Here’s a new entry in the ‘Manga You Should Be Reading’ series I started here at BNP about singular manga series that I spotlight and elaborate on. I aim to write about manga series that are highly acclaimed, manga series that are finally getting anime adaptations, and hopefully manga that will move you the way that they have moved me.
At heart, with these entries–major spoiler free–I hope to give you a good feel of the series and why it is so loved and/or poured over. This is a manga series that I consider a hidden gem that really surprised me with the depth of its narrative and extremely detailed artwork in regards to mechanical beings. My friends, you should be reading the ever-intriguing Country Without Humans!!
The Country Without Humans
Story and Art by: IWATOBINEKO
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Available Formats: Print
Ongoing or Completed: Ongoing (3 volumes as of June 2023)
Localization Team: Deniz Amasya (Translator), Robert Harkins (Letterer), Kim Kindya (Adaptation) Leighanna DeRouen(Proof reading), Jenn Grunigen (Editor)
What is this Manga About:
Shii finds that she is the only human left in a city inhabited by nothing but machines. She awakens and is on the run from terrifying machines suited for combat and hunting. As she flees the eerie and unfamiliar streets, she has a fateful encounter with a mechanical golem named Bulb. While the golem is without speaking capabilities, it is a strange machine that protects the young girl and makes her feel safe. She follows it home and this event serves as the start of their journey together as companions as protector and the one being protected.
The streets and shops of this entire city are bustling and full of life…but not humans. Artificial life cleans the streets, waits for customers in shops, and looks for people to guide through town. They make beds, polish walls, collect garbage and yet all the humans have disappeared. Shii looks for answers along with the silent Bulb. Together as they travel, the little girl finds new allies, learns despairing realizations, and finds that there’s a lot more than what meets the eye in this place.
Her relationship to Bulb, a golem (an autonomous humanoid robot built to take orders from humans and carry out their will), changes with every dangerous encounter that they have with the greater conspiracy that once divided humans and golems. Can their existences be beneficial to each other? Can these two ultimately save each other? The Country Without Humans features a developing friendship between the two creations: human and machine—and the winding, complicated story to understand what happened to the society they both belong to.
- People who are endeared to the ‘found family’ trope
- Fans of mech, robots, and all manners of created machines
- Readers looking for shorter manga series with female protagonists
- Readers who love science fiction and dystopian settings in manga
- Manga readers who want an engaging story that challenges your ideal of humanity
Can My Kid(s) Read the Source Material:
The publisher’s website labels the manga as “TEEN.” This manga is for readers roughly ages 13 – 17 years of age. I would recommend this series be held for the older teens for some emotional scenes that have some imagery that might be deemed scary for younger readers.
Where Can I Read It:
Who are Some Important Characters You Should Know About:
Shii: an adorable, little girl who is on a mission to figure out what’s going on and why she’s the only human in this bustling city of man-made machines. She’s small and short in stature but loud. She is ever curious about the world and how it all works. She sees Bulb as her protector and his first friend in this strange journey that she’s taking.
There are gaps in her memory, but she has strange dreams that hint at her parents, her home and important places she thinks she should return to. She maintains a belief that while it’s great that golem serve humans, they should have a say in their work. She hates to see golems mistreated and doesn’t agree with the casual way that they are disassembled, treated as secondhand citizens, and tossed away when deemed worthless. She is a much more important person in the great scheme of things than she knows.
Bulb: a golem: an autonomous humanoid robot built to take orders from humans and carry out their will. It has an interesting design that includes an intimidating build with a single eye that often stares. Being non-verbal, it gives off a stoic attitude but is aided by the speak-compatible assistant golem, Muimui, that acts a sort of sidekick character.
Bulb is a highly adaptive model of golem that can engage in combat, rescue, and searching. Readers may find the backstory behind its previous master a sad story, yet I found that it evolved into a more layered story involving illegally modified goods and who has the right to better their life with such machines.
Why I Believe You Should be Reading it:
The Country Without Humans delves into a world that many, if not most of us, have envisioned already. At this point with the wave of AI-generated media, robot powered task forces, and more and more self-service kiosks in our neighborhoods, it is a world without humans. I, myself, have pondered about the price and value of labor when it is taken out of the hands of people. I’m happy to hear that some work is automated, yet other work needs a human touch, or ear. There’s a steady, consistent argument that all of this will make it all easier or streamlined, and people will be able to have a better quality of life. Yet, anyone who wasn’t born yesterday knows of stories we’ve consumed from comics to films to video games that tell of the darker side of this idealistic view and how quickly it can quickly develop and get out of hand.
For me, what makes The Country Without Humans so intriguing is IWATOBINEKO’s take on how we can define being alive and how we might consider who or what is precious. Through Shii and Bulb, readers will be challenged with their grasp of humanity and who or what is more sacred and important to society. Shii finds a world that is willing to cater to her, a world she is told is made for her. Yet, this doesn’t comfort her. She’s alone without any other humans around and yet finds mechanical beings who keep bringing out emotions in her: protectiveness, joy, fear, and so on.
The first volume features a few pages of the memories of an assistant robot at the junk shop Shii finds herself at. It is revealed that its owner, now long gone–was a legitimate parts dealer–obtained the robot and made it into his own effective worker. The dealer found a cheaper way to gain cheap labor and even saw it as a form of revenge: he was replaced by such a model. After losing his job to the new robot workforce the city created, he turned to seedy dealings, unable to make an honest living. These small bits of the story masterfully add to the bigger picture of issues that had been created and festering in the city that was upgraded to make life easier for all.
The second volume of this manga series is my favorite: readers will uncover more about Bulb’s master and the many people and golems who fell into the cracks and created their own lives. Shii finds a number of golems and learns about their many functions. Some golems were created to be friendly–social use golems. Others are more intricate than others, emulating humans or toys for children. Others were made for more nefarious or unsettling purposes with tools and weapons meant for cruel purposes. One truth remains for all: they all desire directions and purpose from another-a human.
This brilliant second volume of The Country Without Humans brings us a story courted with different movements–like the Droids Rights movement of the fictional Star Wars universe when we learn of the damning and stigma of illegally modified golems seeking out a living. I am also reminded of the real life Right To Repair movement that strives to legally allow owners of devices and equipment to freely modify and repair their belongings. The cast of golems that Shii and Bulb are surrounded by grows and giving readers glimpses into the many different golems created and the ways that they service each other, protect each other, and, in a way, keep each other whole.
The third volume of The Country Without Humans builds on that momentum with much emotional upheaval that I wasn’t ready for. This particular leg in the journey asks readers what makes a life manufactured. The exit of a certain character introduced in the previous volume begs the question of how to define servitude and when does it become someone or something’s purpose that carries them. If mechanical beings, machines “live” to serve, then do they also live to retire or end their lives? I was reminded of the controversy in regard to morality when euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide, is brought up in debates, and this pushes the narrative in this manga to be a thought-provoking one that I continue to think about.
What this manga series does have that may seem formulaic to some readers is the child/younger person/creature team up with the older and/or stoic person/non-human that is already so present and as a trope in much of the media we consume. Bulb guides Shii, who knows little of this world and also is an amnesiac. I agree this trope is overused; however, these two make the tropes and this story their own. Not every story about dystopias is created equal, yet IWATOBINEKO’ s work feels special with this duo. The child and the golem both actively seek to protect each other. I believe that they help redefine what a family unit can be. Just as a family can be parents and a child, it can also be a lion and his group of weiner dogs, and it can also be a little girl, two golems, and their comrades who protect her and are basically raising her.
The Country Without Humans has built up such an intriguing story revolving around purpose, consent, and desire against the backdrop of the absence of humans and the complicated messiness that created carrying on without them. With only three volumes published so far, it has pushed the envelope in crafting a relevant and moving story on being a single gear in the moving parts of a near future society. I love that the series shines a light on the darker parts of innovation and reminds me as a reader that agency belongs to us, all. Including, Bulb and the other golems who have plenty to teach humans and vice versa. I love the hints about evolution, the limits that both humans and machines have, and the consequences that can spill out and make change. I continue to be invested in this series and believe you should be reading The Country Without Humans!
The Country Without Humans is available where comics and most manga are sold.
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