Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gakuen Alice (manga, vol. 3) by Tachibana Higuchi

This is my last book post before my big move - there's not much in the way of read-alikes at the end of this post, but if I think of more later I can always just edit this post. Anyway, have fun with this - I love Gakuen Alice, it's just so cute. Things get a bit darker in this volume, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Higuchi's going to balance the various tones of the series in later volumes. I guess that means I'll have to find a way to buy this series in the future, since I'll no longer be able to get it at a local library...

It's now Autumn, and nearly everyone at Alice Academy is gearing up for the School Festival, at time when many students get to showcase their particular talents. Some Alices are very popular and do well at the festival, while others either aren't very popular (Special Class, the one Mikan is in) or aren't allowed to participate (Dangerous-ability type class). Mikan is sad when she discovers that those with a Dangerous-ability type Alice, like Natsume, can't participate, but she can't really think of any way to help. She can and does think of a way that the Special Class can show their worth - she tells the others in her class her idea, and they like it, but readers will have to wait until at least the next volume to find out what Mikan's great idea is.

Every student at Alice Academy receives an allowance, depending upon his or her star ranking - Mikan, a lowly no-star, receives only 500 yen a month (approximately $5, I think), whereas a one-star student, the next level up, receives 3000 yen (approximately $30, I think). The students are allowed to go to Central Town, a shopping center located on Alice Academy grounds, to spend their allowance, if they'd like, but Mikan, a no-star student, can't go unless her "partner" (Natsume) goes with her. Natsume doesn't really like her, but he agrees to go because a little boy with a Dangerous-ability type Alice who likes tagging along with him wants to go. Mikan loves Central Town, but she doesn't have enough money to buy Howalon, a special Alice Academy candy that's so good it makes you happy. Unwilling to accept a loan from one of her friends, Mikan raises the money for the candy by enlisting her friends' help and staging a little "Mikan the Little Match Seller" play in the streets of Central Town.

The students discover that the guest of honor on the third day of the School Festival is going to be Reo, an Academy alumnus who's a big Hollywood star with the Alice "Pheromone Voice." Before going to the Academy, Reo will be getting a check-up at the Academy hospital. Meanwhile, Natsume has been admitted to the hospital because of exhaustion. Several Alice Academy students, including Mikan, try to sneak into the hospital in order to catch a glimpse of Reo, but Mikan and Sumire (a girl who hates Mikan and who actually got into the hospital for a legitimate reason, to see Natsume) get the closest to Reo and witness him kidnapping Natsume. Faced with the difficulty of getting adults to believe them in time to actually do something, Mikan and Sumire chase after Reo's car on foot. However, they get caught and wake up in a warehouse. Reo, a member of a rebel organization called Z that opposes the Academy, plans to sell or kill all three of them (Natsume, Sumire, Mikan). Fortunately, Mikan and Sumire eventually manage to escape - and Mikan decides to go back to rescue Natsume. However, Mikan gets hurt and Natsume (whose Alice is Fire) blows up. When Mikan wakes up two days later, she's at the hospital but otherwise fine, and Natsume is also resting.

While this could've just been a school comedy with the occasional romantic and dramatic moments, the introduction of a rebel organization may potentially push the series in a different direction. It's still not clear how Narumi is going to behave - he seems to want to help Mikan, and he seems to like her, but his motivations may actually have more to do with finding the person from the Academy's past who also had the Alice of Nullification. I also found it interesting that Reo thought that Narumi might actually prefer to be part of Z, because Narumi is also anti-Academy.

In addition to some interesting Narumi moments, Higuchi also reveals Natsume's great secret - apparently he incinerated his entire hometown. I'm sure that it was an accident, maybe the result of being unable to control his Alice, but it's still big news. Also, Reo reveals that the Dangerous-ability type students are trained by the government to become spies (and, I'm guessing, assassins, but maybe that was too much to say in a manga starring a bunch of 10- and 11-year olds).

As a final note, I thought it was cute that Natsume blew up after watching Mikan get hurt - although I doubt he'll ever confirm it, I like to think that he totally lost it because he's starting to care about her and didn't like seeing someone else hurt her.

As far as extras go, there are a few character profiles, a 5-panel Higuchi's room comic strip in which Higuchi bemoans a mistake she made concerning Mikan's birthday, an entire page devoted to a scene in the previous volume that made many readers uncomfortable (the one where Narumi and Mikan fall asleep in the same bed - readers wondered if Narumi might be "that kind of person," but Higuchi assures everybody that this is not the case and that she didn't mean for the scene to be taken that way), and an illustrated explanation of Hotaru's Tranquilizer Patch.

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (book) by J.K. Rowling - After spending 10 years with his uncle, aunt, and their bully of a son, all people who hate him, Harry Potter learns that he is a wizard and has been invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Although things don't exactly become easy, as he tries to deal with a new magical world he knows nothing about, his celebrity status in the world of witches and wizards, and a powerful enemy who tried to kill him when he was just a baby, Harry still manages to enjoy himself and make friends. Those who'd like another fantasy series with a school full of children with special abilities and a detailed fantasy world might like this book, which is the first in the Harry Potter series.
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book is Smith's Dark Visions series. Kaitlyn Fairchild is a psychic whose drawings predict the future. The only problem is, her drawings usually don't make sense until after whatever they predict has happened. When she finds out about the Zeetes Institute, a place where she can learn to control her abilities, she decides to go, but the institute may have have more sinister intentions than Kaitlyn realizes. Those who'd like another story involving psychic abilities, action, and characters with lots of dark secrets might like this young adult book and series.

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