Blame!

3 out of 5

Directed by: Hiroyuki Seshita

I’m not sure I can see Blame! as working for those without grounding in the source manga.  With creator Tsutomu Nihei on board as a consultant – and credited with the story – director Hiroyuki Seshita and screenplay writer Sadayuki Murai maintain all of the important tonal beats from the work: its sense of isolation; the way it shifts from moody stillness to sudden (and generally brief) bursts of fury; the complete obliqueness of its structure.  That last bit is what I imagine as getting in the way here, as it prevents some of the larger, understandable narrative elements – a desolated town besieged by enemies inherits the protection of a stoic hero – from fully flowering with the extra bits and pieces one might expect from such a setup.  There are no ‘arcs,’ and not much by way of explanation for this town and its enemies, although I would say that what is there is an impressively concise explanation of whats often even vaguer in the manga.

Blame! is a pretty narrow tale, then: a ruined, post-technology world in which the human survivors we see – the Electro-fishers – may be the only remaining humans, cloistered in their protective enclave from the technology that’s run wild, represented by haunting hunter-killers called Safeguards.  On a food hunt, they run across a mostly mute warrior named Killy, who’s looking for ‘Net Terminal Genes,’ which, while now possibly non-existent, were said to once allow humans to interface with the machines, and subject them to their control.  Some old, passed-down stories from the Fishers leads Killy – and those following him – to Cibo, a scientist, who then leads them all to a far away factory where the NTGs may exist, but which also kicks off a chase and battle that surges across the film’s latter half.  While this may sound like standard action fare, Blame! – again, true to the story-telling style of the source – is mostly quiet during the inbetween moments, with Killy sauntering up long stairways and down long hallways, humans whispering short warnings and questions to each other in his wake.  In the comic, this sense of quiet is buffered by a massive sense of oppression of the huge environment, and the spiraling out of the history leading to and from our point in the story; time passes in massive waves.  While it’s wise that the anime didn’t try to mimic this – because it’s incredibly tough to imagine how to do that effectively – without that juxtaposition of macro to micro, we’re often just close up on the aforementioned sauntering.

Which is not to say that it’s boring.  Polygon’s clippy animation (the frame rate is kinda weird) is slick, with pretty great character designs adapted from Nihei’s stuff, and the world is certainly weird enough to keep you wondering how the story is going to evolve.  But it is slow, and we can’t get very far with the pacing across 1 hour 40 minutes.  And again, I’m just not sure how much a fresh viewer will tolerate the general lack of character work and spoonfed story; the Fishers are accepted as established peoples with their own lives; Killy and Cibo aren’t going to be talking to us any time soon.  But for those of us with a preexisting love for the work will likely get the same kick I did out of seeing how some of this stuff was brought to life, and the carefulness applied in trying to capture the mood without the impossible scope.

The one thing I definitely could not have seen coming, but was awesome, were some of the music cues: I never saw Blame! as a Western, but the pitch of the film definitely makes that work.