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Tomizawa Hitoshi has written some of the most bizarre, interesting, and terrifying sci-fi manga that you’ll likely ever read. He’s most known for creating the incredibly cult series Alien Nine, but has written a number of other, similar series, all between one and four volumes in length. Only a few of these have been translated into English, and they’re all worth looking into.
Each of Tomizawa’s manga share a few common factors. The main characters are usually children, who look and act about as plain and childish as possible. These aren’t anime-like kids with special powers and dead parents, they’re just normal kids with normal homes and interests who aren’t particularly involving or intelligent. They live in worlds which might seem to be completely normal, were it not for the crazy alien happenings which have begun to change the nature of their lives.
The bizarre and horrific feel of these series come from how Tomizawa flatly portrays completely ordinary things and completely alien things right next to one-another without any fanfare. His characters might be doing something boring like stating their name and hobby, while attaching an alien creature to their heads and turning into death machines. Horrific scenes are presented without any drama, and sometimes characters or entire planets get wounded or destroyed at the drop of a hat without warning or fuss. Even action scenes are weirdly stiff, with no speed lines or other visual tricks, which give them all this dry, almost comedic quality.
And that’s what makes these manga so intriguing. Many people have characterized them as comedy series, even though none of them really contain any jokes, and they’ve also been called horror, even though they’re presented so flatly. The stories feel alien, like they’ve been divorced from human emotions and are just objectively viewing events from a stand-offish perspective–which feels wrong when we approach them with human instinct. In his comments on Alien Nine, Tomizawa states that he wrote it as a sci-fi series and tried to portray the aliens as animalistic, which is why certain scenes are violent and instantaneous; and from this perspective it seems like Tomizawa is taking a stark, almost clinical approach to his stories, like he’s a scientist observing the interactions of humans and aliens as research.
Reading Milk Closet, at the risk of sounding cliche, feels like a bad acid trip through an endless series of strange and increasingly intense alien expressions. Alien Nine is a bit more narratively satisfying, with characters who are somewhat endearing, and probably a better entry point into Tomizawa’s work. It also has a four-episode anime adaptation, which covers about the first half of the story. This OVA series was sadly cancelled, but what’s there is excellent and surprisingly well-animated, even if it leaves me wishing that the rest of the manga had been covered. Tomizawa also did a one-volume adaptation of the famous bizarro Japanese indie game Yume Nikki, which is another acid trip sort of manga, but sadly doesn’t live up to the experience of playing the game in any way. It would probably be more enjoyable if all of the dialog were stripped out since it’s pretty useless anyways, but overall it makes me just want to play the game instead.
Unfortunately, none of Tomizawa’s other manga, including the one-volume sequel to Alien Nine, have ever been translated. Alien Nine is the only series with an official English release, which was made by Central Park Media 1999. They actually put a lot of effort into both the manga and anime releases, with interviews and sketches from Tomizawa in the manga volumes, and an interview with the producer of the anime on the DVD. The volumes all look really nice, and there’s even a collection of all the manga and the DVD together, though with Central Park Media having gone out of business years ago, these are probably getting to be pretty rare.
If you want to read some stories that I promise aren’t quite like anything you’ve ever seen before, or have an appreciation for bizarre, trippy, alien sci-fi, I highly recommend giving Milk Closet and Alien Nine a read, or watching the Alien Nine OVA. I can’t say it’s the kind of thing that you’ll walk away from calling it your new favorite show, if only because it’s so out there that it’s hard to even judge it on the same standards as other works, but if you value the idea of seeing new things and broadening your horizons, then these are definitely worth your time.