The work of author Tsutomu Nihei is well-known by many manga fans, from his critically-acclaimed BLAME to the popular Knights of Sidonia. How he showcases action with a great blend of character development and emotion is almost unmatched in his league. So why is it that his 2005 work ABARA is lacking in these departments?

Taking place in a dystopian future, ABARA places its focus on the Observational Bureau and the Ministry of Martial Justice. Strange creatures known as White Gauna are wrecking havoc along the cityscapes, where modern tech and ancient tombs lay together in a foreboding fashion. As the White Gauna take out its victims and the mystery of its origins are unveiled, the more dangerous of a situation the heroes of our story are placed in.

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ABARA © 2005 by Tsutomu Nihei/SHUEISHA Inc.

Shining brightly in Nihei's work is its art style. Even if it has a sort of rough look overall, it fits well with the more fast-paced action that is showcased throughout. Nothing is left to the imagination, with bodies being chopped up and monsters exploding into globs of blood & intestines. The care that is placed into drawing the human body is very apparent, with some of the most anatomically-correct designs I'be seen in recent memory. Also on par is its creative creatures, from a skull-headed individual that helps with the chaos at hand to the Gauna beings that fly, run, and slither about in their bony states.

One thing about ABARA's visuals that stood out the most is how the human characters look. They have very Neanderthal-like faces, giving way to some meaning as to how they act the way they do. With the way the world is presented, it's no secret that even the most well-dressed individual would resort to more primitive tactics when it comes to tackling the White Gauna. Their weapons may be modernized, but the mentality when dealing with a threat is no different from watching a caveman attempt to clobber a mammoth with a wooden club.

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ABARA © 2005 by Tsutomu Nihei/SHUEISHA Inc.

Despite the great action that's on display, I can't help but feel like Nihei missed the mark when it came to developing the characters in ABARA. While it's clear who it is we're supposed to root for and who we hope will meet their demise, the heroes and villains of this story just don't feel as fleshed out as it could've been. Because of this, there is seemingly no attachment to the characters that are on display. It's a flaw that is similar to what I don't like about Paul W.S. Anderson's films: they're somewhat fun to view, but the characters are so uninspired that you'll more than likely forget about it in a day or two.

Surprisingly, it's the bonus story Digimortal that feels like the most enticing in this complete collection. Although it doesn't give readers deep character back story, it does build up into something that could've delivered an important and interesting story. However, as Digimortal is what ABARA was built off of, it appears that we may never see what may have pertained in Nihei's original vision. A shame, as I felt that both its story and even its art style shone better in this concept than in what would be the final product.

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ABARA © 2005 by Tsutomu Nihei/SHUEISHA Inc.

While Nihei delivers some impressive art and action, ABARA will not grab the attention of those looking for a far deeper story. There are far better ways to showcase a dark, horrific tale of survival, but what is on display here feels more like an excuse to lop off some heads and deliver something grotesque for the sake of the gross. If that's your thing, then by all means check out ABARA; everyone else looking for more context should instead read Akira or Devilman.

FINAL GRADE:

Promotional consideration provided by Erik Jansen of MediaLab PR. Available in stores December 18th!

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