The Cyberpunk Cities of Tsutomu Nihei’s Blame!

Walk along, and you’re six hundred foot under Manhattan. You’re at approximately 30th street or something. You’re in the middle of the greatest city in the world. Nobody even knows you exist. Nobody has a f-. Nobody has a clue. It’s just… It’s just… Beautiful. — A sandhog, on water tunnels1

Tsutomu Nihei Blame

Sometimes, in the dead of night, I would go on long runs. I had been doing so for years. Back when I still lived in Palo Alto, I had two favorite routes that I still recall vividly. One is through the suburban streets, passing by piles of leaves and urban forestry, among the modern-traditional McMansions, Tudor homes, and Bohemian backyards. The second runs along the highway, bordered by endless panels of noise barriers on one side and an expansive desolate marshland on the other.

Tsutomu Nihei Blame

Tsutomu Nihei Blame

Tsutomu Nihei Blame

These days, I run mostly in Taipei. The city is a mishmash of highrises, old and new, run-down metal housing, temples, and skyscrapers. On a typical night, I might run along the river embankment and catch my breath at the derelict amusement park. Or I could run the other direction, ascend the hundred-twenty steps, to the temple atop the hill.

Tsutomu Nihei Blame

Tsutomu Nihei Blame

Almost always, I would go out after midnight, often closer to three or four in the morning when there are a mere few sleepwalkers and slumberers and the true sleepless on the streets. I enjoy the isolation the city offers at this hour. The acoustic sound of a distant car; the occasional grotesque truck lined with hung carcasses of flayed whole pigs; and the strays that hide themselves in the daytime and the recluse who feeds them—there is an otherworldliness to the city. There is also an intimacy in owning those odd encounters.

Tsutomu Nihei Blame

Tsutomu Nihei Blame

Those are the feelings the immersive cyberpunk world of Tsutomu Nihei inspires. Filled with architectural marvels, his mangas read like art books. The story—what little exposition readers might gather—is secondary to his art. Pages and full spreads of Brutalist structures, tech-noir and Gothic elements, and layers upon layers of indecipherable blocks and sewer pipes and Escheresque stairs, Blame! and Biomega present complex cityscapes at near unimaginable scales. They are devoid of most life, except for the rare pockets of civilization. And us, the lone protagonist and the reader. We aimlessly explore their corners and crevices. We alone appreciate the beauty.

Tsutomu Nihei Blame

Fictional versions of futuristic urban life has largely changed: from a gritty dystopia to a sterile augmented society. The protagonist has shifted from an outsider adrift in a desolate world to one who is hyperconnected to the infrastructure.2 An idea remains constant though: the loneliness of living in the city. The loneliness that is especially emphasized by the grandiose and busyness of a large metropolis. I matter not in the face all that is happening and all that have been built. Oddly, however, I find comfort in being unnoticed. Forgotten.

1. Abumrad, Jad and Robert Krulwich. “Cities.” Radiolab. WNYC Radio. 8 October, 2010. Web. 30 October, 2016.
2. Person, Lawrence. “Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto.” Slashdot. 9 OCT 9, 1999.  Originally published in Nova Express, issue 16 (1998).

3 thoughts on “The Cyberpunk Cities of Tsutomu Nihei’s Blame!

  1. Being bored to death (*and a bit disappointed by the end of “Kyoukai no Kanata”. Sorry for an off-topic stuff.), about a week ago I revisited my “Watch Later” list on (russian analogue of MAL). And all of a sudden I saw the title “Knights of Sidonia” there.
    I knew I had already bookmarked it earlier, but I couldn’t remember why did I actually put it on hold in the first place. So I watched the first 4 episodes, and got instantly hooked up on SnK. That was the night I knew: I’m going to absolutely love it!

    Finished it in a few days, and then binge-watched S02. Later upon completing it and before giving it a score I looked up for user reviews, and to my surprise people there complained a lot about Season 2 saying it was much worse than Season 1.
    I shrugged, as I completely disagreed on many, many things people blamed the creators for. (*No pun intended.)

    Needless to say, how disgusting it was to read the naughty comments about you-know-who and her you-know-what. ‘Cause to me Tsumugi felt like that small but extremely important cast that helped SnK becoming as perfectly balanced (and diverse!) as possible (which I’d describe as the “mecha action+horror/ thriller+minor bits of cozy-warm slice of life” formula).

    Then I delved deep into Nihei’s works, beginning with Abara. As I read it through, the huge urge to rewatch Season 2 grew inside me, and I did so minutes later after finishing the last volume of Abara. This time I tried to be more “objective” (more like “nitpicky”, to be honest) seeking for the things people hated about S02 the most, purposefully looking for weak spots and unnecessary creators’ decisions which led all those people into hating the whole Season 2 altogether.
    Yet again, I found none, though I did notice some moments that made zero sense (or left little to no impact on story/ lore/ char progression whatsoever) from time to time. But these couldn’t change my final decision on re-confirming (again!) a rock-solid 10/10 (meaning I haven’t change the initial 10 score I gave it upon the very 1st, emotional-packed, viewing).

    And so I fell in love with the stuff made by Nihei for good and all. I remember how I postponed watching/ reading “BLAME!” once — for reasons, including time constraints, — but now I just can’t get enough of his works, as I’m infinitely liking everything he made/ is doing.

    P.S. Of course I wouldn’t give 10/10’s to all the Nihei’s works. E.g., NOiSE & Abara both (besides being stunningly drawn mangas) feel good, but clearly do not deserve “10/10”, — and it’s fine, 10/10 was never the “ultimate score” to me, I still love many animes, movies and books which aren’t 10 score worthy, yet they manage to captivate me, to make me think of meaningful things, and hold a special place in my heart. I adore Nihei’s art style and narrative, as well as complex narratives and themes he addresses.

    Thank you for bringing up T. Nihei’s works here! This is truly an excellent reading that touches upon both personal experience (thoughts, ideas and emotions) & Nihei’s signature art, architecture and cyberpunk motives!

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