It is said that the road to hell is paved on good intentions, and if that particular idiom proves to be true in any manga ever published in English, Alive: The Final Evolution is the story that seems to be laying down the bricks as quickly as possible. The first volume of Alive seems to be changing gears in the middle of the first volume, changing its tone and its storytelling technique within the first 3 chapters.
The beginning seems interesting enough – Taisuke Kano and his friend Hirose always seem to be on the wrong end of the fights around school. Hirose is small and picked on, and Taisuke, while he talks a big talk, is a total wimp himself. Still, he’s an admirable guy, sticking up for his friends. The resident heroine, Megu, is a cute tomboyish girl who gives Kano and Hirose a hard time for being goofballs and getting beat up before school. It’s obvious she cares about the two of them, and she falls under the typical shonen manga stereotypes. We’re also introduced to Kano’s older sister, who is the school nurse at his high school. She sees the latent relationship between our hero and Megu. and likes to pick on the both of them. It’s a fairly standard opening, but things get really weird, really quickly.
The creepy events start occurring around the middle of chapter one when some kind of fog/alien entity/ virus causes a mass worldwide suicide fit. As the world begins to implode, Hirose and Kano get caught up in the middle of everything, and a group of upperclassmen who are getting ready to beat up Hirose end up dead.
Hirose, of course, goes to jail for suspected murder. The manga spends a lot of time stewing about his jail time, and all the aftermath of the attacks. Some freaky shit happens near the end of the second chapter, leading up to a climactic confrontation between Kano (who apparently has super powers?) and Hirose (who can kill people with bubbles?). Apparently, this whole feud is being fueled by Hirose’s jealousy, or some sort of teen angst. The ending of the last chapter is actually quite random, but it does set up the book very nicely for the next volume.
The strange thing about Alive is that it feels as though this was originally intended to be some sort of mystery/supernatural story, and it ended up on the bad side of reader polls. It feels like the writer, Tadashi Kawashima, is trying to redirect the story to a different genre of manga through the 3rd chapter, which I imagine will end up changing the style from mystery to being a standard shonen battle manga by the end of the second volume.
Still, with all the standard shonen pieces (or should I say clichés?) in play, Alive is still a very good-looking book. The art is well done, and the artist clearly has a good sense of action, paneling, and the use of screen tones. All of the characters are good-looking, and fairly well designed. I especially like the designs of Inspector Katsumata and Yura, the “comrades” who are behind Hirose’s brainwashing/re-education.
I’m not sure that I know what to think about the translation – sometimes it reads very smoothly, and other parts seem very clunky. There are a few problem spots where the characters are “saying” a sound effect, and I’m not sure what you do with those, but it seems odd to leave the kanji in the speech bubble and put the translation beside it. It could be that this has shown up in more than one manga, but this is the first time I’ve realized it, and I can’t say I’m that fond of it.
Overall, Alive does a few things that are different, but I’m afraid it’s giving up its powerful start for a mediocre storyline. To make matters even worse, finding this is going to be difficult, since this once Del Rey book is now out of print. If it pops up on eBay for a good price, I wouldn’t say no. Still, for those of you out there looking for a great mystery or supernatural suspense manga, don’t let the beginning fool you.