I believe these volumes marked a turning point for me in terms of my enjoyment of Tokyo Aliens. With the first two volumes, I found myself just sort of passively reading without much interest, but now things are starting to pick up. Everything feels greatly expanded: the cast, the mystery, the scenes, the emotional texture, and the action as well.
The biggest positive change by far in these two volumes is bringing Akira more into the loop on what’s going on. In the past two volumes, there was a lot of repetition in events; Akira was dragged from scene to scene without much agency, and mostly just fanboyed out every time Sho did much of anything. Now that Akira has his own powers and has a bit of drive/ambition, the series feels like it has more wind in its sails and can better hold my interest.
The additional impact of more mysteries and hanging questions helps immensely. The mystery – or, more accurately, mysteries – surrounding Akira’s dad goes a long way to opening up new avenues for interesting character scenes. What exactly happened? Why did he do what he did? Is there some kind of time-travel/reincarnation angle here? How much does Amamiya know but isn’t telling? These give us a lot more interesting character interactions beyond the typical “Tenkubashi does a thing and Akira flails internally” moments that have largely driven the plot up until now.
Akira and Tenkubashi’s relationship is greatly benefitted by letting Akira have more to, well, do and say. His passivity combined with Tenkubashi’s stoic nature (or at least outer persona) did not do much to interest me in the early volumes. Now that we know more about Tenkubashi’s deal (feeling pain without being able to die and seeing himself as nothing more than a weapon/tool) and Akira has more agency and motivation, there’s more than just pining going on. There’s real texture to their relationship that I felt wasn’t all that present before. I also think the setup of “I feel pain/but cannot die so I feel nothing”/”I still want to protect you from that pain” is just great melodrama, not the most original concept in superheroic fiction but a welcome one in my eyes.
The action sequences take center stage here, particularly in volume three. NAOE‘s art has been exceptional up until this point, yet it just takes off into the stratosphere in these volumes. The fight sequences are far extended relative to what we saw previously, and the level of visual fidelity packed into each panel is quite the sight to behold. Drawing these characters to this high caliber while depicting big splashy attacks with lots of highly detailed magical effects has got to be taxing, but the work does not suffer in the slightest. I would say that the visual caliber of the entire work feels like it is operating on another level comparatively speaking. Even seemingly minor choices have profound impacts on the look of the work and time required, such as Akira’s shield being a multi-hexagonal glass shield effect. I don’t even want to think about how long it took to render all those hexagons each time he used his power, let alone the rest of the detailed cityscapes and characters that fill the story out.
A big draw in this series is the dynamic between all the male leads, which is something I can’t exactly comment on. I am not exactly the target audience, so I’m sort of on the outside looking in on this one. With that said, it certainly seems to hit all the right notes. Tokyo Aliens is a work chock full of the kind of will they/won’t they pining that resonates with a lot of people. There’s also plenty of the style of line delivery that makes the crowd go wild, the way a sentence will start with overly dramatic and forthright phrasing that is just dripping innuendo only to end on a mundane beat to throw off the characters in the scene and make the audience waggle their eyebrows. You know the kind of lines I mean, things like a character clutching their chest and saying “Tonight, I just- I need you, and only you… to give me directions to the post office.” If you want to see the lads in this series say those sorts of things to each other, well then crack that cover because you’ll be well-served.
I don’t have any major criticisms, but there are a few nitpicks here and there. I feel that the overall setup is a tired perfunctory – secret organizations with superpowered operatives aren’t exactly rare stories these days. At times it also feels like there are a few too many question marks surrounding basic setting information to get a grasp of what’s going on in the setting as a whole. It’s not that it’s nonsensical, but it does seem as though setting details are obscured just for the sake of doing so at times. There are also some diminishing returns on the implications in the dialogue, as every other delivery has some kind of “oh ho HO!” sub-text to it. Then again, with how obvious some of these moments are maybe sub-text isn’t quite the right term.
Regardless, none of my minor quibbles amount to much. I think whether you were on the fence before or already a big fan, these two volumes will deliver as the series is building up good steam.