Tsubasa Shiina is a fourth grader who just moved to Hokkaido with her father. Shy Tsubasa has a hard time making new friends at school. Her father is concerned, but he's just too busy with his new job. He even shows up late on Parents' Day. One night, Tsubasa sees a strange-looking object falling from the sky. Is it a spaceship!? It falls right into the woods by her house. It turns out to be a wounded alien in a damaged spaceship. All of a sudden, a monster starts coming at Tsubasa! Tsubasa suddenly transforms into "Figure." Confused and afraid, she somehow manages to defeat the monster with her new unbelievable power. After the fight, Tsubasa sees a girl who looks just like her - the girl's name is Hikaru!
This is one of the marquee dramas in the department of paperback I've ever read, and is the overall best manga I've paid money for. Never before has two volumes of a manga enveloped such a compelling story like Figure 17. While I might be hotshotting this very early in the review, I'm having a hard time seeing anyone being disappointed in this series if they are looking for a solid, yet intricate tale of companionship, trust, and some alien busting action.
This might sound trite, but what Figure 17 does so well is being so character-driven. Granted, the argument can be made that
all stories are character driven, but more often than not, a great deal of what you learn about your protagonist in anime and manga is what they can do on the battle-field, or being really good at sports, etc. Every now and then, your run of-the-mill hero/herione will state that their power helps them protect their loved ones, and keep harm from coming to the the citizens of their respective towns or school. I have no bones to pick with that formula, I've seen it quite frequently.
But I haven't CARED genuinely about the motives or objectives of the hero in quite some time (Okay, my good guy is a Soul Reaper, ninja, ghost hunter, you name it. Fine, let's move on)! This is what makes Tsubasa Shiina so compelling. I can't get into too much critical detail, as they are kind of juicy, but watching her being thrusted into her crisis of alien invasion clean-up and learning how to accept the responsibilty, as well as learning other valuable life lessons and tokens of good wisdom with the help of a great supporting cast, headlined by Hikaru Shiina, is very satisfying. Only a handful of protagonists who started off wanting nothing to do with their tasks has won me over so well. Tsubasa is as shy a girl as you can get in a manga, but my God, she gains so much heart, it's amazing. She falls down, cries, and wants to be picked up, but starts picking herself up. I'm currently witnessing the same thing with Yoshimori in Kekkaishi, and he's another great example. All of the characters are very well written, with nobody feeling out of place or forced. Even the seemingly over-aggressive Kenta, who you may think might have a pine cone up his ass from the moment he appears, and the robotic Oldina, DD's alien higher-up watch dog (more like a grouchy human resources lady) who I eventually grew to like, are welcome players.
The artwork is gorgeous, utilizing expressive facials on the characters, and the artist's rendering of a rural Japanese mountain town is made all the better when faced with the fact that space creatures are burrowing beneath the surface. Action scenes are well drawn, and pretty fast-paced, as the fights start off brief.
IN CLOSING: I know I'm reading a fantastic manga with beautiful characters when I forget the focal point of the plot is about stopping aliens from taking over the planet. If you enjoyed Alien Nine, this is fairly similar in several aspects. It's short length puts me in the mind of reading an 80 minute sci-fi movie, and if I nitpicked, it could've been longer. But that's what the anime is for. This is everything you could ask a story to do for you and does everything right, with no mistakes I can point out, and that's why it's the best manga title I've ever read, and one of the very few that I'll give all 10's for.
OVERALL: 10 out of 10