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June 1, 2011
 

Bento Bako Lite: 7 Billion Needles

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: 7 Billion Needles
Author: Nobuaki Tadano (inspired by the novel Needle by Hal Clement)
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Volume: Volumes 1-4 (complete), $10.95 each
Vintage: 2008-2010 by Media Factory, 2010-2011 by Vertical Inc.
Genre: Science fiction

High school student Hikaru Takabe is a loner. She avoids social interaction and blocks out the sounds of the world with the headphones that are constantly on her ears (think The World Ends With You; in fact, at least as far as the main characters, they’re fairly similar, so if you enjoyed the DS game, try picking up this manga). On an overnight school trip, her life changes forever. While out walking along the beach alone, a meteor-like object swoops out of the sky and strikes the ground in front of her, causing her to disintegrate. And yet, the next day she’s back at school, and everything seems normal. Normal except for some strange interference in her headphones, and a small cut that heals instantly. Bizarre occurrences which are soon accompanied by a voice in her head claiming to be a formless creature from outer space. The voice claims to have saved her life by fusing itself with her to regenerate her body, and must now reside in her to maintain the reconstruction. Of course, this being, which calls itself Horizon, didn’t come to Earth to go sight seeing. Horizon was chasing a malevolent being known as Maelstrom. Because Horizon is stuck in Hikaru’s body, he needs her help to stop Maelstrom before he kills everyone on the planet. Hikaru, of course, wants nothing to do with any of it, and just wishes she could go back to being alone, because life was easier that way. Horizon, however, is constantly chattering away in her head, and she is assuredly not alone any longer. Horizon also insists that Hikaru start talking to her classmates, as he believes Maelstrom has taken over one of their bodies. The anti-social Hikaru has a hard time approaching her classmates, but to her surprise, she ends up making two friends rather quickly – two high school girls named Nao and Saya. Meanwhile, Maelstrom has absorbed one of the students at the school, and has already started killing in his fervent search for Horizon. When her new friends’ lives are in jeopardy, Hikaru allows Horizon control over her body to defeat the powerful Maelstrom.

With Maelstrom defeated, Hikaru decides it’s time to visit her father’s grave, located on an island she has not returned to for years. She plans to take the journey alone, but Nao and Saya insist on coming along to support their friend. As Hikaru tries to accept her past and the death of her father, the seemingly defeated Maelstrom reappears, searching for Hikaru. As the truth about the past is revealed to Hikaru, Horizon also learns the truth of his and Maelstrom’s purpose. When Horizon realizes that if he defeats Maelstrom the destructive creature will simply return again, and over and over again, he does the only thing he can think of to end the cycle – he absorbs Maelstrom into himself, and consequently into Hikaru’s body. This decision, unfortunately, has some unintended and dire consequences. Because they have essentially abandoned the duty set before them, Horizon and Maelstrom have inadvertently set off a new evolutionary track on Earth. A subspecies with similar abilities to Maelstrom appears and begins absorbing and destroying everything around it. Taking root in the body of one of Hikaru’s schoolmates, the awkward outcast Chika, the subspecies preys on Chika’s feelings of loneliness and begins absorbing everything in site. Around the world similar events occur, and dinosaur-like creatures begin popping up all over. These events draw yet another god-like being to Earth – an entity known as the Evolution Moderator. The Moderator travels from planet to planet, observing new evolutionary processes and directing the ultimate path they will take. Depending on his observations on Earth, he may let things continue as they are, or reset the entire evolutionary chain back to the beginning. With not only the people she loves but the entire world in danger, it’s up to Hikaru with the combined powers of Horizon and Maelstrom inside her to save the planet, but the toll on Hikaru’s body will be great indeed.

This is definitely one of the more interesting titles I have read. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t take much away from it. I say this, because I feel like I should have come away with something. Perhaps I just needed more time to absorb it; I sped through all four volumes in a day, barely able to put it down.This is sci-fi manga at its best (without being a space opera), and though I’m not a fan of the genre, this is a great read. God-like creatures from outer space, an evil entity capable of immense destruction, an opposing force designed to fight this evil, and a being that can change the course of a world on its own whim – these are great story elements. Though I want to note that the lines of good and evil are blurred here. Maelstrom is the “evil,” dark entity, while Horizon represents goodness and light. However, they aren’t particularly inherently good or evil. They were created to fulfill a purpose, and so go about the tasks they were assigned. Maelstrom was created to destroy, Horizon was created to defeat Maelstrom, and that’s just how it was meant to be. When they combine inside of Hikaru and abandon their roles, something else rises to take their place. Once they are both inside Hikaru is when we see that their existence isn’t black and white. Maelstrom has a mischievous nature, certainly, but his maliciousness seems derived from a desire to oppose and overcome Horizon only, not because he himself is evil or desires the destruction of everything. Although to say he doesn’t enjoy destroying things would be a lie. Similarly, Horizon has a strong desire to save and protect life. However, when they are inside of Hikaru, they begin to change, as if they are absorbing her passion and strength. They also change Hikaru, forcing her out of her shell and causing her to open up her heart again to those around her. It’s not all good versus evil or scientific mumbo-jumbo, however. There’s a good deal of humor to be found. Hikaru, who tends to drown out the world around her with her headphones (a world excellently depicted by Tadano, who crowds panels with meaningless word bubbles to effectively illustrate the general noise of the world), is practically driven insane by the constant chattering of Horizon in her head. He just won’t shut up until he gets what he wants, thinking that perhaps Hikaru just doesn’t understand the basics or doesn’t believe him, and so he’s constantly pestering a Hikaru who just wants to ignore him. When Nao and Saya approach Hikaru and begin asking her about cute boys on a magazine cover, Horizon is hilariously confused by the teenage girls and thinks they’re speaking in some kind of strange code. When Horizon reluctantly explains to Hikaru that Maelstrom has joined them inside her body, her exasperation is obvious, but Maelstrom isn’t exactly thrilled with the prospect either, and poor Hikaru must contend with their arguing inside her head. The once alone-by-choice Hikaru is forced to have these two inside her body, but by the end, they’ve become a part of her life, and it pains her to have to let them go. But instead of shutting herself away again (like after her father’s death), she relies on the support of those around her, a lesson learned during the course of the story.

Vertical’s presentation is superb as usual. The books are smaller than normal, they’re actually rather cute, and run about 180 pages each. Each has a unique cover that, while sure to draw interest, are admittedly rather vague, but they work. Peter Mendelsund deserves recognition for the cover designs. As for the series’ title, it was a one in seven billion chance that Horizon just happened to find and bond with Hikaru. A one in seven billion chance that the world had a chance to be saved, because only with Hikaru could it be accomplished.

Kris
kristin@comicattack.net
@girlg33k_Kris

Thanks to the lovely Manga Critic, once again, for sending these my way!

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