Battling Zombies Like It's 1994
Biomega shouldn’t be so much fun. The story sounds like a checklist of sci-fi cliches. Dystopian futureworld: been there. Corporations as evil overlords: yawn. Zombie apocalypse: what, again? A stoic good guy who wears black, rides a motorbike and…zzzz.
In spite of that, the book’s a blast, albeit one that’s brooding, gothicky and probably kind of emo. It’s definitely more fun than Legion.
Alongside the all-business, leather-clad hero, his wicked-awesome motorbike, big-freakin’-guns and holographic beauty/sidekick (embedded into his bike, no less), Biomega throws in a hefty portion of good old-fashioned cyberpunk (or whatever derivatives turn your po-mo crank; say, post-cyberpunk and splatterpunk), and mixes in elements of J-horror and epic sci-fi among the oozing and hungry zombies, butchery big-bads, and megacorporations pulling everyone’s strings.
Aaaand there’s a talking grizzly bear. With a gun. At this, my inner child squealed and applauded. Biomega could do no wrong.
The story is so familiar that a summary seems redundant. It isn’t aiming to deconstruct dystopian/cyberpunk/zombie-virus motifs. It’s the all-out embrace of the cliches, the skill with which they’re handled, and the enthusiasm for them that pushes this manga into the win column.
From the blurb on the back of the book: “Zoichi Kanoe, an agent of Toa Heavy Industry, is humanity’s last hope, and he’s not even human!... Zoichi’s search for the key to salvation will take him on a journey across surreal landscapes and hurl him into a battle against mind-bending evil.”
Nihei’s numerous works include a five-issue Wolverine story, and a tale in the Halo graphic novel. Biomega’s universe seems to be his favourite, as he returns to it consistently.
Except for two striking color plates at the start of Biomega, everything’s in black and white. Nihei’s passion for (and training in) architecture stands out: twisted cityscapes, strange corridors and gloriously gloomy structures feature prominently.
The talking bear is hard to top. Still, Nihei does it, and several times over (see for example the motorbike jump from the burning building, with the bear on the back—and that’s only a fragment of the crazy scene).
There are moments where the art is breathtaking, a sudden flash of Edward Gorey-style figures, say. Some parts are playfully surreal. Others are classic manga badassery.
These more than make up for overly-familiar aspects of the story: the motorbike and post-apocalyptic wasteland bringing Akira to mind, for example, or the zombie-virus-meets-corporate-domination plot, which could easily be the next Resident Evil storyline. It’s hard to get excited about those parts of the book.
However, whenever the tale feels stale, an incredible or surprising detail appears to jolt the story back to life. Most of all, there’s an excellent sense of pace. This story moves.
Straight-up action rules entire sets of pages, where the only texts are sound effects: Kla-Klank, vwhooooo, skweee, slssh, krssh, whump. It’s all forward action, bigger and boomier set pieces piling on to a satisfying cliffhanger.
A few weekends ago, The Matrix was on TV. Later, another channel played The Crow. Both movies brought to mind my 20s (and, okay, 30s). Biomega did the same thing. As tired as the tropes may be, it’s still fun to re-experience them when they’re done well.