story by Tadashi Kawashima; art by Adachitoka; adapted by Anastasia Morena
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
People have begun to commit suicide in Japan with no pattern or explanation evident in the deaths. Then it’s discovered that this phenomena is taking place around the world. By the week’s end, over 13,000 people are dead in Japan and over 100,000 globally. Just as quickly as they started, the suicides suddenly stop. The media and government search for any link between the victims but find nothing. Eventually, the popular theory is that this was an unknown religious cult’s final act of devotion.
Taisuke Kano is a high school student. He’s an earnest kid with a deep sense of justice and personal honor. His best friend Yuichi Hirose is constantly picked on by a group of bullies. Taisuke always defends him and gets beat up as a result. Yuichi goes up to the school roof with a girl from another class only to find out it’s a trap by the bullies. Taisuke figures out what’s happened and rushes to help his friend. When Taisuke gets to the roof, Yuichi is on his knees amidst the mutilated bodies of his tormentors. Yuichi sees Taisuke and swears he didn’t do it. Yuichi is arrested for the murders and after a week in jail comes back to school. However, Taisuke notices that Yuichi has changed, and he wants to know what’s happened to him.
I recently saw M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, and since it and Alive share similar beginnings, it’s hard not to compare the two. The Happening left me deeply disappointed. It’s proof that Shyamalan is running out of ideas and needs to rethink his approach to movie making. In contrast, Alive is interesting and keeps the reader constantly in suspense. It’s what a Shyamalan film used to be like.
Alive is a well-crafted sci-fi suspense manga. Kawashima does an excellent job of pacing the story and parceling out the information he feeds the reader. Each new fact leads to new questions and whets your appetite to learn more. It’s a deliberately paced book that gives the reader time to reflect on the events as they unfold. I’m a big fan of slow-build storytelling, so this book was a treat. It’s also refreshing to read a manga that doesn’t feel it needs to break the sound barrier to tell a story.
In a work of suspense, it’s especially important for an audience to connect with the protagonist in order to keep them involved, since the author is withholding a lot of information about what’s going on. Taisuke is a young teenage idealist. He demands a lot of himself and those around him. When he sees Yuichi on the rooftop surrounded by the carnage, he can’t bring himself to approach his friend. He can’t forgive himself for being human enough to be repulsed by the gore. He camps outside the police headquarters for the entire week Yuichi is incarcerated demanding to see his friend so he can apologize for his behavior. Kawashima communicates Taisuke’s sincerity and youth so poignantly that he makes such an extreme character believable. Even more importantly, he makes Taisuke sympathetic, which is part of the appeal of this manga.
My one complaint with the writing is Taisuke’s older sister, Yoko. She’s the school nurse and the only family Taisuke has left. She is very attractive and knows it. She uses her looks to manipulate the other male faculty members for free lunches and other minor favors. Her most disturbing quality is her constant sexual teasing of Taisuke. Early in the manga, she comes out of the bath with just a towel on and proceeds to flash Taisuke. It’s creepy to say the least. Hopefully, she will become more well-rounded in future volumes.
The artwork is solid, if not impressive. Adachitoka’s character designs and page layouts are all competent. I’ll give him credit for keeping the artwork clean and easy to follow.
Alive is not just a good manga, it’s good human focused sci-fi. In that sense it’s similar to Planetes, where the people and not the science are the center of the story. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a page-turning suspense story that keeps you guessing. I look forward to reading volume two and seeing how the story progresses. I’m also interesting in see how Taisuke matures through the series.
(A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher for this review.)