Etherow’s new skeletal body sells the idea that he’s no longer human in an unsettling way, even if he’s able to grow new “flesh” to cover it up. Oh, and there’s even some bathroom humor about how food has to be processed for Etherow before he can eat it. These bits don’t make up a substantial portion of the manga, but I’m glad they’re here nonetheless since they give the otherwise very conventional story some character.
It’s also worth noting that Nihei is continuing to pursue the stripped-down style he demonstrated in “Sidonia” with “Aposimz.” In fact, his artwork is looking even more reminiscent of Miazaki’s seminal work in “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.” Though this what Nihei’s current style reminds me of, he’s not in the same league as the master. Nihei doesn’t go in for the same level of detail as even his most detailed scenes have a kind of minimalist feel to them. As if he was trying to convey the necessary level of mechanical density to make a scene work and no more. His action scenes are also spare and functional, getting the job done with a minimum of fuss but also a minimum of invention as well. Overall, Nihei’s style still maintains a certain uniqueness even as he moves further away from his more distinctive work in “BLAME!” and “Biomega.”
I enjoyed “Aposimz” well enough that I’ll pick up the next volume when it comes out. Yet it’s a little disappointing that Nihei has chosen to start off his latest series by hewing so closely to convention yet again. You’d think that after doing exactly that with his previous series he’d be a bit more comfortable with shaking the established narrative up in his current one. Now I’m just left with hoping that his choice of protagonist in “Aposimz” winds up making it as interesting a journey as “Sidonia” wound up being.