When we left Taisuke at the end of Volume 1, he had a hole in his stomach and had just survived a fall off the top of a building. He wakes from a 3 day coma and ponders to himself, ‘Any normal human would normally be in pain…’ But he is not in pain, and his wounds have healed. In this volume, he’s got to come to terms with the fact that he is no ordinary human anymore. He is a ‘comrade’ amongst others. Certain humans have apparently ‘evolved’ and developed unnatural powers, including his childhood buddy Hirose.
The second instalment of this sci-fi series, with a bit of horror and mystery thrown in, builds on the promise shown in the aimless volume 1. It’s an improvement in almost every way.
The now twisted Hirose is heading north to join his ‘comrades’, and he’s kidnapped his and Taisuke’s childhood friend, Megumi. And so our protagonist decides to also head north, in order to find Megumi and get some answers. So now, the story has a clear direction, and in my mind it is all the better for that. In this volume Kawashima has found the right balance between explaining the plot, but also leaving enough mystery. He still uses quite long chapters. But this time, instead of jumping from scene to scene, he uses the chapter to focus on a few characters and drive the story forward. He shows us only glimpses of the villains, Yura, Hirose, and Katsumata, keeping their air of mystery. Overall the story is more clearly defined.
I still find Taisuke a bit naïve and slow on the uptake. It seems to take him a long time to realise what is obvious to the reader. But at the same time, I think he is a better character now. He’s got morals, he’s determined, ultimately he’s the hero of the story. In addition, I think the other characters are also better developed. Taisuke gets a travelling companion in the form of Yuta, who’s younger than him but probably a bit smarter. He’s a good character, he’s got a cool ‘power’ but also a dark history, and he’s reminiscent of Hirose before he went nuts. I wonder what will happen when those two meet each other. And thankfully, we see less of the still-rubbish Youko (Taisuke’s sister) in this volume.
It might not be for everyone, because there are some graphic scenes of violence and murder. But worse than that is the dark tones and themes. Suicide is an ever present spectre. The image of a mother thrusting a knife into her throat, right in front of her son, is chilling and not for the faint hearted.
The one thing that I found poor was the choice of language. After waking from a coma with a hole in his side and discovering that Hirose had kidnapped Megumi, Taisuke says ‘Gosh! What the heck is going on?!’ I think that some stronger language should have been used here. It’s aimed at 16+ readers, so I think they can handle something stronger than ‘gosh’ and ‘heck’. We can cope with bloody suicide, but not some minor swear words? A minor gripe, but it did detract from the volume a little bit.
The artwork from Adachitoka is better than in #1. I don’t know if it’s because she has more confidence now, or because she has a better story and characters to play with, but there’s a clear improvement in my opinion. I particularly like the drawings of Yuta’s power. I also think the cover is cool and looks great on my shelf. Coming from Del Rey/Tanoshimi, this has interesting translation notes and more 4 panel funnies at the end, and characters introductions at the beginning.
Alive shows improvement in terms of characters, story, and artwork. I enjoyed it more than the first volume, which is all I can ask for, and I’m looking forward to seeing how far it can go. Sci-fi fans, and fans of more mature manga in general, looking for something a bit different could do worse than check this out.