Saturday, July 16, 2016

REVIEW: I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland (manga, vol. 1) art by Ayumi Kanou, story by Visualworks, translated by Jocelyne Allen

I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland is a fantasy romance (ish) series that is, I think, based on a social game. It's licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment (the manga, not the game).


Makoto is an ordinary boy who gets sucked into Wonderland via a book. To his horror, he also discovers that he has swapped bodies with Alice, a girl who was sucked into Wonderland in the same manner some time before him. Alice, a weapons nut, quickly tells Makoto some of what's going on. It turns out that Wonderland is teeming with monsters, which are controlled by the King of Hearts, the ruler of the country. Alice has heard that a gate in the King's palace can help her and Makoto get back home and hopefully get their bodies back, but first they have to survive the monsters and find the palace, which is hidden from ordinary Wonderland citizens.

Thankfully, that's when Alice and Makoto come across the White Rabbit, a captain in the King's army. All of the King's soldiers know how to get to the palace, and although you'd think one of the King's soldiers would be yet another enemy, most of them are as fed up with what the King is doing as the rest of the country's citizens. The White Rabbit agrees to help, but first the group needs to gather up a few more allies.

I picked this series up for several reasons. First, I figured it might be nice to try another Alice in Wonderland reinterpretation. Second, the artwork looked decent when I flipped through it. Third, it was cheap. And fourth, the store had the entire series, all three volumes.

The art did turn out to be okay. All the characters looked good. The linework was nice and the use of screentone was decent, although some of the pages tended to be busier than I preferred. The main thing I didn't like was that the action scenes were occasionally hard to follow. At one point, the group was attacked by a monster, and I had to sit and stare for a bit in order to figure out exactly what was going on. I'm still not sure that the monster that attacked them looked the way it had just a few pages earlier. Also, it took me a moment to realize that Dormouse had thrown knives at an attacking gryphon. The page only showed him moving his hand and the gryphon reacting – no sign of the knives. In fact, it wasn't until I looked at the panel again while writing this review that I realized Dormouse had actually sliced the tips off of some of the gryphon's feathers.

This volume was okay. Not great, but okay. Alice in no way looked like a modern girl, although her grenades indicated that she was supposed to be. The story was mostly focused on quick character introductions and laying out the basics of the series and character relationships. Nearly all of the cast was male, and all or nearly all of the cast was interested in Makoto. That was expected, as was Makoto's blushing and embarrassed “but I'm a boy, why am I blushing?” thoughts.

So far, this looks to be one of those cross-gender body swap stories meant to be a giant tease. In stories of this type, sexual attraction is brushed away as being tied to the body the character is inhabiting, so the guy in a girl's body being attracted to another guy isn't really a sign that he's gay or bisexual, just a result of him currently inhabiting a girl's body. Here we have Hatter, who knows that Makoto is a guy in a girl's body, deciding to mess with Makoto a bit by flirting with him, and Makoto experiencing confusing feelings of attraction to him. The end of the volume indicated that Hatter's feelings had maybe become serious, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was really just Alice's pretty smile that he fell in love with. Makoto's personality was too bland for someone to believably fall in love with.

One nice indicator that maybe this series wasn't going to be one of those “bodies are naturally attracted to the opposite sex, regardless of the person inhabiting them” stories was Alice. She was attracted to Dum even while inhabiting Makoto's body (too bad her feelings didn't seem to be reciprocated). While it was true that there were literally no other female characters she could have been attracted to, it would have been easy enough for her not to develop an attraction to anybody.

I really shouldn't expect too much from this series, though. It's only three volumes long and packed with characters, some of whom still need the details of their (probably tragic) backstories explained. The attraction between Hatter and Makoto will probably never go anywhere beyond flirtation and blushing, and Makoto will continue to say some variation of “but I'm a guy, I shouldn't be feeling this way!” or “he knows I'm a guy, why's he doing this?” while refusing to examine his own feelings too closely. And Alice's feelings for Dum will continue to be unrequited and are just there to give fangirls a different variety of “fake gay” thrill.

We'll see, though. Despite the pressing issue of the King of Hearts and his monsters, the characters found time to have a picnic, enjoy cherry blossoms, and play a game, so maybe they'll find time to explore gender and sexuality issues in more depth than you normally see in these kinds of series. (I doubt it.)

  • Four full-color pages, one of which is a character list.
  • The URL and QR code for the I Am Alice social game. I believe the manga was based on this game, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, the site is in Japanese and I'm not sure the game is currently available in English.
  • A 1-page afterword from Ayumi Kanou.
  • Kanou's designs for a special edition avatar dress for the game.
  • A 17-page preview of Dictatorial Grimoire.
  •  Alice in the Country of Hearts (manga) by QuinRose, art by Soumei Hoshino - Those who'd like another game-based Alice in Wonderland-inspired fantasy romance without all the body swap issues might want to give this a try. This is the first series in the franchise - there are many, many subseries, each designed for fans of different Alice and Wonderland character pairings. I've written about many Country of Hearts, Country of Clover, Country of Joker, and Country of Diamonds volumes, but be warned: many of my posts include spoilers.
  • Are You Alice? (manga) by Ikumi Katagiri, original story by Ai Ninomiya - Another Alice in Wonderland-inspired series, although this one is more for fans of Alice in Wonderland reimaginings rather than romance fans. At least in the two volumes I read, there is no romance, just mystery. I've written about this series.
  • Your & My Secret (manga) by Ai Morinaga - Another cross-gender body swap series. I've written about the first volume.

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