One of the biggest factors that keeps me invested in a manga is if it has a rich and well-thought-out world that pulls you in and immerses you in its story, and while a lot of manga have good world-building, few do it as well as Tsutomu Nihei's Blame!. For those of you who this is your first introduction to Blame!, the manga was first serialized back in 1997. Since then, Blame!'s manga has inspired an anime film, which is available to watch on Netflix now, and it was re-released in a new Master Edition format by Vertical in 2016.
Before I get into talking about the series, I first want to talk about Blame!'s creator Tsutomu Nihei, because he has made a name for himself not just in the manga world but beyond. He has influenced a number of other mangaka, including Tatsuki Fujimoto, who noted in a special message that Abara partially influenced his most popular work to date, Chainsaw Man. But, as mentioned earlier, his influence is far-reaching even extending out past the anime and manga sectors into other industries and media, such as video games.
There's no denying that Tsutomu Nihei has become a force, and while he has a lot of incredible works, including Knights of Sidonia, Biomega, Abara, and Aposimz, none of them have been quite as influential as Blame!. And while I enjoy all of his manga for different reasons, even after all of these years, it is still my favorite manga of his to date.
Part of the reason it's such a successful manga is because it has done something that few other have succeeded at, and that's tell a story primarily through its art. For a manga that has little dialogue to keep me completely invested and fully engrossed in its story is incredible. This isn't something that's easy to accomplish, but Tsutomu Nihei and Blame! did so with ease.
This isn't to say that Blame! doesn't have any narration or dialogue, because it does have some, but rather that in comparison to other manga, it has much, much less. Because of this, the story isn't necessarily given to you at all times and you are left to make up your own opinions, so if you don't pay attention, you may find yourself confused along the way. While Blame! isn't without flaws, because it can be rather vague at times, you are still given enough information over the course of the chapters to understand this world as well as the characters and their objectives.
Blame! is a story about Killy. He is making his way through this giant superstructure that is far bigger than we could ever imagine in search of something called the Net Terminal Gene. Over the course of his journey, he meets new allies and people, but he also comes across opposition from the Safeguard and the Silicon Life. There is of course more to this story, but I can only tell you this much, because I don't want to spoil anything for those of you who have yet to get into the series.
This description probably makes Blame!'s story sound like a simple one, but I promise it is much more complex. I also want to mention that just because Blame! has little narration, this doesn't mean it lacks direction. Even though you are left to make up your own interpretations at times over the course of the story, Blame! still has a driving narrative and that is given to us through Killy. Killy is in search of the Net Terminal Gene, and the basic gist of the story is that there are those out there who want to help him find it, but there are also those who want to stop him from finding it at all costs.
So if you ever find yourself getting confused while reading Blame!, just remember that this is the main objective of the story. And if you still feel confused after reading all of the volumes, definitely check out the prequel to Blame!, NOiSE, for some more insight and context.
I also want to say that even though I said that Blame! is left somewhat up to your interpretation, there is a point that some others have made about the series, that isn't 100% true in my opinion. When I read reviews or watch videos about Blame!, they sometimes say that it allows your imagination to run wild. But this isn't really the case. Yes, Blame! is a unique read that doesn't give you the full story at all times, which allows you to make your own theories, but you can only run so far with your imagination.
The reason I say this is because you are given enough information through our characters that will help you confirm or deny the theories you make along the way. Not everything is up to interpretation in this series, and by some saying it is, I worry that it will turn some people off from giving Blame! a shot.
I too want to note that when it comes to critical reviews of Blame!, I always see one common issue; They usually only comment on what Blame! doesn't do rather than what it does right. Blame! is not like your everyday, conventional manga, so as long as you go in with this knowledge and with an open mind, you will find it much more enjoyable to read.
In my opinion, there are two main reasons as to why Blame! is so successful: Tsutomu Nihei's world-building and his art. Blame! features some of the most incredible art I've ever seen in a manga. Not only does his art make you view manga panels differently, it makes you view manga as a whole differently as well. When we read manga, we often look at panels that mangaka have spent hours if not longer working on for mere seconds at times, but Tsutomu Nihei's manga pushes you to pay attention to all the details and to spend time looking at the pages.
His art is unlike anything I've seen before, and while it can come across as raw and messy in the beginning, he really hits his stride early on and you see him improve quickly. One of the things I really enjoy about his art is his use of negative space, which he uses to convey something like light or an explosion. But I also really enjoy his use of deep blacks, which he uses a lot in Blame! to convey the expanse of something like a cavern, tunnel, etc.
The architecture too is mind-blowing to witness, which makes sense given that he went to school for architecture, but he has an incredible eye when it comes to creating a world. There's many reasons as to why I enjoy his work so much, but it's his unique style that separates him the most from the rest.
Another reason I love the art in Blame! so much is because it's a lesson in perspective and scale. You really get the sense that the structure Killy is moving through is massive, because the locations he moves through on his journey are large as well. The way he shows scale with the characters also, whether be in comparison to one another or a structure, such as a bridge, is top-notch.
Whether it be Killy and Cibo hanging in the sky with a birds eye view of what’s below them or Killy walking over a bridge, every step of the way, the way he conveys the vastness or sheer size of this world and the perspectives he uses to show that in his art are just unbelievable and further immerse you in the story.
His character designs too are something to witness. While the portraits of his characters are rather simple, which some may or may not be a fan of, the outfits of the characters are incredibly detailed and intricate. The way he designed them further hones in the fact that Blame! is set in this dystopian, futuristic setting and the weapons, such as the Gravitational Beam Emitter, further add to the believability of this world.
Even though you don’t get much backstory about the characters, if any at all, you will still feel connected to them. Killy is a man of very few words and emotions, but this makes it more impactful when he says or feels something. There’s something about Killy that draws you in and you'll find yourself rooting and feeling for him. Cibo and Sanakan also provide a lot of depth and add a lot to the story. I also really enjoyed it when Dhomochevsky and Iko came into the picture, so there are a lot of interesting characters you'll meet over the course of the chapters.
I also want to talk about the designs of the Silicon life, because they are as breathtaking as they are horrifying. Sometimes I forget how terrifying these creatures are while reading because they are marvelous to look at, but when I stop to really look at them, they are the stuff of nightmares. Everything is subjective, but to me, Tsutomu Nihei's brand of horror is so effective and he’s amongst the best of the best. The designs of the Silicon Life in particular also sometimes remind me of H.R. Giger’s art, the artist behind Alien universe, and that's a huge compliment.
Tsutomu Nihei is a master at what he does and there’s just something truly sinister about the way that Silicon Life in particular look and the feeling you get as Killy’s making his way through this dark and cold world. Blame! was the first manga to prove to me that a story doesn't always have to be told with words, but that it can be done through art instead. It's a really unique read and one that I highly recommend all manga collectors, no matter what you are fan of, check out, because there's no other series quite like it.
Right now, the individual volumes of Blame! are out of print. If you want to learn more about out of print series, check out our out of print manga guide. You can, however, pick up the Blame! Master Editions now if you are looking to get into the series!
Also for those of you who aren't aware, Figurama made a statue of Killy, so be sure to check that out too if you are interested!