In the early 21st century, contact with alien life forms has become so common that everyone takes it for granted. Unfortunately it seems many of the aliens are out of control and might pose a threat to people, particularly at schools. To combat this, various schools have formed "Alien Parties" to send out after rampaging aliens and capture them. 6th grader Ohtani Yuri has just been elected to the Alien Party and is more than a little disturbed. After all, not only does she has to risk injury trying to capture aliens, she has to wear a disgusting symbiotic alien on her head at the same time.
I've watched a lot of anime and I found this show to be one of the more bizarre titles I've ever seen. This is not because it is trying particularly hard to be surreal or even very deep, but rather the extreme difference in what you are expecting from it with the initial tone of the show and what you actually get. Everything from the character design to the opening happy theme makes it seem like this is going to be some sort of light hearted goofy romp involving grade school kids and aliens. I had read a little bit of the manga before viewing this title, but seeing it in actual animated form caused many elements of it to end up seeing a bit more severe and just downright bizarre.
Despite all the cute rounded character designs (even the adults look adorable), when the aliens begin showing up, they aren't cute at all. In fact they look like something you would expect out of a show like Blue Gender. Most are bizarre, disgusting, and somewhat violent, including the Borg symbiotic aliens that the girls wear to help assist them during their missions and patrols.
One of the aspects of this show that can take a person off guard even when they know what to expect is the constant sudden shifting in general tone. You'll have light happy music playing maybe a little bit of cuteness, and then the girls go out on a capture mission. Early on in the show many of these missions go awry, as even though the girls are supposed to capture the aliens alive, Yuri's inability to control her fear often causes her Borg to go berserk and skewer aliens. Though such scenes are short they often involve brutal scenes of violence and the alien victims often get pulled apart, blown apart, sliced up and suffer various other means of graphic death. The fact that a lot of these aliens tend to splatter a lot of fluid and green alien blood around does kind of kill any illusions of cheerfulness as well.
Besides the strange and innately surreal nature of grade school girls dealing with bizarre aliens, there are a lot of other elements that are just down right odd about this. The Borg are sentient and so often get in strange insights. They also happen to feed off human sweat (mostly from peoples' backs), so you have a few weird scenes of them feeding. I could empathize with the poor girls being freaked out by having to go through something like that.
There are three main girls that are involved in the capture of the aliens, but the show primarily focuses on Yuri, the reluctant member of the party. She spends a lot of time scared and crying. Quite frankly, I don't blame her. She is a sixth grade girl who is forced to wear a creepy violent symbiotic alien and hunt down aggressive aliens and she has to do her best to ensure that the aliens aren't even harmed. Heck, I'm in my twenties and a military man and I think I would cry too if my commander made me do something like that!
If anything I found the blasé reactions of the other girls odd at first. Yuri is forced into this against her will and given all the gore and danger she experiences, I would be surprised if she doesn't end up totally traumatized. Yuri also has a number of bizarre dreams throughout the show that are linked to her character development and psychology. Even though it is short four episodes, all the main characters are given enough screen time and development that they seem like distinct young people with distinct motivations. I really felt for poor Yuri in particular.
There is a lot of interesting thematic subtext that pervades this show ranging from the discomfort at the transition between childhood and adulthood, to certain implications about adults and their reasoning behind forcing certain experiences. There are several scenes with out of control alien controlled boys that I found unusually creepy, if only for the reaction of the boys once the alien control was removed from them.
Plot wise this title isn't incoherent at all contrary to my initial expectations. Shows with unusual background employ a variety of methods to explain the background but I was glad that Alien Nine did not lean on exposition but rather let us get to know the world a bit at a time. One of the first questions that crossed my mind concerned the use of young girls instead of say the Self-Defense Force for alien point defense. Early on it becomes rather obvious that there something perhaps rather sinister going on with some of the school officials and their relationship to both the aliens and the Alien Party. That aspect ends up being a bit chilling considering the utter terror that Yuri is going through. The staff advisor in particular seems to have a rather personal agenda that seems to have little concern for the idea that you might be mentally scarring the poor girl.
The general pacing of the story was rather good. In fact I found that I was surprised that each episode was only 25 minutes as they seem longer. This isn't to say that I found this show slow, but rather that it just seemed like they managed to get in a several good scenes in each episodes that flowed together rather well. Even a "beach trip" half of one episode, wasn't filler as it was used to advance the character development of several characters along with demonstrating a few unexpected side effects of the human/Borg symbiosis. While badly done pacing can make something drag on forever, good pacing and good storytelling can make a short episode, as in this OAV series, seem to communicate a lot in a small amount of a time. Incidentally, to those of you who like to skip credit sequences, the final episode's credit sequences include additional plot developments.
The technical aspects were all fairly good. The character designs take a bit of getting used given the general context of the story, but all the artwork is still fairly good. The Borgs have various abilities to produce drill-like appendages, wings, and certain other elements many of which were done through good and controlled use of CGI. The in-show music was fine. Though I didn't care for the opening theme as I found its soft J-pop sound vaguely annoying and it just did not seem to fit the general feeling of the show. The end theme was nothing spectacular but it didn't annoy me either.
Overall, this was a very intriguing and highly unusual title. My main complaint concering Alien Nine is that though the four episodes complete a major story arc, they don't readily explain the entire mystery of what is and who are truly behind the Alien Parties and why the school officials are acting the way they are. I suppose that aspect is covered more in the manga. As I noted I was highly intrigued by this title and found it a different sort of experience from many anime titles I have viewed. I appreciated the pacing, the characterization, the general style, and the plot. I think if they had made another few episodes to resolve the plot, this could have reached truly excellent status, though as it currently stands it still was quite good and enjoyable, even if it was a bit disturbing at times.
A highly unusual and engaging, albeit sometimes disturbingly bizarre, OAV series. Those who are do not like their titles bizarre or weird should subtract a star or two. If you really don't mind that all the plot threads aren't completely tied up, go ahead and add a star. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: Despite all the cuteness of design, there is a lot of graphic and bloody (albeit green alien bloody) violence. The girls also are attacked and injured on several occasions. There are several scenes that involve nudity, but in the context and style it is done in, it really isn't all that objectionable. However, the violence of the title along with several disturbing scenes involving the aliens cause this title to really be best for older teens and above.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (4/4)
Alien Nine © 2001 Tomizawa Hitoshi / Akita Shoten / Alien 9 Committee
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