|The setting, world building and characters are fantastic! The audio element is also quite strong.||The visual art style copied almost directly from the source manga may not appeal to everyone. Early cgi animation looked quick clunky.|
The Spring 2017 season was a curious one for me as a blogger – it was one of those seasons where nothing really caught my eye for many months ahead of time as a candidate for me to blog and it was beginning to be a cause of concern for me (I like to begin sorting things our way ahead of time). It was not until a few weeks before the season began that two offerings both showed up and “clicked” with me. The first won me over with a PV clip that blew me away. The second was an announcement of a manga series being adapted I had never heard of before (and as far as I know it has only just just been licensed for English release a week or so ago). The latter, called Alice to Zouroku, also “clicked” with me very strongly, and after watching the first episode I was hooked and knew I was going to blog it that season. And it did not disappoint.
From the get go it became clear that the strongest aspect of the series for me was the setting – and sure enough, the careful and even deft manner of presenting the story, the careful, sure and steady world building and the character development all worked together quite well (and the musical accompaniment to the storytelling was often really fitting and sometimes even hauntingly lovely). There were many times throughout this one cour series where new information was revealed that made me completely reassess everything that I had seen before that point, and reassess the information from different angles. The cour itself was neatly “packed” into two primary arcs, each with about five episodes with an ep or two serving to transition between them – no filler here, I felt that everything was deliberate and both carefully and skillfully handled.
One of the biggest surprises for me was the appearance of a character I had never considered to be a character in and of itself, and that was the … erm … existence (?) that was the catalyst for all the immediate events in the narrative proper. This “being” (an alien? a being from another dimension?) was initially presented as a creation, a magic land brought into physical reality through the intervention of the lead female character of the series – a young girl named “Sana”, but also known early on as “The Red Queen”. Fittingly the magic land the viewers thought to have been created by The Red Queen was named “Wonderland” (in keeping with the themes drawn from Lewis Carrol’s famous 19th c. children’s books). But what we come to discover in the penultimate episode is that things are the opposite of what we expect. What we discover is that Wonderland itself is a semi-sentient (?) near god-like, autonomous being/something-or-other who somehow came across the perceptible world of the planet earth and its inhabitants and became interested both in it and what this world experienced. So in time it “created” a human-interface to directly interact with it.
This “interface” is Sana herself, the “Red Queen”, and what’s more … Sana is not human. Actually from the few snippets of info we see Sana originally looked something like a cross between a highly fibrous plant life and a spider’s egg sack! But she eventually “becomes human” and shortly after that Wonderland itself begins to “bestow power” on individuals seemingly at random – though one characteristic of all these people (who come to be named “Dreams of Alice”) is that most every single one was going through extreme suffering or trauma at the time the powers “manifested”. The story begins when Sana unexpectedly views something terrifying in the secret government institution built around where she first appeared underground and decided to escape. When she does this she encounters Dreams of Alice “on her side” and trying to “re-capture” her and in the midst of the conflict flees to the “outside world” where she comes into contact with “normal humans” and eventually the male lead: a principled, gruff old florist named Zouroku.
One of the most frequent criticisms I heard leveled at the story itself by its supporters as well as its detractors were related to the visuals. Specifically the art style, which is pretty faithful to the manga itself but which reminded some of Azumanga Daioh (not that I personally minded). Some felt that the more serious themes of the story (it can unexpectedly get suddenly quite dark!) were dissonant with the drawing style itself. Another (far more frequent) criticism I heard, and can agree with more, was the clunky use of cgi in the first episode especially and some downright sloppy animation hiccups that will most likely be corrected in the BD releases. For me the story was so engrossing that the cgi did not yank me out of the narrative, but it was noticeable, alas. It is especially unfortunate that it took place in the fist episode, as it became an occasion for some viewers to drop the series itself.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects about this story, though, come at the very end of the last episode. Here we are shown Sana to be grown up and at the grave of Zouroku himself! In other words, all the episodes we had watched up until now were a series of Sana reminiscing about the earliest of the times when she escaped from the institution, stumbled across Zouroku “by chance”, and took her first steps along the path to becoming more and more fully a human being. And truth be told, this “coming of age” process, which is one of my favorite themes in any artistic medium, was done very well here, and in the context of an interesting setting. I would, of course, love to have more seasons of this series, but I am not holding my breath and expecting anything soon, if at all. Still, on the whole I thought the series was extremely enjoyable (also having the best ED of the season!), and loved the opportunity to blog it. I would rate this series on the entire with a B+ ranking.
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