It became known as “Nightmare Week”. A pandemic of global suicides suddenly hit planet Earth, apparently caused by some new kind of “suicide virus”. This coincided with a host of other strange events, including murders and people going missing, and just possibly, a new evolution of the human race. Tokyo resident Taisuke Kanou witnesses it all before his very eyes, and we follow him as he tries to find meaning in a new era for humankind.
Welcome to the world of Alive: The Final Evolution, written by Tadashi Kawashima and drawn by newcomer Adachitoka. With a mix of sci-fi, horror, mature themes, and philosophy, it’s aimed squarely at older teens and above. Its long chapters (e.g. just 3 in this approximately 190 page volume) are fitting for this age group. The premise is really interesting to me, and I think it has a lot of potential.
But sadly, most of that potential is unfulfilled in the first volume. Taisuke’s High School is the setting for most of the action. There, we meet his close friend Hirose, a long-time sufferer at the hands of bullies. A friend to both of them, and a potential love interest, is provided by the cute Megumi. In addition we meet Taisuke’s older sister, Youko, whom Taisuke lives with and conveniently she also works at his school as a nurse. All of these characters, and the other secondary characters, are just unimpressive and one-dimensional. Youko is particularly dull, bringing absolutely nothing to the story except a bit of fan-service. But perhaps the worst is Taisuke himself. He’s a weak protagonist, and I found him to be irritatingly bland and naïve.
The storyline is also frustrating. It has promise, certainly. I liked the first chapter, which portrays the “Nightmare Week” and draws the reader into the apocalyptic vision of our world. I also like the way it takes on dark and scary themes. Taisuke has to deal with suicide and murder, and he often asks himself what is happening and how he should deal with these horrifying circumstances. And through Taisuke, we the readers are in turn asked how we would deal with it. And yet, the storyline generally feels a bit aimless. It jumps from scene to scene with little explanation for what is happening, and why it is happening. I’m all for a bit of mystery in the plot, and I can only assume that’s what they were going for. But this feels less like mystery, and more like a lack of a clear direction and purpose. I think this is partly a result of Kawashima trying to introduce too many characters too soon. But in the end, although it perhaps lacks direction, it does end with a good cliff-hanger.
As for the artwork, again it’s good but I think it could be better. Adachitoka has an interesting and unique style, I like her character designs and I also really like the cover of the book. But unfortunately, many of the panels lack detail. And I think at times she struggles to convey the dark and sinister tone of the story. This is her first manga though, and she’s clearly got huge talent.
Released by Tanoshimi (sister company Del Rey in the USA), this comes with the usual excellent extras. The main story is supplemented by a couple of pages of four-panel jokes. There’s a page containing a ‘Greeting from the Author’, which gives a bit of insight into his intentions. And there’s the usual informative translation notes.
Overall, this is a lacklustre opener. But there’s potential and room for improvement in future volumes. It left just enough of an impression to make me want to check out the next volume. So although it’s flawed, fans of mature manga may want to take a risk with Alive.