Abara: Complete Deluxe Edition is a single-volume story from cyberpunk manga creator Tsutomu Nihei, and if you know Nihei’s work, you won’t be surprised by the crazy, violent Science Fiction action collected in a gorgeous hardcover book.
Set in a dystopian city in the distant future, a man is approached by his former government handler and asked to hunt down a white gauna that’s attacking and consuming people in the city. He himself is a gauna, a posthuman cyborg whose body can spout bone-like armour and weapons.
This is a story set in a future where the world ended centuries ago. The Earth’s environment has already been destroyed by man-made climate change and what’s left of humanity lives in rundown cities full of mysterious mausoleums connected by a single highway and tubes. The white gauna are the next stage in human evolution, a parasitic mutation that threatens to destroy what’s left of humanity. The police are out of their depths and have to fight the bureaucracy of a secretive government spy agency that knows what’s really going on and is hellbent on keeping the public from finding out that humanity is in real danger of extinction. As a lone cop chases the government spook for answers, barely aware the end of humanity might be unavoidable even as the black gauna tries to stop the rampage of the white gauna.
Nihei’s signature style is unique. He keeps dialogue to a minimum and prefers to let the pictures tell a story in the most cinematic way possible. He creates epic widescreen setpieces of sudden, shocking, bloody violence. Bodies are warped, twisted, mangled, destroyed or transformed. This is cyberpunk body horror that you might imagine David Cronenberg creating if you force-fed him crystal meth and gave him hundreds of millions of dollars to make whatever the hell he wants. There’s a touch of H.R. Giger in his biomechanoid beings that his characters mutate and transform into. He uses negative space and silence to slow his story down and then speed it up in sudden acts of lethal violence. His dark, shadowy art is so atmospheric you feel like you can smell the dust, spilled oil and gun metal stench of freshly-spattered blood from several body parts strewn all over the landscape.
Abara feels like a transitional work in Nihei’s career, a stylistic and conceptual midpoint before he transitioned to even more radical stories and technique. There’s a hint that all of his manga titles are part of the same continuity and as his subsequent series take place further and further into the future where humanity as we know it no longer exists. The future generations in Nihei’s next series like Knights of Sidonia and APOSIMZ are all posthuman, whether they’re cyborgs, vat-grown gender-fluid teenagers or a blend of biomechanics and flesh that has evolved to transform and survive the harshest conditions of space or distant worlds. There’s a bracing lack of sentimentality in Nihei, yet it’s darkly optimistic and transcendent that humanity can find a way to survive far into the future, even if it’s no longer truly human by then.
Tsutomu Nihei should really be more famous in the West. He has a huge following worldwide, including in the West, but his work is hardly discussed in US comics or Science Fiction circles, which baffles me. His work is proof that manga is more than big-eye schoolgirls and schoolboys with superpowers. He creates manga that’s utterly unique, shocking and full of crazy radical Science Fiction ideas that sneak up on you and jabs in the brain with crazy juice. He is one of the few comics creators producing stories about posthuman cyberpunk body horror. His artwork and comics are instantly recognizable. You could never mistake his books for anyone else’s.
Summary: Story & art: Tsutomu Nihei, Adaptation & Translation: Sheldon Drzka, Touch-up Art & lettering: Eric Erbes, Cover & Graphic Design: Alice Lewis, Editor: Leyla Aker, Publisher: Viz Media, Release Date: December 18, 2018, Price: $29.99