Shounen fans may find their manga funds spreading thin this summer with the re-release of popular titles like “Naruto,” “Death Note” and “Fullmetal Alchemist” in three-volume omnibus editions. One title flying under the radar is “7 Billion Needles,” a four volume series in which Hikaru, a orphaned junior high student, must learn to face her fear of alienation—ironically while being possessed by an alien.
Hikaru would really like nothing more than to be left alone, but finds herself in the middle of an intergalactic cat-and-mouse chase. As the earth’s air is too stiff for aliens to exist without a host, an alien entity known as Horizon possesses her body while hunting down longtime rival Maelstrom, who seems poised on destroying everything in his path.
The problem is that neither alien knows which host the other has possessed. Finding the other can be like “finding a needle in a haystack,” Horizon remarks at one point.
The plot is similar enough: shy protagonist learns about herself while unknowingly getting herself involved in a quest to save the world, however, the spin really comes in Nobuaki Tadano’s ability for storytelling.
One popular trap for science fiction converted into a graphic novel is that the exposition can get heavy and tedious. Tadano remedies this dilemma by simultaneously telling two stories at once. In alternating panels, Horizon covers the earth-is-certainly-doomed exposition, while Maelstrom has already infiltrated Hikaru’s school in search for his own host body.
Even before Hikaru, or the reader for that matter, understand what’s going on, Tadano thrusts us into the middle of battle. The suspense is really the strength of the first two volumes, as Tadano creates a series of mini-arcs alluding to Hikaru’s father’s mysterious death which has relocated her to living with her aunt, and the principle plot of Maelstrom hunting down Hikaru while inadvertently—but not apologetically—making new victims along the way.
And to increase the tension, each mini-arc is punctuated with a liberal amount of blood. Now “7 Billion Needles” may not be as gory as “Hellsing” or “Elfen Lied,” but at times Tadano sure makes a concerted effort.
The true difference between “7 Billion Needles” and popular horror titles, however, again comes in the pacing. The fact that Hikaru is merely possessed by a supernatural being and does not develop superhuman qualities herself, means she is still functioning as a typical teenager.
She’s learning to make friends at school, suffering through her aunt’s lecturing at the dinner table and going shopping at the mall. Perhaps this makes the moments of graphic horror even more intense because Tadano lets readers calm down before violently jerking them back into the main plot.
Of course, pacing can also be a hurdle for a series that is only four volumes—after all, so much calamity to unfold and so little time. This doesn’t really become a problem until the fourth and final volume when an entirely new character, Chika, a classmate of Hikaru’s is introduced.
In this final volume, it’s apparent that “7 Billion Needles” suffers in the same way as “Death Note”—i.e. that late into the story, it abandons dynamic character relationships for new characters that are simply not as interesting.
Hikaru’s father and her friend Masaya who serve as the back story for Hikaru’s trauma are deserted in the pages of the second volume. The tension between Maelstorm and Horizon, the alien entities possessing Hikaru, is all but abandoned save a few jokes made for comic relief.
Chika on the other hand is blank, and frankly, annoying. After overhearing one of her friends call her “weird” in a chatroom, Chika begins questioning if anyone’s ever really liked her, leaving her with no other choice but to destroy the world.
This is a far cry from the somberly complicated character of Hikaru, who recognizes that she’s been shutting herself off from the world under a pair of headphones as a way to avoid the reality of the death of her father. After such a poignant opening story, it’s a little difficult to care about something as trivial as junior high gossip.
Tadano does attempt to tie everything together, but this is hard to do when the original story is sharing page space with a new arc beginning so late in the game.
However, also like “Death Note,” a less than stellar ending doesn’t diminish how fun it was to get there. If manga fans are looking for a series that actually ends in between rereading their favorite titles in omnibus, “7 Billion Needles” is definitely a worthwhile choice.Contact Susan Kemp.