Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland has inspired all sorts of spinoff works, from visual art to movies to manga. However, Ai Ninomiya may have conjured up the most unusual Alice yet.Are You Alice?, which originally began as a CD series, features a gun-toting male as its Alice! Yen Press has recently released the second volume, and you can read on for the review. (If you're interested in my review for Volume 1, )
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The Duke-a warped mass that collects the scraps of Wonderland-goes berserk in the town square, not far from where Alice and Hatter have traveled on an errand. In his frenzied state, the Duke wants nothing more than to have Alice all to himself. But when an overconfident Alice decides to ignore Hatter's commands and give the Duke what he wants, little does Alice expect to wind up in the belly of the beast!
Are You Alice? continues with its mix of mysterious characters, violence, and bizarre rules. Having decided to kill the White Rabbit, the 89th Alice gets to work, but his efforts to locate him through the Dormouse are interrupted by the Duke going berserk. This time, his Duchess isn't enough to calm him, and what follows is a hint of the disaster Wonderland residents are desperate to forestall. In the midst of the mayhem, we get more visions (though it's impossible to tell if they are flashbacks, foreshadowing, or part of the trash cluttering up Wonderland) as well as shining moments of heroism on the part of the Duchess and Alice. Ultimately though, rescue comes from an entirely unexpected source in a most surprising manner.
Once the Duke gets stopped, tragedy appears to be averted, but it's not. The arc's conclusion is quite sad, and a testament to how cheap life is in Wonderland. Consequences are heavy for those who don't fulfill their roles, and as quickly as they're discarded, newcomers take their place.
In addition to character replacements, we get other new faces in the story, one of whom is the 88th Alice, now a Regret. Up to now, Regrets seemed like fragments of people, somewhat like zombies. This Alice, though, is quite lucid and self-controlled enough to speak calmly to her murderer. Of course, she's out to get the 89th Alice, and the fact that she's in control of her faculties hints that she'll be much more dangerous than the Regrets the current Alice has encountered so far.
A story with so much a gloom and doom can get depressing quick, but this volume balances the darker elements with well-timed and well-crafted humor. Katagiri-sensei's artwork skillfully conveys physical humor, like Alice's hilarious efforts to get into Caterpillar Alley, and she uses exaggerated expressions to good comic effect. And for those who believe a dress and pinafore are an absolute must for anyone claiming to be Alice in Wonderland, well, that requirement will be satisfied in this volume.
Manga extras include a five page lighthearted short, an afterword by Ninomiya-sensei, and the title page and table of contents printed in color.
Tragedy and heroism play out on the streets of Wonderland! Alice gets no closer to killing the White Rabbit, nor do readers gain any solid insight into his past despite a disturbing new vision. Yet the one thing that is clear is the characters' pain as they struggle with Wonderland's rules. If you've grown fond of the cast, these chapters will make you sympathize with them even more.
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