Alien Nine is a stunning and evocative little series with tons to offer in each of its attempted facets. It commands the reader's attention with a starkly idiosyncratic approach to visuals, appeals to the emotions, makes you care for its characters and gives you plenty to think/cheer about.
One of the first things I noticed when I began reading was the nuances in visuals, namely, the juxtaposition of intentionally crude, cutsey character designs with frighteningly detailed, angular, gross images of alien's and their appendages. The effect this dichotomy creates remains consistent throughout the series, as the violence is never suppressed; Tomizawa pulls no punches in his
depiction of the endeavors of grade-school girls and their battles with aliens.
Speaking of school-age girls, the three central characters are quite different and, thankfully, have some substance that only grows as the series goes on. Each girl starts with their own personality and reason (or lack thereof) for joining "the Alien Party." As the series goes on, each girl sees some truly dramatic changes in character, some psychologically, some physically... and watching these changes, how they come to be and what events they inspire, is what makes Alien Nine a compelling page-turner.
I think the manga's greatest strength, though, when considered with its characters, is the events. This is "Things Actually Happen: the Manga." Character development and arcs, plot revelations, subtle/not-so-subtle explanations of occurrences, it has it all. In keeping with this technique of moving of the story inexorably forward, the theme of body horror becomes quite important and it isn't cheaply depicted at all. There's plenty of terrific spectacles in the manga; I found myself thinking/saying multiples times; "holy shit, that actually happened!," or, "did she really just say that?" You'll focus on the images, as that effect/dichotomy I mentioned earlier in the writing is consistent but it's really about what's happening. In other words, it looks damned cool but focus on what the characters are doing and saying and the effect is dramatically improved.
Alien Nine is a criminally under-read piece of work and a stunning narrative application of the "Superflat" art form. It's story is just as important as its art and visuals, and taken together they make a powerfully memorable, evocative team.
Curious and imaginative manga, falls a bit short due to inconclusive ending but it's short and intriguing read nonetheless that's easy to recommend to people looking for something more strange and unique in their fiction.
Alien 9's most remarkable point for me is the world Tomizawa manages to craft over mere 30 well paced chapters. Right off the bat it starts with a class choosing a new member for the alien party, a group of 6th graders tasked with taking care of regular alien threat besieging the school and it only gets weirder from there.
I can't say the plot is as intriguing as it doesn't
really go anywhere, near the end there's a reveal that contextualizes what was happening prior and could've taken manga in a whole new direction but the whole thing ends shortly after without wrapping things up in a way that would be satisfying. It's the "but the journey goes on" type of deal before they journey really got to unfold. As such I treat this mostly just as short glimpse into bizarre sci-fi world.
Characters are decent but too remarkable, main protagonist Yuri is a useless crybaby that remains such throughout the entire manga, she doesn't really change or learn anything, her main flaw remains until the end. Perhaps the only thing of note happening is her getting attached to her friend Kumi but it's mostly there to justify a plot point later on and has little effect on her character interactions or decisions she makes. Overall she's more of a blank slate plot device than a character.
Kumi and Kasumi are a bit more interesting cause roughly 2/3 of the way through they undergo some major changes revealing which would spoil too much but it adds another trait to each of them, changes the way they behave and overall is an interesting mechanic even if it's a pretty blatant and easy way to force character progression it works.
There are some themes of loneliness, abandonment, dependence, coexisting and puberty but all I can say is that they are kinda there, none of them are explored to any meaningful extent and are just thrown in there. You might get something out of them as like most things it's up for interpretation but there's nothing substantial in here to make any conclusion more than just guesswork or a stretch connected with vague symbolism.
While it's not quite refined or consistent with proportions and basics it's still quite imaginative. Character designs are cute and distinct despite some degree of same face going on. There's no shortage of detail when it would be needed aside from occasional backgrounds. One thing that I want to praise more than anything is how amazing alien designs are, they're unique, memorable and bizarre. There's a sense of mystery to each of them, you can't gather what they will be just from looking and it does feel like those things came from another planet even if some look like a twisted combination of animals you might know.
Overall it doesn't have that good of a narrative but everything else in there is worth taking a look at. It's a fun experience regardless.
There's nothing unusual about Elementary School 9. It runs a trimester calendar year for grade 1-6 students, and like other schools in Japan, Elementary 9 receives near-weekly visits from animalistic aliens, which need to be captured and contained. But of course, this job falls onto the young shoulders of Elementary 9's “Alien Party.” At the start of every school year, one sixth grader from each homeroom is elected to serve their final year of elementary on the Alien Party. For the skittish Yuri Otani, having to corral alien creatures while donning rollerblades and putting a symbiotic alien on her head totally sucks. Unable to leave
the party, she's encouraged by her mom, one friend and her alien-catching partners.
Alien Nine has a lot of neat little things going for it; intriguing character designs, some really cool alien concepts (such as the “Yellow Knife” and the “Borgs”) and a pace which never drags. Each volume covers the (often traumatic) experiences of Yuri, Kumi and Kasumi through a single trimester. Midst the alien confrontations are quiet character transformations and fun interactions between Yuri and her Borg partner. Many of the panels in Alien Nine are free of dialogue, meaning that chapters can fly by if you don't slow down to appreciate the visuals.
Compared to the warm colors (and lacking the psychedelic tunes) of the OVA adaptation, Alien Nine's black and white manga art is bleak and carries a much darker tone. The character designs are quite unique, with big ears and nicely-rounded faces, but Alien Nine is a bloody and slimy affair (most of the carnage befalling the various alien species). When interviewed by Central Park Media for the English publication, creator Hitoshi Tomizawa interestingly noted, “I think that the brutality was too blatant, which is something I regret now.”
But Alien Nine has more than blood and gore. Tomizawa crafts plenty of cool ideas and fun scenes into this short work. At three volumes (four if the 2003 volume of Alien 9 Emulators is included), Alien Nine can easily be read in a single day. If you can stomach some alien entrails and a rather bizarre, yet well-executed premise, go for it.
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