4.0 out of 5 stars All the cute boys love Alice
Alice Liddell (the fictional one) is a more popular character in Japan than in the United States. Sure, everyone knows Alice in Wonderland in both countries but some how the frilly dress and blonde hair seems to appeal to the Japanese sensibilities a bit more. Japan has produced many of their own adaptations of the famous character, including a 1983-84 anime TV series and numerous manga interpretations like “Alice 19th,” “Key Princess Story: Eternal Alice Rondo” and the adult-orientated Miyuki-Chan in Wonderland.
This adaptation, “Alice in the Country of Hearts” (a direct translation of the Japanese title “Hato no kuni no Alisu”) began life as an otome “dating sim” game which is a gender-reversal of the popular harem-manga featuring one female protagonist with a host of male suitors. As you can guess, Alice is the girl-in-question here and all of the characters of Wonderland have been transformed into beautiful men to fawn over her.
The story begins in the typical way, with Alice Liddell meeting a white rabbit on the banks of a river. There the similarities end, however, as the white rabbit transforms into the man Peter White, who throws Alice over his shoulder and jumps down the rabbit hole, then forces a magic potion into her mouth in the form of a stolen kiss. Peter lets Alice know that the game has thus begun, a game with certain rules that she must follow if she ever wants to get home again. She takes the empty vial that contained the potion, and is told that it will slowly fill up again as she meets people in Wonderland, and when the bottle has been refilled she can go home. From there, her adventures truly begin.
Wonderland, in this case, is split into three kingdoms all of which are at war with each other. Blood Dupre (the Mad Hatter) is a dashing leader of the Mafia who controls one third of Wonderland. Vivaldi, The Queen of Hearts, controls another third, and the final third is an amusement park ruled by a man named Mary Gowland. In the middle of the three territories is a neutral zone in the form of a watchtower guarded by the clockmaker Julius Monrey, and another random player enters Alice’s dreams at night and calls himself Nightmare. Each of the familiar Wonderland characters fall into one of these camps, such as Boris (The Cheshire Cat), Elliot March (the March Hare) and the Gatekeepers for the Hatter (Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum). Most of these characters have been recast as handsome young men who vie for Alice’s affection.
In true Wonderland fashion, many elements of the story do not make much sense, although I suspect that future volumes will make them clear. The characters seem to be excessively violent, and they themselves do not feel that life has much value. All the characters are split into either “those with duties” who have names and faces, and the remainder of the cast who lack those attributes and fade into clocks after they have been killed. There are definitely darker elements here at play that are only hinted at.
One of the elements I really liked about “Alice in the Country of Hearts” was the suggestion that Alice is creating the fantasy world from her subconscious, and that the rules set are her own. She is forced to confront the idea that secretly she WANTS to wear frilly, girly clothes and to be admired by a horde of beautiful men, even if that goes against her conscious thoughts. Not too much is revealed in this first volume, but enough of the idea is presented to bring interest to the characters.
Hoshino Soumei has done a good job adapting QuinRose’s original dating sim story, and the art looks lovely as well. I am usually not too much of a fan of the “bishonen” beautiful boy character, but Hoshino has given all of her guys an element of danger. They fall in love with Alice because they are compelled to do so by the rules of the game, but some resent the attraction they feel to her.
There have been some complaints about the translation for “Alice in the Country of Hearts,” and they are valid. Peter White was given an odd rhyming scheme for some of this dialog that doesn’t exist in the original, perhaps to give the character a more “Wonderland feel.” Tweedle Dee and Teedle Dum refer to Alice as “lady” in an attempt to get across the general feel of the Japanese word “onee san” but it comes across as awkward. Probably the biggest problem is the character Mary Gowland, who in Japanese has a name that is a pun for Merry-go-Round. I would have made the pun more obvious, calling him “Mary Goround” or something like that, but “Gowland” just doesn’t cut it.
All in all “Alice in the Country of Hearts” was not amazing, but an enjoyable interpretation fo Alice and the Wonderland world, and I am looking forward to volume two.