I confess and preface this manga review by saying that I have never read any of Tsutomu Nihei‘s manga, even while knowing of his reputation as one of the most popular science fiction mangaka to date.
I don’t consider myself to be a fan of the science fiction genre, especially when it comes to anime or manga. But with having read the first chapter of APOSIMZ, I appreciate how it isn’t like the science fiction mecha anime/manga series (that I tend to watch) involving giant robots, giant robots flying through the sky or in space, giant robot fight scenes and a pretty female character who sings beautifully.
…You can probably take a guess at which mecha series I do watch
with my trash taste.
Crunchyroll describes APOSIMZ as a story about a city built upon a mysterious device from the distant past where humankind is plagued with a disease that slowly turns them into machines or “frames.”
APOSIMZ first appeared as a one-shot titled Ningyou no Kuni (which is translated into English, Country of Dolls) in Kodansha’s Weekly Young Magazine in May 2016. According to Crunchyroll, this one-shot was the first time Nihei published in said-manga magazine since his work, Biomega. The series was first serialized in Shounen Sirius in Fenruary 2017 and is available to read digitally on comiXology, Crunchyroll and Kindle. The series is ongoing at eighteen chapters.
One thing about the first chapter that I’d like to point out is Nihei’s focus on the environment of his story. In an Evening magazine 2016 interview, Nihei stated that he began working in the construction industry after completing his high school studies and worked as a part-timer for a design firm. With these experiences as sources of influence for the details in his artwork, Nihei said that he is able to draw structures without any references due to how he learned how extremely tall buildings were constructed. Nihei also stated in an interview with AnimeNewsNetwork back in 2016 that he prefers narratives exploring the environments of the author’s imagination.
The only thing that I can say about Nihei’s environments is that his skill and attention to detail in creating backdrops illustrating the bleakness of a futuristic world are amazing. His artwork compliments the theme of human survival and struggle in what feels like a harsh post-apocalyptic environment.
The human character designs appear as if they all have the same face but Nihei’s designs for the non-human characters are interesting. The frames are drawn in unsettling body horror with their human features slowly being transformed into robotic skeletons.
Reading the first chapter of APOSIMZ, Nihei seems like the type of author who writes stories where you know that you cannot by any means become attached to any of the characters he creates because they have short life spans. Despite the brief cameos of secondary characters, the first chapter makes me care enough about them before their untimely deaths. With the first portion of the chapter dedicated to showcasing the colony’s daily life and the members of the colony, we get a sense of who everyone is.
For example, Eo seems like your typical shounen lead character who desires to take part in a grand adventure. Impulsive and willing to help those in need, he runs across the desert in the beginning of the first chapter in order to save a mysterious girl (Titania) from her enemies (the Rebedoa Empire who are the manga’s antagonists), despite being totally defenseless.
Nihei’s decision to not hesitate in illustrating the brutal deaths befalling the minor characters made me wince. They don’t involve a lot of bloodshed and gore but the scenes depicted on the pages either reveal a horrific corpse crushed by debris or a relatively quick death by a laser gun.
As a main character, Etherow appears strong physically and mentally. He leads his small band to scavenge the area for food and strikes down his enemies quickly with his sharpshooting ability.
He appears stoic in personality, never wasting his words with small talk but is ready to sacrifice himself for others when he suggests to accept the code (a rare item shaped like a red bullet that causes a person to transform into a frame; it is an item that the Rebedoa Empire desires) from Titania.
When Etherow watches as his colony is destroyed by the Rebedoa Empire, it seems as if he doesn’t showcase any human emotion. However, his emotional responses are subdued or hidden to suggest that as a leader, he internalizes his emotions so that he can remain logical and objective in his decisions. Etherow was affected by the death of one of his students. Although his facial expression is nuanced, his hand trembles in what I can assume is sadness, frustration and/or helplessness.
To contrast his quiet character, Titania is a helpful guide to understanding how his new non-human body works. She is also on a mission to protect the codes from the Rebedoa Empire. She is a logical thinker, telling Etherow to escape rather than face on the enemy with little knowledge of his new powers.
That is pretty much all I’ve gleaned from the first chapter.
The name Titania also belongs to a character in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, who was the queen of all fairies. With her character design, I find the name influenced her outfit. Titania appears delicate and fairy-like with ribbons tied in her hair and a skirt that looks like long petals attached to a tight bodice.
The code’s potential to create the placenta (or body armour) designed to look like humanoid insects is fun. A frame is also granted special powers for combat.
The pacing of Nihei’s story allows the reader to experience the horrors and sadness Etherow goes through without the mystery factor with the use of flashbacks. It’s straightforward and quicker to develop the plot. It chooses not to go for a dramatic reveal of important information that would slow down the narrative.
The action sequences in the first chapter are drawn cleanly. The fight between Yuyi (the antagonist of this chapter) and Etherow at the climax felt like something from a shounen anime with their stand-off posing moments in a single panel. I think the added detail of seeing things from Etherow’s perspective in some panels as a first-shooter video game screen is a cool detail because it’s a reminder that he is no longer human but rather a machine weapon.
The chapter’s conclusion made sense although it may feel like a cheap cliffhanger ending. The reason why is that Etherow needed to survive his ordeal before facing off Yuyi again is that he requires time to fully understand and know how to control his new body, hence (spoiler alert) the plotline had Etherow throw himself off a cliff to do so.
As someone who is new to Tsutomu Nihei’s work, I found that the concept of living dolls as an irreversible illness was interesting. There was not a lot to go on considering this is only the first chapter to this ongoing series. Etherow is a decent lead character with his subtle emotional reactions and Titania seems like she’ll be the more talkative and upbeat member of their duo.
I’m not sure if I’ll continue to read the series but I will definitely check out Tsutomu Nihei’s older and completed works.
Besides, a friend of mine urged me to start reading Blame! because I need it in my life.