Blame! Movie (2017): Does it do the manga justice?

Kuze looks at the film adaptation of the science fiction Blame! manga, concentrating his analysis on how it stacks up to the original material.
By Kuze, Oct 7, 2017 | |
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    Nihei Tsutomu 弐瓶勉 (b. 1971). Panel from Blame! (Shûeisha, 2002).

    Simply flipping through the pages, it’s nigh impossible not to be captivated by the illustrations alone. Blame!, undoubtedly one of Nihei’s standout works, is a manga I find myself fondly revisiting many a time. Be it the desolate, full-blown panels of futuristic structures and empty city levels intended to engender feelings of awe and dread in the reader’s mind or Killy’s no-nonsense commitment to blowing Exterminators to smithereens, Blame! has a lot going on in its seemingly impenetrable plot to fascinate your mind buds.

    So the news of an animated film did come as a surprise to me. Back in 2007, Micott and Basara, the production company behind the Appleseed films, had promised the same project before going bankrupt a couple of years later. Would Blame! be dealt the same hand again? What worried me even more was whether the film could accurately capture the aesthetics of the manga or not. Well, did it? Let’s find out.

    Maybe on Earth, Maybe in the Future


    Nihei Tsutomu弐瓶勉 (b. 1971). Panel from Blame!, (Shûeisha, 2002).

    It isn’t really easy to pen a brief account of Blame!. What the manga fundamentally represents is a society in decay where humans who’ve undergone different paths of evolution live out days of isolation and fear within “The City”. The City, or Base Reality, is a gargantuan Dyson sphere broken into levels by Megastructures. Humans living in these levels are hunted down by an independent program called the Safeguard. We also have the Silicon Life, a class of cyborgs intent on terminating both humans and Safeguards with the sole intent of establishing their rule in Base Reality and hack into the Netsphere (a new world order much like the Internet). But the manga tells the story from the viewpoint of Killy, an ancient technology that is in search of a human possessing Net-Terminal Genes which is the pre-determinate to accessing the Netsphere. The Net Terminal Gene is the key to bringing control of The City back to the humans and ending the crusade of the rogue Safeguards. Killy is armed with a GBE gun which is capable of generating high energy beams that can wreak devastation of unimaginable magnitudes. Sounds vaguely like the Matrix, doesn’t it? Well, to tell you the truth it’s a bit more complicated than what I just summed it up as. There is a lot more to Blame! and the only way to make sense of the “why”, “how” and “what does it all mean” questions is to read the manga.

    Decrypting the levels


    Nihei Tsutomu弐瓶勉 (b. 1971). Panel from Blame!, (Shûeisha, 2002).

    The movie decided to work on a more rudimentary part of the story, popularly known as the “Electrofishers arc”. To label it under Freytag’s pyramid, the arc would fall under the “rising action” act. It is the precursor to the Toha Heavy Industries storyline which, considering the entirety of the manga, is one of the highlights of Blame!. But Tsutomu Nihei decided to reshape key events so as to streamline proceedings coherently in accordance with the limited runtime of the film. Thus the significance of Cibo and Killy’s meeting gets downplayed. Themes regarding the deeper lore of Blame! is, for the most part, left unexplored. A lot of interesting incidents and information regarding the world that Blame! is built around are sidestepped so as to present a simplified plot which, for a newer audience, sounds understandable but fans of the source might feel hard done by. In any case, however, stark the difference, the movie achieves in depicting a compact, straightforward story while bypassing as much of the complicated, concomitant relations between the various factions of the Blame! universe. It compels its viewers to accept the given state of affairs without much explanation. For those not familiar with the source material, this approach is bound to raise a lot of questions in your head and maybe, just maybe, catch one’s fancy to pick up the manga.

    Haunting Megastructures

    Nihei Tsutomu 弐瓶勉 (b. 1971). Panel from Blame!, (Shûeisha, 2002).

    As far as Yuki Moriyama’s character designs are concerned, I’m personally satisfied with each of them. They were rendered quite accurately. It’s just how I imagined them to be while reading the manga. The Electrofishers and their combat suits were modeled to perfection. I expected Zuru to sport a more boyish look, but the issue seems too trivial to nitpick. As for the Exterminators, their deadly, expressionless faces and wild, unpredictable movements are what made them so terrifying in the manga. The movie portrays these harbingers of doom, intent on devouring all that breaths, to a tee. The City was animated beautifully. Compared to the manga’s grungy and dark artwork (with a superb eye for detail, no doubt), the film had a much “cleaner” look. Even so, I have my doubts as to whether Nihei’s style would have translated well when turned into moving pictures. Nonetheless, the structures, especially the factory and the watch-towers, were quite detailed.

    Nihei Tsutomu 弐瓶勉 (b. 1971). Panel from Blame!, (Shûeisha, 2002).

    I think Blame! deserved the atmospheric direction of the Texhnolyze series. The City of Blame! is in quite a few ways a reflection of the city of Lukuss from Texhnolyze. They echo similar ideas and mishaps. So I feel if the movie could have borrowed from the ambience of Texhnolyze, it would have been grittier and more apt in terms of representing the manga faithfully. Delving deeper into the personality of the characters, the overall development of Cibo and Killy were found wanting as a result of two minor issues. First would be the movement. While reading the first few volumes of the manga, I was under the impression that Killy was a human, mainly because his movement was so human-like. The same goes for Cibo (however Cibo’s inception in the manga dispelled that doubt). Both their movements were stiff and android-ish in the film. The second would be Cibo’s level of empathy. The movie paints a pretty cold and indifferent persona of Cibo. The voice actor did an especially good job of making the belief more prominent. I might be reading too much into it, but in the manga she seemed more compassionate. Despite that, I felt that most of the characters were engaging to watch.

    Cybernetic Nightmares

    Nihei Tsutomu 弐瓶勉 (b. 1971). Panel from Blame!, (Shûeisha, 2002).

    What the movie is sorely missing is a quintessential villain. Even though Sanakan lives up to the hype and delivers an explosive finale, Silicon Life is the one true evil of the Blame! universe. Yearning for the destruction of the Netsphere, they seek to assert their dominance over The City and access an unauthorized connection to the Netsphere. Silicon Life have these freaky, cyberpunk designs that make them look really intimidating. An encounter between Killy and Silicon Life usually entails a high-octane fight and massive destruction. They make the action really tick in the manga. So had the producers decided on a different arc which involved Silicon Life, I think the outcome would have been more intense. The movie could also have fared better if they’d invested a slightly larger chunk of the runtime into creating a more solid background as to the nature of the world and how it came to be. The manga doesn’t elucidate the matter right off the bat. On the contrary, it’s only when you’re deep into the story that you start to understand the various concepts and branched-out impacts that come into play in Blame!.

    Nihei Tsutomu 弐瓶勉 (b. 1971). Panel from Blame!, (Shûeisha, 2002).

    Considering that Nihei had the opportunity to repackage a part of the story for a newer audience, I was expecting them to go for a different approach and briefly shed light on the foundations of Blame! Nevertheless, I understand why they chose the alternative. The reasons behind the dawn of the current scenario of Blame is worthy of its own flick. So I see why the staff decided against diverging from the arc the movie focuses on. Another factor that I’d like to harp on is the presentation of the “Base Reality”. Base Reality has always been considered a Biopolis, a single living organism ever expanding as a result of the Builders. With its domineering Palladian-Gothic structures, Base Reality never felt like a city for its post-apocalyptic humans but the backbone of a Network where the humans were only subnature. This sense of vastness should have been better reproduced in the movie.

    Netsphere Transcendence

    Nihei Tsutomu 弐瓶勉 (b. 1971). Panel from Blame!, (Shûeisha, 2002).

    At the end of the entire hubbub, I feel Blame! 2017 is a decent gateway into the source material. Granted that it’s not as grim or cerebral as the manga but a more diluted version of it, the movie packs good action and characters into a technological dystopia of numerous threats and challenges, making it an interesting watch. The character CG animation was gorgeous (especially Cibo’s visual readings) while the background structures were missing that sense of claustrophobia and organic complexity of architectural space that is the hallmark of Nihei’s oeuvre. The finale where Killy and Sanakan crossed guns was the most entertaining sequence of the movie (the best boot to the face scene in anime) and it ensured a tight finish to a well-balanced plot. There were a few things the storyboard team could have done better/differently but they chose to keep the narrative dry and straightforward instead of attempting to be ambiguously philosophical.

    Nihei Tsutomu 弐瓶勉 (b. 1971). Panel from Blame!, (Shûeisha, 2002).

    Talks of a 2nd movie are in the pipes so fans should be encouraged that a more crucial arc might be selected for the sequel. With a darker, more surreal ambience and animation to boot, I believe the next film can do wonders in expressing the innate qualities of this masterpiece. So no, the movie doesn’t do the manga justice but it’s a promising start. As a fan I hope that the sequel, assuming we get one, delivers rather than blemishing the beauty of Blame!


    > Nihei Tsutomu and the Poetics of Space: Notes Toward a Cyberpunk Ecology
    > BLAME! Artbook translations! @ randomisgod

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  1. DamianWinters
    "Awesome review"
    I really liked the movie not knowing any of the source material, one of the best animated movies ive seen. I will have to try to remember to check out the manga since your review made it sound very good.
    Kuze likes this.
    1. Kuze
      Yeah, the manga is like an experience of its own. If you enjoy reading manga that makes you think what's going on in its panels combined with majestic artwork, then you should definitely check it out.


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