story by Tadashi Kawashima; art by Adachitoka; adapted by Anastasia Morena
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Taisuke Kanou’s childhood friend, Yuichi Hirose, has gained incredible psychic powers and kidnaped Megumi Ochiai, the childhood friend of both Taisuke and Yuichi. Taisuke has decided to chase after Yuichi. He wants everything to return to normal. These two volumes detail Taisuke’s journey to rescue his friends.
I previously reviewed volume one of this series. Tadashi Kawashima’s excellent storytelling continues in these two volumes. Impressively, he is able to maintain the suspense and creepy atmosphere of the first volume. He also continues the meticulously slow burn storytelling I loved. Revelations are crafted to keep the reader always wanting to learn more. He only allows us to know as much as Taisuke. Occasionally, Kawashima will shift the narrative to Yuichi and his comrades, but only to hint at a bigger picture unfolding, which further whets the hungry reader’s appetite for more information.
The eeriness of this manga comes from seeing the transformation a person undergoes once they receive psychic powers. Called comrades, they lose not just their former personalities but also their humanity. They see themselves as members of a new superior species intuitively drawn to fulfill some grand vision of a new Earth. They are machine-like in their focus to bring about this brave new world. It’s creepy to watch them interact among themselves and with normal humans. Non-comrades are seen as bugs getting in their way, so they show no hesitancy or emotion when they kill a human. They also don’t seem to require much of a reason either.
Taisuke is a compelling character. He’s an earnest and good person who cares intensely for his friends and family. His tremendous respect for life makes it impossible for him to see anyone hurt, suffering, or killed. This trait causes him to charge in recklessly to save anyone he sees in danger. Technically, he is a comrade, but it seems his conversion was incomplete. He doesn’t know what his psychic ability is, and he doesn’t know anything about the master plan all the rest are working toward. For reasons not yet explained, Taisuke has been able to retain his personality and humanity. It’s his passion and idealism that form the emotional core of this series. I find myself connecting with his classical heroism deeply.
Even though this is a sci-fi/suspense manga, Kawashima keeps the human element central in each book. Obviously, we see this in Taisuke’s commitment to preserve life. It’s also in the way Kawashima gives us intimate details about each person Taisuke encounters on this journey. We learn that the lady truck driver who gave him a ride has a husband and daughter she thinks about constantly. The boy who ends up joining Taisuke carries emotional scars from seeing his mother’s suicide. We are shown a family’s devastation when the father becomes a comrade. Kawashima constantly reminds us that all the characters Taisuke meets have families. This connectedness makes the comrades’ actions all the more horrible and Taisuke’s response the more noble.
The artwork in the first volume didn’t impress me. However, Adachitoka gets better with each volume. My intentional problem with her artwork is her medium and long range panels. In these drawings, she leaves out too many details, particularly in the character faces. This makes the art bland and mutes character’s emotional expressions. This is most evident at the beginning of volume two. By the end of the third volume, Adachitoka has learned to handle these shots much better and is careful not to leave out needed details. By contrast, Adachitoka’s close-ups and splash pages are excellent. In fact, when she is in top form, her artwork reminds me of Takeshi Obata, the artist for Death Note. There’s a lot of potential for Adachitoka to become one of the masters of the comic form. I hope she continues to improve as the series progresses.
This series gets better with each volume. Each page draws me further into the world Kawashima has created. By the end of the third volume, I was totally absorbed in the series. Alive is more than just excellent sci-fi. It’s excellent fiction period. This manga is now on my must read list. This book would serve as an excellent follow-up to fans of Death Note and Planetes. Alive is perfect for anyone looking for a manga written with an older audience in mind. I highly recommend the series.