Sunday, July 17, 2016

REVIEW: I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland (manga, vol. 3) art by Ayumi Kanou, story by Visualworks, translated by Jocelyne Allen

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


At the end of the previous volume, the King of Hearts, angered by the sight of Makoto's (technically Alice's) face, magically sent him away. Hatter tried to save Makoto and got sent away as well. At the start of this volume, Makoto wakes up to discover that he's in chains. Several menacing men threaten to torture and rape him if he doesn't tell them where the King's palace is, but thankfully Hatter saves the day. Their troubles aren't over, however, as a new enemy, the Jabberwock, arrives.

I felt so-so about the previous two volumes and was expecting more of the same, so it was a shock that this one actually gave me more intense feelings. Unfortunately, they were primarily the negative sort.

The beginning of this volume was awful. First, that Makoto was threatened with rape to begin with. It would be nice if people writing fluffy (if problematic) fantasy for what is probably a primarily female audience could leave rape out of it. Second, Hatter's response instantly reduced his appeal, more so than even the stupid skirt flipping incident. As he charged in to save Makoto, he said this to Makoto's captors: “Didn't your mother ever teach you not to take other people's things?” It was gross that Hatter, the primary romantic lead, referred to Makoto as his property, especially in this situation. Third, I hated that Makoto's near-rape was used as an excuse for the series' steamiest on-page moment. In order to “disinfect” Makoto's emotional wounds, Hatter licked Makoto's throat the way his near-rapist had done. And it worked.

But there were additional problems! All throughout the series, Makoto has had difficulty reconciling the difference between his behavior while inhabiting Alice's body and his mental image of how men should behave. In this volume, those issues came to a head.

The series has never shown Makoto in his own body, so it's tough to say if his behavior changed after he swapped bodies with Alice, but I'd guess that he's probably still the same person, just questioning his “manliness” more now that he's in a female body and feeling attracted to another guy. Makoto, however, was convinced that he was starting to turn into a girl. He couldn't lift a heavy rock. He cried all the time. Lots of guys hit on him, and, in this volume, a guy almost raped him. When Hatter needed backup, Makoto couldn't bring himself to shoot one of the bad guys. And then Makoto enjoyed it when Hatter licked his throat. None of these things fit with his mental image of a proper man.

The next part, with the Jabberwock's labyrinth, could have led to Makoto to some kind of big gender-related epiphany. Instead, he got to save Hatter and thereby confirm for himself that he really is still his mental image of what a guy should be. After all, guys save people. (Now I wish, even more, that Alice had been permitted to be a competent fighter working alongside the Wonderland guys. But all her “weapons nut” stuff was surface level only, played almost entirely for laughs.)

In addition to the Jabberwock, a couple new characters showed up to force the story to move along more quickly and serve as advertisements for the game (the only reasons I can think of to introduce two brand new characters and one mostly new character in the final volume of the series). Then came the final battle (sort of) against the King of Hearts.

Even the series' own characters thought the revelations and ending were stupid. The King controlled monsters, killed his own people, and was prepared to destroy his country for the absolute dumbest reason. I think the last time I've seen such a whiny over-powered man-child reaction to a situation like this was Neil Gaiman's Sandman. I felt like applauding when Alice instantly blew up on him. And Makoto got to punch him and kick him in the face. Okay, violent, but the guy deserved it.

And then there wasn't a proper ending. I had expected Makoto and Alice to have to make a decision about whether to stay in Wonderland or leave, but even that choice was taken away. The romance, too, stopped at an unsatisfactory point. Makoto still hadn't admitted that he liked Hatter, and Alice's attraction to Dum from back in the first volume was utterly forgotten.

This series was purely an ad for the related games. While it's true that the Alice in the Country of Hearts/Clover/etc. volumes were all ads for their related games as well, at least those were written like complete stories. I Am Alice, not so much.

  • Two full-color pages, one of which is a list of characters.
  • The URL and QR code for the I Am Alice: Boy x Boy social game. This was clearly copied and pasted from the previous volume, because it retained the “Box x Boy” typo.
  • Initial character designs for Makoto, Alice, Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Dormouse, Jabberwock and Dum, along with a few comments from the artist.
  • A four-panel comic introducing the premise of the I Am Alice: Boy x Boy social game – in order to get home, Makoto will have to win a Wonderland fashion contest.
  • A 1-page afterword written by Kanou, which includes this statement: “In other words, please go and check out the game now. This is not stealth marketing; it is blatant marketing!!” I still don't think it's too much to ask that this 3-volume game ad include a real ending.
  • A 1-page (actual) ad for the I Am Alice: Boy x Boy social game, which doesn't appear to be available in English.
  • A 14-page preview of Girls & Panzer.
  •  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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