Saturday, September 18, 2010

Alice in the Country of Hearts Volume 4

By Quin Rose and Soumei Hoshino, based on the game by Quin Rose. Released in Japan as "Heart no Kuni no Alice ~Wonderful Wonder World~" by Mag Garden, serialized in the magazine Comic Blade Avarus. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

I've been reading and enjoying the Alice manga since it started coming out, but haven't reviewed one till now. Mostly it was because I wasn't quite sure what to say. Alice is one of those mangas where I greatly enjoy the experience, but wonder why. I'm clearly not the target audience, nor is this title particularly deep or filled with broad comedy. It is what it sets out to be: a manga adaptation of a game for females, with the plot being "which guy will she pick?". Of course, being a manga adaptation of the game, she's not about to pick anyone.

I decided to review it, however, after taking a look at another manga based off of an otome game, Ugly Duckling's Love Revolution, which I reviewed back in July. That was a good example of what NOT to do when basing a manga off of a game - it required knowing the game, and kept all the characters as ciphers, so you didn't really care.

That's absolutely not what's happening here. First off, the manga is actually telling a story. I've never played the Alice game, so I don't know if it's retelling the basic events of the game or what, but you won't be lost at all if you're unaware of its origins. Secondly, while the guys in this manga *are* total otome game stereotypes (the brooding sullen guy, the mean sarcastic guy, the cheery obsessive guy, the cheery psychotic guy...), the main male characters are all fleshed out and made interesting, if only as you want to see if they're all going to snap and kill each other.

For once, the 'All Girls Want Bad Boys' idea works well, as you aren't left choosing between a bunch of bland bishies, but guys with real emotional problems. Likely NONE of these idiots would make a good boyfriend for Alice, which is a good thing as I suspect that, like Ugly Duckling, she won't be choosing one in this manga, not wanting to annoy readers who picked a different path. Getting away from the romance game genre allows these jerks to be JERKS, and the manga is better for it. It also helps you really admire Alice's steadfast attempts to be friends with most of them, even the ones that she normally can't stand such as Peter or Blood.

The manga started out being only loosely based on the Wonderland books, and that's even more accurate here, as Volume 4 has little to no resemblance to anyone from the original Carroll. Instead we're left to wonder about the world Alice is trapped in, and what the basics of it are. We're given very little information, and even then only in bits, so have to work out for ourselves not just what is going on here, and the character's motivations, but also why they're all obsessed with Alice. Yes, yes, she's the protagonist, but it goes further than the game origins. It reminded me almost of Suzumiya Haruhi, with Ace at one point saying that he plans to kill Alice just to see what happens, a plotline that should be very familiar to readers of that series.

Of course, I admit a lot of the philosophical questions are purely in my head. The manga is not really interested in providing me answers to my thoughts, or to delve (much) into psychological issues. The only weak point in this volume I found to be the start of the final chapter, which clearly makes a leap forward into the other two games available in this series, mentioning the other worlds (Clover, Diamonds, etc.) available to Alice and also introducing the Joker. A better segue would have made things more smooth - instead I wonder if there are chapters missing.

This is much better than I'd expected, and I'm pleased that it's been such a huge success for Tokyopop - consistently in the NYT bestseller lists for weeks. It's not going to blow anyone away, but I'd definitely recommend it as an excellent example of how to write an adaptation of a 'romance' game where you have to pick one amongst all the various options - whether those games be tons of women OR men. Recommended.

1 comment:

  1. I got confused when this particular volumes suddenly had the Joker and other chapter - I thought it was still part of the main story, so, when I got to the chapter after the Joker chapter in particular, I had to flip back and figure out what happened and whether I had gotten a defective volume or something.

    I think one of the things I like about this series is that Alice recognizes that all of these guys are messed up (although that reaction is softened by her "it's all a dream, so I'll just roll with it" attitude). She might think they're cute or hot, but that doesn't automatically translate into "and I want to be with them forever" because she's not stupid.

    I'm sad that I may never get to find out the ending to this series - the final volume was only scheduled to be published a few months from now, but I think the publication of everything after May 31st has been cancelled. I was pretty sure that the key to everything had something to do with Alice and her unresolved issues about her sister ending up with her ex-boyfriend, and I wanted to see how things would play out (and how Peter factored into it all).