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Blame! and the Transformative Power of Music} ?> Reading Tsutomu Nihei’s manga Blame! is akin to being dragged into the abysmal underbelly of someone else’s nightmare. The Megastructure, a self-evolving, sentient world of mechanical dread, keeps me subconsciously fighting for survival and the space to breathe.
However, Blame!’s distortion of time and space is its true source of terror. If the spindly-legged Safeguard don’t spear trespassers down for daring to leave their dwindling food supplies and claustrophobic conditions, then a few accidental dives into an alternative universe via black hole is sure to strip survivors of any sense of self they might have possessed.
It’s fascinating, then, that though the 2017 Netflix Original Film Blame! features an isolated human colony on the brink of extinction and trapped in a solar system-sized City, the film almost entirely does away with its source material’s morbid madness—largely due to its transformative score.
For 41 years of cinema history, movies were silent. The advent of soundtracks brought a reign of melody to the filmic arts, lending yet another of the powerful five senses to screenplays. Music became a method to convey intangible emotions, meanings, truths, and atmospheres in a story; and, in doing so, revealed the rich inner life dwelling within the narrative and, subsequently, within ourselves.
Blame!—much like its wandering hero, Killy—is a narrative about hope. It follows an immortal loner’s thousand-year, extra-dimensional journey to find the elusive Net Terminal Gene and restore power to the endangered mortals that created him.
Only music is powerful enough to convey the persona of Killy, a silent, brooding humanoid. Amidst a score crafted by one of anime’s trending dystopian composers, Yugo Kanno, Killy’s theme is the great neutralizer. He strides into the heat of dissonant-chord chaos and threadbare hopes, heralded by a meek, piano-led largo. Though the victorious violins, swelling resonators, and shrill synths fade with the dancing dust and debris, Killy’s form stands resolute. The unwavering keys and haunting howl of his theme testify to this outcome, long before the human eye beholds it.
That proverbial “human eye” is Zuru, who serves as the viewer’s perspective throughout the film. Her unwavering hope for the future, which Killy embodies, results in her village being spared from the Safeguard’s wrath. These poignant additions to the source material alter the grim mood of the original Blame! manga, but it’s the score that truly makes the tonal changes convincing.
In many respects, Killy’s theme is a reflection of Zuru’s perspective of him, and as such, his theme is not there simply to please ears and raise arm hairs (though it certainly does that). Rather, it serves as a form of revelation, reinforcing the unspoken promise that Killy will someday bring an end to humanity’s oppression. When I hear Killy’s theme, I can’t help cheering. The score immediately moves me to the most reflexive of responses.
Music has long been associated with the spiritual and supernatural, likely because it has a way of both drawing us beyond ourselves and drawing the beyond to ourselves. It is not David’s words, but his humble harp that soothes the demon-vexed King Saul. Orpheus traverses the Underworld and tames Cerberus with a lyre as his ward. From religious rituals and art therapy to the strum of a bard’s harp in an RPG, music empowers its listeners. Perhaps it is for this reason that we turn to music to express ourselves when words fail to give weight to the indescribable longings and bursting revelations of our souls.
Though feelings can be flighty creatures, they linger in our memories long after words and actions are forgotten, and feelings aroused by music can take us back to a formative moment in time more easily than any mnemonic device. While music can be used manipulatively to this end, stirring up emotion in place of substance, compositions reveal their true potency when used to enhance, convey, and help their audience better grasp a genuine expression of power. In doing so, music can remind us of forgotten inspirations and drive us to action.
In view of the film’s final scene—a panorama of the vast Megastructure—timorous hope blooms into a promise of undeniable deliverance. As Killy’s solitary back strides into the cybernetic catacombs on behalf of humanity, the score swells into an assuring climax. In that instance, gazing upon an awe-inspiring and intimidating view of unexplored existence, I become a believer—even if for a moment—that in the infinitely wide universe there is a Killy who will fight for the future until time begets eternity. And as long as I, like Zuru, choose to believe in that glorious hope, my faith will be my salvation.
Perhaps that is music’s true power. Like Killy, it does not need to speak to us with words. While music cannot take any corporeal action in our universe, however, it bolsters others to be feelers, thinkers, and performers in its stead. It reminds us that we can be transformed into actors, believers, and world-shakers. And, surely, if we can be so swayed by the intangible, how much more-so can we empower and transform others?