Story and Art by: Tsutomu Takahashi
Original Publisher: Shueisha (1999)
Length: 1 Volume (10 Chapters)
Recently I’ve been on a one-shot binge. I’ve been obsessed with finding short manga series and assessing the best qualities that come from their length, and whether many series find themselves using similar structural templates. If I hadn’t read so many of short manga, I may not have been able to identify how formulaic “Alive!” truly is. In a sense, and this may sound harsh, “Alive!” only works when you think of similar manga that are better, and ascribe their meaning to it. That’s not to say it is a bad manga, but it much like a shell. Everything is textbook for a piece in that genre, and a handful of chapters mean none of these points can be expanded meaningfully.
The dichotomy between legality and human emotion is a very well known theme in manga, and was the centre of “Alive!”. Our protagonist, facing death row for the murder of 5 others, has just been approached by an unknown organisation and asked a simple question: Do you want to live? His answer, and its consequences are what make up the bulk of this piece.
“Alive!” delves into the psychology behind morality, and the lingering effects of actions that blur the line between the two. Situations that once seemed black and white recede, and an underlying angst about how to live our life begins to surface. In many scenes, the author (in the guise of our protagonist) relays an important discovery to be made during these seemingly existential moments; no matter how hard it may be, we must fight, and remain alive.
The story was ok. What I enjoyed the most about it was less about the content and more the structure. 10 chapters is very little, yet “Alive!” felt consistently paced. It was closer to an extended one-shot than a series, but its self-containment still worked pretty well. In regards to the manga’s contents… as I said before, it was by no means bad, but there just wasn’t much substance to it. Every aspect of it (as you’d expect) was either underdeveloped or vague. There were no rushes in explanation or story progression, but when answers were revealed they were vague or completely disconnected from the story. Usually a manga will build on simpler themes so that, for example ” an evil shadow” possesses something unique to the universe it resides in. But “Alive!” either doesn’t have time or doesn’t want to expand on its core points, which make it come across as somewhat generic.
Unexplained concepts can be powerful and unique, and it may be the case that the author is attempting to leave themes simple so the audience can relate/extract more out of the story. Returning to our example, Instead of it representing one thing, the shadow plaguing characters could represent a handful of things. But the way in which these themes are executed can be so bland that they needed and extra spark to evoke half the meaning the were intended to. At one point, a character asks to another “Just by looking at them, it’s obvious what will happen?” I can answer that. Yes. There were no new story elements, and the characters were all purposefully drawn to emphasise basic character traits (e.g. big characters is brutish). Overall it wasn’t enough to compensate for a distinct lack of most things that make up a story.
There is one extremely bizarre (and a big spoiler) and important plot point I would like to discuss. What is the fascination with characters attaining diseases/parasites from Africa? I don’t want to spoil any more pieces then I have to, but there have been several notable manga series which also use the continent as a hotspot for exotic diseases. There may be a cultural fascination I am unaware of, or maybe its disconnect from Japan adds some form of realism (as many may be unaware of what it’s actually like to live in Africa), but at this stage it’s become a trope in of itself. There’s nothing wrong with having similar elements, but when explanations so pivotal to the manga are explained by something the reader is totally unaware/separated from, it’s hard to feel anything for it.
The art encapsulates attempted to lift this piece off of the ground. It depicted this gritty, seedy underworld that most of society is unaware of, and how warped a sense of morality can be, particularly when loved ones are involved. The author was able to encapsulate some of the “uglier” emotions, such as fear and dishevelment very accurately, which did stir some anxiety within me.
While not the most engaging read, “Alive!” still provides some interesting aspects on life, morality and the purpose of death. It’s well executed in its 10 chapter universe, and will take less than thirty minutes to read. If you go in without expectations of a challenging piece, you may find you’ll enjoy it more than I did.
Art – 8
Story – 5
Writing – 6
Overall – 6.5