So far we’ve taken a look at two series by Tsutomu Nihei: his first serialized effort, BLAME!, and the short sequel to that series, NOiSE. Let’s move on to Nihei’s next published work, which was again another short series by the name of Abara.
The story of Abara follows a law enforcement agent named Tadohime as she investigates the appearance of organic organisms called White Gauna. To combat these murderous organisms, the governing forces of the world use Black Gauna, which seem like humans but have the ability to create armor out of biological material in their bodies.
When a rogue Black Gauna named Itou Denji is framed for a mass murder, several parties converge to try to stop him. Both the White Gauna and Black Gauna have a penchant for devouring humans, so things are going to get really tricky for the humans who are left trying to control the outbreak of the White Gauna and the Black Gauna who fight that outbreak.
That’s about the best I can sum up the storyline for Abara without having to dive into every minute detail of the plot. I can assure you, even if I did that, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense anyway.
As with most of Nihei’s storylines up until this point, it is dense and convoluted, but you don’t really go into his series looking for a cohesive story (at least not yet anyway).
What you go in with is an expectation for gorgeously surreal and grotesque art and a foreboding sense of nihilism. The disorienting nature of the plot only adds to the overall mysterious atmosphere of the world and the characters.
The White Gauna are truly horrific and the scenes in which they manifest themselves are gory in detail, but at the same time strangely beautiful. It’s this contradiction that makes Nihei’s art so fascinating to behold.
In Abara, Nihei also begins his trend of using biomechanical armored suits. In this case, the Black Gauna begin as human, or at least humanoid creatures, and can wrap themselves in organic material. In future series, we’ll see these kinds of designs become more of a trend.
Another theme that Nihei introduces in this work is body horror–think early David Cronenburg films like Scanners and Videodrome. Although BLAME! and NOiSE both had elements of body horror to them, Abara is where this theme becomes central to the plot and Nihei’s art becomes graphic enough to render it with fine detail.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, this series comes with a strong warning of extreme violence and gore.
As with his other stories, Abara takes place in a large city with towering byzantine structures. Even though this series doesn’t occur within the same megastructure as BLAME!, you’d be forgiven for thinking so.
Nihei has a penchant for creating claustrophobic industrial settings for his stories and he really branches out into the surreal with this one, especially in an early chapter where we see the land outside of the city laden with gigantic cables or tubes of some sort.
While Nihei’s art has always been highly detailed and complex, for the most part that only remained true for his background work and architectural design. In this series, he begins to make his character designs more nuanced. They’re a far cry from the simple faces found throughout the BLAME! Series.
Each character is distinct and it’s easy to keep track of who’s who, even as the cast grows and grows throughout these 13 chapters.
Once again, if you’re expecting a tightly wrapped plot that leaves you with a solid resolution, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you can let yourself get lost in the world and the mystery of it all, you’re going to have a good time with this one.
Abara has never had an official English release. Until now. A deluxe hardcover edition of the short series is being released in a single volume in North America. You can order it here on Amazon. And if you’re not keen on having a big hardcover book lying around, then you can also get a digital copy.
Artistically, Abara is probably one of the most nuanced in Nihei’s catalogue. His designs have moved out of their beginning stages as he has become more confident as an artist, though the story isn’t quite as compelling as BLAME!
There’s still plenty more of Nihei’s work to dive into, so next time we’ll take a look at his second longer serialized work, Biomega.