“Nobody knows when the world became this way,” intones young Suzu (Sora Amamiya) moments into “Blame!,” and though that world is familiar, it’s not without its surprises. Hiroyuki Seshita’s adaptation of the 10-volume manga by Tsutomu Nihei envisions a society in which man contended with machine and lost — now, untold years later, the few humans left within the unfathomably large Megastructure are on the brink of extinction.
This being a post-apocalyptic cyber-wasteland, our heroes are of course a band of survivors attempting to eke out an existence in the futuristic dystopia their once-thriving planet has become. They’re stymied in their efforts by Builders, Exterminators and other mechanical beasts roaming the Megastructure: some large, some small, all deadly. Resources are scarce, outfits are sleek and straits are dire.
Seshita drops us right into the action, which is likely to please diehards and confuse the uninitiated. Once you’re passed the learning curve and grasped the particulars — namely, that Suzu and the other kids with her come from a dying village in desperate need of basic supplies — “Blame!” at least proves worth the 105 minutes that Netflix is asking you to spend with it.
Though clad in full body suits that look like kabuki skeletons and wielding space-age weapons, Suzu and her ilk aren’t as formidable as their outfits make them seem. Theirs is an ancient future, all hunter-gatherers and village elders, with the world (such as it is) beyond their humble borders both thought and spoken of as a hostile place to be ventured into only when necessary. Unfortunately, that time draws near: they face starvation within a month should they fail to find a new food source.
Enter Killy (Takahiro Sakurai), an outsider and deft survivalist whose own quest is for something of far greater import: the Net Terminal Gene. (No one seems to know what exactly that is, but surely something carrying such a name has to be significant.) With the assistance of a severed robotic head named Cibo who’s been waiting for them for 17,526,000 hours, he leads his new allies on a more all-encompassing mission for survival. Though presented as a laconic badass whose battle prowess is matched only by his capacity for brooding, Killy proves a far less compelling presence than both the (literally) wide-eyed Suzu and even that severed head. He gets results, but they add texture and detail.
Serialized between 1997 and 2003, the source material doesn’t carry the same novelty it might have in the pre-“Matrix” world. The film’s world-building is more engaging than its plotting, which skews toward the generic as the embattled good guys set out on their last-ditch effort to save what remains of humanity; there’s a sense, while watching “Blame!,” that there are more interesting stories on the fringes of this tribal future. But hey, at least they didn’t contrive a way to cast Scarlett Johansson in the lead role.
“Blame!” is currently streaming on Netflix.