SPOILER WARNING for the entire story and CONTENT WARNING for aliens, childhood trauma, body horror and gore.
Have you ever purchased manga purely based on the cover? That’s how I first discovered Alien Nine, a three volume manga by Hitoshi Tomizawa (later adapted into an OVA by J.C Staff). Three young girls in rollerblading outfits jump in front of an orange sky, behind them a frog head with wings. A simple, innocent introduction. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I bought it as a 12-year-old. The story becomes more about the changes from child to adulthood explored through their relationship with the aliens.
Yuri, who is pretty much anxiety incarnate, has just entered the 6th grade and has been voted on to the “Alien Party”. Aliens started crash landing on Earth sixteen years ago; so much so that it’s now a completely mundane occurrence. Being a part of the Alien Party means if there are invaders on the school grounds, your task as a trio of 6th graders is to eliminate the threat. Along with Yuri is Kasumi, the most level-headed of the group and who joined the Party, so she doesn’t have to become class president again, and Kumi, a pigtailed multi-talented bubbly athlete.
The girls form a symbiotic relationship with a winged frog-like helmet alien called a Borg to fight the aliens. They act as both a protector to their host and can attack with appendages resembling drills. They feed on human skin cells with a long tongue (which is just horrible) and stick to your head with a suction that reminds me of a slug’s underside. Borgs form a psychic connection with their host, allowing them to communicate and sense other Borgs and aliens. Continued use and the Borg and host will fuse. The girls don’t know this, of course.
While it falls into the category of “cute anime that gets progressively disturbing” in a similar vein to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Alien Nine was released in 1998 and has become a bit more of a forgotten gem these days–maybe it’s time I change that!
(Alien Nine has two sequel mangas, Alien 9 Emulators and Alien 9 Next, but I will only be discussing the original manga/OVA here.)
JUST…THE SETUP ITSELF
While fighting aliens may be the norm in this world, the idea of forcing little girls with nothing more than nets and BB guns to combat them is a pretty upsetting concept. While Kasumi, the most adventurous of the trio, seems to actively enjoy their task of killing, Yuri is terrified and spends the majority of the manga hysterically crying and cowering in a corner. This might be why I connected with the series so much, as I was equally terrified at that age and flunked several classes due to anxiety.
Since we are given the story mainly from Yuri’s perspective, naturally we come to dislike the aliens as well. The sheer terror they give the poor girl is enough to make you uncomfortable, while the other characters don’t seem bothered in the slightest. Yuri would like things to stay exactly as they are, thank-you-very-much. Her reluctance can be seen as wanting to remain a child forever, while it’s accepted and even embraced by some.
THE YELLOW KNIFE
Returning from summer vacation the girls are greeted with a new type of alien, a lizard-like creature with long appendages and many retractable, metal antennae covering its back. Kasumi becomes infatuated by the alien and it’s unclear if this is possibly a pheromone or psychic response. She lets herself be eaten by the Yellow Knife and “sleeps” in its stomach, dreaming of her brother who is out of the country, imagining the alien IS him. This quasi-sibling bond is so strong that to protect Kasumi the Yellow Knife blasts everyone else with psychic waves.
The other girls are at first unaffected due to their Borgs, but the Yellow Knife ramps it up and creates an illusion for each girl, making her seem completely alone in the world. After despairing and a lot more crying from Yuri they escape and fight with the alien. Multiple faces appear as boils on the skin of the creature, taunting the girls (haven’t they been through enough?) Then Kasumi’s naked body plops out of it, covered in slime.
The Yellow Knife eventually is defeated, but not before merging with Kasumi, making her its new host. Her hair twists into antennae capable of the same psychic waves and her personality changes to reflect the joining. Considering Kasumi is the most “adult” of the trio her transformation to me signals her progression into a teenager, no longer a child. The evolution of humanity into a “higher life form” is a concept also explored in Hitoshi Tomizawa’s other manga Milk Closet, where children are replaced with alien copies of themselves. It’s presented as a positive choice and the children thank the aliens for helping them. I think this is an interesting deviation from most alien stories where it’s invasion and destruction.
The invasions and Alien Party itself are setups to facilitate a merging of humans and the Drill Clan. The girls are being trained and tested to further this process, with several adults in the story already alien hybrids themselves. Underneath the froglike exterior, the Drill aliens appear as human hair, hiding in plain sight. The hair follicles twist and become the drills, letting the person perform tasks.
To help get her over it the teacher/leader of the Alien Party, Ms. Hisakawa, tasks Yuri with taking care of the captured aliens by herself, but she has another motive–to get Yuri alone and hope she fights back against three boys she has given squid aliens. They corner her in the storeroom, leading to a meltdown where Yuri’s Borg reacts protectively, killing everything in sight, including Kasumi and Kumi’s Borgs. Overexerted it falls off Yuri’s head and dies. Ms. Hisakawa goes “oh, oops”. The remains of the Borgs are then placed in tanks and regrown. Poor Yuri is continually traumatized to further the Drill Clan’s goals.
KUMI’S DEATH AND REBIRTH
In contrast to Kasumi’s jump feet first into becoming one with an alien, Kumi has no choice in the matter. After being mortally wounded she’s placed in a tank to recover and join with a Borg. Her death is actually how the OVA ends which is an unfortunate cliffhanger!
Kumi struggles to accept her new body, like how many children are forced to grow up too quickly. We also see her lament that her reproductive organs no longer work (a heavy thing to think about at such a young age), so I’m assuming merging is the only way for the Drill Clan to propagate. Above all else, she wants to protect Yuri from this and even states “I don’t want Yuri to feel like I do.” How much of her is replaced with Borg parts is soon revealed during a fight, where her arm is degloved with only drills underneath.
Eventually coming to terms with her new form, Kumi is supported and comforted by her Borg. You’re never alone because I’m here with you! Change is inevitable, and we all have to grow up sometimes (minus the aliens hopefully) and it’s how we face these changes that define us as humans.
I won’t spoil the ending but Alien Nine indeed has a hopeful and positive ending. No matter what happens, it’s always worth trying. Even if it’s difficult, even if it’s scary. I’m going to end this here because if you like what you’ve read so far, I highly encourage you to seek out the series.
If you’d like to check out more of Lor’s work, you can find it here!