Tadano Nobuaki’s 7 Billion Needles starts off right, with an extremely introverted girl walking by the sea and noticing what at first looks like a shooting star, but which then turns towards her and incinerates her.
She gets better, though, and also gets drafted into helping to hunt down an extraterrestrial menace which threatens all life on Earth.
Clearly, Tadano’s story, based on Hal Clement’s Needle, jumps right into the action. For good reason, too – the whole series is only four relatively short volumes, and Tadano keeps up a brisk pace throughout. On one hand, this means that there’s never a dull moment, no need to pad out the story to make it longer, nor any sense of rushing to finish too quickly. On the downside, there’s not a lot of depth here, and a couple fairly major changes in characters’ personalities come too abruptly (for those who’ve read it already, I’m thinking especially of the change in the relationship between Horizon and Maelstrom). Overall, though, the comic is as close to a perfect length for this story as one can reasonably expect.
I also found myself thinking “They’re having an Evangelion moment!” a couple times towards the end. It’s not actually too similar, but we do have someone trying to merge all humanity into a single being, and the fate of the world depends on a couple moody, socially awkward teenagers. One of the highlights for this series is how Tadano links two separate concepts, saving the world and learning to relate to other people. Maelstrom, the antagonist, has taken over the body of someone at progatonist Hikaru’s school. So, she’s forced out of her shell because she has to begin talking to her classmates to try to figure out which one is Maelstrom. Another girl must learn a similar lesson in the last two volumes.
The artwork is excellent, with expressive characters and detailed backgrounds, and the everyday and science fiction elements fit together well. It’s a bit grotesque at times, and the second and third volumes contend for the most unappealing covers to any book I own, but it’s appropriate for the story, so I won’t complain.
The translation, which isn’t credited to anyone specifically, is clear and sounds good in English. I should also note that Vertical did their usual fine job with quality paper and binding. They also included a couple extras. First, there are a few pages of rough designs and sketches. There’s not much to these, but it’s nice to have, nonetheless. Second, we get a short comic, “Hikkikimori Headphone Girl,” whose protagonist apparently served as a prototype for Hikaru.
Overall, I really enjoyed the comic, and it’s probably the best I’ve read so far this year. It’s one of the best-executed stories I’ve read recently.