Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: Alex + Ada, Volume One by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

Cover of Alex + Ada Volume One, featuring a pale-skinned man facing a pale-skinned woman. She has a white plastic drop sheet draped over her face and down her back, like a bridal veil.
Alex has an entirely average, mostly pleasant life. His automated house wakes him up and delivers his breakfast at the same time every morning. His job is fairly predictable. He has a nice group of friends who bake him birthday cakes and let him pet their Corgi. He is pretty bummed out about his love life, though, and his wealthy grandma is downright worried about it. In a bid to cheer him up (and help him get some), she buys him an android for his twenty-seventh birthday.

Alex is horrified. He does not want a sexbot. The whole thing creeps him out.

He’s fully prepared to return the android, but she looks so much like a person that it feels wrong to ditch her. So he keeps her, and spends time with her, and begins to wonder if the factory programming is really the limit of her personality. The news is full of stories about androids who seem sentient, but Ada is so... flat. Alex's quest to uncover the truth takes him deep into the the underground world of android rights, and forces him to question how far he’s willing to go to help Ada discover who she really is.

Let’s get the big, squicky issue out of the way first: Alex does not sleep with Ada.

Whew, right?

In that respect, and so far as the general situation goes, ALEX + ADA reminded me very much of CHOBITS, Clamp’s 2001/2 manga about a student who finds a persocom--that is, an android who takes the place of a personal computer, and whom many users treat as sexbots as well. The two series cover similar ground, but they tackle their subject matter with enough differences that there’s plenty of scope for crossover readership. Please don’t feel you should ignore ALEX + ADA just because you’ve read CHOBITS, or vice versa. They work well in conversation with one another.

Like Clamp (fear not, non-manga readers: this will be our last direct comparison to CHOBITS), Luna and Vaughn never shy away from the inherent squickiness of their premise. We’re immediately aware that true artificial intelligence exists in this world, making it impossible to discount the androids as the expensive toys Alex’s grandma and other "owners" consider them to be. Society's attitude towards the androids is utterly horrifying from the reader's standpoint, all the moreso because everyone is so casual about the role androids play on the world's stage.

Alex himself serves as an audience stand-in. He doesn’t want to be in a relationship with a machine that just does whatever he wants, because that’s not real. He finds the whole idea as weird and off-putting as the reader. The news stories he’s followed have already convinced him androids can become sentient people, assuming they aren't already, so his journey throughout this first volume involves finding a way to help Ada become like the androids he’s seen hinted at on TV. He wants to know if it’s actually possible, first off--the reports are vague--and what he has to do to make it happen. And he does all this not because he hopes he can have a sexual relationship with Ada after she’s sentient but because it’s the right thing to do.

Good for you, Alex. I sure hope you don't backtrack on this in Volume Two.

Alex’s journey also serves to highlight just how bad things are for the androids. The more he learns, the more horrifying the premise becomes. Alex doesn’t treat Ada badly before she’s self-aware, but that’s hardly true of every android out there. Many people, like his grandma, use them as sexbots as well as companions. Android brothels are all over the news, and androids often suffer nonsexual violence as well. Even androids who’re kept in relative comfort can face huge challenges when their awareness blockers are removed. They have to process everything that’s ever happened to them and internalize that they were made to act as they did; that they’ve never really had a choice as to how to conduct themselves.

Basically, it’s brutal.

It's also very much a series opener. This first volume does a great job of introducing the central ideas and sowing the seeds for further conflict down the line, but I’m not yet totally in love with it. Still, I liked it very much and I’m excited to see where it goes from here. I put my name on the library list for Volume Two the moment I finished Volume One, and here's hoping they process it quickly.


While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read ALEX + ADA, you can try:

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy this comic through The Book Depository or Amazon via the above links.


  1. Yes, WHEW indeed. All the whews. But I figured that was the case, or else all the bloggers would most likely not have been singing its praises quite so loudly. I remain extremely excited to read this series. If I were more wealthy I could be reading it issue by issue (woe).

    1. Part of me wishes I were rich enough to read everything by issue, but part of me is like, "Memory, you know you'd still save 'em up and read a pile of issues in one go, so why not wait?" And that's the part of me that usually wins out.

      Usually. Not always.

  2. Great review, Mem! I may give this one a try.

  3. I am really liking this series. I have read Volume 2 now and can't wait until Volume 3!!

    1. I'm still waiting for my library to get Volume Two through processing. Here's hoping it's in my hands within the month!