Alive: The Final Evolution Vol. 1

Written by Tadashi Kawashima
Art by Adachitoka
208 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

Have you ever read a back cover blurb so enticing that you absolutely had to read the book? That’s the sign of at least one of two things: a great story concept, or a great copy/advertising writer. The question is, though, just which have you encountered? That’s what I asked myself when I picked up the first volume of Alive: The Final Evolution by Tadashi Kawashima and Adachitoka. And of course, being the first volume in a series, your guess was as good as mine.

Is it a virus? A cult? Or something entirely different? All the world knows for certain is that something is causing people to commit suicide by the thousands across the globe. With over 100,000 suicides in the week, the problem is growing more serious by the second. But for a handful of students in Tokyo, the strange visions they glimpsed as the deaths began may be the key to understanding what has gripped the entire planet.

When a book’s been translated from Japanese to English, it’s sometimes hard to tell if problems in the storytelling is a result of the translation/adaptation, or the original source material. If I had to hazard a guess, though, it would be that the translator for Alive did the best she possibly could with a choppy, erratic script. Alive had such a great premise—a suicide virus sweeping around the world—that saying the end result was a disappointment is perhaps an understatement. From the very first page, it’s clear what’s causing the deaths (alien life forms) and from there the book just goes downhill. Dialogue is slightly choppy and it’s hard to follow what’s going on at times; characters seem to wander on and off-page with no warning and things just happen for the sake of dramatic punctuation than seeming to follow any sort of logic. It’s frustrating because this seems like it should be a great book, and in the end it’s primarily just a muddled mess with strange revelations about failed possessions and deceased mothers being thrown across the page left and right. There are a couple of good bits here and there, mind you. When Ojaki appears in Kano’s office to tell her that he loved her right before committing suicide, for instance, it’s a gripping and terrifying scene. The problem is, it quickly gets diluted by additional shock treatments appearing in quick succession until any original impact is lost in the shuffle.

The art for Alive is competent, but that’s about it. The basic features on people are all right at a glance, with no particularly strange anatomy on display. However, male and female characters have the same haircuts and facial features, and it’s genuinely hard to tell the majority of students apart from each other. The only character that really stands out from the other is the one “crazy” character who is constantly sticking his tongue out, coupled with long wavy hair that makes him at least look different than everyone else. When you’re finding yourself trying to look and see if a character is wearing a skirt or pants to figure out who it is, that’s a little depressing and frustrating.

Alive: The Final Evolution is a book I desperately wanted to like. It had one of the best promised hooks I’d heard in a while, and if it had lived up to even half of that potential I’d have been delighted and ready for more. Instead, it’s one of the big disappointments this year; not because it was one of the worst books of the year (it’s not even close to that), but because the gulf between expectation and reality was so huge. Ultimately, if Alive really is the final evolution in comics, we’re all in big trouble.

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