Running Time: 105 mins.
Director: Hiroyuki Seshita
Writer: Sadayuki Murai (Screenplay) Tsutomu Nihei (Original Creator),
Animation Production: Polygon Pictures
Starring: Takahiro Sakurai (Killy), Kana Hanazawa (Cibo), Sora Amamiya (Zuru), Kazuhiro Yamaji (Pop), Aki Toyosaki (Administration Authority), Aya Suzuki (Tae), Yuuki Kaji (Atsuji), Mamoru Miyano (Sutezo), Saori Hayami (Sanakan)
Long-term readers will know that I am a fan of Tsutomu Nihei and I have written about his manga Abara, Biomega, and the anime adaptation of Knights of Sidonia. Blame! is based on Nihei’s manga of the same name which was his first commercial manga series when it was published in Kodansha’s Monthly Afternoon magazine from 1997 until it ended in 2003. This movie adaptation is from the team behind the TV anime adaptation of Knights of Sidonia and Ajin and it looks awesome thanks to the financial muscle and time given to the animation studio Polygon Pictures by their backers Netflix:
The story of the film takes place in the same setting, a distant dystopic technological future where civilisation has reached its ultimate net-based form and transhumanism is rife. Unfortunately, an “infection” wipes out the one way humans control everything – Net Terminal Genes. This causes the automated systems to spiral out of order, resulting in artificial intelligence running amok as it fulfils its function to create an ever-expanding multi-levelled city that replicates itself infinitely in all directions.
This is typical Nihei stuff with buildings shooting off into the atmosphere and plunging into the depths of the earth. Bridges span gargantuan chasms and there is a sense the world is a barren wasteland haunted by ruins, a mixture of crumbling architecture where pipes jut out and spill slop and rusty stairwells stretch out into abyssal regions.
It is all captured with lots of glorious wide angle shots that give a sense of scale to the environment and how empty of life it is, how tiny the people are in it, and how many dangers lurk in the shadows such as the city’s “builders”, gargantuan creatures that loom out of nowhere from time to time.
Indeed, with humanity having lost their Net Terminal Genes and their access to the city’s controls, they lose the right to live there. They are hunted down and purged by the defence system known as the Safeguard which sends humanoid creations that run on all fours across walls and floors and tear their human prey apart. Over the course of hundreds of years, humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction and only tiny communities remain hanging on amidst the hundreds of levels of this city which reaches out into space.
In a tiny corner of the city, a little enclave known as the Electro-Fishers is facing eventual extinction, Trapped between the threat of the Safeguard and dwindling food supplies, their numbers are running low and these brave people are hanging on by a thread, scavenging old equipment. Nihei’s art comes through once again. Not only are their character-models fragile and tiny in their environment but the highly detailed costume design gives the sense that they are wearing lived-in battle armour that has been handed down through the centuries. Every loss of a person or piece of kit is felt and so the city becomes even more threatening.
From this point on, the narrative for the film features a number of changes which have been made by writer Sadayuki Murai who pulls together different stories and characters from various volumes of the original manga series to create a linear plot.
A brave teenage girl named Zuru goes on a journey to find food for her village, only to inadvertently cause doom when an observation tower senses her and summons a Safeguard pack to eliminate the threat. With her companions dead and all escape routes blocked, the only thing that can save her now is the sudden arrival of a mysterious stranger named Killy, a wanderer who travels the lonely corridors and spaces of the city, on his quest for the Net Terminal Genes, the key to restoring order to the world.
Killy and his AI companion Cibo were the centre of the manga’s somewhat disconnected vignettes but the decision to refocus everything on Zuru allows the film to introduce a set of easy to relate to characters and makes the story easy to understand.
Killy is a hero in the Nihei mould – synthetic or trans-human, biologically different from the rest of the humans, taciturn and pretty much unstoppable with his gun, a gravitational beam emitter which packs a huge wallop that levels structures. Having such an unflappable hero is cool but probably won’t be engaging for some audience members whereas Zuru provides a positive female protagonist without a hint of exploitation.
Actually, Killy, Cibo, and his main antagonist, Sanakan look so damn cool and act it to. The perfect humans in their artificial bodies and with their super-strength, they are like the Gauna in Abara and the various inspectors and agents in Biomega. This is techno horror rather than body horror but they still have a high impact, especially when they are able to bring whole buildings down and take out huge chunks of their surroundings.
Blame! benefits from having Netflix and the experienced animators on board because the visual and aural qualities become operatic thanks to the time and money lavished on the movement of the characters and sound effects which features a better flow while the direction is clean and concise and delivers the action perfectly. There are great moments such as POV shots where the HUDs in the helmets and eyes of characters light up the screen with information, vertiginous shots of the city, platforms and plateaus, and the combat scenes when the camera zips along like a glance. It all looks great and the action scenes are cool which is what audiences are watching this for!