A whole new Wonderland
Title: Alice in the Country of Hearts
Author: written by Quinrose, art by Hoshino Soumei
One of my favourite mangas we were selling at Expo was ‘Alice in the Country of Hearts’, so I felt that perhaps I should do a review.
Alice in Wonderland is perhaps one of my favourite books – I love the story, the characters and the setting, so as far as I’m concerned adaptations need to remain as true to that as possible, whilst still trying something different with the story. The research that has been put into this series is immediately clear when Alice introduces herself as ‘Alice Liddell’, the real Alice who inspired the original stories. This attention to detail is a promising start for me, and immediately endeared me to the work.
The art style is beautiful, with fantastically elaborate costumes and characters which are a pleasure to look at. There is a strong tendency towards the ‘bishie’, but that is something else which I personally enjoyed about it! The timezone in which it is set is unclear – the styles and ideas have elements of the Victorian, however Alice’s anachronistic socks and a punk-styled Cheshire Cat, as well as references to boyfriends and amusement parks, have me admittedly a little perplexed as to when, exactly, this is all taking place. I expect this will become clear as the plot begins to unravel.
In this version of the story, Alice is a young woman (rather than an 8-year-old girl!) who envies the grace and ladylike style of her older sister. One Sunday together, Alice is pondering on the comparisons between the two of them as she dozes off in the garden. As predicted, a white rabbit appears and demands that Alice follow him immediately. When a sleepy Alice is less than compliant, the rabbit becomes a human being with rabbit ears and actually picks her up and carries her to the hole to Wonderland. Once there he forces her to drink a mysterious liquite from a crystal phial, with a heart-shaped stopper and declares his love for her. He mentions a game, and introduces himself as Peter White, before Alice runs away.
All the animal characters in Wonderland are transformed into attractive men with token animal features – rabbit ears, a cat tail. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are a pair of young boys in matching military uniforms.
In this Manga, Wonderland is split into four sections – The Castle of Hearts, the Amusement Park, the Hatter’s Mansion and the Clock Tower, the last of those being the neutral zone as the other three zones war against each other for a mixture of personal and political reasons. The Mad Hatter is the head of a Mafia family, the Queen of Hearts is an elegant tyrant and the White Rabbit is her apparently insane Prime Minister.
As Alice spends more time with the characters, the more the phial refils with liquid, and the more the people around her seem to love her – but no-one will tell Alice why. And the mysterious creature called Nightmare doesn’t seem willing to tell her whether she is in a dream or not. Alice is unsettled by this, not only by the fervence of their feelings but also by what this might suggest about her if it is a dream!
The pace of this story is apparently very quick, with Alice jetting from encounter to encounter remarkably quickly so nothing feels stagnant. Despite this, the plot is revealed only very slowly as the manga progresses, keeping you guessing about the true meaning behind the ‘game’. Whilst this at first would appear to be simply a quirky romance with a fantasy setting, darker elements begin to appear – what is the deeper plan behind the Rabbit bringing her here? What does Nightmare mean about dreams being scarier than death? What are the ‘afterimages’?
The denizens of Wonderland are separated into people with roles and literally faceless card people, with a beautiful array of uniforms displaying their suit and number. This started as a wonderful idea – I was delighted when I saw it, as it was a wonderful alternative to the card-shaped people which Disney characterise – but then developed into a lovely plot point as well. Faceless characters are disposable, and can be killed with no thought as it becomes convenient to the primary characters. This adds a more sinister element to the story, and suddenly the primary story is no longer Alice getting home and possibly getting a man along the way, but rather finding out what the ‘afterimages’ are and what is the real story behind Wonderland.
As a story based on one of my favourite novels, Alice in the Country of Hearts is a wonderful adaptation, including enough elements from the original to keep the spirit of the book and also soothe the literary nerd in me, but also developing it and showing real creativity in the story it presents. It uses Wonderland as a starting point and brings forward what promises to be a fantasy thriller at the same time as including elements of shoujo romance. My only hesitation with it is that the plot is so murky at present, and I find that frustrating. Equally, I’d prefer it if I could say for certain which time it is supposed to be set in, as I think that might help keep the characterisation tighter.
Aside from that, however, I really enjoyed it not just as something to look at because of the beautiful art, but also because of the potential in this to develop into a very dark and thrilling story!