A Kat's View of Alien 9
It has been almost a year since a Japanese friend of mine sent me the first episode of Alien 9 to watch. I didn't know at the time what I was walking into, but something about the series struck me from the very beginning. Part of me understood far too well what I was watching which is probably why I continued to watch it. An episode came every month, and slowly I noticed a very deep and dark story evolve. For me, the metaphors were easy to look past. While others seem to be stuck on the "What" and "Why" of every little detail and just took everything as it was. I'm used to seeing strange things in my dreams so I just looked at Alien 9 in the same way, but I noticed that others who watched the show were left completely lost, or worse, angered by the show. The extreme emotions that were portrayed in the story were making people want to act out violently against the characters in the series. While the beauty of the storytelling moved me while others were spitting and cursing at the screen. For some reason, I felt all their words were aimed at me. Why? Because I'm a child abuse survivor and watching Alien 9 was like looking at myself at that age. Seeing people wanting to hit a child for crying showed me that the world still has a long way to go and in some cases not changed in one bit. So instead of turning my back I stood up and defended the film. I felt angry, not just because of the violent emotions towards these characters but also because of people's ignorance toward their situation. I couldn't understand why people could not see what for me was in plain black and white. After being asked to do a few discussions on the series, I discovered that it was more then just ignorance that I was dealing with. Now I sit here writing about how the film affected me, and about all the little things I saw that many were not capable of seeing. Hopefully this paper will help, people will have a clearer look at why I consider this a great film, and why I want more people to see it.
When I first started to watch Alien 9 I didn't know what I was getting into. The opening made me think it was going to be another silly cute Anime about children chasing aliens, but before I even got ten minutes into the first part, I knew it was much more. I wasn't sure what until much later but felt drawn into the show like nothing else. My first clue was the reaction Ootani Yuri had towards the aliens. The graph/chart that showed the percentage of girls who like and dislike aliens and what they didn't like about them. Yuri states that she doesn't like to be "looked at, touched, and especially not licked" by aliens. It wasn't until later that I realized that the "Borgu" is a representation of adolescence or even puberty. The other girls laugh during an examination and talk about how when a girl becomes an Alien Controller they are known to grow faster then normal. To me, this says something about a girl's puberty and some of the things that one would hear in elementary school about girls that have already hit that age. The biggest clue that I was right about the aliens being connected to adulthood is the teachers themselves who have wires for hair.
Now let's stop a moment and look at the girls as they stood at the beginning of the series. The first girl is Ootani Yuri, a shy little girl who is afraid of aliens, but overall she is normal 12 year old girl. She is emotional and cries a bit, but what do you expect from a child who is pushed into growing up before she is ready and forced in to violent situations. Her mother only cares about her child doing what she is told. When Yuri mentions not wanting to be an Alien Controller and how she was pushed into the job, her mother just tells her to do it anyway. This is a realistic reflection of how children in Japan are pressured by their parents. Talking with one of my friends who lived in Japan for a while, she mentioned that Yuri's family was just like the family she stayed with. The Mother would push the girl to work harder and harder until the girl would break down into tears. It is a sad truth about the reality of Japan's society.
The second girl is Kawamura Kumi, a tall and strong young girl who is always placed in charge. She helps her mother with her research, has been the class president since first grade, and the person everyone comes to for help. However, this year (grade six) she has decided that she doesn't want to help anyone. This became evident when Yuri approaches Kumi, and Kumi pushes the other girl away, telling Yuri that she doesn't want to be in charge or have people depend on her anymore and runs away. Although Kumi doesn't want to be in charge, she is always there for Yuri, ready to save the day. When Kasumi mentions that the two girls make a cute couple, Kumi tells her not to make them a couple. Neither Yuri nor Kumi, at this point, has come to call the other by their first name. They are very formal around each other, which shows that they respect each other, if nothing else.
The third girl is Toomine Kasumi, a tiny energetic girl who seems to be perfect at everything. She has awards lining the walls of her room and doesn't seem to be afraid of anything. In fact, she seems to loves everything she does and everyone around her. Her father is willing to let her do anything she wants but will not let her quit until she sees it through. There is one thing Kasumi loves more then anything else and that is her big brother. At first they only hint at this, but later it becomes more apparent that this love is more then just sibling love. Also, she seems to be a lot more adult in way then the other girls, something I'll go into more later.
Finally there is Yuri's closest friend, Tamaki Miyu. For the most part, she is there for emotional support. Miyu is the only one who doesn't think Yuri is a crybaby and she is always willing to wait after school for Yuri so they talk and can walk home together - a true friend.
The story revolves, for the most part, around the Borgu; there is quite a bit of rather disturbing images involving these aliens. They look like bat winged toads or helmets that attach to the girls head and feed by sucking on the girls' spine. Watching Yuri in a tub with this alien licking her back while she cried was disturbing in itself. The Borgu act as a shield around the girls, like a person's personal boundaries taking on a physical form. Yuri's Borgu is always talking rationally which reminded me of someone battling with themselves.
"Shouldn't we be doing this?"
"No, we were told to do this, but?"
"Well come on then."
"I don't know."
For the most part, you only get to hear what Yuri's Borgu has to say about a situation. Kasumi's only agrees with her unconditionally while Kumi's doesn't say much of anything, just like her. Later it becomes more apparent that the Borgu is the first stage of adolescence. When the child comes to accept adulthood, the two become one being. There are other kinds of Borgu that appear. These Borgu attach to boys heads and make them think of things other than their previous hobbies. After the boys put the aliens on their heads, they suddenly start to attack the girls and always smiling for some odd reason. The grin became rather creepy for me. The victim is usually Yuri, and all they can think of is her. But she isn't any good at defending herself so Kumi and Kasumi end up in the role of protectors. During this situation, Kumi finally gets angry at Yuri for being too weak and hiding behind everyone and makes Yuri cry. Kumi tries to apologize but turns around and tries to run away only to be stopped by Kasumi. Kasumi grabs Kumi's clothes and starts yelling "Nyaaa!" over and over again. Almost in a panicky state. Where before I thought of Kasumi as just an energetic little girl, I found myself noticing that there was a lot more to her. She has no way of expressing her emotions and communicating in general other than saying "Nyaaa!" or "I like/love ____" Kumi gives up and joins everyone at Yuri's birthday party. Just seeing Kumi there makes Yuri break down into tears. (Interesting side note: When she sees Kumi at the door, Yuri says "Kumi-ch... uh... Kawamura-san." Then she blushes deep red and Kumi stammers and can't look at the other girl in the eyes. This told me so much about how these two felt about each other.)
The next day, their teacher decides that the best way for Yuri to overcome her fears is to make her feed the aliens which are kept in storage, on her own. Everyone is waiting for Yuri to finish, but those boys from before have other plans. This part left a lot of people confused as you watch the boys appear from behind Yuri, and then fire drills through the sides of her Borgu. It's blood drips down Yuri's face as she collapses to her knees and begins to cry and shake. The Borgu tries to hold on but suddenly falls apart then thrashes about killing every alien in the room. The teacher arrives at that moment to watch a tearful Yuri stumble out of the room. Yuri walks into the next room where Kasumi and Kumi are waiting, crying because somehow they are able to feel Yuri's fears. She kills their Borgu and then moves on to where Miyu waits where she finally collapses into her friend's arms, sobbing heavily. As I said, most were left lost and confused by what just happened, but from a survivor's point of view was clear. The boys had raped Yuri who then lashes out at anything alien (adult) until she found the only place she feels safe: her friend's arms.
The whole rape scene left me at a loss for words. I wasn't sure what I had seen, and it wasn't until the next episode that I was sure. The next day Yuri has nightmare after nightmare of those boys attacking her. She sees them at every turn and constantly wakes up in the night shaking and crying. The interesting thing is now Kumi and Kasumi can feel the emotions that Yuri feels. Beforehand, they couldn't understand why she cried so much, what she could be so afraid of. Now they don't just understand but they feel it too. This connection brings Kumi, Kasumi and Yuri closer to each other. All four girls (Miyu included) spend the summer vacation at Kasumi's summer house and try to show Yuri that she isn't alone. It took a while to figure out what the connection between the three girls was. Why is it that now Kasumi and Kumi can feel Yuri's pain and share her nightmares? It wasn't until I fully realized that Kasumi and Kumi are far from normal little girls did I realize that, before the rape, Yuri was the only "normal" one. The three didn't have anything really in common until Yuri was attacked: each has some sort of pain that they are hiding from the world. Yuri is the only one who is able to show her pain. Kasumi is obsessed with needing approval and affection that shows in her constant need for praise and Kumi just hides her pain deep inside herself and quietly lets it build up. Their shared pain brings the girls a lot closer to each other. Kumi and Yuri stopped referring to each other by their last names at this time and start accepting their feelings for each other. There is a beautiful moment between Yuri and Kumi as Kumi wraps her arms around the little girl and whispered in her ear that she and everyone will always be there for Yuri. She then squeezes the little girl tight. Another during the fireworks festival where Kumi is staring at Yuri who is playing with a sparkler. Yuri looks up and the two girls eyes catch for a moment. They both blush and look away. It looks as though, maybe, these girls have a chance at recovering from whatever it was that was tormenting their young hearts.
Just when it looks like things are going well, everything spirals downward. A new alien arrives at the school. Yellow Knife is nothing like the little aliens that appeared before. His presence represents something darker then just fear. Kasumi is drawn to the creature and meets it late at night. Smiling, she takes its hands and is tossed into the air and is swallowed whole.
I'll give the writers credit for knowing the perfect time for ending an episode. My mind was racing all month waiting to find out what just happened. Why did Kasumi let herself be eaten by a giant alien creature? Is she alive? What the hell is going on here? Needless to say, all my questions were answered in the most shocking ending to a series I've ever seen. All of a sudden everything I believed became a reality. Even though I saw the signs about what this story was leading up to even I didn't want to believe it. Yellow Knife is another metaphor for something much more. It causes all the children to get headaches and only Yuri and Kumi are safe when they are wearing their Borgu. When Kumi tries to save Kasumi, it attacks by showing the girls what they fear the most.
Kumi is suddenly alone. The thing she has been repressing is how alone she feels, and when Yellow Knife forces her to face those feelings, she finally breaks down. She falls to the ground screaming and for the first time in the series, cries. She huddles in a ball and cries out to her dead father over and over again. She has never told anyone how alone she felt. Even though her mother was around, she was always working and needed Kumi to help out. Her father died when she was very little so Kumi had to grow up very fast. Now all the loneliness she was feeling comes out in one heap. Her Borgu wraps its wings around her and tells her that there is nothing to fear because no matter what happens it would be with her. This scene reminded me of what it feels like when pulling myself back together after a breakdown, like I was wrapping myself up with string and talking myself into living. Kumi gives herself one thing to live for-- Yuri -- and heads out to find her.
Yuri first finds Kasumi and suddenly you are shown just what kind of a relationship the little blonde had with her brother as a boy with the head of the yellow knife walks past Yuri, slips it's head under Kasumi's shirt, and begins to push its head into her tummy. Meanwhile, Kasumi just giggles and calls out for her brother. As Kasumi said in the beginning, she loves her brother. "He's my ___" she would say up until the end. For some reason he was sent to study abroad and she now blames herself. All she wants is her brother again and now he was there. To fill the void, she turned to everything else she was good at, but it wasn't enough. All the praise could not cover up the feelings of loss she has for her brother.
There were a lot of little signs that showed that Kasumi was a lot more "adult" then the other girls. She was eager to become an Alien Controller. She pushed Yuri and Kumi together. The way she told everyone she "loved" her brother when people asked about him, her bathing suit. To most she just looked like another chipper Anime girl, but to me she seemed much more. While she is inside Yellow Knife, he tells her about how much he loves her and there is a scene where a yellowish white fluid of some kind drops onto her cheek and rolls into her mouth. She licks her lips and smiles, saying "Yes, big brother." People have asked me where Yellow Knife came from because he states that he didn't want to be there. So who wanted him there? Kasumi. Yellow Knife isn't actually evil; he is just there to protect Kasumi. It is just like the Borgu. This becomes evident when Yuri's Borgu gets in an argument with Yellow Knife about who Yuri belongs to.
Kumi finally finds Yuri and with the girl at her side, she finds the strength to go after Yellow Knife. Kasumi is not willing to go yet; she doesn't understand that Kumi is trying to help her and only sees the fact that they're trying to take her away from her brother so attacks Kumi. She knocks Kumi's Borgu off her head by forming her hair into some weird antennae device (sort of like a cross between teachers hair and Yellow Knifes but more extreme) then tries to strangle Kumi. Kumi's Borgu wants to kill Kasumi because if Kumi dies then it dies as well, but Kumi doesn't want anyone else she cares for to die. She would rather be dead then have to live with being alone anymore. Kumi and her Borgu struggle against each other while Kasumi squeezes the life out of Kumi. Finally, Yuri breaks free of her fears and shield Kasumi from Kumi's Borgu's attack. Yuri throws herself on Kasumi and starts crying for her to stop. Yellow Knife sees that he is causing pain and is no longer needed and that Kasumi has people to watch over her for him. He lets Kasumi go, and then dies in a massive explosion.
Back to Yellow Knife for a moment. Each of the Borgu are in a sense a part of the girls. Yuri and Kumi's both are there to help the girls out when they are needed. Yuri's tries to encourage her to be stronger and Kumi's tries to teach her that she isn't alone. So what about Kasumi's Borgu? It agrees with everything she does unconditionally, never disagrees, and even refers to her as Kasumi-ojosama (Princess Kasumi). She needed something that would understand her and protect her instead of something that would follow her ever beck and call. This is where Yellow Knife came in. Kasumi needed Yellow Knife and he appeared. He tried to be the one thing she needed more then anything in the world. Something that loved her as much as she loved him. Yellow Knife filled the gap that was left when her brother was taken away from her. When Yellow Knife frees her the two become one (as shown with Kasumi's hair trick).
That evening Kumi calls her mother and tries to tell her about everything, but instead all she can say is that everything is perfectly fine and bursts into tears. Everything is fine; Kasumi is alive (or is she?). Yuri is a bit stronger. Kumi finally can let out her emotions, and her Borgu is recovering in the nurse's room. The sun rises on what looks like another normal day, but Kumi can't stop thinking. She roller blades up and down the library halls, moving faster and faster. Suddenly, her Borgu gets up and struggles to pull itself out the door; Kasumi is looking out a window when she suddenly turns around and starts running. Both find Kumi's body lying on the ground, dead. Yuri is the last to feel Kumi's pain as she bursts into tears and the credits start to roll.
I've had many people ask me "What happened?". Well, Kumi committed suicide. It is hard to believe, but that is what happened. "Why?" is the next question. Simple really, she gave herself one last reason to live, to save her friend. She could not accept the fact that she wasn't truly alone in the world, so with her friends safe, she decided there was no reason left to live. (But but but...) This is the one thing I liked about the series. The girls didn't suddenly pull back together. They were real. It is not easy to just pull yourself back together after falling apart. I cried for days after watching the ending. I was shocked at first, but then I remembered how I was at that age. I tried killing myself in almost the same manner, but with a bicycle and not roller blades. Guess I was lucky because someone found me before I died. Or maybe Kumi was the lucky one because she was finally freed of her pains. The saddest thing for me was I really felt that Kumi and Yuri were finally accepting their feelings for each other. Although I'm not much for happy endings, I was truly hoping that those two would end up together. All of the characters in the series were so real even though the story was wrapped up in a surreal world. For me, it made a lot of sense. It took a moment (a week is a moment for me at times) but instead of getting mad at the film I felt it was beautiful. The emotions showed in Yuri were those of a child struggling and didn't seem false. Kumi's death didn't feel forced or that they were trying to go for shock value but more of a fact of life. It is a sad fact that many children suffer as these girls did, and when they die people are left lost and confused. They aren't sure what happened, or why. The fact that they didn't go out of their way to explain her death is the way it should be. Explaining things away is just a way for people to dismiss what is important: Kumi's pain.
There are a lot of people who have said that Yuri is weak, a crybaby, that she should "get some balls", and so on. In truth, I think she is the strongest of them all. She lived. She is able to show her emotions and not bury them deep inside herself. Most of all, she was able to let herself love again.
I always saw Kumi as the bravest and at the same time the most fragile them all. She only cares about the people she loves and not herself. If she could have admitted to herself that she needed others as much as they needed her and that she could depend on people as well, then maybe she would have not of ended her life in that way. Who can tell, but Kumi will always be on my mind.
Kasumi looked at first to be the most cheerful but in the end turned out to be the most disturbed, which proves that you can't judge a book by its cover. After everything is over, she has changed the most. No longer is she the cute little girl she once was. I think this is one thing the artist wanted to do: making the Anime look cute on the outside but underneath showing just how dark the world truly is. Just like reality, People see only what is on the surface and not the inner pains that some try hard to bury within.
For some reason I felt a need for others to see this show. I needed more people to see the pains we children have suffered behind closed doors, the things that people would rather brush under a carpet. I needed others to see the feelings and pains that no child should have to feel, but still do to this day. The portrayal of their pain and sadness is so real that I hope by having more see it that perhaps they will understand more about what it is like to be a child in these situations. I've found a new cause to stand behind, something that gives me strength. At first I was upset by others' reactions to this show, but with each person who was angry I noticed others that truly wanted to learn more. This showed me that there was still a small chance for change in this world. When I heard that Central Park Media was bringing not only the Anime but also the Manga to North America, I felt something I couldn't explain. Soon more people will be able to see the film that touched me. Soon more people will understand which is why I'm writing this now. Even if it is a small difference, if only one person is affected by the show then that is enough. To make them more aware that the world isn't as bright and rosy as we are lead to think. So here I stand, supporting a film that most would consider just another insane story. Hopefully after reading this some of you will understand why I am supporting this film, and what it is that made this Anime so special in my mind.
(Ending note: At the time this was written I've only had a chance to read the Japanese edition of the Manga. There is a much more in that but since my Japanese is still fuzzy I'm waiting until the English edition is released I'm leaving out some of the details that it explains for the future. Sorry. )
Alien 9 Paper FAQ
Okay since writing this paper I've gotten a lot of e-mail. Thank you to all of those who support me and your kind words. Now there are a few who had other views and wanted to know what further justification I had for my points. Instead of updating the essay itself I'd decided just to add a FAQ section. Hopefully it will be able to add some further insight into my reasoning.
Q: What makes you think that Yuri was Raped? There is nothing sexual about the anything in A9.
A: Okay, I've heard a few people who think I'm wrong about the whole rape thing and feel that because of being a rape survivor, I am seeing things that are not there. Here is my point of view. Either:
a) The attacks were purely physical
b) The attacks were sexual.
Now if we take into account that the Aliens on the children's heads are symbols of adolescence then the two views end up looking something like this:
a) When boys hit puberty they suddenly find themselves having violent tendencies towards girls which leads, in some, to have an urge to kill them.
b) When Boys hit puberty they start finding themselves having sexual feelings towards girls, which, for a certain small minority, leads them to attempt/commit rape.
Which of these two points of view make the most sense in the context of the rest of the film?
Now for some more details concerning Yuri's rape. The boys' symbol of adulthood pierces the girl's symbol of adulthood. That's not to mention the inside of the girl's borgu looking, to some, like a placenta, the orientation, motion, and nature of the drills from the boys' aliens, and the nightmares in which Yuri finds herself shivering in the middle of a pool nude and crying, not to mention the nature and focus of the flashbacks Yuri experiences. All these point to a sexual attack then a physical one and there for more a symbol of her being raped.
Regardless of whether you feel the attack is sexual, one point remains. In one form or another, that scene is a very violent and strong depiction of violence of men towards women.
Q: What about the Teachers? They keep talking about some
A: Actually the answer is simpler then it looks. All japanese schools, and the teachers and councillors in them, compete to see which has the more mature and successful students. I never thought the teachers acted oddly because I found it normal for them to be competing, just as teachers and councillors do in many other Anime. It wasn't until someone brought it up to me that I had to really think about it.
Q: What makes you think that Kumi Committed Suicide? The Manga shows an Alien killed her!
A: One thing a lot of people forget is that this paper is an analysis of the Anime. I didn't want to spoil the Manga for those who haven't read it yet, and, at the time of writing the paper, I had not completely translated the manga myself. However, for those of you who keep asking me to change my views, yes, I've read the Manga, but I still believe that she did commit suicide even if it is done in an odd symbolism. Remember that all the aliens in the series were symbols. This one is no different. If you feel differently then write your own views and please stop trying to tell me I need to change mine.