Alive Vol. 1: The Final Evolution (Del Rey)

alive-header.jpgA deadly virus is causing globe-wide suicides, yet this book’s protagonists don’t exactly have the end-of-the-world jitters.



200 pgs. B&W; $10.95

(W: Tadashi Kawashima; A: Adachitoka)


The newly translated manga Alive has a promising premise — a virus from outer space touches down on planet earth, and all over the globe, people uncontrollably kill themselves. Survivors find the corpses of the suicides with smiles on their faces — apparently, once folks get the space bug, they just can’t wait for the rapture of oblivion.


This could beget a wonderful scenario. A band of high-school students, slogging through the grief of having dozens of their classmates off themselves, must figure out why this is happening and how they can stop it. The gravitas of all this death makes for an elegiac tone, like a classical requiem, shot through with the ever-more desperate mood of a band of young friends taking on an unseen enemy of growing influence that destroys from within.


The cover to Alive Vol. 1. Click thumbnail for a larger image.Except, you see, this is teen manga. Everyone has a crush on everyone else, just as long as it’s not reciprocated. There’s a lot of teasing. And giggling. It doesn’t exactly jibe with end-of-the-world jitters and hard-core desperation (although, I guess, a high-school crush does smack of hard-core desperation to the concerned party).


Still, this is the very first volume of Alive. Maybe the adolescent manga circus of bullying, crushes, and, um, gratuitous "upskirt" shots will yield to the book’s promising horror-film scenario. All the panels with teen corpses lying in pools of black blood are a balm to a sicko’s heart (and reminiscent of cult classic Japanese horror film Battle Royale). When a young girl under the spell of the alien virus picks up the decapitated head of a classmate and clutches it to her chest, the glimpse of R-rated gore is super-cool.


Later in the story, a sequence of someone being pushed off a building’s roof is drawn within slanted panels to emphasize the violence and the vertigo of the scene — it’s nice work.


J.K. Rowling understands that kids can handle death in children’s books – in fact, it can make the story resonate much more deeply. If Alive is intended for the teens it depicts, they can handle death and gore, too — and without the stale giggles and babyish teasing that comprise 99% of manga for teens. | Byron Kerman

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