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by Grant Jones,

Tokyo Aliens

GN 1

Tokyo Aliens GN 1

Akira is your average young high school student, struggling in his classes and trying to get by. He lives with his mother and hopes to one day become a police officer like his late father who died in the line of duty. He looks up to more successful peers, like the dashing Shou. But one day on his way home from school, Akira encounters a woman who can shoot tentacles out of her back – because she's an alien! And furthermore, Shou ends up fighting her. Akira begins to learn there is more to the world than he knows as he becomes more involved in the secret force that protects the world from dangerous extraterrestrials.

Tokyo Aliens Volume 1 is written and illustrated by NAOE. It is edited by Sarah Tangney, lettered by Bianca Pistillo, and translated by Andria McKnight. Tokyo Aliens Volume 1 is published by Square Enix.


This first volume of Tokyo Aliens is a solid start to what looks like a promising series, but plays it safe in regards to what's in store for future volumes – perhaps a bit too safe.

The manga makes an excellent first impression, introducing a relatable goofball protagonist in Akira who is mediocre at everything, nervous everywhere, and perplexed by everyone. He's way out of his depth even in the mundane circumstances of school life, let alone in the outlandish scenarios he finds himself in involving aliens and special enforcement divisions. The frequent asides to Akira's internal monologue as he reacts to the situations around him provide both levity and a clear sense of his personality. It makes him funny and endearing and serves as an easy audience self-insert given that we all would likely be nervous and befuddled if we found ourselves caught up in the extraordinary events of a scifi superpower manga.

The setup is comfortable without being too daring. As Akira learns, the shadowy organization that Shou is a part of is a secret division of the police, with many branches all across the world. Aliens dwell in a hidden fantastical world just beyond our own, and this organization serves as a go-between when issues arise or violence occurs. There's talk of aliens visiting Earth, hot spots of immigration (Japan is in the top ten, the U.S. is number one), potential criminals, and memory erasure. It rings a bit close to Men in Black in this regard, though with less of the black suit uniforms of g-men and more of the manga costuming panache. It's a solid structure that sets up the world and its contours quickly while giving you a few pop culture touchstones to hang your hat on until things are developed in greater detail.

The primary emotional beats also hit well in this volume. The first story, involving an alien whose registration has expired but wants to stay with her human husband in his final moments, is genuinely touching. The impersonal rules of immigration and registration feel absurd in the face of the (pardon the pun) human story of love and loss, and there's a real sense that no laws can fully account for all of life's painful exceptions. The circumstances behind the death of Akira's father also help invest us in Akira's mission going forward, and the heartache of having had an argument right before losing someone is painfully relatable to many of us (myself included).

The visual craft on display is top notch too. NAOE's character designs are distinct and appealing without being overly exaggerated, lending to a sense of grounded interpersonal interactions without losing track of who each character is. The action sequences flow nicely and the layouts are clean, with a few daring pages that show NAOE's skill at dynamic panel work. The backgrounds – from subway car interiors to underground secret bases – feel believable and detailed, and the comedic side gags have a pleasing doughy quality that gives Akira a lot of his charm.

The only major issue of this volume is that there doesn't quite feel like there's enough of any one element to truly satisfy. If you are here for the over-the-top fight sequences full of incredible impacts and special powers, you only get a slight taste of that. If you are drawn into the mysteries of the setting and slow-burn reveals of long-hinted secrets, there's not much that lasts beyond the chapters presented here. If you like outrageous monster designs that flirt with themes like body horror and twisted mutations, there's only a glimpse of the extraterrestrial strangeness. If you love the tension between Akira and Shou and want to fall into the romantic rhythms of pining and the will-they-won't-they of awkward youthful love stories, you'll only get the barest amount before you're looking at the back cover.

In this way, Tokyo Aliens feels very much like a preview and not much more. Each of the elements on display is competently executed, but there is very little that seems to stretch into the future. It's hard to know which of these elements is going to be emphasized more in coming installments, or whether it's meant to feel like a grab bag of themes to whet your appetite regardless of where your interests lie. I'm reminded of movie trailer edits where sometimes the film is portrayed as a rom-com and other times as an explosive action flick, trying to entice seemingly disparate audiences with slightly different framing. That's not a negative per se, and it is only the first volume, but I do wish I had some sense of what was coming down the road.

Tokyo Aliens is playing with a hand full of good cards – I just wish NAOE hadn't kept them so close to the chest.

Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : A-

+ Great art, solid premise, strong characters
Feels like a sampler of themes at times, spread a bit thin

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Naoe
Licensed by: Square Enix Manga & Books

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