Manga routinely goes out of print, especially if the series didn’t do well financially, or if it comes from a small publisher. Such is the case with Nobuaki Tadano’s 7 Billion Needles, published by Vertical Inc. in 2010. The era was a languid one in manga publishing. Borders was on the edge of financial collapse due to its mishandling of digital infrastructure among other reasons. We were in the heart of the Great Recession. It wasn’t an easy time to be a book publisher, and it wasn’t a time where a lot of extra disposable income was readily available. It was a series that I enjoyed the first volume of, and then forgot about.
Luckily, Vertical has been making its back catalog available for purchase in Amazon’s Kindle ebook store. This is a great opportunity for those of us who missed the books the first time around, because purchasing a complete set could cost you as much as $70-80 used. That’s double retail. The problem is volumes 3 and 4,
which had very short print runs. Thankfully, digital has no such problem. Edit: Ed Chavez at Vertical Inc. has informed me that all volumes of this series had at least two print runs. This means the price of those last two volumes is driven mostly by consumer demand and book availability to secondary booksellers. Thanks to Ed for pointing this info out.
7 Billion Needles is the story of Hikaru Takabe, the “new girl” living with her aunt and uncle after the untimely death of her father. She’s wrapped up in the grieving process and has withdrawn into herself, pushing away family and classmates alike. When an intergalactic life form melds with her in order to stop an evil that has destroyed countless planets, she must confront her fears and fight for the survival of the life of her entire planet.
Clearly 7 Billion Needles takes a line out of Hal Clement’s sci-fi classic Needle, but while there are some similarities, Tadano melds the tropes of Needle with the body horror of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and with classic teenage drama. The result is a heroine that wants reconciliation with her family and to make new friends, all the while battling for the survival of the planet in a world of grotesquerie.
The strengths of 7 Billion Needles lie in the illustrations of mutating and writhing flesh, but also in its sci-fi leanings. Early in the story, 7 Billion Needles questions the actual causes of evolution, and pushes you to think about how foreign sentient life forms would view our biologic diversity on Earth. The writing is smart, but doesn’t get too preachy, letting you take in the scenery as Hikaru tries to make the best decisions and protect the people she cares about. Furthermore, her struggles as a withdrawn person dealing with the death of her father and the loss and confusion of moving to a new home are very genuine.
I was really impressed with this comic. If you are a paper devotee, expect to spend plenty of cash on these four volumes. Digital copies are the complete opposite – the Kindle versions are quite affordable.
Sometimes, you miss out on a good thing the first time around. 7 Billion Needles is a reminder to take advantage of second chances.