7 Billion Needles vol. 4
The end of the world as we know it
By Joseph Luster
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Getting to the end of the third volume of Nobuaki Tadano's 7 Billion Needles was another "damnit!" moment typical of the series, making the wait for the conclusion that much more unbearable. Well, it's finally here, and for the most part it does a commendable job of wrapping up the sprawling apocalyptic tale of evolution gone awry and the shut-in that may just be able to save our world from destruction.
At this point in the series our evolutionary ladder is in full-on meltdown mode. There's more flesh on these pages than the final act of Akira, and Hikaru's going to have to get her hands even dirtier if she expects to stop, or even reverse, the twisted state of things. While the series has always been about Hikaru first and foremost, it's here that she makes the most staggering change, cementing her transformation and pulling her miles and miles away from the girl we first met in volume 1.
This gradual and cleverly handled attitude adjustment is without a doubt the highlight of the saga, now truly its own beast even further separated from the Hal Clement novel from which it drew its initial spark of inspiration. Aside from Hikaru's revelations, however, the actual circumstances that wrap everything up are perhaps a little too neat and tidy, especially in the looming shadow of so much earth-rending biological horror. When things are at their messiest, Tadano offers up a decidedly janitorial conclusion that, while not entirely without merit, makes one wonder if this wasn't just all some grand illusion designed to get a shut-in to take off her damn headphones.
Which brings us to the supplemental story. This final volume includes the original prototype short that started it all. Hikikomori Headphone Girl might, at first glance, seem like something one would want to read prior to the story proper, but the insight it offers after blazing through the finale is a bit sharper than what the audience would have gotten out of it beforehand. Rather than a preview of things to come in 7 Billion Needles, Hikikomori is like a test-run for the character of Hikaru. As a result, it serves as a reminder of how things were with her at the start of Tadano's series, and how much things have changed by the end.
7 Billion Needles is another home run for Vertical, and it's a treat to be able to read all of it in one fell swoop. In fact, even if you've already read everything leading up to the grand finale—which hopefully goes without saying—I'd recommend starting from volume 1 and going straight through all over again. It makes for a briskly paced and well-constructed narrative that, despite some of the aforementioned shortcomings, is one of the better examples of sci-fi manga currently available.
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Story & Art: Nobuaki Tadano
© 2011 Nobuaki Tadano