Though the title of This Ugly Yet Beautiful World (Tokyopop) contains an echo of Asano’s young adult manga What A Wonderful World!, the two series have very different intentions. The latter is an angst-y slice-of-life look at urban young struggling to find their place in a bullying world; the former (at least in its first volume) is a more lighthearted story about young girl aliens discovering planet Earth for the first time.
Adapted from an animé teleseries by Gainax, with art by Ashita Morimi, the manga centers on two young boys who take in a pair of aliens who arrive on our planet as shafts of light. (“It’s not normal for a light resembling a shooting star to turn into a girl,” one of them reasonably notes.) Taking the bodies of attractive young girls (“So strange, having a body like this,” the ultra-busty elder alien Hikari says at one point), they become part of the two boys’ social and family circle even as we know their presence on the planet is the harbinger of dire occurrences in the near future.
First time that Takeru and Ryou, our two heroes, meet Hikari (whose name means “light” in Japanese), the former winds up having to defend her from a monstrous creature that suddenly appears as he’s motorbiking her home. Takeru’s hand inexplicably transforms into a “sword thing” that he uses to slay the beast, but this is the only moment of such action that we see in the first volume. The bulk of the book is devoted to Hikari and her sister Akari (“brightness”) wreaking comic and emotional havoc in the lives of the two boys. When Takeru, for instance, takes Hikari back to his uncle’s house so she’ll have a place to stay, the boy’s cousin Mari quickly becomes jealous of the developing relationship. Takeru, who’s too dense to see that Mari has a thing for him, teases the waiflike girl for not having as shapely a body as Hikari — then is puzzled when she kicks him and stomps off.
Both alien girls come off innocent and unconstrained by modesty: the “mature” rated manga has more than its share of nudity, typically featuring the naïve Hikari as she happily embraces an embarrassed Takeru or shows up unexpectedly in bed with him. All fairly mild, particularly as rendered by artist Ashita Morimi, who depicts each girl with brightly big-eyed ingenuousness, though I can’t help wandering how these moments were portrayed in the original animé.
One of the more amusing aspects of the story lies in the fact that — unlike most Aliens Among Us stories — nobody bothers to hide the fact that the two girls are not of this Earth. Takeru and Ryou openly admit it to family and friends, who accept, deny or offhandedly joke about it. “Situations like this always have a beautiful girl in them as a matter of default,” one of Takeru’s school chums observes. “Not like a gray-skinned or tentacled creature either.”
Despite its moments of sexual and relational comedy, Volume One concludes on an ominous note: the image of dead fish washing up on the shores of the beach. “I’ve seen this before,” younger alien Akari says. “No, I’ve seen a more horrible version of this.” No doubt we’ll be seeing more of the ugly side of this beautiful planet in future books.