Sunday, February 21, 2010

Manga Review: Alice in the Country of Hearts Volume 1

With the upcoming Tim Burton film it would seem that attention has been drawn once again to Alice in Wonderland. In the case of the manga world Alice in the Country of Hearts (Wonderful Wonder World) was released in Japan in 2008. This creative, very Japanese spin on the classic tale by Lewis Carroll is quite unlike any iteration you've seen before. It's dynamic from the start and keeps you guessing as the pages unfold. I dare say Tokyopop has a hit on their hands, but we'll have to see how the story pans out in future volumes.

Alice in the Country of Hearts was written by QuinRose and illustrated by Soumei Hoshino. The back of the book offers up the following description:

"Wonderland is officially at war! And Alice is trapped in the middle of it all. Will she make it out alive? A little arrogant, stubborn, and determined to get back home, Alice isn't fazed by these challenges...until she discovers that every man is gun crazy and weirdly in love with her. What's going on in Wonderland?!"

Quite honestly the description does a decent enough job of loosely filling you in on what's going on here. As one might expect there's much more to the story than meets the eye and exploring the book through Alice's perspective is much more engaging than one would think.

It all begins with Alice taking a nap in the yard only to be interrupted by her sister. There's talk about games, cards, and a book that's both a fairy tale and novel. Soon enough Alice falls back asleep only to be scooped up by a tall gentleman with rabbit ears named Peter White. Peter carries Alice to a giant chasm nearby and jumps in, essentially kidnapping her. Upon landing he forces Alice to take some "medicine" which is basically something that keeps her in this Wonderland until her game is complete. What's her game you may ask? Well, basically she has to refill the bottle by making friends with people all around the land and she can't leave until the vial is full once again. Weird, I know, but just go with it.

Shortly after arriving in Wonderland she stumbles upon the Hatter's mansion and is greeted by his guards, Dee and Dum. Narrowly escaping the encounter Alice roams the land in search of anyone who could help her and comes across a Clocktower run by a guy named Julius. He explains that Wonderland is in the midst of a three-part war. The Hatter's realm, the Queen of Heart's kingdom, and an amusement park land run by some guy named Mary Gowland are all at odds with each other. Heading into these territories is dangerous for anyone, let alone an outsider like Alice. Despite this, as the story moves forward Alice finds herself meeting people from all three lands and eventually coming to know their dignitaries.

Alice in the Country of Hearts has so much more to offer than just watching Alice wander around and meet people. The line of reality begins to blur as Alice comes to the realization that she must be dreaming, and yet somehow she can fall asleep inside her own dream. Adding to that is the fact that as part of her game, and her desire, everyone in Wonderland must fall in love with her. Faces begin to look familiar to her and the whole thing feels like an exploration of her subconscious. It's delightfully twisted in many ways and is really quite engaging in this first volume.

One thing to take away from reading this introductory installment of Alice in the Country of Hearts is just how gorgeous the book is. Hoshino's art style is certainly dynamic in every way. From the backgrounds to characters the designs are gorgeous and everything stands out. Alice, Hatter, Peter, the Queen of Hearts, and even Dee and Dum are all sharp looking and somehow different than you'd expect. The translation is decent though there were some typos in the book that stood out, as well as other pieces of conversation that didn't seem quite right.

If you're looking for a new manga to sink your teeth into and you like the story of Alice in Wonderland, then Alice in the Country of Hearts will be your new favorite book. It's intriguing, entertaining, and mysterious all at the same time. It reinvents a classic with new energy, and that's something that's tough to do. Bring on the second volume!

Maki Rating:

Review material provided by Tokyopop. Alice in the Country of Hearts
is rated OT (Older Teen 16+) for Mild Sexuality, Mild Violence, and Moderate Gore.

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