by Nobuaki Tadano
published by Vertical; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Hikaru is a withdrawn high school girl who finds herself host to the alien Horizon. Horizon has come to Earth to stop his archenemy, Maelstrom, from destroying all life on our planet. However, bigger forces are at play. The Earth is ready for its next evolutionary jump. Horizon and Maelstrom discover they are simply agents of change used by the universe in planetary evolutions. Hikaru ends up playing the most significant role in the final outcome.
Inspired by Hal Clement’s 1950 novel Needle, 7 Billion Needles quickly moves beyond the young adult detective story of Clement’s original book. Nobuaki Tadano instead crafts a story that is more cosmic in scale and philosophical in tone.
You can think of each volume of 7 Billion Needles as an act in a play. Tadano carefully builds the story so that each volume takes you deeper into the cosmos he’s created. We learn alongside Hikaru that the universe we live in is a much richer place populated with beings that we only thought existed in our imagination.
Throughout the series, Tadano is able to balance the personal and cosmic deftly. He accomplishes this by making Hikaru’s character development central to the plot. For example, it’s easy to think of the beginning of volume 2 as simply a break from the main storyline to fill in some backstory. However, we discover in volume 4 that Hiraku’s experiences in volume 2 give her the needed maturity and insight to help keep Earth’s evolution from taking a wrong turn.
I have to confess I get lost in the cosmology presented in this series. Tadano begins with the standard model of the universe, but then he inserts these very unusual cosmic beings. Horizon and Maelstrom can be seen as manifestations of fundamental forces. Maelstrom is destruction but not for its own sake. He is the needed clearing away of dead wood and underbrush for new growth to occur. Horizon is the check needed to ensure that Maelstrom only clears away the detritus and nothing more.
Horizon and Maelstrom think of themselves as the highest forms of life in the universe. That illusion is shattered when Moderator shows up. He can be thought of as the manifestation of proper order. You get the sense that life-bearing planets are like gardens, and Moderator is the gardener for our little slice of the universe. Yet, he is not all-powerful or all-knowing. He is taken aback by the final resolution Hikaru manages to accomplish.
It feels like Tadano has taken the basic Shinto philosophy and projected it onto the cosmos. There is even a sense that the cosmos itself is sentient. Life is considered precious, and so beings like Horizon and Moderator are manifested to protect life. It’s an intriguing form of modern pantheism and a world I would like to spend more time exploring.
Tadano’s art is just as wonderful as his storytelling. The series is visually compelling. Maelstrom’s ability to combine and ingest different species reminds me of John Carpenter’s Thing. Tadano is able to convey the same sense of creepy on the page that Carpenter did on the movie screen. There are plenty of details to make you squirm in your seat as you turn the pages. On the other hand, this same attention to detail renders some beautiful landscapes when we visit Hikaru’s island hometown.
7 Billion Needles is an excellent example of the more speculative and philosophical side of science fiction. This would be a great series to give to hard-core sci-fi fans and comics fans in general. At four volumes, it’s not that intimidating an introduction to adult manga. It’s amazing that it’s Tadano first major work. The storytelling and art are indicative of a mature, experienced author. Tadano is now on my must-read authors list.