Story and art by: Hitoshi Tomizawa
English Publisher – Central Park Media (CPM)
Genre – Action/Adventure,Horror,Sci-Fi
Volume 1 ISBN – 1-58664-891-8
Volumes – 3
This review is based on the first volume in the series.
Sixth grader Yuri Otani has been elected to be her class’ representative on the Alien Party. That means that she has to defend the school from the weird aliens that are always threatening the peace… and she has to wear a gross symbiotic alien called a Borg on her head while she does it. Yuri’s two Alien Party team-mates, the take-charge Kumi and the enthusiastic Kasumi, seem to be embracing their alien-fighting duties with gusto, but Yuri isn’t having such a good time of it. She’s scared of the aliens, she hates having to wear a Borg on her head, and she spends more time crying and hiding behind Kumi than she does actually fighting the aliens. Yuri isn’t allowed to leave the Alien Party, though, and it seems that there’s more to the aliens (and to the Alien Party’s advisor Miss Hisakawa) than meets the eye. How will Yuri survive sixth grade?
Alien Nine does a pretty good job of convincing you it’s a simple, straightforward, high-spirited science fiction manga. Well, okay, it is all those things, but don’t be fooled — there’s something else entirely going on here as well, something deeper and darker and pretty darn cool.
At first, it sucks you in with what looks like a formulaic set-up. Yuri, our main character, is presented as an ordinary elementary school girl who is afraid of the challenges that face her. She is then paired up with cooler and more confident classmates that she can look up to. From my prior manga-reading experience, I expected to see Yuri inspired to face her fears and overcome them.
In this first volume, at least, that is definitely not what happens.
Normally I’d find a character like Yuri — a cry-baby who is reduced to a snivelling mess of tears in the face of adversity — most unappealing. But she spends most of this volume being forced into situations she clearly cannot cope with, and that created a surprising amount of sympathy for her in my mind. The way she is compelled to wear the alien Borg on her head despite her obvious distress seems at times to border on abuse, and there’s an attack upon her later in the volume by three alien-wearing classmates that could be seen as a particularly harrowing incident of bullying. It’s not that I enjoy watching little girls made to suffer, but there’s no better way to create sympathy for a character than heaping undeserved suffering upon them. At this point, I’m behind Yuri a hundred percent, and I’m into this story even more than that.
In addition to the marvellous psychological drama being played out here, the larger-scale science fiction plot is also very good so far. The aliens are presented in a very interesting way, and questions about their true motivations and their presence at the school are introduced gradually, in a subtle way that only makes those questions more intriguing. Similarly, I remain unsure of what to make of the parents and teachers, especially the perky Miss Hisakawa. The roles of these authority figures have subtly disturbing undercurrents at this point in the story, and I’m very interested to see how those undercurrents will be explored in the remaining two volumes of the series.
Hitoshi Tomizawa’s artwork, like his writing, works on more than one level. The character designs are delightful, with a distinctive style and cuteness that helps draw the reader into the story even further. He does a good job of getting the characters’ emotions across via facial expressions and body language. The designs of the aliens are unusual and interesting, with biological details that range from funny to disturbing. The action sequences are highly imaginative, playing off the girls’ personalities and the unique alien designs. There are also lots of clever little touches, like the Alien Party’s “uniforms” (roller blades and gym clothes) and the Borg’s drill bit extensions. These details invite you to linger over the artwork seeing what else can be discovered.
CPM’s presentation has both good and bad points. Overall, it’s quite attractive; with a cool, clever back cover that I think will definitely compel attention and intrigue potential readers. And, as I did with their release of Samurai Legend, I applaud the inclusion of translator’s notes and an interview with the creator. These are cool extras like those you’d find on a DVD, making an already appealing package even better. On the other hand, the artwork (and even some speech balloons) are cut off at the edges of a few pages, making it seem that the artwork was reproduced too large for CPM’s chosen book size. There are also no page numbers, which makes it harder to mark your place or locate a cool scene. These appear to be relatively minor flaws that could be fixed with a minimum of effort in future volumes.
Its cute artwork and school-aged main characters may make Alien Nine seem like a series geared for all ages, but there’s an intensity under that seemingly benevolent surface that I suspect would make it appropriate only for older teens and up — readers younger than that might not necessarily be offended, but they just might not get what’s really going on.
I strongly recommend Alien Nine to readers looking for something a little different in their manga. There’s some real depth here, and storytelling with layers both delightful and creepy. It’s the best kind of storytelling, and if this first volume is anything to go by the rest of the series is going to be even more intense, interesting and thoroughly enjoyable.