Content warnings: 7 Seeds contains violence, death that is sometimes gruesome, and an attempted rape.
Yumi Tamura hasn’t had a series released in English since Basara, her award-winning fantasy epic of the 1990s. This might lead her fans in the Anglosphere to think she’s stopped work or that she peaked with Basara. However, Tamura continues to have a thriving career and just recently wrapped up the 35th and final volume of 7 Seeds.
A series that has been met with as much, if not more, acclaim and attention in Japan, 7 Seeds won Tamura her second Shogakukan Award. I like to think of it as a spiritual successor to Basara. Whereas Basara is implied to be set long after the apocalypse, 7 Seeds is placed in a world still shaken from whatever has permanently scarred it. But like Basara, 7 Seeds is a series that foremost is a story of many people and how they interact.
7 Seeds starts out from the point of view of Natsu, a timid shut-in who goes to bed one night and wakes up the next in a capsule caught in the middle of a storm. She, and the six other strangers in the capsule with her, are informed they’ve been in a cryogenic sleep while the world was destroyed, and their job, along with four other teams scattered throughout Japan, is to rebuild human civilization. But that’s a tall order, as just struggling to survive is daunting enough: new animals and plants, diseases, and even new patterns in the weather have all created a hostile world that may as well be alien.
And if that wasn’t enough, Natsu has to also get along with her new allies: the raucous punk Semimaru, the grizzled cop Botan, and Arashi, who might just be perfect boyfriend material if he wasn’t still obsessed with finding his old girlfriend, Hana.
Tamura’s art style hasn’t really changed since Basara. It’s still the many-lined shoujo style that people either love or hate, reminiscent of a messier CLAMP or the more modern Haruko Ishikawa. At times, like Ishikawa’s Land of the Lustrous, the wild lines and sense of flow can make it hard to distinguish what’s actually happening on the page. But I thoroughly enjoy its contrast against the clean, uniform cartoonishness that many younger manga artists employ. And that messiness perfectly suits the content of the story she tells.
Unlike Basara, which largely focuses on Sarasa’s single long journey, 7 Seeds is divided into multiple arcs and multiple stories. We see the story of Aramaki, the baseball player, whose Team Winter has five of its eight members die almost immediately, leaving just three to survive; Ango, the ruthless leader of Team Summer A, and the brutal training methods used to prepare them for the end of the world; and even Mark, a ventriloquist living in an underground shelter who tries to use his skills to keep people at peace while the world falls apart above them. The surviving members of all five teams, traveling to find a safe place to live, intersect with each other at points, and eventually all are brought together.
One thing I love about this series is how it’s as much a story of man versus nature as it is about man versus man. So many post-apocalyptic stories wipe out civilization, but leave the landscape untouched, painting a harsh picture of people set against each other, scrabbling for what remains of modern resources they can find. Here, anything that was not carefully preserved is gone, leaving the survivors no choice but to work together to create anew. Even the landscape itself is changed, with islands sinking, mountains rising, and new ecosystems obscuring what used to be there.
That said, people are people. Within the teams and between teams, conflict happens, sometimes resulting in violence. Team Summer A, trained specifically to survive the apocalypse, are a particular driver of this, as they’ve been taught everything about how to stay alive and nothing about how to live.
7 Seeds leans much harder into the horror genre than Tamura’s previous works. Almost everyone that is injured or dies does not do so easily or cleanly. Because we get to spend time getting to know them and their hopes, their likes and their friends, each one feels like a new punch to the gut. Sometimes the horror is a product of the environment, but more often it’s the product of people, doing utterly horrifying things for the sake of keeping the entire human race alive. Tamura’s deft hand with characterization shows itself here, allowing the “good guys” to make mistakes or even do terrible things, while reminding us that the “bad guys” are not soulless villains.
But 7 Seeds is not grimdark, a hopeless landscape. There’s little bits of joy as two teams meet and make connections, or discover an old cache of supplies. Most of the encounters between people are neutral, if not friendly, with joy that other people, new or old, have been found. One of my favorite parts of the series is seeing the first protagonist Natsu go from a shy and timid girl to finally showing bits of backbone and daring, celebrating when she manages to pull off something difficult. Even the unforgiving new Japan is part of this, occasionally showering characters with the beauty of a vast blanket of stars or a new kind of flower.
When the government of Japan realizes the end is coming and starts training Team Summer A to survive, they realize: what if that’s not enough? What if the key to the survival of humanity is something they didn’t anticipate? So they gather up a group of dysfunctionals, ne’er-do-wells and a shut-in, and form Team Summer B, Natsu’s team. Like its Team Summer B, 7 Seeds is unanticipated, a different take on the post-apocalytpic world by considering features others have not. Through it, Tamura tells a story that is both a standout in the genre and completely within her style of focusing on all the good and bad in humanity.
Here’s hoping that in the future, English readers can once again fall in love with a work of Yumi Tamura. With an anime adaptation recently announced, that future might not be so far off.