Alyosha!

alyosha -01Mission accomplished.

Alyosha! (アリョーシャ!, Aлёша!) is a manga series by Kondoh Rururu (近藤るるる) that you could call a blend of slice of life and gritty espionage. I read this quite a while ago, as it ended years ago, and I remembered really enjoying it for several reasons, although I was somewhat disappointed with how it ended. On a second look for review, I found that the series was just as good as I remembered but I may have been too harsh on the final chapter. It could have been executed better, yes, but the point of it was something I didn’t quite appreciate until a second read-through.

Alyosha! is a great, highly competent thing otherwise. It is is confident about itself, assured that it will accomplish what it sets out to do — and it does. It’s a simple thing that isn’t very complicated, but is honest about that and makes no attempts at seeming anything more. Cute and relaxing, but also harsh and badass: that’s Alyosha!, both the character and the series.

Alyosha! begins with a girl in a school uniform standing in a bare, dark apartment. She has a strange effigy set up in the form of a glass bottle of water topped with an apple. She readies a flexible knife at it and promptly executes the thing in swift, practiced motions. She fits the knife into the sole of her shoe, puts a false tooth into her mouth, and leaves. The bottle bleeds.

alyosha -04This is Alyosha Stalina. At school she is considered an aloof beauty that excels in all things but remains taciturn even after being enrolled for three months. She goes to a prestigious school in Japan for the rich as a goodwill ambassador from the fictional country of Solessia (which is totally not Russia). She has her admires in school, but her beauty and her complete silence make her difficult to approach. One admirer, Nayuki Miru, is teased for wanting to be friends with Alyosha but doing nothing about it. Her bullies have a low opinion of Alyosha for her standoffish, creepy nature (the strange girl only ever eats bread and water at lunch on top of all the other oddities about her) but Miru defends Alyosha’s character. She insists there’s nothing unusual about the Solessian exchange student.

alyosha -06alyosha -07But she is wrong, of course. Alyosha is an assassin, a notorious one that operates under the codename “Kortik” (meaning “dirk”). She is the top agent of her organization, the Karamazov Assassination Group. In truth, she comes from the fictional war-torn Eastern European country of Estolakia, and she has been a 100% successful child soldier since the age of 5. Here we are treated to a flashback to a conversation between Alyosha and her Colonel where Alyosha’s life, and her country’s troubled relationship with the superpower Solessia, is explained.

alyosha -08Her task in Japan was to go undercover as a Solessian goodwill ambassador at a school the Solessian President, Pushkin, would be visiting three months from this conversation’s date. There, she would wait until his coming to Japan, at which point she would assassinate the President using her cover as a representative. Furthermore, at the same time the Colonel would stage a coup back home to oust Solessia from power, ultimately earning Estolakia true freedom in the ensuing chaos. This shall be her most significant task to date, and secrecy is of the utmost importance. Thus, this will be her final mission.

alyosha -09alyosha -10

In this scene, we see that in spite of her poor treatment as a tool for the wetwork of her state, she is doggedly loyal to her country. We also see that her Colonel cares for her deeply, as he tells her her real name during this conversation and secretly holds some regrets over taking her from the streets so many years ago. Quickly and bluntly, we know all we need to know about who Alyosha is and what her motivations are.

Present day, the time has come for the assassination. Pushkin is coming and Alyosha is dead set on her objective. He arrives at the school and a ceremony is held. She meets him onstage and prepares for the kill, her knife concealed by a bouquet of flowers.

alyosha -12But the plan suddenly comes to an end. Her Colonel contacts her to inform her that the coup d’etat was a bust and so killing Pushkin would be a bad move. Alyosha is now given a new mission: live on as an ordinary high school girl and enjoy the rest of her days in peace.

alyosha -13

The school day ends and she returns to her apartment, feeling lost.

alyosha -14

While pondering how to accomplish her new task, she notices someone at the door. It is Nayuki Miru, who finally drummed up the courage to speak with Alyosha today after noticing that she hadn’t been acting as usual throughout the day. Alyosha invites her inside and they each sit down. Miru reveals that she has come bearing gifts, offering Alyosha some cakes.

alyosha -16

Alyosha has never had cake before.

alyosha -17

She loves it.

And this is the last thing we learn about Alyosha from this chapter: Alyosha! Is! CUTE! She asks why a high schooler such as Miru is able to eat such amazing things, and Miru informs her that it’s actually pretty normal for high schoolers to eat cake. A revelation dawns on Alyosha.

Taking up her false tooth that she would have used to kill herself after the assassination (as it is filled with poison), she hurls it outside and vows to accomplish this new mission given to her. If it means more cake, then hell yes.

alyosha -18

And that’s chapter 1.

This first chapter is amazingly strong. When I go into a series for review I go about plucking pages I think do a good job of summarizing or showing off the manga. Usually I’ll get something like five pages or so each for the first few chapters that do this job well. With Alyosha!, I practically took out the entirety of chapter 1. Pretty much every single page is significant and does something to tell you what kind of series this is and what to expect.

Having read the series already, when I read the first chapter again I was actually stunned by how well it sets up the series. Everything you need to know is here. We learn that Alyosha is extraordinarily skilled and that she is quick/coldly efficient in her killing, we see that the cast is simple and easy to understand (in a good and entertaining way), we get some comedy and cute to know this will be light story, and we get some screwed up things like bloody violence and the concept of child soldiers to know that this will be a dark story. We know politics will play a big factor, and Alyosha’s goal of living a happy life is something that never loses significance. Furthermore, we are witness to exactly how the series will present itself. Alyosha! uses a style of frequent narration, often on things we already know or could infer, to give a feeling that I’ve seen before but find difficult to put into words. It’s kind of like a television drama or action serialization. For example:

alyosha -21

It’s honestly very fun and amusing. The narrator doesn’t just dump out facts, but usually dumps them for a reason that is addressed, or around the start of the chapter to enthusiastically explain that “Alyosha is an assassin trying to be an ordinary high school girl!” It will do things like say, “LET ME EXPLAIN,” and proceed to ramble on about an assassination tool or a character’s background, and on the whole it’s very charming. It also tends to inform us of Alyosha’s thought process. As a mostly silent character, even after the first chapter, it isn’t often that we get insight into Alyosha’s logic. However, when we do, it is through the narrator. They’ll start jabbering on about what’s going through her head, and why, and end it with “That’s what Alyosha was thinking”. This keeps Alyosha feeling quiet and subdued, rather than having to join her in her thoughts and making her more relatable — because she really isn’t too relatable.

The narration makes this story really feel like a storyfiction — and drives home the point that its ultimate purpose is to entertain. Alyosha! can be a very, very bleak series and it doesn’t shy from depicting things like violence against children. The steady narration, along with the regular interjection of cute things and comedy, keep it feeling distant enough from the real world that you shouldn’t get very disturbed or depressed by the things on display. While it takes place in a world one step removed from reality, and so the serious issues can be seriously considered, for the most part things are fun. Even the silly fake country names (like “Misrael” and “Ameria”) help to that effect.

alyosha -23

Honestly I kind of feel like I could end the review here, because that’s really all there is to say about the whole series to explain how it works, but I guess there are some other things I can discuss.

In the next few chapters Kondoh-sensei moves toward getting permanent things in place that will remain unchanged throughout the series amid the violence and lackadaisical shenanigans. Miru becomes Alyosha’s first friend in her life and decides to teach Alyosha some things about Japan. Unfortunately, for all her spirit and drive, she’s not terribly smart and is pretty awful at it. For instance, when she gets Alyosha a part time job to stop her from robbing people (street urchin who lost her organization’s support, what do you expect?), this happens:

alyosha -26
alyosha -27They both get fired and eventually Alyosha ends up living on the street once again (not that she minds at all) after her funds run out. Through some shenanigans, she ends up working as one of the live-in maids at Miru’s mansion.

alyosha -28

As a maid with proper direction, she is naturally amazing at her new job. The head maid, Rokuten-san, has an interesting relationship with Alyosha throughout the series that I won’t really talk about, but will say was a nice one. Having secured a home and pay, Alyosha is very satisfied. She is particularly satisfied because her old Assassination Group now wants “Kortik” dead for the secrets she holds, and unfortunately Alyosha’s close proximity to Miru has led to a case of mistaken identity.

alyosha -30

Karamazov now suspects “Kortik” is Miru, and throughout the series Miru becomes a target. Having grown fond of Miru, and considering her to be special, Alyosha vows to protect her and takes care of anyone that comes after them. Thus, it’s a very good thing that Alyosha became Miru’s maid.

alyosha -31

Not long after the series begins, the cast size is increased by 1 with the inclusion of FBI Agent (from the United States of Ameria [sic]) Katie Lindberg. Katie is a prodigy at the age of 16 and has already been solving cases for the FBI since childhood by the series’ start. She initially comes across as very stern and serious, and is mean to her peers. Presently, she’s on the case to sniff out the Karamazov organization and, mainly, the assassin Kortik. Her investigation has led her to Japan, where she suspects a certain Solessian exchange student of being the legendary killer. Ah, but more importantly…

alyosha -32

It’s Japan!

Turns out Katie is a huge weeaboo absolutely obsessed with everything Japanese and anime in particular. After transferring into Alyosha’s school she acts about as one would expect — obnoxious and silly — and the people around her treat her accordingly (as a strange, strange foreigner). She’s never had any friends before, similar to Alyosha, but unlike Alyosha she’s always wanted some. She finds friends in her new school with Miru and Alyosha (and another one… I’ll get to that one later) and that’s nice. On that note, I was surprised to discover when I first read this that this somewhat absurd character is actually pretty much the series’ second protagonist right behind Alyosha.

alyosha -33She’s a major player in the series and she’s honestly fairly interesting. She gets things moving and has a fun character. I liked her.

Once Katie is introduced the series gets into the main plot of protecting Miru and discovering Karamazov. Although Alyosha is a known killer, Katie sees that she’s a good person who was just following her country’s orders and becomes her friend and partner.

And on that note, do you like Metal Gear Solid? I love it.

mgs snakes

I won’t say that Kondoh-sensei took inspiration from MGS when he wrote Alyosha!, but I will say this: there are nonetheless connections that can be made.

alyosha -34

A powerful figure of the battlefield, Kortik/Snake (Big Boss) became a legend for her/his outstanding prowess in war as a mercenary. There is no terrorist organization that doesn’t know her/his name. She/He worked for the government for a time, and a plan was conceived to make super soldiers based on her/him to be used as tools of the military. Kortik/Big Boss had a personal hand in training the best of this project: Alyosha/Solid Snake. Alyosha/Solid took the legendary codename of Kortik/Snake her/himself and also became a legend, but she/he was not alone. A cloning project was also started based on these ideas (though it was swept under the rug as a failed, dirty little secret), and now there is more than one Kortik/Snake in the world.

I’m being loose. Alyosha! isn’t that similar to Metal Gear but when it came time to introduce clones to the series I couldn’t help but think of that zany game series.

alyosha -35

Les Enfants TerriThe cloning project that created other SnaKortiks actually produced one of my favorite villains in manga. She wasn’t amazing or even all that unique, but I did find her pretty fascinating and was definitely entertained by her. Kortik No. 3 hits like a whirlwind when she comes into the series, and she has a satisfying conclusion to her personal story. She could have been a little better, but I think that’s mainly a result of the ending feeling a little too rushed. And on that note, I should say I like that all the “fighters” in this action series are assassins that act like assassins. Engagements in Alyosha! tend to last only a page on average or a few pages at most. These are assassins: there aren’t long and drawn out sequences when they fight but instead fast, efficient, visceral and decisive actions. There’s also some cleverness to it, with tools hidden and cheap shots taken if necessary.

alyosha -36This makes Alyosha herself super cool, in my opinion. I actually don’t think there’s any real point in talking about her character, as there isn’t much to her character (a quietly adorable, somewhat odd, freely honest ex-assassin who loves sweets and fights for what’s important to her), but I will say she’s just great and it’s nice seeing how her philosophy on life forms throughout the series by learning things from her friends and from Japan’s rather peaceful culture. It doesn’t feel like sappy, on-the-nose lessons to the silly foreigner Alyosha either, instead it feels like a girl who had to this point been nothing more than a living weapon is finding what makes life great and determining how she might live hers/what would be best to do with her life. I also really appreciate that she’s a powerful girl with actual muscles.

alyosha -41

Kondoh Rururu did an excellent job with the art in this series. The best way I could put it is that it always looks good and never looks bad. When it’s cute, it’s cute. When it’s cool it’s cool. Scary moments are scary, tense moments are tense, and it’s all in a pretty unique art style on top of it. Good looks!

And that’s Alyosha! It’s good! It’s a good show. See you nex… Oh, right, forgot something.

alyosha -42

This guy.

This guy just sucks.

This is Ryuunosuke, and I really just didn’t like him at all. Remember how I said I collect images throughout reading a manga for review? Well I picked about 70 for Alyosha! and this guy didn’t show up in one of them even after I told myself to make sure I grabbed at least one. He’s not a major detriment to the series, but I would be disingenuous if I talked about this manga and didn’t mention him. First things first: he has the least significant role in the story (his brother who has about three appearances feels more important) and doesn’t appear very often at all. This statement will operate as a disclaimer, so you know the series is still great even with him in it.

I don’t want to stay on him long so here’s why he sucks: he’s an average high school boy.

Okay, done.

alyosha -43

See you next week when I review some other stuff.

…Okay, seriously.

Ryuunosuke isn’t awful, but he sucks. He’s awkward and pathetic, he can be pretty annoying, and he’s a poor friend to the girls. Not once but twice he says something really shitty about his “friends” that just make me want to break his nose. He really doesn’t add anything to the series…seriously, he feels completely useless. Alright, he’s not completely average, since he’s book smart, but it’s not like that functions as anything more than a thing to say about him (“He’s book smart”). His smarts do not help, and he’s not even close to the smartest characters in the series anyway. He only has one useful connection by blood and otherwise just kind of acts like a fun-killer by being a pathetic piece of shit. He isn’t even cute. Like, Christ, Miru is better than he is. I like Miru, and the series starts out with her being “the dumb, cute one”! Miru has character development! She’s important to Alyosha and Katie’s character arcs! Ryuunosuke? There’s a reason he doesn’t actually show up in the epilogue of sorts.

It’s a good thing Ryuunosuke has a thin presence in this manga because if he was significant he’d be a major problem for me. As he is, he’s harmless to the overall quality of the series but he should still be noted because, hey, he is there even though the series would essentially function approximately the same way without him.

alyosha -44

Let’s not end on a down note.

From start to just before the finish, Alyosha! is a solid and fun series that has something for both those moe lovers and those action lovers equally. The actual plot isn’t amazing or anything, but it’s cool going through it so who cares? This is a series about a high school girl assassin who loves eating cake but is still legitimately an assassin. That’s just swell, ain’t it? Definitely one of my favorites. I’m happy to have read it again.

For real this time, see you next week; thanks for reading.

alyosha -45

Alyosha!
CDJapan, honto (guide)

Kondoh Rururu’s Bookwalker (guide) author page: [link]

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Alyosha!

  1. Lesson learned from this series:
    – You cannot escape the fate, even if you change your identity, just like an assassin cannot stop killing.
    – Some FBI agents could be a weeaboo.
    – The pivotal characters do not need to appear much

  2. SPOILERS

    I love this series, but I hate the ending. Everything’s good right up until the last few pages, when they negate all the character development and everything that happened over the course of the series by having her choose to go back to her former life. The series was supposed to be about an assassin learning how to be a normal person, wasn’t it? It was to me, at least, and because of that the ending felt to me like a slap in the face.

    • SPOILERS

      I felt the same way at first, but I eventually saw it as “the true meaning” or something like that.

      She didn’t go back simply to return to the way she was, but her orders were to become a high school girl. Her ORDERS. She also sought freedom, tasted a happy life in a sense, and then decided, on her own, to do something else. She wasn’t following orders basically. Then she goes back to try to give other war orphans the kind of life she experienced, which is a much better thing to do than to simply live her life in peace. Essentially, she took what she learned and tried to give it to others in her home country.

      This isn’t utterly clear but there’s bits and pieces of this message throughout the story, and I think ultimately the ending makes perfect sense. Unfortunately it’s not hugely satisfying.

      • Perhaps, if you put it that way. It still felt like a very different tone than the one that seemed to be being told throughout the series. Even her superior didn’t want her to go back into that life, and wanted her to be a normal person. At least I can still love the rest of the series, even if the final bit leaves a terrible taste in my mouth.

        • Regardless of whether that was the author’s intent, the series still feels very rushed in the end and it’s not exactly clear that Alyosha might want to do what she does at the end. It’s also sudden in a cruel way, since she just leaves everyone without a word. That’s why I say it definitely could’ve been executed better.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s