4 out of 5
And Tsutomu Nihei yet again writes a story in which humanity has been narrowed down to straggling survivors; a techno-organic plague or threat looms; the planet or ship we live on is one holistic thing that can be divvied up into distinct ‘layers’; there are little guns that shoot big, big bullets. And yet again Nihei writes that story freakin’ anew: page-turningly fascinating, with ever-escalating stakes and a stoic lead you can’t help but root for.
Aposimz is our planet. Etherow is one of several survivors struggling in makeshift hovels on Aposimz’s frozen surface, post some struggle which split the haves and have-nots, with the former living in some comfier inner layer – the core – of the world. There are also things called frames running around, which are our techno-organic breed, and they appear to align good or bad, with most of the heavy-hitters working core side. There is a plan to remove the surface dwellers, so when Etherow gets ahold of frame technology and a set o’ bullets (that, say, fire massively from a little gun…?) that the other side is after, the cat and mouse begins.
And though I’m taking this snarky tone, I obviously love Nihei’s ability to spin his premise up repeatedly, and it rewards us frequent visitors by not only having this familiar touchpoints, but nodding to some shared in-universe inheritance where conceptual names for things and companies keep popping up. I enjoy imagining all of Nihei’s stories (including Wolverine…) happening at various times or locations within that universe. Aposimz’s is also instantly approachable; not always the case with Tsutomu, and something that Biomega I think shared, but here we’re not reliant on a trope (zombies) to hook us: just good ol’ sci-fi worlds. Nihei’s linework has also become infinitely more refined as the years have gone on; here, he’s working amazingly sparsely, a delicate, super-thin line, but able to make that into his usual grand tapestries.
There are still some minor hiccups with the presentation, some of which are the norm for Tsutomu: the learning curve of what our characters already understand and what’s news to them isn’t very clear, and because Nihei works on such a large scale (very Jodorowsky-like, crafting whole worlds at a time), scene changes can be a little jarring. Aposimz has a very strong throughline with Etherow, though, so this occurs less frequently than usual. One newer thing that popped up here was that Nihei’s tendency toward drawing characters somewhat androgynously led to some confusion. Overall it doesn’t matter in the story, but when you’ve spent pages imagining someone as a boy or girl and then the opposite pronoun is used, you have to scramble back to see if you missed something.
But these are truly minor issues. Book one’s 170 pages otherwise fly by, and I can’t wait to see where this re-presented journey takes us.