The Denizens of Dystopia – Blame!

blame!I’ve never seen a manga quite like Blame! I say ‘seen’ as very little dialogue appears in the first volume and the story is told by following the gritty, industrial-style artwork panel by panel.

Manga Title: Blame!
Tsutomu Nihei
Cyberpunk, horror, action

The tale begins in the setting of ‘The City’; little is known about it at first except for that it is a vast construction with innumerable levels going upwards and downwards for thousands of floors. Our protagonist, going simply by ‘Killy’, travels through this massive place searching for Net Terminal Genes, which are not explained in this part of the manga except that they seem to be present in certain people and allow access to what Killy’s refers to as the ‘Net’.


The City

His quest takes him deep into the twisted, nightmarish passages and caverns of The City, where he encounters its various denizens upon the way.


Denizens of The City

Of particular note is the weapon that Killy uses in his quest, a handgun which is called a ‘Gravitational Beam Emitter’. This handgun has incredible destructive power, being able to kill almost all the creatures Killy encounters while at the same time devastating buildings in its range of fire. How he came across the gun or its limitations aren’t revealed yet, but a quick glance at volume two showed me they would be in future.


Shooting a cyborg

Pencil Sketch:
The main character Killy is the only one to receive much attention, but information about him is scarce except for his purpose and the extraordinary weapon he has. His personality comes across as somewhat psychotic at times; in one part he deliberately incites the cyborgs he meets and acts with what appears to be a disregard for his own life.

He reacts amiably towards humans when he does encounter them, and even gets angered when he sees how some of the beings in The City are being mistreated.

Blame! is populated with potential side characters that do not come to the foreground in volume one. Killy seldom remains with characters long enough for any development to take place, though I’m sure that’ll change as the series continues. A character he meets in the second chapter, with only an upper torso for a body (the rest being cybernetic parts) and a pet dog, may have a recurring role.

In one scene Killy passes the dead body of a boy to this unknown character and she/he in turn passes on information to Killy about unknown life forms that have been detected thousands of floors above.


Killy and mystery character

Blame! is definitely not intended to be read in the way one might be used to with manga. Reading it is a jarring, dizzy experience like an epileptic roller-coaster ride. The pictures tell the story, and the art is technological and gloomy – giving the impression of being after a catastrophic event. That being said, the art itself is something I am in awe of. The architecture of The City is immense in its scope, and drawn in detail by Nihei with wires, pipes, cables and organic life forms festering from the walls and stretching out into the distance above. It’s easy to see how much Nihei labored over his creation.


Intense detail

The action is nail-biting and graphic. Gory battles smear across the pages in between the mechanized, apocalyptic backgrounds. Human, half human and inhuman inhabitants of the city emerge from nooks and crannies, all making this a manga that’s not for the fainthearted. In all I was glued to the pages for the first volume; my eyes were burnt into the macabre scenery and I couldn’t help but follow Killy’s bloody path as he makes his way toward an almost impossible goal.

Blame is one of Nihei’s most popular works, especially in Germany where he’s said to have a large fanbase. I looked up this title due to my fascination with Sidonia no Kishi (Knights of Sidonia) – a currently airing adaption of Nihei’s manga – and am thoroughly enjoying adventuring into the roots of where this talented and unique artist came from.


The Homeless God – Noragami

noragamiDue to the popular anime series Noragami needs no introduction, and whether you’re wanting to try the manga fresh or after having watched the anime, you won’t be disappointed.

Manga Title: Noragami
Mangaka: Adachi Toka
Genres: Supernatural, adventure, romance
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard:
The first thought that comes to my mind when thinking of Japanese gods is a temple, however that’s the one thing that our homeless god Yato lacks. Calling himself a delivery god (he’s definitely faster than any earthly deliveryman), Yato has dreams of making it big in the god industry by raking in a horde of followers and erecting a massive temple.



To accomplish this he scrawls his number all over the place – even toilet walls – in the hopes of landing a case. His messages go unseen by most people except those in dire need or those with spiritual sight. He accepts jobs of all descriptions, from fixing faucets to solving complications with spirits, all for the price of five yen (a common amount given when praying at shrines in Japan).

One day he and his helper, a woman going by the name Tomone, are called by a suicidal girl who needs their help, having been bullied and mistreated by her classmates. Yato points out that the girl’s problems, compounded with the general bad atmosphere created by the tension of taking exams, have summoned what he refers to as the Ayakashi (phantoms).



The Ayakashi are creatures from the other side that roam the spiritual realm and are still able to have an affect on humans. They are attracted to living beings emitting a similar dark energy, referred to as ‘gloom’, and can influence them. In some cases this can cause the affected people to behave strangely or even lead to their death.

Yato decides to take care of the Ayakashi with the assistance of Tomone, who turns into his regalia called a ‘shinki’ (a spiritual weapon), on command. Tomone can become a shinki shaped like a dagger and cut through the ghost-like flesh of the Ayakashi. Using Tomone, he slices the phantom up, obliterating it.

noragamiTomone parts with Yato after resolving the girl’s case, refusing to be his shinki anymore. Yato once again wanders about, indulging in delusions of becoming powerful. He takes on another job to rescue a lost cat given to him by a child who is able to see his spiritual graffiti within a phone book. Whilst searching for the creature, Yato comes across a girl who will become an important part of his life – Hiyori Iki.


Hiyori Iki

Hiyori is a high-school student from a wealthy family; she spots Yato as he carelessly crosses the road pursuing the cat and unwittingly runs in front of a bus. Attempting to save him, Hiyori leaps to push him out the way, only to be hit by the bus herself. Her bravery was hardly necessary as Yato has no real physical form so to speak, however she is injured by the accident and temporarily jolted from her body.


Soul slipped

Unknown to her she has now become a borderline walker (called a hanyou) – one who can traverse between both sides of life and death, yet is fortunate enough to still have a physical body. Recovering consciousness in a hospital, she thinks it was all a dream until Yato comes to her, telling her what happened. She follows him, and discovers that far from only being able to leave her body, she is even able to tackle Ayakashi in the spiritual realm.


Jungle savate

Hiyori begs Yato to return her to normal, which he takes as a formal request from her, but he claims he’s unable to start until he gains possession of a new shinki. Thinking to help Yato, Hiyori searches about for a lost soul to become Yato’s shinki. After a dangerous run-in with a malicious Ayakashi, Yato comes across a  recently deceased spirit and decides to turn it into his shinki.



The soul belongs to a teenage boy; Yato names him Yukine and in his regalia form his name is Sekki – a long, beautiful white blade. Yukine seems far from impressed with Yato, showing disdain for him straight away. Like it or not, all three of their fates become intertwined – for better or worse.

Pencil Sketch:
Volume one of the manga is pretty short, only introducing Yato, Hiyori, Yukine and Yato’s previous shinki Tomone. True to the name Noragami, (nora meaning stray and gami – god) Yato is like a stray – homeless and sleeping on the streets or outside other gods’ shrines. His character is refreshingly different from gods in a lot of fantasy stories; although he has delusions of grandeur – dreaming of being doted on by female devotees – he’s down to Earth in dealing with his clients, and is responsible despite being a freeloader.

Hiyori is from a well-to-do family who treasure her (though it seems like they see her as a delicate object). She’s a wrestling fan, idolizing a famous wrestler which  makes her stand apart from her pop-idol loving friends. Immediately she shows herself to be self-sacrificing, bailing Yato out of trouble twice in one chapter (though he technically doesn’t need it). Sometimes naive, she’s bold and quickly adapts to her new, bizarre situation.

Making his appearance at the end of the volume, little is known about Yukine, except for his distaste for Yato and brattish temperament.

Not much is revealed about Tomone either, whose actual name is Mayu, apart from that she dislikes Yato – calling him dirty and useless. This doesn’t stop her from showing concern for Yato though, revealing that she still has a soft spot for him.

After watching the anime (which I presume will cover the content of most of the first volumes), I still found myself enjoying the revisit to these characters and their universe. Whilst obviously lacking the atmospheric music and color palette of the anime, the manga makes up for it in extra details and art.

In my opinion the manga stands on its own as a strong story – it has enough originality and appealing characters to make me want to continue reading. Also, viewers of the show will be able to continue the unfinished tale they saw started in the animation.

Yato’s powers are something I found particularly interesting. When he uses a shinki, kanji characters appear, making the name of the particular regalia. I found this part fascinating as it’s a recurring theme in magical and spiritual practices I’ve encountered since living in the east.


Mayu transforming into ‘Tomoki’

A lot of talismans made for protection, good luck, exorcism and the like involve the use of characters which hold a power of their own. Even over new year, auspicious words and phrases adorn the walls of homes and public places.

Adachi Toka makes poetic use of the mysticism of Japanese kanji, incorporating it into the characters’ names too. For example Yukine’s name (雪音) combines the characters for ‘snow’ and ‘sound’ – Yato having heard Yukine’s sound and he looked like a snowflake when he first appeared. Additionally Yukine’s name as a regalia is ‘Sekki’ (雪器) which is a combination of the characters ‘snow’ and ‘vessel’ (or weapon in this case) which I thought was a nice touch.

What’s your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you’ve enjoyed?

What a Wonderful 3D World – Tonari no Kashiwagi-san

tonari no kashiwagi-sanManga Title: Tonari no Kashiwagi-san
Mangaka: Kinusa Shimotsuki
Genres: Comedy, romance, slice-of-life
Demographic: Seinen

The Storyboard:
High school student Sakuraba Yuto is a lover of anime and manga with a particular taste for moe art.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Sakuraba Yuto

Although Yuto’s a real otaku he’s quite open about it, believing that if you like something you should just say it. In his spare time when not gaming, watching anime or reading manga, he browses an art sharing website. He takes a liking to one particular artist’s moe style, who goes only by the name Sayane.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Sayane’s illustrations

At the start of the story we find that he’s landed his dream job – to become an attendant at a store that sells anime and manga merchandise. On his first day there he bumps into a student who sits next to him in class – Kashiwagi Kotone- a girl he thought hated everything otaku.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Kashiwagi Kotone

On recognizing Yuto, Kotone runs away, embarrassed and extremely concerned that he will reveal to their classmates that she’s a closet otaku herself. The next day she confronts him about it, explaining that she does love anime and manga, and begs Yuto not to tell anyone. We later discover her reasons behind this are that she saw some classmates insult another student for liking anime and manga, and she fears being ostracized.

Yuto agrees to keep her secret and after the suggestion of Kotone’s best friend Fukuda Sayaka, they decide to secretly meet and talk about their interests.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Fellow otaku

A budding friendship blooms between the two very similar main characters, spending their breaks discussing their mutual love of all things otaku.

One day Yuto brings up the artist Sayane, telling Kotone about her enthusiastically. Initially Kotone is nervous about revealing the fact that she is Sayane, merely keeping quiet and agreeing while Yuto praises her art.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Budding friendship

As the story progresses Yuto’s feelings for Kotone blossom, as do those of two of their close friends. Still, even though Yuto sits right next to Kashiwagi-san, it seems that her heart couldn’t be further from his reach…or maybe not?

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Being a completely character-driven story, Kinusa Shimotsuki has made maximum usage of the characters’ facial expressions, body language, and often-inserted ‘chibi’ versions of them to bring out the comedy in their ongoing life stories.

While focusing mainly on the slowly developing love story between Yuto and Kotone, Tonari no Kashiwagi-san also branches off to into the romantic lives of their best friends Sayaka and Kazuki Kusano.

Yuto is breaking into the 3D world after having spent a considerable amount of time focused on 2D. For the first time in his life he finds himself attracted to a real girl and it’s an experience he doesn’t know what to make of. The combination of his lack of experience, over-thinking and somewhat shy nature make for some comic moments as he tries to win Kotone’s heart.

Kotone is equally inexperienced and unaware about everything regarding love; she misses even the most absurdly direct hints that Yuto gives. Gradually she begins noticing Yuto’s advances, yet is still indecisive about how to deal with them.

In keeping with the atmosphere of the manga, not much is revealed about the pasts of each character, maintaining its focus on their current relationships. This may be considered a weak point of the series, however it’s never bothered me, after all that’s not what the story’s about.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Chibi Yuto, Kotone and Sayaka

Overall Tonari no Kashiwagi-san is a light hearted, cute, humorous and slow paced tale about two teenagers whose remarkable alikeness make them an unlikely match. Whilst observing the love of their friends grow around them they start to take baby steps out into the world of their own feelings. It’s no heartrending romance, but it’ll leave you feeling warm and fluffy after each chapter.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

In a way Tonari no Kashiwagi-san has been pretty educational for me with its notes on otaku issues and references to general aspects of the anime and manga culture. For new readers I’m sure there are some interesting tidbits of otaku information you’ll find and for the more experienced there are plenty of familiar tropes that are explored.

What’s your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?