Abara: Complete Deluxe Edition
Story & Art: Tsutomu Nihei
A visually stunning work of sci-fi horror from the creator of Biomega and BLAME!
Tsutomu Nihei’s dazzling, harrowing dystopian thriller is presented here in a single-volume hardcover edition featuring full-color pages and foldout illustrations. This volume also includes the early short story “Digimortal.”
A vast city lies under the shadow of colossal, ancient tombs, the identity of their builders lost to time. In the streets of the city, something is preying on the inhabitants, something that moves faster than the human eye can see and leaves unimaginable horror in its wake. Factory worker Denji Kudou just wants to keep his head down and continue his quiet existence, but he is the key to stopping forces that would bring about an apocalyptic transformation of the world.
Tsutomu Nihei is one of those manga creators who I am familiar with to the extent that I’ve heard of his better-known works (Blame!, Biomega, Knights of Sidonia), but haven’t yet read them. I did enjoy his short run with Marvel on Wolverine: Snikt! though I wasn’t aware who the creator was at the time. Still, knowing that he worked on cyberpunk stories with body horror elements, I did want to get a look at his work. So, when my last birthday came along, I asked for – and received – a copy of the complete collection of Abara.
The first thing that drew me to this collection was, admittedly, the cover. My word, that is a beautiful piece! It’s brutal, beautifully coloured, and gives off a real feel of what you get in the actual book. The book contains a couple of fold-out, full-colour pieces too, which all continue this quality.
Meanwhile, the internals are also visually stunning, albeit differently so. The architecture is well-constructed and gives off some strong dystopian vibes. It’s very different from the more contemporary settings of a lot of today’s popular series and is far bleaker in how it presents itself. Similarly, the human characters are styled very differently from what you’d find in, say, a shonen title. This is designed to be cute at all, and the characters, honestly, look weary.
When it comes the monsters, both humanoid and not, it is exactly what you may expect if you’re a fan of older, cyberpunk anime. They are creepy insofar as they have familiar elements to their appearance that you can see in the world around you but are so far removed from the things we know, that they create an uncomfortable visual juxtaposition.
Best of all, Tsutomu Nihei makes great use of darker tones. The ink-full panels really stand out, maintaining the detail despite the thick blocks of solid colour. At the same time, the panels that use more white space come across like those in Shirow Miwa’s Dogs: Bullets and Carnage, in that they draw your attention to the important details. Stylistically, I’d say the visuals feel like what would happen if Masamune Shirow and H.R. Giger got together to draw commissions for Clive Barker.
In terms of story, you’ll either love or hate how this plays out. Dialogue is sparse, and it doesn’t reveal near as much as you’d need to fully understand the backstory here. In fact, we don’t’ get too much of an idea as to why the world is like it is until a quick reveal at the very end. The characters aren’t designed to develop either, so don’t expect to see the heroes overcoming personal issues to become better, stronger people.
In a way, I feel like the minimalist style works here though. This is a world on its last legs. People are what they are, they aren’t going to get a chance to change, and I get the impression that they’ve all accepted their lot so wholly that they wouldn’t change if they could. Instead, the focus is placed on the action and the gruesome body horror moments. That’s what this story needs, precisely because it illustrates the cruelty of the setting.
Physically, the book is well put together. The hardback cover is sturdy, the pages are large, and the paper quality is really nice. You really can’t fault Viz in that regard here, as it clearly had a lot of love and care put into it.
So, where do I sit on this overall? Well, I do tend to like a big story, so in that regard, I was surprised I enjoyed this one so much. The art is stunning, and what we get story-wise is enough to draw your attention. I won’t say it’s perfect because it really won’t be for everyone, but it’s definitely worth grabbing. Overall, this is a visually beautiful piece of cyberpunk body horror. I give this a solid 4 out of 5.