13 Days of Halloween with The Owl in the Rafters: Day 6

Posted on Oct 24 2011

Day 6 and we’re finally into the heat of it! In the past decade the zombie trend has really spread like a plague itself, but what many film goers and videogame fans don’t realize is that the zombies themselves aren’t the element of the trend that makes it so sensational. Quite the opposite, most of the adaptations of the trend tend toward goofy specialized mutant zombies, fast zombies, and more intelligent zombies, or even more animal-like zombies, or zombie lookalikes that aren’t actually undead, and they is all a product of people’s dissatisfaction with the boring limitations of the traditional zombie. What really makes the zombie fad so enticing as a gameplay and/or plot device has nothing to do with the zombies themselves, or even the element of the undead, but simply the combination of the swarm and viral elements that made the iconic zombie classics so terrifying, and the idea of a horde overtaking humanity so possible. On this principle, I’m going to go over the manga Bio-Meat: Nectar by Fujisawa Yuki as a “zombie story” done properly, and without any zombies at all.

At the end of the twenty-first century, Japan’s steadily escalating overpopulation, lack of resources, and threatened to collapse the entire nation. To prevent the social apocalypse of their nation a team of scientists developed the revolutionary salvation to Japan, a bio chemically engineered life-form called Bio-Meat, or B-M for short. This miracle invention quickly propelled the company behind the development of B-M into an international power house of both food and waste industries, and elevated them to the status of national icon, as the biggest industrial achievement of Japan in the new century.

I say both food and waste, because the B-M were designed as a source of food that feed off of nearly any kind of solid waste save for glass, fiberglass, concrete, and metals. Like piranhas, in a swarm they can devour a food source several times their own small size in matter of seconds. For reference, a single B-M is around the size of a small turkey or large chicken. All of this has put the B-M company at the wheel behind a solution to food shortages, opening up land for new housing development by eliminating trash dumps, and providing people with jobs building and maintaining the massive B-M containment and processing facilities, and generally fixing/saving the Japanese economy all in a staggeringly short amount of time.

The story, as I’m sure you could have guessed, hinges around the B-M escaping their containment facility during a routine transfer meant to ship a group of B-M from waste disposal to food manufacturing. Suddenly sightings of strange “pig-like” animals are reported across Tokyo and it isn’t long before the escaped Bio-Meat are identified, but all too late. The Japanese government is on the move to cover up any kind of scandals that might ruin the B-M name and lose credibility with the public. As the B-M begin to spread through the sewer systems and procreate in the wild, the uncontrolled outbreak very quickly begins to stack up casualties, as curious and ignorant civilians are unwittingly dragged to their gruesome deaths. All throughout this infestation, the story follows a group of middle school kids as they struggle to survive against all odds, while the city collapses all around them.

The main character is Maaya Kan, an Osaka native who recently moved to Tokyo with his single mother. He has an obtuse sense of humor and is quick to get into a fight, but has a big heart deep down. Second addition to the party is Kanomiya Marino, a young girl, abandoned by her parents, living with her grandmother and grandfather. She is the target of a lot of bullying at school and a notoriously compulsive liar, so when she is the first to see the B-M drag a woman’s corpse into a sewer, no one but Maaya believes her until the B-M show up at the school, and by then escape is virtually impossible. Maaya’s reliable, if brutally and critically honest wing man -and also arguably the rival for position of protagonist in the whole story- is the calm, collected, poker-faced, and at first seemingly cold-hearted Toujou Shingo, a boy notorious at school as a know it all, and as an exceptional athlete despite his modest size. Even in the face of the bizarre B-M outbreak, Shingo keeps his cool, and leads the team of ragtag pipsqueak survivors. Finally is Banba Yuu, something of a school bully, who originally hated Maaya, but warms up to the group after they all learn to rely on one another for the sake of survival. He may not have the grace or finesse of Shingo, or the heroic passion and determination of Maaya, but Banba has the brute strength and pride to lend to the team when the situation calls for some good old fashioned muscle.

The whole series takes place over the course of a decade, with one three year time skip after the first major outbreak, and then a seven year time skip after the second, dividing the story neatly into three major arcs covering three different B-M outbreaks. The third arc does take a good deal of time to build up some political drama and tension before actually setting the B-M loose again, so it could be argued that there are in fact 4 arcs, or 3.5. I don’t want to spoil any major twists, but I think it’s still pretty safe to give a breakdown of how each major story arc starts without ruining things; after all, the real appeal isn’t figuring out that the heroes survive in the end, it’s seeing just how they manage to do it.

The very first outbreak, as I mentioned already, starts when an earthquake disrupts a transport truck loading live Bio-Meat to be moved for processing into food. We cut away to see all the kids and Maaya’s mother living their normal lives and running into a number of truly detestable individuals. While their lives carry on as usual throughout the morning, the live B-M escape into Tokyo via the sewers and begin surfacing all around nearby suburbs by noon. At first we get some amusing horror standards, like seeing all the people the kids hate get killed off thanks to their own stupidity, but along with them go a small handful of decent characters. The invasion peaks by noon and the kids find themselves apparently trapped in the school with the B-M prowling the school yard and soon enough flooding the halls. Objective? Escape the school, find their parents, and escape the city.

After the first outbreak is dealt with the heroes are the only survivors left and the government and B-M company agree to compensate them if they will agree to keep quiet about the events that wiped out an entire town. Three years pass and the team reunites for a public event at Shingo’s request. Shingo has begun working for the B-M company at the astonishingly young age of thirteen, Banba and Kanomiya have gone about a normal highschool life together, and Maaya has left Tokyo to return to his home town in Osaka and like Shingo hasn’t seen the rest of the team since. The event is the unveiling of the U.S.B-M, an American made Bio-Meat product said to provide better taste and more efficient production compared to its Japanese predecessor. Naturally, the new product demonstration goes awry and the U.S.B-M begins to multiply and rampage on its own.

Along with one of Banba and Kanomiya’s underclassmen, Tsuyoshi Shinora whom Maaya dubs the Green Ranger of the group, the team is thrust back into the nightmare from three years ago when the U.S.B-M inevitably gets loose. Learning from their past mistakes, the B-M company manages to jump on top of the situation pretty quickly this time around, but to little benefit for the heroes. Along with all of the guests at the U.S.B-M unveiling, as well as a number of innocent passerby in the same wing of the mall, the heroes and B-M representatives are all trapped in the quarantined wing of the building while they await for the B-M company to come up with a solution to the new U.S.B-M invasion.

The second outbreak ends with a few more survivors than the first and heroes even gain two new members to their team. Skip ahead by seven years and the original kids are now all adults, but it turns out that four years prior to the new current age (that is three years following the last outbreak) an unprecedented third Bio-Meat outbreak swept the central island of Japan. Forces developed to counteract the swarms erected electrically charged fences around key towns and cities to hold off the invasion. The defenses were soon found to be riddled with holes and survivors began to desperately seek refuge in neighboring strong holds. Two years into the outbreak all public media ceased broadcast: no television, no internet, and no cellphone service.

The B-M corporation was quick to flee and set up their final wall of defense on the southern island of Kyushu. Unfortunately for the rest of Japan they also established a strong military power to uphold their quarantine of the North, allowing no refugees into the last uncontaminated region of Japan. We catch up with Maaya, Kanokiya, and Banba, as well as the additional party members gained during the second outbreak as they reunite the bulk of the old team while trying to rescue a bus full of survivors from a dead settlement. We see that the one missing member of the team, Shingo, has established himself in the political/corporate hierarchy of the B-M empire in the south and watch as he tries to handle a terrorist group that threatens to unleash thousands of B-Ms on the island of Kyushu. While the terrorists’ plans don’t go exactly as planned, the B-M are of course released anyway, leading to the fourth outbreak and the real meat of the third major story arc.

By the end of it all there are plenty of twists, plenty of heroic rescues, and plenty of botched plans that end in disaster, and almost all generally unpredictable. It is a tad bit disappointing that there wasn’t better use of foreshadowing, but admittedly the spontaneous feel of some of the twists did have a nice kind of natural feel to it, and the over all trend of having different survivor groups crossing paths in the process of each enacting their own escape/survival plans was always a good source of entertainment, and there is a genuine sense of your stomach dropping when you realize that within the next couple of pages someone’s going to botch up the plan and send everyone’s chances of survival up in flames. To put it more simply the suspense and drama are definitely there where it counts.

The character conflicts and personal development were sturdy, if a bit simplistic, and kept pretty darn clear from the realms of melodrama, save dying moments. It is worth saying that for all the deaths in the story there was surprisingly little variation. I don’t mean to spoil things but every person either died too quickly and too confused to know what had happened, crying for their mother, crying out for help, or just screaming unintelligible “aarg”s, “blarg”s, and “gahh”s. The few exceptions being a tiny handful of character who went out like heroes, usually during the ends of each major outbreak.

Really it’s a very fun series from start to finish and I’d like to have ranked it higher on this list, but it does have one tiny short coming as a horror series: it forgets to be scary. Indeed, the only real problem with Bio-Meat is that while it properly utilizes suspense and drama to create a fast paced and thrilling tale of survival it does lack a certain kind of scariness to it. Even in regards to unsettling imagery and ideas, it leaves the impression of a good action story more than it does a good horror story. The Bio-Meat are plenty grotesque but really the effect diminishes as the story goes on, and you become so wrapped up in the exciting race for survival that you’ll forget to be bothered by the monsters all together. The B-M themselves become more akin to a gun or some other kind of weapon in terms of functionality: you still wouldn’t want one pointed at your face in real life, but so long as you’re sitting comfortably on the other side of the 4th wall there’s really very little sense of fear from them, and by the end it just turns out to be entertaining to watch them swarm all over a person and eat them alive.

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  • nerdwerld October 25, 2011 at 10:35 PM

    I have a question, some of these plot elements seem to have been borrowed in Bleach with Don Kannonji. I mean its just something I feel, with the various colors of the rangers.

  • Tyto October 26, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    You mean the team being The Hero(red), The Wingman(blue/black), The Girl(pink), The Muscle(yellow), and The Little Guy/Tech guy(green)? It gets used in anime a lot, though it’s a tokusatsu thing, mostly. Started with Super Sentai shows like Himitsu Sentai Goranger and just sort of became a traditional formula.

  • nerdwerld October 26, 2011 at 3:56 PM

    Personally I prefer, Dai-Kaiju to Super Sentai shows. Ultraman, and Kamen Rider are really the only two I enjoy from Super Sentai. I watched Power Rangers when I was little, and always liked them in dinosaur mech form better than the strong Mega-zord thing, and then would wish for it to be defeated by the monsters. 😀 … yeah there went my hope for humanity!

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