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7 Billion Needles Vol. #01 Manga Review

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7 Billion Needles Volume 1 CoverWhen the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of the one person who could care less, only a terrific sci-fi manga can be the result in Vertical’s latest release.

Creative Staff
Story/Art: Nobuaki Tadano

What They Say
Always sporting her headphones to try to close out the world around her, Hikaru is clearly a reclusive teenaged girl. And within her body resides another life-form known as Ciel, a hunter in search of an intergalactic murderer intent on wiping out humanity. In 7 Billion Needles, two lives share one heart as they race to protect each other and what they most cherish.

Modern day Japan is the stage for a new form of hard science-fiction, as author Nobuaki Tadano revisits one of the genre’s Grand Masters, Hal Clement, in his debut work 7 Billion Needles. Loosely inspired by Clement’s golden age title Needle, 7 Billion Needles follows the life of a teenage girl whose quiet boring days are dramatically changed when her body is possessed by an alien life form caught up in an intergalactic manhunt.

On a clear calm night, while on a class trip to the beach, Hikaru Takabe decides to go for a walk to escape the shackles of school and peer pressure. While observing the stars above a calm dark sea in an instant she is disintegrated when struck by a meteor.

Flash forward one page, and Hikaru awakes, from what seems like a horrible daydream of sorts, sitting amongst classmates in school without a scratch on her. The meteor dream seemed so real she cannot believe she’s alive, but given her relative aloof nature, she soon shrugs off the events and moves on with life. However, one thing she cannot shake off is the strange buzzing she hears coming from her new pair of headphones…

Vertical Inc. is known for their high-quality publications and 7 Billion Needles is no exception. The cover art by Peter Mendelsund is reminiscent of old 50s sci-fi pulp comics; this gives the volume a very unique look that causes instant intrigue and the feeling that this book is already a classic. Inside the book is where Vertical’s perfectionism really shines through. Dealing with sound effects in translated manga has always been tricky for me. Either the sound effects are translated causing the English equivalent to look out of place or take up too much space; or the effects are untranslated and maybe there is an index of their meanings in the back of the book. Vertical goes both routes here to great success that never distracts and always enhances the reading experience. The sound effects are left untranslated but in small print next to the effect is an English translation that never feels out of place.

The artwork is beautiful throughout but really shows through in the opening color pages. These pages are so beautifully rendered and perfect in tone and contrast that it looks like an ani-manga! The rest of the book is just as beautiful to look at. While not hyper-realistic the amount of detail helps give a “real feel” to the story. Nobuaki Tadano knows when to increase the level of detail at just the right moment to add appropriate emphasis and horror. A great example of this is in the beginning when Hikaru is struck by the meteor. The transfers of the pages present the perfect balance in shading so that throughout the whole book every page and panel not only looks good but looks right. It is never too dark or too light and really brings out best of Tadano’s artwork.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
7 Billion Needles is an update of the classic sci-fi novel Needle by Hal Clement. The story introduces us to Hikaru Takabe, a high school girl who is annoyed with people and constantly shuts herself off from the world by listening to music through her headphones. While on a school trip, Hikaru goes to the ocean to look at the stars when suddenly a meteor collides with her completely evaporating her in the process. Hikaru then wakes up and finds herself in class with a lapse in her memory. Hikaru later starts hearing a voice that identifies itself as Horizon, a sentient being that has been chasing the malevolent force Maelstrom across the universe and had to join with Hikaru in order to live on Earth and continue his hunt. The way Horizon tells of his experiences and theories regarding Maelstrom are really interesting because they seamlessly blur real historical events with the fantastical premise. One thing I have always enjoyed, in any form of media, is when real events are given a new reason for happening. It may be the conspiracy theorist in me but it just adds an element of fun into the story’s mythology.

Due to unknown reasons Hikaru has truly alienated herself from the world and only wants to be alone. Horizon continues to plead for her assistance in finding Maelstrom and saving the universe but she just doesn’t care. One day a loud scream is heard in the school and by threatening to bore her with his life story again, Horizon convinces her to investigate. Here she first encounters Maelstrom who has taken over the body of senior Shunsuke and turned him into a human-monster hybrid with dinosaur-like feet. In his surprise, Maelstrom severs Hikaru’s arm and flees the building.

Next, a duel cat and mouse game begins between Horizon and Maelstrom as they try to find each other first. The story really starts to open up at this point because Hikaru is now, more or less, willing to engage in the hunt and save the world. But, because of her inhibitions, she is less than thrilled about the methods she must use to discover Maelstrom’s host…talk to people! These segments are genuinely sweet and funny because of how awkward Hikaru is when trying to talk to other people and Horizon not understanding what her problem is. But this is not a comedy manga at all.

The story continues by switching narratives between Hikaru and Shunsuke, who has begun murdering any girl that wears her hair in a ponytail as this was the only image of Hikaru he got before escaping. The violence here is not graphic per se but there is a level of violence that adds to the horror of the situation making everything seem quite dire. Also, the timing in which the narrative switches between Hikaru and Shunsuke is picture perfect (no pun intended). With each narrative switch, you enter and leave the story at just the right moment that gives a sense of urgency and importance.

Surprisingly, Hikaru ends up making friends with two school mates, Nao and Saya. When Saya decides to wear Hikaru’s headband and Maelstrom confronts Saya during basketball practice, the final confrontation between Maelstrom and Horizon begins…or does it?

In Summary
I am again both surprised and pleased at the level of quality Vertical Inc’s manga releases deliver. Not only is the tangible product itself appealing to the eyes and of a high quality, but the manga itself is superb on every level. The heroine herself is so realistic that the reader can easily identify, sympathize, and relate to her. This sets up the groundwork for a science fiction manga that is both intriguing and exciting. Having never read the original novel, I have no idea what surprises lie ahead but the premise and world that this volume has established makes picking up the remaining three volumes a no brainer. This manga can pretty much be enjoyed by anyone with the exception of those that hate anything sci-fi just on principal, so do yourself a favor a pick this up! Even if it isn’t your cup of tea you will not be disappointed.

Content Grade: A+
Art Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A+
Text/Translation Grade: A+

Age Rating: 16+
Released By: Vertical Comics
Release Date: September 28th, 2010
MSRP: $10.95