Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gakuen Alice series (manga) by Tachibana Higuchi

Ten-year-old Mikan and Hotaru are classmates and best friends. One day, Hotaru tells Mikan that she's leaving to attend Alice Academy, a mysterious and elite school for geniuses. Mikan is heartbroken, but she becomes determined to go to Hotaru and become a student at Alice Academy as well. On her way there, Mikan meets at teacher from the academy and finds out that the meaning of "Alice" is not "genius" but "special ability" (we're talking telekenesis, the ability to quickly and easily create amazing inventions, etc.). After Mikan proves that she has an Alice, a special ability, she is allowed to become a real student at Alice Academy. Unfortunately, Alice Academy students are allowed little contact with the outside world, and there are many secrets that the academy and its teachers are hiding.

This comedic/romantic fantasy series is mostly light-hearted and sweet. Although Mikan isn't exactly the brightest crayon in the box, she's a cheerful and trusting girl who's good at getting others to open up. The premise, a school for students with special abilities that has a lot of secrets, is not an original one, but Higuchi's story is still an enjoyable read. Readers may enjoy the many details Higuchi provides about life at Alice Academy - in addition to details provided within the story, there are also extras that give details about things such as school uniforms and Alice nullification items.

The characters are another draw of this series. There are many characters, each with distinctive personalities - most readers should be able to find at least one character they like, if not more. Even characters who aren't necessarily nice to Mikan and her friends are made interesting by the secrets and complexities they have that Higuchi hints at.

Overall, I'd say that this series would appeal to a wide range of ages. However, there are some instances in the story that might offend the sensibilities of some readers. For instance, one of the teachers has an Alice involving pheromones - he mainly uses it to deal with overly aggressive students. His pheromones overwhelm children's systems when he kisses them, causing them to pass out. There's nothing sexual about this, and the kiss is just a peck, but it may still upset some readers. Also, at the end of volume 2, Mikan sleeps in the same bed as one of her male teachers, someone she considers a friend. Once again, there is nothing sexual about this - she's 10 years old, has had a scary day, and needs the comfort of being near an adult for a bit. However, as with the pheromone power, this has the potential to upset some readers.

If you'd like to see more information about the different volumes and the read-alikes and watch-alikes (why they were suggested, what they're about), then click on the links for the different volumes.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:

  • Kodocha (anime TV series)
  • Ceres: Celestial Legend (manga) by Yuu Watase
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone (book) by Jenny Nimmo
Volume 2

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (book) by J. K. Rowling
  • Arrows of the Queen (book) by Mercedes Lackey
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya

Volume 3 [added 9/17/08]

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (book) by J. K. Rowling
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith

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