animefringe july 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Alien Nine - Offbeat Alien Fun

In this offbeat alien tale, weird...is good.

Hitoshi Tomizawa is weird. Really, really, just...weird. I would even go as far to call him, or, at least his comic work, bizarre. Mind you, I don't say this with any sort of rancor or venom; hell, I have the greatest appreciation for the odd and weird works that people put out there. I like NieA_7 of all things, and it's like no one likes NieA_7, so believe me, I'm aware of my own eccentricities in my tastes. Still, Hitoshi Tomizawa, and his work Alien Nine, is weird.

And I couldn't be more grateful.

I've been looking forward to the release of the Alien Nine manga since last October, where at AnimeNext, the CPM Manga representative gleefully talked about how exciting it was to release (or, unleash, rather?) this kind of comic book to the American public. After recently seeing the OVA series that was spawned by this three-book long series, I couldn't agree more. After eight months of waiting, I finally got into my hands this bizarre journey of Tomizawa's imagination, inhaling the work as quickly as I could.

The tale goes as follows:
The turn of the millennium saw Earth's first contact with an alien species, and fifteen years later, the world seems to have come back to normal. Well... sort of. Now schools, at the very least, are plagued with varying levels of alien infestation. Somehow only vaguely explained in the backstory, these schools are prone to having alien animals hanging around, some of which present a threat to the children attending school.

In order to have life continue on as necessary, the schools enlist three sixth-grade students, one from grade class, to be a part of the Alien Party. This Party involves giving these three students alien symbiotic beings that attach themselves to the heads of the students and, on rollerblades, the three students patrol the school building and deal with any alien outbreaks.

Let's take this one issue at a time.

Alien symbiotic helmets. These beings, called "borgs," are given to each member of the Alien Party to not only aid the students in their responsibilities, but are integral in protecting the student from some of the very dangerous beasts that invade the school. In exchange, the borgs feed off of the body secretions of their hosts, specifically by licking off the sweat off their naked bodies...gross!

Each of the borgs maintains a sort of personality, each communicating and living with their hosts.

Of course, the true meat of the tale lies in the three girls who form the current Alien Party. First up is Yuri Ootani of the Tsubaki Class, a girl who truly was not meant to be a member of the Party. An average student whose demeanor was mostly composed of an extreme shyness and a constant, weeping depression, her election into the Alien Party is the worst thing to ever happen in her life. Each day is a terrifying and gross ordeal, all she does is whine and cry and try to quit, and is constantly frayed and at the edge of emotional breakdown.

Contrast this to Kumi Kawamura of the Fuji Class, a very strong and self-reliant member of the Alien Party. After spending her first five years in school as classroom representative, she took on the position in the Alien Party as a way to escape the constant responsibilities that were always shifted on her since she was six. She takes her work in the Alien Party very seriously, and she initially has no sympathy for Yuri's plight, taking every chance to scold Yuri for constantly being terrified and always relying on her to get by. It's revealed that Kumi has always been the kind of person that people would place both responsibility and reliance on; her mother seems as if she couldn't function without Kumi around to deal with all the household issues. A strict and tough girl, Kumi doesn't take much crap and tries to expect those around her to be strong and serious about their work as she is.

The third member of the Party is also similar different in contrast to the other two members. Kasumi Tomine of the Peach Class is the cheerful girl who excels in anything she puts her mind to. Her quick mind and reflexes makes her the best member of the Party as far as skill, executing complicated and amazing techniques with her borg in order to get the job done -- and she does it all with a smile. Kasumi got into the gig as a new adventure, as a way to have fun. She comes from a very well-to-do family, and outside of the fact that her favorite brother is studying abroad, Kasumi's life could not be more perfect.

There is a lot I can say about Alien Nine. While initially it just seems to be this odd little piece about schoolgirls and slightly erotic symbiotic alien hats, the comic is rife with different kinds of symbolism. Also, of course the plot couldn't progress with just the three girls fighting the alien menace. While still currently unexplained, there is a whole plot that ties in the alien infestation with some sort of plan concocted by a group of teachers, some sort of competition that these girls are unwittingly training for.

The most important aspect of this story, however, lies with the lives and the interactions of the three heroines. When one strips the story of its plot, of the bizarre focus on symbiosis, on the alien threat, what we are left with are three character portraits of people in various forms of pain. Each girl has to deal with their own individual issues, their pain, where their duties for the Alien Party act as the arena for each of them to deal with them. Yuri struggles with her overwhelming shyness and her otherwise average existence; Kumi constantly has to work to help those around her; Kasumi holds the burden of living a perfect existence missing the person who inspired her most.

This comic series is a complex adventure. Yet the manner in which Toshizawa presents these more basic issues of how these characters deal with their personal issues through this alternate reality where girls on roller-blades fight an alien threat, is in the very least a memorable and original journey. Those looking for crazier fare in their comic reading would do well to check Alien Nine out.