13 CommentsFavourite and Forgotten / By Scamp /

2001 Forgotten Anime: Alien 9

You know the way stories like to big-up what children can do? Those stupid adults, they can’t fight off these alien monsters. Give it to the children. We’ll set up a club, or pilot a giant robot, or gain magical powers, and then we’ll show those baddies what for. Occasionally though, along comes another show that subverts that formula (apparently the word ‘subversion’ is a dirty word in anime reviewing circles, but I can’t think of a better word and making self-important nerds angry on the internet is fun so I’m going to use it anyway) and demonstrates what would actually happen if you gave a child that amount of power and responsibility. Evangelion does that with mecha. Madoka does that with magical girls. Alien 9 does that with a little girl being chosen to fight aliens.

The story is set in a world where aliens are invading, of which they’re not doing a particularly good job of because they keep sending down the equivalent of dogs and bulls instead of laser wielding elite warriors. Or maybe they have no intention of invading, since they have aliens who sit on humans heads to protect them from monsters and helpfully lick their backs for them. Alien 9 is based on a manga that wasn’t completed when the anime was made, so not an awful lot is explained about the setting.

The important part is Otani, a 12 year old girl drafted in her school’s Alien Defence Team. She only got onto the team because nobody else really wanted to, which the club supervisor points out is surprising. I mean, you get off class when aliens invade. You get an awesome pair of rollerblades and a sweet hat. OK you have to fight off aliens in who are intent on ending your life and keep exploding with green blood everywhere, but that’s OK because your hat will keep you safe with its drill tentacle things.

The set up is very much like an awesome kids show where the children join a club and beat the smelly aliens. In reality though, when faced with these scary, angry, vicious aliens, Otani is petrified. Not simply frightened, but complete deadening fear where she can’t be calm as long as she has this post. The show really does drive home how much terror she feels towards aliens, to the point that she can’t function properly as a human being.

What the show probably does best is showing her interactions with other characters and how they treat her fear. Her teammates and friends think they can help her by being supportive, but that completely underestimates the extent of her fear. There’s that truly scrawpy moment where her feelings are channelled directly into the other two’s minds (I think it was through some kind of mindshare the aliens they wear on their heads enable? As I said, not much is explained about the world in this show) and the two of them collapse on the ground in utter terror. The subsequent looks on their faces when they see Otani again show how little they understood of her fear before then.

The club supervisor’s treatment of Otani is a stark contrast to Otani’s feelings. She treats Otani as though she’ll obviously eventually get over it if you just treat her normally, poo-pooing her requests to leave the club. She keeps hold of this idea that eventually she’ll be a good enough fighter by the end of the year when they ‘need them’ (for what reason they need fighters I don’t know, probably have to read the manga for that). It leads to these scenes where you’ll have Otani in a petrified state lying in a heap on the floor as her friends scream her name, followed by the supervisor balancing her pen between her nose and her mouth, being lightly scolded by the school principal for allowing the aliens in captivity to be killed.

Alien 9 does have some obvious issues, such as the one I’ve been alluding to frequently in this post. It’s only a 4 episode OVA and it’s part of a much longer manga, so very little is explained about the world. This also means there’s relatively little development of the characters, beyond them getting even more petrified as it goes on. To be honest though, this isn’t as much as an issue at I’m making it out to be. The story is primarily about how absolutely fucking petrified Otani is, and the show does a fine job of getting that across. The rest is just set dressing.

No, my real problem with this anime is that…well, I didn’t enjoy watching it. It achieves exactly what it sets out to do in portraying this character having her life deadened by fear of a role she has been pushed into, but the experience of watching that play out isn’t enjoyable. Otani is such a wimp at everything in life that it’s difficult to feel any attachment to her. The story has no emotional highs or pay-off at the end. It’s just deadening fear the entire way through. There’s plenty of anime that are gruelling and harrowing to sit through that I absolutely love. Berserk, Infinite Ryvius, heck even the two I referenced at the start, Madoka and Evangelion. Those anime have things like narrative arcs, character progression, thrilling visuals, humour (no, really), emotional payoffs. The gruel and suffering bring about these feelings, while Alien 9 doesn’t. It doesn’t even try to because it’s so focused on the feeling of fear.

Alien 9 probably won’t make my top anime of 2001 (although that’s more a reflection of a surprising amount of quality anime in 2001). It achieves what it sets out to do. It’s definitely left an effect on me too, as proven by the fact that simply hearing the BGM when I went back to take screencaps made the hairs on the back of my neck rise. But the experience isn’t particularly enjoyable. It’s for a similar reason I don’t really have any intention in checking out the manga. As a short OVA series, it’s effective at getting that feeling across it’s supposed to be portraying, but I don’t know if I could handle any more without getting tired of it.

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13 Comments

  1. Posted November 3, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    I adore Alien 9, both in anime and manga forms.

    The anime is sadly incomplete, but as you said one of the greatest examinations of bone chilling, mind freezing, utterly incapacitating fear ever. It also ends right when things are really starting to pick up.

    One of my dreams has been a proper 1 cour series covering all three volumes, with an Emulators OVA afterwards.

    What happens in the anime is only the beginning of how utterly fucked up this universe is.

  2. Posted November 3, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    I agree with with everything you wrote, except I enjoyed the anime because I feed off the fear of children. Also, I think it’s pretty interesting. But mostly the fear thing.

  3. Redcrimson
    Posted November 3, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    I actually found a copy of Alien 9 the other day at a local video store for $3. I’d completely forgotten it even existed till I went home and watched it again.

    I’d also forgotten how messed up it was…

  4. Posted November 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed what there was of the anime but I really wish they’d go back and actually, you know, finish it. I wonder if that might be the source of the problem – there are no plot or character arcs or emotional payoffs because this is only the introduction to the series.

    …I was going to use the first three episodes of Madoka as an example but then I realized that it might actually have been hilarious if that was all there ever was of the show.

    My fun story with Alien 9 is that I bought the DVD a while back, then sold it at an anime auction, and have now re-bought it just last month and I’ve still ultimately made a profit on the whole thing, in addition to having the DVD.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      That’s just good business practice my friend.

      It does feel like it ended on an early-series plot twist, just like ending Madoka on episode 3. I can see how it would serve as a great introduction to the manga, but I still don’t have much intention of checking that out

  5. Erif
    Posted November 4, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I think you could have used the word “deconstructs.”

  6. Joojoobees
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    This was a great series. I think the squicky nature of it was intentional. The best bit to me was when Otani tells her mom she doesn’t want to have a symbiotic relationship with an alien, and her mom says, “we all have things we don’t want to do sometimes”, or some such. I really felt horrified that the parents were not protecting these children better.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      I still found the supervisors reactions more shocking than the parents. The parents couldn’t see her at her most frightened, but the supervisor clearly could but it never seemed to enter her mind how damaging this was to her psyche

  7. Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    I don’t really think the manga goes much beyond the OAV, certainly not in explaining anything, nor even much beyond what is shown in the anime — the manga seems pretty incomplete itself.

    Another thing about the series is some of the other characters’ reactions to the aliens — the little girl who is so proud of herself and sees the alien-cleanup crew as a chance to show off, and the “older sister” type who tries to be supportive.

    ….And then there was the montage at the very end (were the credits rolling?). Damn, awful things were about to happen…

    • Scamp
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      Some of the other character’s reactions are interesting, but the series is too short to go into them in much detail and it’s Otani they’re really interested in. Plus her constant crying is kind of the only thing most people will remember about this

    • Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      The anime covers the entire first volume and the first ~third or so of the second. Also basically all of episode 3 was anime original (the manga had just a couple pages of that stuff). Though episode 3 was pretty good.

      Anyway, the montage at the end covers some stuff that happens across the rest of volume 2. And then there is all of volume 3. And Emulators.

      • Posted November 6, 2012 at 12:22 am | Permalink

        @Scamp: Maybe twin-tail’s pride came in the later volumes of the manga, and that’s what I remember.

        I went looking for Hitoshi Tomizawa’s stuff for a while (I think because of an image of his in the Superflat exhibition catalog), even digging up his Shounen Jump title, Treasure Hunter Jubei, and his extremely weird titles Milk Closet and Propeller Heaven.

        Some of Tomizawa’s manga work seems like moe Hieronymous Bosch.

        @Fencedude: I guess I need to go back and look at the manga again, because I don’t remember many of the oddities of the anime getting resolved (e.g., the supervisors’ obvious symbiosis with her alien). More stuff happens, but I don’t remember anything getting any more resolved.

  8. Manabu
    Posted December 8, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Alien 9 is not about aliens.

    It is about puberty and the ankward changes in your body, especially for girls. It is about rape, how society treats it, and how to carry on. It is about a scandalous boyfriend, sex, and again how society, school and her friends relate to it. And much more.

    It full of symbolism. It just happens to work as a deconstruction of the magical girls/mons genres as well.

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