7 Billion Needles, vols. 1-4

7 Billion Needles 1Antisocial high-schooler Hikaru just wants to be left alone. But when she skips out on a class-trip dinner for a solitary walk on the beach, she attracts the attention of what she at first believes to be a shooting star before it abruptly changes course, makes a beeline for the beach…and incinerates her.

Some days later, a slightly confused Hikaru is back in math class, trying to tune out the world and her own insecurities, as usual. But this time there’s a strange, new, and annoying voice no amount of volume adjustment on her headphones will make go away. And it’s coming from inside her own head.

The voice belongs to Horizon, which turns out to be not so much a shooting star as a cosmic hunter hot on the heels of its arch nemesis, the insatiable Maelstrom. Having fused with Hikaru’s blood cells in order to rebuild and sustain her after killing her (an act for which it politely semi-apologizes), Horizon now needs Hikaru’s help to discover the identity of Maelstrom’s local vessel before the villain jumps hosts, disappears into the global population, and destroys all life on the planet. This seems a tall order for an ill-adjusted teen with her own baggage, but with the fate of the world in the balance, and the threat of an incessant internal lecture, refusal isn’t an option.

Inspired by a classic 1950 sci-fi novel by Hal Clement called Needle, this four-volume science fiction thriller serves up more amusement and cheezy, thoughtful optimism than you might expect, given the main character’s violent demise on page nine of the first volume. The story still sports plenty of suspense and horror, as the energetic antagonist goes about its violent business while wearing another’s face. But beneath that surface conflict lies a greater focus on the nature of evolution, free will versus determinism, what it means to be human, and, for our begrudging protagonist, what it means to be Hikaru. At first survival takes precedence, but as the characters have more time to observe and learn, their thoughts turn to more philosophical matters, lending more than one interpretation to the series title as well as to the often-echoed theme of the first chapter, “You Are Not Alone.” The result is an odd yet enjoyable tale with some darkly gruesome scares, light-hearted humor, and – perhaps reflecting the seemingly simpler era of its inspirational material – a healthy dose of sentimental corniness.

Awkward, put-upon Hikaru (who thinks mumbling, “Um,” to a classmate’s back counts as an information-gathering conversation) sets a likeable example for the rest of the characters. For the humans, even when we don’t get to see much about their lives outside of their interactions with the principals, Tadano makes good use of their appearances to define their personalities and relationships with minimal dialogue and few panels. And the cosmic entities have apparently taken cues from the locals when it comes to behavior and speech, as even the most powerful and detached of them still says things like “Wow” and “Ew, gross.” They do have some surprises to them, if not greatly developed depths, and while Tadano probably could have played more with their fish-out-of-water status, they nonetheless fill their roles satisfactorily.

The art fits the story well, with photo-referenced street scenes and detailed backgrounds (particularly character-defining ones, like the tiny, cluttered apartment Hikaru shares with her aunt and uncle), suitably icky monstrousness when needed, and sturdy figures with determined jaws, blocky hands and feet, and untidy, scrappy airs that make them look relatable and ready for whatever the universe may throw at them next.

The series closes out with a short story, “Hikikomori Headphone Girl,” featuring the prototype for Hikaru, and a selection of bonus art from the original Japanese editions.

Interestingly, there’s really no fanservice here at all, despite the inclusion of an early bath scene and several extended instances of vaguely defined, non-sexualized male and female nudity in the latter volumes. Along with the mildly strong language and bloody yet not excessively graphic violence, it all serves a story that will probably most appeal to older teens and adults who like their sci-fi with an earnest, positive, if still occasionally yicky, spin.

7 Billion Needles, vols. 1-4
by Nobuaki Tadano
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781934287873
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781934287958
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9781932234275
Vol. 4 ISBN: 9781935654162
Vertical, 2010-2011

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