This week, a show about murder, gore, and the "other"; a show about ... more murder and gore, and one about luck.
Reviewby Bamboo Dong, Aug 26th 2003
Vol. 2: 2
Shows that pit cute schoolgirls against aliens and other bizarre entities form a strong staple of anime. Cluttering the art form with their perky charm, transforming prepubescent characters, and fluffy mascots, they provide for countless seasons of brainless entertainment. Replete with love-touting themes and formulaic plots, every scene can eventually be predicted as the girls battle one generic alien after another.
Luckily, Alien Nine is nothing like this. If it had to be placed on a color spectrum with trite monster-fighting shows, it would be the radio waves to the transforming girls' blues. Featuring plot twists that are almost sporadic in nature, the grotesque atmosphere of Hitoshi Tomizawa's three-volume manga series gives fans a radical taste of this time-honored genre. Snagging readers' attentions at the outset of the first graphic novel, the second one raises the bar and manages to move the story to another plane, even while taking the time to make sure the characters are evenly developed.
From the start, it's obvious that Alien Nine is not your typical alien fare. The scene opens up with a frog-like entity sitting lazily atop the school. As the girls take turns watching the monstrosity, Tomizawa snags the opportunity to recap the personality of each one. Kasumi is the enthusiastic one who sees the entire escapade as a fun exercise, Kumi is the scientific one who only uses rationale, and Yuri is the wimp who shirks her duties because of her constant fright. The alien eventually eats Kasumi, using her brainwaves to make the other students experience severe headaches and illusions of loneliness.
This scenario serves two purposes: the first is to provide a brief episodic adventure about monster fighting, and the second is to develop Kasumi's character. It lets readers see her lonely childhood, contrasting her perky nature with her feelings of being an outcast. Later, it's hinted that the alien has somehow taken advantage of her emotions and merged with her. However, when readers eagerly turn the page to see if that's confirmed or not, the chapter ends and the next episodic adventure begins.
In fact, the main problem with the Alien Nine manga is that it's simply hard to follow. The continuity between the stories isn't smooth enough to form a natural transition, nor obvious enough for readers to know that the story has changed. It isn't until the recap at the end of the book that many of the scenes separate themselves as standalone events.
The same continuity problem exists within the panels as well. Although there are limitations to the amount of flowing action that manga can show, some of the scenes have to be read multiple times to figure out what happens. Since the settings are so often cluttered with aliens and borg body parts, it's nearly impossible to discern what's going on in some of the panels.
Interestingly enough, in the interview with Tomizawa at the end of the book, he mentions that he wanted readers to be able to still use their imaginations while reading the manga. He didn't want to paint the scenes too explicitly or all the reader creativity would be taken out. While this explains why the manga panels are so sparse during the action scenes, it still doesn't give any validation to the difficulty in following the story. After all, no matter how creative a reader may be, he or she still won't be able to follow the story if there are no set guidelines.
To credit Tomizawa, though, the artwork in Alien Nine is most definitely unique. With the grotesque atmosphere permeating the entire story, it's no surprise that the artwork is just as monstrous. Scenes of limb severation, mutilation, and death are not uncommon, dashing any hopes that the story could just be a cute junior high school girl adventure. In this case, the interview also comes in handy, as the author explains his motivations for the gore. Wishing to show the aliens as animalistic, he allowed their actions to show them as beings free from complex logic.
The interview is actually one of the best things about the book. Explaining many of the author's goals, it's able to give reasons as to why some parts of the manga are so bad, such as the panel flow. In fact, the entire manga volume is packaged rather attractively. Part of Central Park Media's “Original Manga” line, the book is printed from right to left, with most of the original sound effects intact. It's a shame that none of the pages are numbered, but it's a trivial thing to complain about.
Overall, Alien Nine has a very unique flair rivaled by no other. The aliens are all creatively designed, and the fantastical artwork sets the mood perfectly. It's too bad that the story is so hard to follow. If it weren't for the character recaps at the end of the book, and the blatantly spelled out “Emergency Victim Reports,” everyone would be completely lost.
Story : B-
Art : B+
+ Unique art and cool aliens
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