The anime industry has developed an obsession with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Be it the gothic shounen mysteries of Pandora Hearts or the playful fantasy adventures or Flip Flappers, Wonderland seems to be weaving itself into the fabric of anime culture more and more. This Spring season brings us yet another take on this subgenre with Alice and Zoroku.
Sana is a young girl possessing a strange power called Dreams of Alice. This power allows her to materialise anything she can think of.
After escaping from a laboratory where she lived as a test subject, Alice ends up in the normal world where she meets an old man named Zoroku. With encouragement from covert government officials, Zoroku decides to take care of Alice. This will mean both hiding her from lab agents and integrating her into modern society. Can Alice learn to coexist in Japan without causing chaos with her mysterious powers?
My favourite thing about Wonderland-inspired anime is how creative they can be.
Alice and Zoroku is no exception. This series is always visually engaging on a creative level. Epic action scenes in the middle of a crowded city, exploring an expansive Wonderland dimension, and everything in-between come to life in a brief, but detailed 12-episode run.
These kinds of shows also tend to have a dark and surreal undercurrent to their stories, which Alice and Zoroku handles quite well. It fits snugly into the “cute girls do suffering” genre popularised by anime like Madoka Magica and WIXOSS, both in a physical and emotional sense.
The anime’s first half is a single arc of Sana evading (or failing to evade) capture by lab members. The concepts it presents about Sana’s existence and those who have similar powers can get rather unsettling. This arc is thrilling to be sure, but it also feels unsure of itself tonally.
Alice and Zoroku really starts to shine in its second half.
This section is much more about Sana interacting with others and coming to terms with being a normal girl.
When she’s placed in an emotionally complex situation she’s never experienced, she often describes her feelings as “frazzled.” The childlike simplicity of her phrasing sells her confusion and lack of maturity, as does the string of rash decisions she makes.
I’ve been craving a show that really tries to explore the unnerving confusion of early childhood, and Alice pulls it off fairly well, despite getting a bit out of hand with its actual plot.
The rest of the cast is just as engaging as Sana. Zoroku’s “annoyed old man” personality is a bit stereotypical, but he brings a tonne of compassion and worldly understanding. This mixture of sternness and wisdom makes him the perfect caretaker for Sana.
The other “Dreams of Alice” users have their own stories to contribute as well, often adding an even darker tinge to the story. Hatori’s childish fantasies gone wrong or Minnie C’s demented delusion create a vibrant living cast of interesting people.
J.C. Staff’s animation definitely has its ups and downs.
I absolutely love the character designs. They feel like a blend of Madoka Magica and Seitokai Yakuindomo (an odd combination, I know) that can sell both the cuteness and the dread each character portrays.
The colour design is usually fairly solid, but can get a bit out of hand with more intense scenes. And, unfortunately, obvious CG usage abounds during the action scenes.
We seem to have gotten to a point where CG in anime falls into three categories: CG that’s hid well, CG that’s not hid well but they at least tried, and CG where they don’t even try to make it less noticeable (see The King’s Avatar). Alice and Zoroku is firmly in the last category. As disappointing as that is, it becomes a bit more bearable later on.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that TO-MAS (Flip Flappers, Momokuri) composed the music for this series. Quirky and offbeat or intense and exhilarating, the music excels at elevating the emotions of each scene. One track in particular featuring a solo vocalist really hooked me, something I can always count on from TO-MAS.
Despite a bit of tonal confusion and some annoying CG, Alice and Zoroku is definitely one of my favourites of the season. Its cast of confused, yet endearing characters trying to figure out their place in the world makes this series a joy to watch, especially in its more intense moments. It ultimately puts a new spin on Carroll’s nonsense narrative to give it a more compelling coming-of-age theme.
If you’re looking to ease yourself into a darker slice of life, Alice and Zoroku is a solid start.
Final Score: 8/10