Review

by Carlo Santos, Nov 10th 2010

Biomega

GN 4

Synopsis:
Biomega GN 4
The insidious DRF organization has all but fulfilled its plan to take over Earth, with its leader Niarudi releasing the Reverse Morphic Polymer—an alien organism that swallows up everything in its path. However, one hope remains for survival: gun-toting motorcyclist Zoichi and the young girl in his care, Eon Green, whose mysterious biological makeup has the power to thwart Niarudi's scheme. By the time Eon enters the fray, however, it is already too late, as the Reverse Morphic Polymer has all but turned the planet into a seed of its own destruction ... and re-creation. After the smoke clears, Zoichi finds himself in a strange new world, the result of Niarudi and Eon's psychic battle of wills. What is even stranger, though, is that in a future populated by cyborgs and genetically modified monstrosities, Zoichi meets two people who claim to be ... purebred humans?
Review:

Sometimes, to make a story stand out, you have to blow up the world.

Which is pretty much what happens in Volume 4 of Biomega.

If science fiction is where big ideas go to play, then few ideas are bigger than what Tsutomu Nihei unleashes in this volume. Maybe now he can be forgiven for the dross of Biomega's earlier volumes, built upon tired old genre tropes like mind-eating viruses and cyborg zombies and bounty-hunting bikers. Even worse was the overflow of jargon words and forgettable characters, some of which still linger here as they watch the world crumble. But with the stunning turnaround that happens midway through this book, Nihei grants himself a reprieve, creating a new setting and a new story which perhaps was the one he wanted to tell in the first place.

Getting to that dramatic point, however, still requires sitting through some post-apocalyptic space opera drivel. The DRF/crazy-virus/world-domination nonsense reaches its peak here, made almost intelligible when Fuyu (the AI personality inside Zoichi's motorbike) has a conversation that explains the back story once and for all. Never mind trying to keep track of Niarudi and Narein and Nebuchadnezzar and whoever else; all that matters now is that there's just enough plot structure to set off the grand finale of this arc. And what a finale it is, with Zoichi racing up a trans-orbital column to reach a space station, the Reverse Morphic Polymer (read: big monstrous THING) eating up the path behind him, and the sheer panic of a bona fide End of the World.

What really makes this mid-series transformation stand out is that it uses the "bad ending" of a doomsday scenario to such dazzling effect. Instead of our hero saving the world, he watches it fall apart—or, to describe it more accurately, a planet-sized alien germinates the Earth and makes a new baby. (See, told you this was all about big ideas. Cellular biology on a galactic scale? Madness.) Then, as Zoichi emerges from the chaos, one can feel the entire storyline exhaling in relief: the crazy organization names and pseudo-scientific terms are gone, and we can all start over with a lone adventurer exploring a desolate world. Which is what Nihei does best anyway, as can be seen in the glorious, mysterious closing chapters of this volume—almost as if to say, "Yeah, sorry about goofing on the first story arc. Let's try something new." Thank goodness.

One thing Nihei does not have to apologize for, though, is his artistic ability, which continues to be the series' strong point. While some of the action scenes in the book's first half suffer from the same problems as the plot—what's going on in this loud, messy panel and who are these characters again?—things soon clear up once the storyline goes into apocalypse mode. As the alien entity consumes the planet in all its horrific, page-spanning glory, it's clear that Nihei works best as a landscape-and-background artist rather than a character artist. Indeed, the characters are often the weakest part of the art, limited mostly to sad-eyed lookalikes with fashion-catalog haircuts. It's in the later chapters, with Zoichi exploring the new world's nooks and crannies and meeting strange creatures, that the series is at its most convincing: a panorama of Individual versus Nature (or at least a very warped version of it), infused with grit and shadow and visions the human mind can scarcely imagine.

With that kind of artistic firepower, it should be no surprise that the series stays low-key on verbiage—whenever the characters speak to each other, it's usually to convey barely enough information to move the plot forward. The only genuinely wordy scenes come when the back story to the whole series is revealed, and it's here that the high concept and jargon words can be a real challenge (not to mention a translator's nightmare). Fortunately, the rest of this volume lets the pictures tell the story, along with the sound effects, which despite being adapted into English do a fair enough job of matching the fonts to the visual style.

In the end, the flaws of Biomega are not entirely erased by blowing up the world. Enjoying this volume still requires a certain tolerance for Tsutomu Nihei's idiosyncrasies, from the taciturn, expressionless characters, to the sometimes-confusing action sequences, to the storyline that is either an incomprehensible mess (in the first half) or still vague and adrift (in the second half). Readers who can withstand those rough edges, though, will be treated to another two hundred pages of eye-popping, mind-boggling visuals and a Big Idea to beat all the other Big Ideas in the futuristic, post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk realm. After all, who hasn't dreamed of having the power to change the world? Now see what happens when it takes place literally.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B-
Story : C-
Art : A

+ Pulls a daring move in the middle chapters that totally changes where the series is headed and brings out the best in the artist.
Has to finish off the previous story arc packed with confusing plot threads, forgettable characters, and incomprehensible science talk.

Story & Art:Tsutomu Nihei

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Biomega (manga)

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Biomega (GN 4)

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