Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
One day at school, Kitaro is approached by Aya Segawa, one of the cutest girls in attendance. She confides in him that she's positive that Sana Sakuma, another popular girl, is an alien. Kitaro can't quite figure out why Aya thinks this – after all, he can't see anything wrong with Sana – but he agrees to help her in her quest. But then Sana starts to think that Aya may be right and Kitaro finds himself caught in the middle of one very strange night.
Gen Manga has been around for a little over a year, producing a monthly anthology magazine of doujinshi (in the self-published sense rather than the fanfiction one) stories, and now their first collected volumes are hitting the virtual shelves. Available as both an ebook and in print, VS Aliens is a strange little tale of aliens, cute girls, and mixed motives that definitely requires some time to think it over, but overall introduces readers to a mangaka with the potential to craft some interesting stories.
The premise of Yu Suzuki's first work is fairly simple – Kitaro is an unremarkable high school boy who is suddenly approached by a cute girl he's never interacted with before. The girl, dark haired, bespectacled Aya Segawa, is afraid that another schoolmate is an alien. She claims to have seen Sana Sakuma's true form as her powers of transformation begin to wear off, and Aya's worried that an alien invasion is nigh. Kitaro's not quite sure what to make of this, especially since Sana is in the way of being the school idol – pretty, smart, and talented. Does that make it more or less likely that she's a visitor from outer space? Mostly, however, it feels as if Kitaro just feels a little sorry for Aya, possibly because he worries that she's deranged. So jokingly he talks to Sana and tells her that Aya thinks she's an alien. This has some unexpected consequences, and before Kitaro knows it, he's smack in the middle of something that he doesn't really understand.
That feeling of confusion also makes itself known to the reader, and the temptation is at first to simply write the book off as being immaturely written. While it's true that it is not as polished as the works of more seasoned mangaka, or those working more directly with the editors of a large publishing house, upon reflection after the book is finished, it becomes apparent that Suzuki did indeed have a clear path that he was following. The reader is kept just as confused as Kitaro as the story progresses, watching the genre jump around from “school days” to “sci fi” to “conspiracy story” and back again, giving us, perhaps, more sympathy for Kitaro than we might otherwise have had. It is a large risk to take, and while Suzuki isn't quite at the level where he can pull it off seamlessly yet, for the most part, if the reader is willing to go along with it, it does work.
Suzuki's art is light on both the tones and the backgrounds, mostly using gray spaces to denote nighttime scenes and giving us very few background details. In some cases this works well, such as the old bus/train station; when the scene is in someone's house, it is a little less effective. In general, however, it gives the story a positive otherworldly feel. His people, particularly the girls, have a slight K-On flavor to them in terms of faces and their overall shapes. Movement isn't a major part of the plot, but when we see a shot of Sana playing basketball, she does look as if she has been caught mid-jump.
There are a few editorial glitches that readers should be aware of going in and which may determine whether you buy this as an ebook or print. The first is that you want to be sure to get the second printing of the physical volume, as there were some sizing issues with the pages in the first, with the images too small for the page. Ordering directly from Gen should take care of that, however. Type-o wise, there are a few grammatical errors, but the biggest issue by far is that fact that towards the end of the book, “Sana” inexplicably becomes “Rena” and “Aya” changes to “Fumi.” The fact that this is not consistent suggests something that was obvious in the original Japanese, perhaps with alternate pronunciations of the kanji; if so, a note would have been helpful.
Overall, VS Aliens is, while clearly the work of an unpolished author/artist, an enjoyable romp. Readers need to go into it prepared to be as manipulated and confused as the protagonist, but the result is a silly, entertaining tale that doesn't fit comfortably into any one genre. If you're looking for something a little different from the norm and just off the mainstream, VS Aliens is a good place to start exploring the underground world of indie manga.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Strange story keeps you on your toes, pleasant art. Nice (albeit thin) paper quality on the print release.
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