Kanta On Manga / Weird Science Manga Highlights 'umwelt'


KANTA ON MANGA / Weird science manga highlights 'Umwelt'

Rapid progress is being made in the field of genome editing, an advanced type of genetic engineering that involves directly rewriting genes. A technology called CRISPR-Cas9, which was introduced in 2012, is said to be able to edit gene information as simply as carrying out a cut and paste command on a computer, and there are hopes that the technology could lead to cures for hereditary diseases.

At the same time, some have said the ability to freely modify the genes of fertilized eggs is moving us closer to creating "designer babies." This week’s manga, "Designs," presents a world in the not-too-distant future where genetic technology has advanced even further and with more sinister results.

 

In conflicts around the world, strange "soldiers" begin to appear: A girl who can jump like a frog, a leopard with a human face, boys and girls who can communicate with each other as dolphins do. In the story, these creatures are referred to as "humanized animals," or HA, the handiwork of a genome editing project sponsored by a biotech corporate giant.

They were originally developed as a labor force that is easily adaptable to outer space, but they are actually used as military weapons in battlefields for experimental purposes and in demonstrations for fundraising. What is worse, HAs are sent after HA escapees to kill them, forcing them into life or death battles among themselves.

Does the existence of HAs contravene the divine prerogatives of the gods, or are they a new advanced form of life that transcends humanity?

What’s special about mangaka Daisuke Igarashi is his ability to depict humanity and nature with the same level of realism in his work. His overwhelming artistic talent is supported by his rich philosophical imagination. Thanks to Igarashi’s vivid depictions, we can appreciate the world of a frog girl whose skin is a keen sensory organ, and share the experience of dolphin children whose lives depend on their heightened sense of hearing.

 

This manga also features Jakob von Uexkull’s Umwelt theory. According to the German ethologist, in what we perceive as "the world," there are in fact as many self-centered worlds (each called an Umwelt) as there are living species. In other words, the world perceived by humans should not be thought of as the only world in existence.

The collaboration and conflict that exists in such self-centered worlds is a significant theme in this series. Many of Igarashi’s works are more sober affairs, in comparison to the spectacular battles that occur in "Designs."

However, I want to stress that this is the kind of story that only Igarashi could create. I’ve been a fan of his manga ever since he debuted, so simply admiring his artwork in this manga is more than enough to satisfy me. I hope you too can appreciate the magnificence of his work.

 

Ishida is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior specialist whose areas of expertise include manga and anime.