The fantastical tale of Alice in Wonderland is one of the most well-known stories out there. Throughout the years it’s had hundreds of prodigies, of books, television series, films, video games and so on, that have been inspired by this surreal text. You could, you may argue, say it’s even been done to death. Yeah, I’ve seen that film with Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, I’ve played that crazy video game where Alice is a gothic Lolita covered in blood, I’ve watched that series on the Syfy channel, blah, blah, blah…
I hear you, but in reply to that, I have one very important question to ask you…
Have you read the one where Alice switches bodies with a male, Japanese high school student?
Good! Then let me introduce you to, I am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland! Written by Visualworks and illustrated by Ayumi Kanou, this manga was originally published by Media Factory in 2012, and then later received an English publication by Seven Seas in 2014. Now, as you probably already guessed, the story takes place in—
Hmm? What’s that? Oh, you spotted the unusual author name, did you? Isn’t Visualworks also a game developer? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that company in the android store… haven’t I?
Yes. Yes you have.
But I’ll get to that later.
For now, let me tell you a little bit about the manga’s plot. The story follows a boy called Makoto, our hero, who is described to be a perfectly ordinary boy living a perfectly ordinary life. One day however, he decides to skip class and go to the library to borrow a certain book his little sister had been wanting. Can you guess what that book is? I bet you can! As Makoto pulls out this book from a shelf, a sudden, dizzying sensation takes over him. The next thing he knows his own face is hovering above him, and… ta-da!
Makoto is shocked to realise that he has taken on the appearance of a girl, and not just any girl, a very cute girl called Alice! Makoto isn’t the only one who’s shocked about this strange predicament however. Alice is just as surprised, and is very unhappy about being in the body of such a ‘vanilla guy’. It becomes very obvious that the two have switched bodies, although they’re not exactly sure how. The two are just about to swap their stories, when suddenly a monster shaped like a playing card attacks them! Turns out this new world they’ve been thrown into is extremely dangerous! Thank goodness Alice is packing, otherwise Makoto would have been toast!
By packing I mean grenades, of course. What, you thought I was referring to Alice’s new–? Hey, hey, hey! None of that smut here, thank you very much!
Once the monster is dealt with, Alice explains that she had been pulled into a strange-looking book a little before Makoto had. The book had taken her to this bizarre world ruled by the King of Hearts, a man who also controls the monsters that just attacked them. Since then Alice has been looking for a way to get back to her world. The best lead she’s come across is a gate inside the King’s palace that should have the power to take her back home. Once that’s explained, the plan is set. Makoto and Alice agree that they need to find the palace, and so together their journey to get home begins. Of course, no journey is complete without meeting some new friends along the way.
Well, ok, some people might describe it as the collection of a male harem, sure. A journey where you meet new friends sounds better though.
This might be a tad confusing, but bear with me. This picture shows Alice, but as Alice switched bodies with Makoto, this is actually Makoto. Throughout the manga, Makoto is in this form for 99% of the time, so for all intents and purposes, Makoto is Alice (hence the manga’s title). Makoto is a friendly enough guy (girl?), with some strong morals and a kindly nature. He has a younger sister, which is perhaps why he’s able to put up with the other characters boisterous tendencies.
Younger sister. Yeah. That’s why he puts up with it.
This, slightly irritated young boy, is Alice trapped in Makoto’s body. She likes cute things and greatly admires her older sister. She has a bit of a fetish for weapons, namely guns and objects of military warfare. Give her access to a tank and, not only will she cause some serious damage to the enemy, she’ll be so giddy with joy that she may cause some damage to you too, just to stay in the tank a bit longer. Oh, and don’t think Alice doesn’t get her own slice of romance in this story!
Looking extremely pink, this guy’s name is White Rabbit. He’s the first person to join the duo in their journey, after Alice accidentally threw a grenade at him… but don’t worry! White Rabbit wasn’t too hurt and quickly introduced himself as the captain of the King of Hearts army. Alice and Makoto immediately ask the Rabbit if they could take them to the palace. Sadly White Rabbit says the location is top secret, and much too dangerous for children. The two face a dilemma. How can they get White Rabbit to take them to the castle? Then Alice has a brilliant idea!
Feminine charm is exactly what Makoto uses in the end. Well, sort of. White Rabbit tells them that the country wasn’t always plagued with monsters, and that the King was once a kind man. His country was once beautiful, and to see it in the state it’s in now deeply saddened him. Makoto is moved by this, and can’t help but speak up. Turns out White Rabbit is a sucker for an innocent face and some heartfelt words.
Hatter is a soldier and is the second companion to join the group. Using White Rabbit’s own words, Hatter is a ‘difficult’ person to deal with. This couldn’t be more true than when the Hatter is around Makoto. Hatter knows the two have switched bodies, and is especially interested in the boy who looks like a girl. He’s quite sneaky and enjoys teasing people and playing games. He’s not a bad person though, and soon agrees to join the three in their adventure.
I mean he’s probably not a bad person. Probably.
Next up is Cheshire. Cheshire is another solider of the King’s army, and is a cheerful, but short-tempered, youth. He’s always full of energy and easily distractible. He has issues with gryphons, and no one irritates him more than lazy Dormouse. His animal instincts are especially strong in comparison to other animal-men in the group. So much so that he’s able to smell Makoto’s girlish scent, despite Makoto hiding in forestry!
Dormouse is easily one of the most frightening characters in this volume. At first impression, he seems like nothing more than a carefree guy that likes to sleep the day away. You should never judge a book by its cover, however. This little mouse has some deep issues after the loss of a comrade. It’s left him psychotic, and sadistic.
Again, this solider isn’t a bad person though. In fact, after Makoto gives him a well-deserved punch in the face, Dormouse becomes Makoto’s most enthusiastic admirer!
For whatever that’s worth…
Although it’s not the most flattering name, this is Tweedledum. He’s the leader of the rebel army, a strong man who wants to stop the King of Hearts and his monsters. He is a man of his word, and many people look up to him. He’s also a gentleman, and has a strong sense of responsibility. Once very close to the King, he and his brother, Tweedledee, were friendly siblings that aided the King. His brother still resides in the palace and helps the King with his evil deeds, much to Dum’s despair. Just as he is about to march his rebel army against the palace, Makoto stops him, convincing him the march isn’t worth the cost of lives. Instead, Makato invites him to join his band of friends, and together they can stop the King without bloodshed.
Welcome to the harem, Tweedledum!
Friends. I meant friends. Welcome to Makoto’s circle of friends!
Kanou’s illustrations are beautiful. She seems to have hit that middle ground that I like all manga artists to be capable of, that point where the designs are clear and defined without being so sharp they poke the reader’s eye out, and likewise not being so wishy-washy that the art looks like a bit of a blur. What I mean by this is that the important detail, the detail the reader does take note of, has been met. You will see strands of hair billowing with the characters movements, you will see that gleam in the characters eye during emotional outbursts, and you will feel that sense of calm or worry during those key moments due to ominous shading and intelligent close-ups. Kanous can draw, and she can draw well.
You can easily tell where the characters are in a story due to some nicely drawn backgrounds, but you will find blank panels too. As the story fixates on character relationships, you can forgive a lacklustre panel in preference for a well depicted character. I will admit though, as this is literally supposed to be a land of wonder, that I am a tad disappointed that there aren’t some enthralling backgrounds with large talking flowers and magical skies. Perhaps that will emerge further in the story? One thing I am thankful for in Kanou’s backgrounds is that she puts some sort of effort into the background characters image. You know, the characters that usually have no facial features or are just an outline in a crowd? That’s not to say Kanou isn’t susceptible to this as well, but you will find the odd background character with eyes, showing some sort of expression while wearing a pretty dress, which is more than I can say for other illustrators.
Also, as this is a BL manga dressed as a shoujo manga, expect the odd flowery background and fluffy panel. Such panels aren’t too common however and are always tastefully presented, so don’t worry about coming across a page full of petals if that’s not your thing.
…You know what? Fine. There’s one page that’s full of petals. One. That’s it though, I swear!
…Shut up. Two pages out of an entire manga is still pretty good!
It’s also worth mentioning that there is some gorgeous double and single coloured pages at the start of the book. You’ll absolutely be spending some time staring at those pages before you begin the story. It’s a nice bonus to an already pleasant manga.
I’ll not beat around the bush. If you want a manga with some deep, complex plot, then I am Alice probably isn’t for you. This manga is more for light reading, for a change of pace and a bit of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it doesn’t expect you to either. The focus of the premise is that this is a body swap manga, but it doesn’t go deeper into the issue than that. Yes, Makoto is uncomfortable with wearing high heels (who isn’t?) and makes a point of telling Alice that, but besides from that, Makoto is quite unfazed at the reality of suddenly having a female form. The same can be said about Alice, who is not disturbed in the least at suddenly having a male figure. Neither is she distressed at watching her own body, inhabited by stranger, getting hit on by a group of fully grown men. These kind of issues just don’t come up. It’s as simple as that.
That’s not to say that plot is bad, in fact I really enjoyed it, and that’s not to say it hasn’t got a plot beyond a group of friends going to the King of Hearts castle. Beyond the very entertaining flirting and mischief, there’re also hints towards deeper plot development. The emphasis Alice puts on her sister, the reason Hatter is so careful with his military cap, the circumstance behind Dormouse’s friend’s death, they all point towards something that hasn’t been revealed yet, and I’m quite excited to find out how they will affect the story in the end.
On the other hand, circumstances that you think are important and may make for a big climax, may not be as significant as you think, which takes me back to I am Alice’s light nature. For example, the book keeps the fact that Alice and Makoto have switched bodies from the rest of the group for the majority of the volume. For the longest of time you suspect that this is because the revelation is going to have a huge effect, and so you think the secret won’t be revealed until a key moment in the story.
And how does it actually get revealed?
…at the very end of the book, during a picnic game called Kings. It comes out of nowhere, during a chapter that seems more like a bonus chapter than a chapter that follows on from the main story. It completely belittles all reason for keeping it a secret in a first place, and I absolutely love it.
I mean, if that’s not a plot twist, then what is?
Visualworks. Remember when I said I’d get to that later? Well you were right to think that the author’s a game development company. You see, I am Alice is actually based on an app called I am Alice: Boy x Boy. The concept of the game is almost the same, except that you need to win the kingdom’s fashion contest in order to get Makoto back into his original body. It’s available at GREE, Mobage and BLobby. You can find more information about the game here.
This isn’t the first time Kanou has helped create a manga that’s also based on a game. In 2009 she illustrated a Tales of the Abyss side story for Bandai Namco Games. She’s obviously a fan of video games, and she even drew free avatar costumes for readers of the manga to download into the I am Alice game.
A pretty neat omake, eh?
I’ll admit, this isn’t the first manga to be based on Alice in Wonderland, but I certainly believe that this manga takes its own unique spin on it. It may not have a deep plot, but it definitely has an entertaining one. The art is lovely and the characters are hilarious. It has done its job in getting me intrigued for the second volume, which I’ll eagerly be reading soon. In short, if you’re a fan of BL or shoujo and are in the mood for something alluding to a reverse harem manga, I would definitely suggest picking up this series, just don’t expect anything too thought-provoking!
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