story by Tadashi Kawashima; art by Adachitoka; adapted by Anastasia Moreno
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 - $11.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Taisuke Kanou is still heading north, chasing after his childhood friend Yuichi Hirose, who kidnapped their mutual friend Megumi Ochiai. He is joined by Yuta Takizawa, a young boy searching for answers about his mother’s suicide and his powers. Taisuke and Yuta will be joined by Nami Kusunoki, who is looking to get revenge on her little brother’s murderer.
Alive continues to be a gripping sci-fi suspense story. The series started out at a leisurely pace to allow us time to get to know Taisuke and this new reality he was trying to cope with. Beginning with volume 4, the pace picks up and increases along with the tension in the series. By volumes 7 and 8, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to see what comes next.
Volume four introduces a new central character, Nami Kusunoki. Her appearance made me realize how much of an influence X-Men is for this series. Nami has the ability to create ice from any source of moisture. Her favorite use of this power is to create ice claws that hover above the back of her hand. Is this starting to sound familiar? She is also gifted in martial arts and has a gruff, no-nonsense personality. She is the Wolverine of Alive. (Just without the cigars and beer.) That realization made me reexamine the abilities of the other characters, and it’s not hard to draw similar connections between the cast of Alive and X-Men characters.
This similarity to X-Men offers the chance for Alive to have crossover appeal to American comic book fans, especially superhero fans. Further contributing to this appeal, the artwork in Alive is also comparable to the art found in most American comics. However, even with a quickened pace, Alive would still be considered a slow read compared to the compressed storytelling used in the standard Marvel or DC comic. All things considered, Alive would be a good series for manga fans to use to introduce American comics fans to manga.
Volume five explains how these non-corporeal alien life forms are able to connect with a human host. When the aliens enter a human mind, they seek out the dark recesses of the soul/heart/personality. The manga talks about there being a hole in our heart that the aliens fill. However, that’s an alien explaining what they do in a polite way. What really happens is the alien exploits the host’s insecurities, weaknesses, or character flaws.
So the aliens exploit Yuicihi’s feeling of helplessness and his jealousy of Taisuke, Nami’s sorrow over the death of her brother, and Taisuke’s guilt over this parent’s death. (You’ll have to read the manga to find out why he blames himself.) The aliens can completely control some people, like Yuichi, and these become comrades. Others commit suicide as a result of this manipulation, and a rare few, like Taisuke, are able to bond with an alien and remain themselves. People like Taisuke have yet to be explained.
The way the aliens operate explains why Kawashima has made sure to give us the background of all the characters we encounter. It brings some depth to each person and makes everyone sympathetic to some extent. We know that even the most ruthless of the comrades is being manipulated. On the other hand, the aliens now become the perfect villains. You despise them completely for the utter disregard they have for humans. We are tools simply to be used until they achieve their goals, then we are cast aside like garbage.
Another emotional component to the manga is the tragic love triangle among Taisuke, Yuichi, and Megumi. All three have been friends since childhood. Now in their high school years, Megumi has begun to have romantic feelings toward Taisuke. Never the brightest bulb in the box, Taisuke hasn’t figured this out yet. Meanwhile, Yuichi is beginning to develop romantic feelings for Megumi.
As the series progresses, Yuichi has come to realize Megumi’s feelings, and this is one of the reasons he’s jealous of Taisuke. Given Yuichi’s personality, there is no way for him to accept Taisuke and Megumi as a couple without being severely hurt. This is the only situation that would make him hate his two dearest and oldest friends. You know this is going to end their friendship, and you hate to see it happen.
Adachitoka’s artwork has certainly improved over the course of the series. It is now reminiscent of the artstyle used by Takeshi Obata (Death Note). Adachitoka does a great job creating the proper atmospheres and emotions. When an alien takes over someone, the panels are eerie and convey how unsettling an experience that is. When we are given flashbacks to a character’s past, they are filled with sorrow or pain.
Adachitoka is also adept at showing the emotions of a character, not just in their face, but in their body language, too. The fight scenes are fluid and draw you quickly in. Before you know it, you’re turning the pages furiously as the scene gets more intense. I am very pleased to see the art come up to the level of the storytelling.
It’s obvious that I find Alive to be a gripping read. In fact, I was so drawn into the plot that I whizzed through the last two books in no time. Now that I know what happened, I’m going back to re-read them to pick up nuances I missed the first time around. Thankfully, Alive rewards such second reads. Fans of good suspense stories will thoroughly enjoy this series, as will most sci-fi fans. I recommend the series highly to anyone looking for a great read. I’m certainly staying with this series until the end.
(The publisher provided review copies.)