The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?The artificial planet APOSIMZ went through a civil war fifty centuries before the start of the story. Now some people attempt to survive on the planet's inhospitable surface, fighting not only the elements, but each other and the original core faction the people rebelled against.
Some humans have the ability to become “frames,” people whose skeletonized bodies can don armor and flesh in order to better fight and survive. When Etherow's colony is attacked and a strange AI called Titania appears, he attempts to become a frame in order to not only survive, but to break the hold that the upper classes have on the people of APOSIMZ.
Is It Worth Reading?
The chief issue with Tsutomu Nihei (of Knights of Sidonia fame)'s latest science fiction epic is that it's kind of difficult to get a feel for what's really going on. The volume opens with a statement that fifty centuries previous to the story we're about to read, there was some kind of rebellion against something called “the core” on an artificial planet, and our tale is about to deal with the on-going results of that. Why there was a rebellion doesn't necessarily matter, but there's not quite enough detail about who our plucky hero Etherow is or what exactly it means for someone to become a “frame.” It's entirely possible that these things are meant to unfold organically as the story progresses, which is perfectly acceptable from a craft standpoint, but it also makes this volume feel needlessly confusing.
If you're the sort of patient reader who like that sort of thing, Nihei does it well. We do get to know Etherow over the course of the book, to understand not just his own drive to survive, but his investment in what remains of humanity on the planet's surface. He's not alone in this, as we find out towards the end of the volume, but he is in the minority, as years of in-fighting between what appears to be social classes has led some people to give in to their avarice. Thus he, and Titania, the creepy-looking little AI thing he rescues, are positioned as the heroes of the people, although just what that will entail is uncertain.
Nihei's art is almost blindingly white, with very little gray or black space to be found. That works in creating a feeling of snow-blindness such as Etherow might be experiencing, but it is also kind of hard on the eyes. The frames – whether full or diseased – are definitely nightmare fuel, and their zombie-like shuffle makes for an interesting disconnect between their appearances and the fact that some of them are intended to be the good guys. The whole “placenta” thing does seem to be taken literally (frames are powered by them), which raises a few uncomfortable questions about what exactly happens when women give birth on APOSIMZ, because there's some clear imagery of fully-grown Etherow walking around with an uncut umbilical cord and attached placenta.
APOSIMZ isn't for me, but fans of more open-ended science fiction and slowly unfolding stories should find it appealing. If you enjoyed Knights of Sidonia's manga, this feels like a worthy successor to it.
APOSIMZ relies on a lot of elements from generic dystopian sci-fi—the reluctant hero, the wizened mentor, the loss of “home”—but it nonetheless manages to combine these tropes into a satisfying plot. By volume's end, Etherow has experienced several stages of character growth, though his taciturn nature may make him a smidge less relatable than the typical everyman hero. While the exact details of this world's conflict are still somewhat vague, Nihei manages to show rather than tell, to first introduce how difficult survival is in this world and then interrupt that daily grind with a larger quest on which the fate of the world hangs.
There's a distinct visual element to APOSIMZ that sets it apart from many other manga, a lightly-inked, barely-shaded style that lends it a dreamlike quality. For the most part, the art works in its favor, demonstrating once again that Nihei has a flair for making manga stand out on visuals alone. Even though the human designs aren't particularly unique, the Frames' skeletal transformation sequences are impressive, as is Titania's slightly cat-like skeletal form. While Nihei doesn't shy away from the violence of the story, it's never too detailed or grotesque, while at the same time it never shys away from the world's brutality.
Well-paced and beautiful to look at, APOSIMZ is off to an intriguing start. While the ashen art style and barren terrain making up the setting may make the volume seem somewhat sleepy and ethereal, there's enough character development and plot progression that the reader feels invested by volume's end.
APOSIMZ is another series by Tsutomu Neihei, a popular mangaka most famous for his extremely detailed, well-defined dystopian vistas and his penchant for hard sci-fi body horror. APOSIMZ certainly has that in spades, but I feel like there's no other appeal. APOSIMZ's world-building, one of the most crucial aspects of this kind of sci-fi, is a cross between exposition dumps and the more naturalistic, immersion-based style of slow reveals that didn't work for me at all. Characters will randomly state names and places without any indication of what these things are; nothing visual or in the words themselves. There's a way to ground the reader such that they share the perspective of their protagonist and are naturally inclined to learn things about the world as they remark upon them, but since here that grounding humanity is absent (all the characters are cyphers meant to rack up a body count to justify the main character's quest for vengeance), learning about the world is a lot more difficult. In APOSIMZ, the in medias res approach does a disservice to reader investment, as without a clearly defined world and stakes behind the constant technobabble, the technobabble comes off as context-free.
But more galling than its lack of an emotional core (hard sci-fi is a genre with a reputation for being somewhat cold and obtuse) is its lack of a philosophical core. APOSIMZ is a super basic vengeance narrative. The evil empire who massacres the main character's people in the first chapter has no social parallels or commentative aspects beyond cookie-cutter tropes copy-pasted from Star Wars. All the extraneous world-building seems to have no significance beyond scene-setting. One of the great things about science fiction is how it uses speculative constructs to reflect social trends and emotional truths. APOSIMZ seems to have no interest in that at all. I'm honestly inclined to say it works on barely any level.
APOSIMZ feels incredibly sterile and bored. The world-building is barely defined, the speculative aspect of its premise is barely explored at all, and even Nihei's trademark visual flair is lacking. The paneling is mostly just talking heads droning on and on, and the washed-out visual palette meant to replicate the ice planet on which the story takes places comes off as unfinished. It's just not that interesting, which is sad for an artist as dynamic as Nihei.
In a future where people must live on a distant artificial planet, the people of APOSIMZ struggle to survive. Left behind on the planet's shell after being outlawed from its core, humans must deal with extreme cold, a zombie-like disease called Frame, and ruthless automatons that kill for sport. Etherow, the sole-survivor of an automaton attack must team up with Titania, a friendly automaton who holds seven mysterious and powerful bullets that may just change the fate of APOSIMZ.
Written by manga legend Tsutomu Nihei, APOSIMZ is simultaneously being published at the same time as the original Japanese chapters. Available through multiple services, this first volume only holds the first three chapters (or issues, as they're labeled on Comixology), but it's still the length of a typical first volume, packed with information and character interaction.
APOSIMZ has a very intricate plot, where not all is revealed in the first volume and is very much a page turner. There are secrets that have yet to be revealed and rules and guidelines for how Frames work that have yet to be explained. Nihei's style of delicate lines truly makes this work beautiful and impactful, creating an intricate and deeply impressive experience. This is an improvement in every sense compared to Abara – also reviewed in this guide - which left something to be desired.
Between the gradual world building, a mysterious set of protagonists, and dialogue with depth, APOSIMZ Volume 1 is a strong start to a manga that may become a new sci-fi classic.
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