I was lukewarm about the first volume of Tokyo Aliens, but I thought it had potential. Unfortunately, volume 2 does not do enough to capitalize on said potential.
To be sure, there are no critical missteps here. Akira and Tenkubashi are the same awkward goofball and cool professional we know. They get involved in new hijinks involving unknown aliens and have to solve problems while figuring out their dynamic. This is all to say: it’s delivering on the premise established in the first volume, and that’s good! It’s a good setup, no complaints there.
The extra texture added by the opening reveal is excellent too. Amamiya’s conversation with the shadowy directors about Akira’s mysterious powers is a good hook, as is the subsequent reveal that he’s pretty sure he already knows what it is. It adds a nice umbrella of tension over everything, leaving us to ponder the nature of Akira’s true self (and how much his dad factors into this).
Sadly, this intrigue amounts to little by the end of the volume.
My main problem is that despite everything that happens, there’s no forward movement. In this volume, the overarching plot is MIA, and we are instead focusing on alien-of-the-week side stories. There’s nothing wrong with that, but episodic stories often live or die by how compelling each individual situation is. The two presented here – an evil girl alien who calls Akira “kitten” and an adopted little sister alien who needs a babysitter – aren’t that interesting.
At first, the mischievous alien seemed like a potential winner, but she just taunts our lead duo and runs off. There are plenty of opportunities to do something interesting with the character, but other than stealing Akira’s ID and setting up more flustered Akira moments, there’s not much else to comment on. Then the story about protecting the little girl takes up the latter portions of the volume, and it remains unresolved by the volume’s end.
Without larger plots or episodic hooks, there would need to be some interesting character development or interactions to sustain readers’ interest. Sadly, that’s also lacking here. The basic setup for almost any scene in this volume is:
- Akira starts an internal monologue
- Akira thinks, “Oh my God, Tenkubashi is so cool/handsome/capable”
- Tenkubashi does literally anything
- Akira goes, “Wow, Tenkubashi is so cool/handsome/capable”
Repeat this again and again, and, yeah, you get the picture.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with the character dynamic here, but it wears out its welcome quickly. I wish there was more development for Akira and Tenkubashi, but that is their entire relationship, repeated ad nauseum in every situation. Given that this was already the status quo in the first volume (which was fine because it was our introduction to the characters), the fact that their interactions already feel tired and repetitive is a worrying sign, given how early we are in the manga’s run.
Now, I recognize that I am likely not the primary audience for what Tokyo Aliens offers. The key appeal here appears to be, “Would you like to be the awkward goofball attached at the hip to the cool/handsome/capable anime boy?” and that is decidedly not for me. This is fine, but even when I try to put myself in that mindset, I’m not sure how satisfying of a read this would be.
Usually, the appeal in those stories is to have the audience self-insert and the character the audience desires to get into varied situations that force them to interact despite the seemingly outrageous idea of them spending time together. Situations like, “Oh no, there was a registration mix-up, and we have to share a hotel room on this work trip,” or “I can’t believe it suddenly started raining, but wouldn’t you know it that one person just happened to be there and shared their umbrella.” Those may be silly examples, but the basic idea is to set up these chance events that create whimsical encounters rife with romantic tension and will-they-won’t-they question marks hanging over the scene. Therefore, the key to success is variety, both within the work and in comparison to other similar works.
Tokyo Aliens keeps delivering the same scene over and over again. Akira is constantly standing three feet away, thinking, “Wow, Tenkubashi is so neat,” and that’s about it. The closest this volume comes to creating an interesting scenario is the portion where Akira gets lost while following Tenkubashi, and the latter offers to hold his hand, so it doesn’t happen again. It is an apparent attempt at that appeal I mentioned above – there’s even a POV shot of Tenkubashi seemingly reaching out to the reader with an open hand – but I doubt that a singular moment can sustain readers through an entire volume.
To be fair, volume 2 does end on a big, exciting cliffhanger. But it’s hard to tell if this is the big twist where the story shifts and kicks into gear or if this is a typical pulp-style fake-out to close the volume and keep us guessing. Time will tell.
The art is no slouch, so I can’t fault it there. NAOE has incredibly crisp linework and attractive character designs. I have to say, every single artist on the Square Enix manga imprint delivers nothing but the best. Characters, backgrounds, comedic bits, action scenes – they’re all done with aplomb.
Sadly, Tokyo Aliens volume 2 is a bit of a dud. It’s nothing so bad that future entries can’t course-correct, and the cliffhanger suggests more excitement is incoming. But the lack of variety in character interactions makes for very repetitive reading at far too early a juncture.