By Tachibana Higuchi. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.
After the huge emotional gutwrench of the last volume, it was obvious that this one would be a breather, and it is, for the most part. There are no major villains here, and the plot is mostly about recovery from the last adventure and school shenanigans. We see how Valentine's Day operates at the school, we watch Mikan's class try to pay tribute to those graduating, and we meet a young boy whose Alice has left him as he grows up - as some Alices do - and so he has to leave the school.
This last one struck a chord with me, as it becones another reminder of how horrible this whole setup is regarding the school and Alices. Mikan is at first consoled by the fact that Hosshan (the boy who's lost his Alice) will be going home and reunited with his happy family. Then she's promptly informed that his family hasn't been spending as many letters recently, so he's wary of that, and more importantly, the community he'll be going back into will likely resent him. Towns are apparently paid a government stipend for having an Alice at the academy, and when they leave, that's less money for the community.
Then of course there's Valentine's Day, which Mikan thinks will be normal and sweet, but is anything but. I was surprised to see the manga talk so blatantly about all the students trying to use mind control candy to get another to like them, but then again, Gakuen Alice is a title that mines its humor and heart from hideously traumatic ideas and events. This doesn't even count the girls wanting Luca to wear rabbit ears, or ex-girlfriends trying to give a little payback revenge, or even Hotaru, who simply wants revenge with no feelings behind it whatsoever.
There are some nice character moments in here. I liked Hotaru being mildly more tolerant of Mikan's clinginess after seeing her near death the last volume, something that Mikan then proceeds to abuse horribly. Tono also seems to have worked out Mikan's past, and is justifiably worried for her. Sometimes this doesn't always work - the graduation story was the weakest of the volume, and I felt that the backstory between Curly and Mindreader-kun felt rather tacked on in an effort to give that chapter more emotional depth. I did like seeing his blank smiling face with an 'angry mark', though.
After the high point of Volume 12, this inevitably seems a bit of a letdown. But hey, it's only brief - the next volume will introduce Luna, who is the next big challenge for Mikan and her friends. As I think I've finally grown used to this deconstruction of 'superhero school' and its close look at bullying and manipulation, I am looking forward to more. Which is good, as I'm behind, and Vol. 14 is sitting here waiting to be read.