Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
You thought you had it rough in school! Yuri, Kumi and Kasumi have all been elected by their teachers to join the ‘Alien Party’, a defense force that roves about the school taking care of the disgusting and pesky aliens that pop up from time to time. Their job is containment, and their weapons are three symbiotic aliens that the girls wear as hats to defend themselves from the encroaching intergalactic menace. Kumi struggles with the stress of the situation, thoroughly depressed about her new school situation; but there's something sinister at work behind closed doors at school. Will Kumi unravel the mysteries before it's too late?
One of the most unique series to come along in a while, Alien Nine sort of popped up out of nowhere and managed to make quite a splash among Japanese fans, spawning a popular 4-part OVA series. The manga version is, essentially, a slightly more violent version of that OVA; it's unique, and it's creepy and disturbing, but somehow the entire concept seems like it's lacking something.
The manga wastes no time getting right into the thick of things; there's no explanation of the world people are living in. The main characters are barely introduced before they're thrust into various alien-fighting situations. There are literally about 2 pages worth of storyline before the teachers say 'You're in the Alien Party now, have fun!' and send the three girls off on their way. The characters are then slowly developed over the course of the next several chapters, and this is where the writing is allowed to shine. Kumi, the nervous girl, is the central focus of the manga, with the other characters being developed in short vignettes. The dialogue is breezy and clear, and usually subtle enough to add depth to the characters without sounding clunky or obvious.
The world development is where Alien Nine runs into a few problems. Whenever anyone is explaining the world around them, it comes across as being lazy and expository. People sit around and tell each other things they already know, just for the sake of the audience. This aspect of the writing style is highly annoying and one couldn't help but think that Alien Nine would have benefited greatly from a short prologue explaining what the current situation in Japan is. Other than that, the writing is fairly clever. The plot progresses along nicely, although the big ‘mystery’ as to what's really going on isn't much of a mystery anymore. It would have been nice had the author bothered to cover it up for a little bit longer; as it stands, it's fairly obvious by the end of the first book what's going on and how things are going to resolve.
The art style is decidedly different, refreshing and unique. The story centers on a trio of junior high girls, but there's no pandering to the lolicon crowd here. The aliens are designed with a flair for the grotesque, opting for a quasi-amphibious look that would certainly creep out anyone in Junior High school. At times it's somewhat unclear exactly what's going on, because the rather simplistic (at times) artwork doesn't do an excellent job of explaining the events, and the often-inadequate dialogue doesn't either. You may find yourself confused more than once in Alien Nine, but not often enough to warrant giving it a pass altogether.
This manga was released by CPM, and thusly you'll pay about 7 dollars more for it than you would for anything released by Tokyopop. The pages are a bit larger, the paper and cover are made from higher quality material, and there are extensive translator's notes and an interview with the author included. In today's manga publishing landscape, this could be considered a higher-priced ‘special edition’ with extra features that you may or may not want to pay for. Most people probably would have been happy with a release priced at 9.99 that didn't include this extra stuff. If CPM really wants to compete, they need to get their prices down.
If you're in to sci-fi at all, then Alien Nine is just intriguing and clever enough to warrant a purchase, provided you can stomach the 16.95 cover price. The series as a whole can be a little confusing, but manages to be wholly unique in a medium that seems to thrive on repetition and cliché.
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Unique story, decent artwork
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