Wonder Right Where We Are: a review of Tokyo Alien Bros

Reviewed by Chids

I don’t read sci-fi. I want to get that out of the way first. I’m not a lover of space or its inhabitants. So imagine my surprise to find a story so intimately human, led not by one but two aliens.

I was pulled in initially by the art, its simplicity, a style that champions function over aesthetics. The composition of the pages are clear and readable, and the panels flow into each other with ease. Character expressions are easily deciphered as well as their posing, so as not to never leave the reader guessing the tone of the scene. It’s a style I’ve grown fond of since reading the mangaka’s work. The style piqued my interest and I found myself unable to put the manga down. 

Keigo Shinzou’s Tokyo Alien Bros is a story of two brothers sent to Earth as scouts looking for a suitable home for their kind. They are tasked with learning about humans and how best to live among them with the goal of taking the planet as their own. Fuyunosuke came to Earth first, and after spending roughly a year on the mission, was followed by his brother Natsutarou coming to check on his progress. Despite being brothers, the two couldn’t be more different. 

Cool, little brother Fuyunosuke has life on earth all figured out: he’s social, the girls love him and the guys want to be him. He dazzles his brother with local slang and has masterfully built up a network of earthlings who eat directly from his palm.

Then there’s awkward older brother Natsutarou, who struggles to even contort his new human face into a somewhat relaxed smile. He starts his earthly career terrified and overly cautious after an accident nearly melts his still new human form into a literal puddle. He struggles in his interactions with humans and in understanding why they do what they do.

The story delves deeply into what it means to be an earthling, to co-exist with the world around you. The series left me reeling: it looked me in the eyes and asked if it would be so bad to open up more, to experience people and let them experience you. With just a slice of their lives I saw enough of the characters to know and see glimpses of myself in them. I saw myself in Fuyunosuke’s aloof demeanour, the way he never got too close or too personal. In him I saw a younger self who just followed along and didn’t care to consider whether they honestly enjoyed anything. I too wanted to be good at life on earth and thought this meant performing, putting on a good show for my peers, because being genuine was scary. It still is sometimes.

In Natsutarou I saw my brother. It was as though the mangaka had peered into our lives during the late 2000s and had a notepad at the ready. I saw the way Natsutarou was easily overwhelmed, the way sayings flew over his head, and how he struggled with new but simple tasks; this felt familiar. I saw how he had no shame in his curious nature or demeanour, no worry of coming off as embarrassing or crass, and no thought about whether he was winning at life because to him there was no game to begin with, and that felt familiar too. Oh, to live so true to oneself, finding comfort in one’s quirks, getting off the stage and looking into the audience, letting people know you despite the risk. How it hurts to be a master of the game but still lose.

It was as though the mangaka was screaming at me, “Hey! There’s no right way to be! Just be!”

Let your walls down and let people in, dress weird, have messy emotions. Be embarrassing, and jealous, and obnoxious, and sentimental, be everything you are and without shame. Struggle to get a job, go on dates that may end up being awful, do the scary thing, it’s all fine. You will stop resenting your brother for doing what you can’t and come back with an even stronger bond. Life is messy and feeling vulnerable feels icky but it’s worth it despite the risk. With time, you come to realise that no matter how great or awful at life you are, your brother is going to be there to lift you up again.

Tokyo Alien Bros took me on a journey, the story chewed me up and spat me out as a vulnerable mess at 3am on a random Tuesday. A manga true to its genre, it doesn’t lie about being science fiction, but proves we can find that same wonder right where we are, in the human experience. It goes without saying that I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a read. Who knows, you might see a bit of yourself in these alien brothers too. 

Chids is a Nigerian-raised UK-based cartoonist. With no access to formal art education, they have spent the last decade learning sequential art by engaging with online art communities and emulating their inspirations. They are drawn to independent western comics and seinen and josei manga, and have particular fondness for stories that explore character vulnerability; which they hope to reflect in their work. When they’re not drawing you can find them on the volleyball court or comfortably seated at the theatre. Chids is working on their first major project, a digital auto bio zine, set to release by year’s end.