Alien Nine – Adolescent Blues
Alien Nine is a hell of a trip.
This four-episode OVA presents itself as a cheery slice-of-life series about three 12-year-old girls who travel around school on rollerblades catching aliens that are invading the planet for reasons that are never truly revealed but are vaguely hinted at. There are disturbingly dark underpinnings to the story, though; the anime uses the same cheery veneer — bright colors, simple character designs, bouncy music, etc. — to present scenes such as bonding among the girls, a cleaning/feeding ritual with their Borg partners (the Borg being aliens who attach to the heads of the girls and take part in a symbiotic relationship where the Borg protect the girls against the aliens in exchange for feeding off their sweat) and the brutal slaughter of various alien creatures.
It’s all quite disturbing, and purposefully so. But what the hell are these girls fighting for? (Major spoilers for Alien Nine within. Read at your own caution. Also, all my speculation is directed solely at the OVA, so I can only make sense of what was chosen to be included in it.)
From what little analysis of Alien Nine I have read, people have been quick to jump on (so to speak) the sexual overtones of the show and view it as a progress through puberty. But I see that as just one part of the series. Just as mecha series often involve some sort of forced process of evolution for humanity, Alien Nine centers on a sinister process of forced social evolution for the three girls who are a part of the alien fighting crew. Why so sinister? Because it’s the type of social evolution society necessarily encourages to keep itself alive and growing.
Yuri Otani is often compared to Shinji Ikari from Evangelion, and for good reason — she spends much of Alien Nine bemoaning her fate, crying in terror at being confronted by the aliens and wavering in fulfilling her duty. I’ve read several rather harsh criticisms of Yuri for being such a damn crybaby and not helping her friends in this dangerous game. But what do people expect from her? She’s 12 years old! If anything, Yuri is the sanest person in the series, as the story goes on to prove throughout.
What are the origins of this battle with aliens? The OVA is fuzzy on that detail. It would be normal to assume these aliens are the type that just invade Earth for no reason other than to mess up everything good we have going. However, short scenes where the girls’ handler, Megumi Hisakawa, speaks with her friends and superiors hints that the aliens are released in schools by the very organization that employs middle schoolers to fight the aliens. Notice Hisakawa’s interesting choice of words when the Yellow Knife makes its appearance at the end of ep3:
This is strange. I didn’t ask for this. I wonder if it got here by attaching itself to a spaceship. I haven’t even finished checking everyone’s summer homework. This is the last thing I needed!
Very curious. She treats the Yellow Knife like the unknown entity that it is. So what does that make the other aliens? The Alien Party (Yuri and her partners, Kumi and Kasumi) is not supposed to kill the aliens. They are merely supposed to capture them, and are even in charge of feeding them. Why? What could this organization want with creatures that prove themselves time and again to be extremely dangerous? They’re never shown doing any research on the aliens. So . . . what, then, if the aliens are recycled, kept alive to be used again when the next batch of girls needs hideous monsters to capture?
The whole process is strongly suggested to be deliberate on the part of the organization that sets up these alien hunting groups. So, what is the point? To me, it seems to instill a sense of responsibility that forces the girls to take on adult lives much earlier than normal. Think of it as akin to our own schooling process: We consistently demand children to be aware of social responsibilities at earlier and earlier ages. It is of course important to learn, but that process of education seems to have been supplanted in favor of inserting kids into roles — jobs — that slot them into the necessary parts society needs to perpetuate itself.
When was the first time you were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a seemingly innocuous question, but when is the correct time the childish answers (assuming these are the types of choices kids make when the coolness of a job overrides the practicality of choice in a child’s mind) of “A magician!”, “An astronaut!” or “Indiana Jones!” should change to, “A doctor!”, “A lawyer!” or “A teacher!”? We should encourage growth, no doubt, but when does this encouragement transform into undue pressure on a kid that basically says, “Fit in, or else.”
By taking these young girls and putting them against dangerous aliens, the organization is essentially announcing, “Adapt to this situation, or else.” Yuri is admonished frequently for her fear, for her tendency to break down when the pressure is at its greatest . . . admonished, really, for not being a 12-year-old adult like Kumi and Kasumi. But are those two really adults, or are they just affecting adulthood?
Kumi approaches the battles in a serious way, but at the beginning of the series she rejects the previous responsibility she had of being a class leader — saying that it sucks to look after so many people — and also expresses jealousy of Yuri. For what, exactly? For, I believe, Yuri’s willingness to still act as a kid would and express her deep fear and distress at fighting aliens. Kasumi, on the other hand, is much like the series itself: Putting on a cheerful outer face while being unbelievably fucked up beneath the surface. She has an air of self-confidence but deep down misses her brother — who has left the home while studying abroad — and those feelings are taken advantage of by the Yellow Knife. The one who seems to adapt most to this forced adulthood is the one who is in the most pain. Of course.
Hisakawa shows a remarkable lack of empathy for the dangers the girls constantly find themselves in. Her basic reaction — aside from pushing the girls to fight harder and do better — is to hope that she is not fired when things go wrong. And go wrong they do quite often, as they are wont to do when adolescence is warped. What is the ultimate result the organization is looking for? This question is never answered but is hinted that it has something to do with how the Borg eventually connect with the host — through unknown means — to the degree that the host naturally takes on the Borg’s powers.
It’s the natural end of this forced adulthood: The host takes on the powers — the role — society shifts onto her. I’m not certain if this is intentional, but the Borg in Alien Nine of course share a name with the Borg of Star Trek fame, the race of cyborgs that exist to assimilate all living beings into their collective. Alien Nine‘s organization, likewise, exists to assimilate its chosen children into the collective, to take on the values the organization instills while tossing aside the child’s innocence.
There’s a fine line between natural growth and demolishing innocence before its time is up. Yuri is thrown into innumerable situations she is in no way ready to deal with — not just capturing and/or killing aliens, but also dealing with sexuality. In what is possibly Alien Nine‘s most disturbing scene, a group of curious boys takes a few of the aliens, puts them on their heads and attack Yuri in what is tantamount to gang rape.
And, of course, afterward Yuri is yelled at by Kumi for crumbling in the face of yet another alien attack (though she later apologizes). What a world we live in where a kid can’t be a kid, and full assimilation into society is the only goal. How does it end? With Kasumi — strongly hinted to be at least part-alien after being freed from the Yellow Knife — seemingly killing Kumi, and Yuri spiraling toward an emotional breakdown.
But, hey, at least she is an adult now.