Tag Archives: fantasy

Light Novel Review: Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina Vol. #01

There are a range of witches depicted in literature nowadays – good, bad, sexy, terrifying. But how about a witch wandering around with no particular goal in mind? This is the subject of Jougi Shiraishi’s light novel Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina. Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

What’s your favorite story? Does it have a hero who slays a dragon and saves a princess? Or a child of prophecy destined for greatness? Well, my favorite story is a little different. It’s the tale of a witch who travels the world, seeking nothing in particular. With no quest of her own, she’s free to wander wherever the wind takes her, adding a few pages to the story of whomever she meets before setting off on her next adventure. At the end of her travels, the witch takes on an apprentice who will one day begin her own journey. And so the cycle continues, or so the story goes. Now, the witch who starts the story anew…who could she be?

The Review

Elaina may be a witch, but she’s not an ugly old hag. As a cute girl in her late teens, she’s definitely in the moe category. But despite being a genius at magic, she uses her powers mainly to fly herself via broomstick from place to place.

No, this isn’t a witch on a quest for magical items or seeking to improve her skills or any other concrete goal. For the vast majority of the story, Elaina’s magic merely shortens her travel time. She doesn’t even really use those powers to make a living, which strikes me as truly odd. Despite having the ability to fix broken items, transform herself into animals, manipulate tools, and fight off several mages at once, the way she earns money when she runs low on cash is bogus fortune-telling. As such, the magic aspect of this story is nominal, except for a couple of flashback chapters about Elaina’s witch apprenticeship. (Even then, her motivation for undergoing that training is because her mage parents require her to become a full-fledged witch before they will allow her to travel.)

The meat of the stories, then, is the places she visits. Elaina calls them “countries,” but they are more like medieval city-states. Each is ruled by a monarch, but they are enclosed by protective walls and can be fully explored in one to three days. Every chapter focuses on a different country or an in-between village. Because Elaina is a traveler, we get to explore these countries and villages alongside her, and each place is unique.

Actually, it’s more accurate to say each place has its own particular brand of weirdness. From the country that persecutes ugliness to the country awash in counterfeit currency to the country literally divided into two because its king and queen can’t compromise. Some episodes are humorous: others are mysterious or sad. However, these anecdotes tend to highlight the worst of humanity–stupidity, avarice, hate, deceit, indifference.

The opening chapter, “The Country of Mages,” left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. I believe the author’s intent was to make a story in which Elaina inspires a lonely mage. However, Saya’s behavior is definitely the stuff of creepy stalkers (I don’t care that it’s coming from a cute girl, psychopathic behavior is psychopathic behavior).

On top of that, Elaina’s commentary on the people and places she encounters is mostly snark. Because her snark isn’t particularly clever or insightful, it just makes everything seem that much more unpleasant. Given the disdain she expresses throughout most of her travels, I have to wonder why she bothered leaving home at all.

Extras include the first four pages printed in color, five black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

The title of this book is accurate. Its chapters chronicle the journey of a wandering witch named Elaina. However, the actual content of those chapters don’t form a cohesive narrative, and the main character Elaina doesn’t have enough personality to make engaging commentary on these disjointed and often dark anecdotes.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?) Vol. #01

Fantasy series are full of royalty, and those characters are often noble, incompetent, evil, or ambitious. But how about a genius prince who is plain lazy? That’s the protagonist of The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?). Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Prince Wein is ready to commit treason. And who can blame him? Faced with the impossible task of ruling his pathetic little kingdom, this poor guy just can’t catch a break! But with his brilliant idea of auctioning off his country, this lazy prince should be able to retire once and for all. Or that was the plan…until his treasonous schemes lead to disastrous consequences-namely, accidental victories and the favor of his people!

The Review

This series’ long-winded title is somewhat misleading. The main character, Wein Salema Arbalest, is a prince and a genius, but his country, the Kingdom of Natra technically isn’t in debt. The kingdom doesn’t owes money to others; rather, Natra is lean on industry and resources. Ergo, the demands on the country’s leadership are high but the material benefits are few. Wein, however, is naturally lazy, bears no idealistic notions, and has had a taste of the good life during his studies abroad in the Earthworld Empire. As such, his dearest dream is to sell out his country to the Empire that he might live out his life in ease and luxury.

The title might also lead one to think the story is of trade and negotiation, similar to Spice and Wolf. Although Wein’s first act after being named Prince Regent to stand in for the ailing king is a peacetime discussion with the Earthworld Empire’s ambassador, the majority of the plot concerns military strategy and tactics and the resulting geopolitical consequences. (Even that initial discussion with the ambassador concerns the terms of an agreement allowing Imperial troops to be stationed within Natra.)

Sounds like serious stuff, but even though everyone around Wein is serious and takes him seriously, Wein is a comic character behind the scenes. He’s constantly trying to ditch his responsibilities, and only the fear of a coup and his longtime friend and aide Ninym (the one person who knows his true nature) keep him in line. He’s also got a sister complex and is a bit of a perv (a tone which gets incorporated into the artwork). If the series was turned into an anime or manga, it would undoubtedly include fanservice elements.

As annoying as I found the breast references, this plot was engaging. Interestingly, it reminded me of another Yen Press title, Tanya the Evil. While one is a fantasy and the other is an industrial-era isekai, both have heavy strategic, tactical, and political elements. Tanya and Wein have vastly different personalities, but they are similarly deemed model patriots when in truth they’d dump their responsibilities given the chance. And the running joke with both is that their brilliant schemes to attain the easy lifestyle continually backfire.

The main weakness of Genius Prince is that, unlike Tanya, its cast tends to be very one-dimensional. Aside from Ninyim and Wein, characters have little nuance. They’re all evil, all loyal, all idiot, or all victim. Also, even though Wein’s father remains king, he never appears throughout the several months worth of events.

Despite that, the story is an entertaining, easy read. Whereas Tanya delved into details to the point that it was a real slog, Genius Prince does a good job presenting information in a clear fashion that doesn’t bog the pace.

Extras include the first eight pages printed in color, ten black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

A military narrative takes a comic tone as a prince regent’s best efforts to rid himself of his kingdom backfire into one brilliant victory after another. The plot involves quite a bit of strategy and geopolitics, but it keeps the parameters simple, so it’s easy to comprehend. That combined with Prince Wein’s behind the scenes outbursts makes for an entertaining story.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Seven Little Sons of the Dragon

Back Cover Blurb

Ryoko Kui, the master storyteller behind the beloved manga series Delicious in Dungeon, pens seven brand-new tales that will delight fantasy fans and manga devotees equally. Covering a broad range of themes and time periods, no two stories in this collection are alike!

The Review

This is my first time reading Ryoko Kui’s work. As such, I cannot make comparisons to her other works. Judging from this collection though, she’s capable of covering a wide range of themes and time periods.

The title might lead you to believe that these stories are somehow connected or share a dragon theme. That is not the case. The seven stories are completely unrelated, and only half feature dragons. I’m not sure why she titled it Seven Little Sons of the Dragon, but the only thing they hold in common is they all contain an element of fantasy.

The first story, “The Dragon Turret,” does contain dragons (four in fact), but it’s less about the dragons and more about the prejudices of two medieval groups warring nearby. The second, “The Mermaid Refuge,” is also about prejudices, but the groups involved are mermaids and modern Japanese folk. That’s followed by “My God,” a somewhat amusing tale about a displaced fish deity and an elementary school girl stressed out about entrance exams. Next is “Wolves Don’t Lie,” about a young man struggling with a genetic syndrome that causes him to transform into a wolf every month. The fifth story, “Byakuroku the Penniless,” is a comedy set in feudal Japan about an elderly artist’s misadventures with paintings that spring to life. Then the mood darkens with “‘My Child is Precious,’ Cries the Dragon,” a tale of revenge set in ancient China. The volume wraps up on a light note with “The Inutanis,” a murder mystery parody featuring a family with supernatural powers.

Although the settings and tone vary within the collection, each story is thought-provoking in its own way. In “The Dragon Turret,” “The Mermaid Refuge,” and “‘My Child is Precious,’ Cries the Dragon,” people at odds find common ground. Characters in “My God,” “Wolves Don’t Lie,” and “The Inutanis” struggle with identity and their place in the world. As for Byakuroku, he is forced to reevaluate assumptions he’s made in life. While the conclusion of Byakuroku’s story is best described as bittersweet, the remaining six stories have hopeful or funny endings.

Regarding illustrations, Kui-sensei is sparing with screentones, so there’s a lot of black/white contrast. Her character designs are comic or cute as needed, but they don’t have much to distinguish them. (Prince Shun’s guards all look alike.) Her backgrounds are pretty sparse, but her animals, especially those in “Byakuroku the Penniless,” are beautifully drawn.

Extras include translation notes, fold-out color illustration, and bonus comics.

In Summary

Don’t be misled by the title. Only half of this collection involves dragons, and none of the stories are related at all. That said, if you’re looking for a wide range of short fantasy works that are generally positive and appropriate for a young teen, this is worth considering.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Cats of the Louvre Vol. #1

Cats and cat-people are often used to bring an element of cuteness or fun to a manga. In Cats of the Louvre, Taiyo Matsumoto features felines with a rather different vibe. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

The world-renowned Louvre museum in Paris contains more than just the most famous works of art in history. At night, within its darkened galleries, an unseen and surreal world comes alive—a world witnessed only by the small family of cats that lives in the attic. Until now…

The Review

From the title, I thought this would be a collection of stories taken from the perspective of different Parisian cats. Turns out it’s just one story focused on one cat, but while the setting involves the actual building and artwork of the Louvre Museum, the tone is decidedly fantastical.

Old Marcel is a long time watchman at the Louvre. Having walked its halls for decades, he knows everything about it, including the secret community of cats in the museum attic. Most of them are ordinary animals who know to hide from the crowds below. However, little Snowbebe is so drawn by the artwork he can’t help from venturing downstairs.

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be artsy. Partly because it’s set in the Louvre, and the mangaka has gone through tremendous effort to incorporate numerous aspects of the museum into the story. Partly because the plot centers on those who can hear “the voice of the paintings” and escape into the artwork.

And by escaping, I mean literally that. The souls with that talent have delicate temperaments. Unable to thrive and connect in the real world, they step through the picture frame into the scenes depicted within… and that’s about it.

Because the ones going into the paintings have no greater purpose than to enjoy the worlds they enter, the main tension stems from the trouble their behavior causes those around them. Oh, and the ability isn’t limited to humans. Thus we have Snowbebe’s trips to the museum’s display areas causing problems and arguments within the attic cat community. Unfortunately, Snowbebe’s spacey, self-absorbed personality makes it difficult to sympathize with him.

On the human side, we have Marcel trying to locate a sister who disappeared decades ago. However, he’s kind of gloomy and weird (who harbors eight cats in an unventilated attic?!) and Cecile, the tour guide who lends him assistance, is depressing too. The story’s not dark, but the cast’s personalities aren’t the most uplifting.

Speaking of cast, much of the cast are cats. When they interact with humans, they meow and look like cats. When they are alone, they take on anthropomorphic forms and exchange dialogue. Their behavior, however, is decidedly catlike. They spout random things, and when a spider that Snowbebe knows dies, Snowbebe mourns, then he eats the spider.

Regarding illustrations, they have a rough, cartoonish feel. Character designs are neither cute nor elegant. Expressions often have a level of distortion. The anthropomorphized animals especially have a psychedelic quality. Rather than using screentones, the mangaka uses hatching, and lines are squiggly and uneven. Overall, the artwork has the look of a draft, not a final product.

Extras include eight pages printed in color.

In Summary

The Louvre provides a grand setting for characters who transcend into artwork. However, it’s less of an exciting adventure into other dimensions and more of a gloomy investigation by the ordinary folk left behind. The art style is also lacking, and despite the fact that the story features famous art and architecture, the overall visual effect is underwhelming.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #5

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 5 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back Cover Blurb

In her exile to the east of the east of the east, Liselotte’s rambunctious house attempts to coexist with the witch’s forest. Hoping to break down the seal Vergue has cast, Anna ventures out on her own to pay the witch a visit. Despite a being hurt by humans in the past, can Anna convince Vergue to give people another chance, and to live among them again? Meanwhile, Lise is shocked by a familiar looking visitor surveying the nearby village.

The Review

In Takaya-sensei’s previous series Fruits Basket, there were a lot of antics and silly interactions, but once you got to know the characters, you discovered each one carried deep trauma. If you enjoy that sort of story, you can eat your heart out in Volume 5 of Liselotte and Witch’s Forest. The previous couple volumes delved into Liz’s tragic past, and now we shift to the rest of the cast, starting with En.

Given his memory loss, he doesn’t have much past to dwell on. The bits he retains suggest a desperate existence before he entered the Berenk household. However, his current circumstances aren’t particularly ideal either, as an interaction with the Eiche spirit reminds us. This is the first time we really get to delve into En’s thoughts, and there’s dark humor in his blunt assessment of Liz and his utter incomprehension of why he was so devoted to her.

Next up are Anna and Vergue. Liz is determined to befriend Vergue despite his attack on the house and repeated rejections, but interestingly, she’s not the one to crack through Vergue’s shell. On the surface, ever-smiling Anna doesn’t have anything in common with the irritable male witch. However, she recognizes the similarities they bear, and when she tells Vergue about the upbringing she and Alto suffered, it’s a confession, a rebuke, and an invitation for him to strive for something better.

The POV then switches from Anna to Vergue. We don’t get as many details on his wretched past but like the twins and Liz, he suffered undeservedly when he was a human. However, Anna’s words do impact him, and it shows in his actions, even if his speech and manner remain prickly as ever.

The focus then returns to the main character with Liz hearing about Heil Village’s spring festival. While it is strange how Liz’s companions unanimously encourage her to see it, the trip there gives Liz and En a chance to be alone. It also allows Liz to cross paths with Richard, the brother that exiled her. Liz’s guilt at seeing her brother isn’t too surprising, but what is surprising is En’s displeasure over the situation, especially since he’s lost his memories of Richard. If a visit from the regional lord isn’t enough, Woglinde, the true witch of the frontier forest, also returns home. With so many powerful characters in Heil Village, I’m anticipating something big in the works.

Extras include four illustrations in full color, story-thus-far, character line-up, and embedded author’s notes.

In Summary

If you like characters who bear the scars of abuse and rejection, you will have much to enjoy in this volume. If you prefer lovey-dovey moments, you’ll find a beautifully illustrated romantic scene between Liz and En, although En’s behavior is somewhat perplexing given his evaluation of Liz in the volume’s opening pages. There’s not much brawling in these pages, but with the arrival of Liz’s brother and the return of the witch Woglinde, the stage seems to be preparing for something big.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #4

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 4 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back Cover Blurb

Liselotte’s house in the east of the east of the east has become even livelier with the additions of the witch Hilde and her familiar, Myrte. But one day, Vergue, a witch who hates all humans, attacks the household to drive Lise and the others away! Why is it so difficult to live a peaceful life?

The Review

Till now, little information has been given about the place in which the characters reside. Now we learn that The Land East of the East of the East is part of Erstes, a country that once achieved military victory with the help of witches. Considering it’s already Volume 4, these basic details about Erstes are late in coming, plus the way they’re presented (in the form of a schoolchildren’s lesson) is rather heavy-handed. However, they do give us a clearer picture of the society from which Liz has been exiled.

This provides a good place to introduce our next new character. Captain Erwin is head of the frontier outpost near the witch’s forest. However, he’s originally from the capital where he served Liz’s brother. He not only monitors Liz’s activities but seems aware of the true circumstances behind her banishment. He also has his own power when it comes to witches. Despite the lazy front he puts up, he is definitely not an ordinary human, and given his complicated background, he’s likely to get into the thick of Liz and Engetsu’s future affairs.

In the meantime, Liz continues to bravely strive forward in her hinterlands life. For fans of Fruits Basket, Liz is definitely a Tohru-type heroine: a cheerful dimwit who remains intensely positive despite the tragedies in her life. She’s also able to connect with social outcasts, as evidenced by the six people now living in her house. Now that Hilde and Myrte are part of the family, it’s almost a given that Liz will find a way to draw Vergue in, despite his violent efforts to drive her away.

As for the romantic arc between Liz and En, there are a couple poignant moments between the two, but overall, the mood is more comic than sweet. En without memories is sarcastic and blunt, which makes him a lot more interesting than when he was so unconditionally agreeable toward Liz. Judging from a brief interaction with Erwin, this new En is closer to his true personality and hints about a past I’m curious to learn more about.

Extras include four illustrations in full color, story-thus-far and character line-up, embedded author’s notes, translation notes, and a nine-page preview of Volume 5.

In Summary

This volume doesn’t so much move forward as it delves backward. Lessons, remembrances, and flashbacks provide a better understanding of the factors separating humans and witches and the circumstances that brought our characters where they are now. So aside from Vergue wrecking Liz’s house, not too much happens in these six chapters, but they fill in a lot of holes in the story.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #3

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 3 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back Cover Blurb

Liselotte, daughter of a feudal lord, has been exiled to the lands east of the east of the east, now living with her servants Anna and Alto, the mysterious Engetsu, and the impertinent familiar Yomi at the edge of the witch’s forest. Despite Alto’s objections, Lise’s new family somehow continues to grow. But her troublesome past has caught up to them and Engetsu is seriously injured. Can Lise save him and also continue to live as optimistically as her heart desires?

The Review

Engetsu is in dire straits at the end of Volume 2, thanks to the fight with Liz’s would-be assassin, and with help from Yomi, Liz seeks supernatural help from the massive tree that grows though their house. Eiche trees, like witches, are magical, but their power appears innate rather than something learned. And even though witches are the ones with a bad reputation, the spirit of the Eiche tree makes them look positively benevolent in comparison.(It’s not the witches you have to beware of–it’s the trees!)

Far from being swayed by Liz’s bold demands for help, the Eiche cuts her down with a vicious verbal, then physical assault. In the midst of this encounter, we discover what En endured to return from the dead and the limitations of his current existence. Everything about the episode serves to demonstrate En’s extraordinary devotion to Liz, which underscores the true cost of his restoration when the pair returns to the real world.

With the mystery of Engetsu/Enrich connection revealed, a different mystery arises: Enrich’s origins. After the Eiche encounter, En’s behavior changes so drastically it’s as if he’s a completely different person. Faced with this new,  roguish En, Liz makes the surprisingly astute observation that if they think En’s changed that just means they didn’t know him well enough to begin with. Indeed, even though Enrich knew so much about Liz before, she knew very little about him, and that unknown history before he became her servant looks like it will be central to the next phase of the story.

The angst and despair of the first half of the volume is emotionally draining, thus for the second half, Takaya-sensei reverts back to bird-brained humor. Hilde and Myrte return and wind up incorporated into Liz’s household, which, as Alto describes it, is turning into “a supernatural menagerie.” This of course provides the framework for situational humor between grumpy Alto, prickly Yomi, and their high-strung new housemates. While Liz and En’s interactions retain an element of melancholy, the silly squabbling that surrounds them helps to keep the mood light.

Extras include story thus far, character profiles, embedded author’s notes, six bonus illustrations in color, translation notes, and a sneak peek of Volume 4.

In Summary

En has been the one rescuing Liz all this time, but everything changes after Liz begs the Eiche spirit to return En to her. Now she must strive against the impossible to restore the bond they once shared. In the meantime, a witches’ spat puts Hilde and Myrte onto Liz’s doorstep. Between Liz’s love tragedy and everyone’s new living arrangements, it’s a rollercoaster of ups and down in the land east of the east of the east.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #2

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 2 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back Cover Blurb

Liselotte, the daughter of a feudal lord, has been exiled to the land’s easternmost reaches by order of her older brother. Despite the bitter past that put her in these straits, Lise enjoys her new life with her twin attendants, Alto and Anna, the familiar Yomi, and Engetsu, a young man who not only harbors a secret, but also bears a striking resemblance to an old acquaintance, Enrich. However, Lise’s quaint idyll is shattered when none other than a witch comes calling!

The Review

Takaya-sensei mentions in her notes that “Volume 1 unfolded at a relatively leisurely pace.” Well, she makes up for it with Volume 2. She starts with flashbacks and a conversation with the local villagers that shed light on Liselotte’s circumstances and brings context to En and Liselotte’s mutual attachment. His reappearance in Liz’s life is no accident. And random though Yomi’s entrance seemed, he also has a reason for hanging around Liz and En.

Then the witch from Volume 1 reappears, this time by Liz’s house. Overall, the illustrations do an excellent job of creating an air of tension and mystery. Unfortunately for one forest scene, sound effects are key to that terrifying atmosphere, and I spent several confused seconds hunting down Yen Press’ tiny sound effects translations (which are almost buried by the original Japanese sound effects) before I could figure out what was happening. To offset the creepiness of the witches, Takaya-sensei inserts silliness in the form of Liz’s blithe decision to embrace the witches as neighbors. Thus continues the somewhat hackneyed joke of Liz’s inedible food.

Her ditzy attitude seems inappropriate for approaching a powerful enemy, but it turns out to be entirely fitting. In one fell swoop, Liz exposes the witch and her familiar to be just as silly as Liz herself. That discovery is a letdown, especially after all that hair-raising anticipation, but Hilde the inept, crybaby witch does make a suitable companion for Liz and company.

Takaya-sensei, however, quickly replaces the witches with another enemy, one whom Liz definitely won’t offer a slice of cake. Magic takes a backseat to swordplay when an assassin explodes on the scene. Apparently, humans are more dangerous than witches, and we get to witness En’s heroics in a duel interspersed with glimpses of a past fight. Some of En’s dagger skills are a bit difficult to follow, but overall, the battle brings Volume 2 to a thrilling and emotional close.

Extras include embedded author’s notes, the title page in color, and translation notes.

In Summary

Volume 2 fills the blanks of Volume 1 to make what felt like a random assemblage of characters without clear direction into the tale of tragic lovers grasping at a second chance. Takaya-sensei had done a marvelous job of painting the witches as a malevolent threat to Liz, so when she reveals their true nature, it’s a disappointment. However, they’re quickly replaced with another adversary, one that sheds light on the past and leaves us with a heart-pounding cliffhanger.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Are You Alice? Vol. 12

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 released the final volume, and you can read on for the review. (If you’re interested in my reviews for previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

With the game to kill the White Rabbit abandoned, the remaining denizens of Wonderland set out to escort the White Rabbit to the final page of the story. But this is easier said than done because it’s no longer only Lewis Carroll’s interference with which they have to contend.

As “Probably” Alice and his ragtag group of allies undertake their first and last mission, they vow to uphold the sole rule of this new game-no matter who is sacrificed, there is no looking back…

The Review

Katagiri-sensei has consistently crafted beautifully illustrated scenes that brim with emotion, and this final volume delivers no less. The desperation of the remaining Wonderland residents resounds off the pages as does the Cheshire Cat’s complicated feelings toward the Alices we’ve encountered. Somewhat more convoluted, however, is the ultimate resolution to this Wonderland journey.

What started off as the game to kill the White Rabbit turned into a story about the correct way to kill Alice that somehow erupted into a battle of wills between a deranged writer and his characters. With reality invading the world of story and multiple forces manipulating the plot, this final volume feels like a race from scene to scene to wrap loose threads. Granted, Katagiri-sensei’s comical interchanges are funny as ever, but between all the fake Alices, Alice Liddell, and the elusive Alice in Wonderland, it’s difficult to keep track of what everyone is striving toward. However, the final showdown between Carroll and those trying to force him to complete his work is quite dramatic with a conclusion both surprising and violent.

The last few pages present an epilogue that shows where the survivors wind up. Those characters brought to Wonderland by the White Rabbit return to the real world, and its interesting to see the disparate places they came from. Our final glimpse of Carroll is somewhat troubling, but the future of the 89th Alice/Little Brother/Explosive Device is hopeful. As the Cheshire Cat says, his story “has yet to begin.”

In Summary

Not surprisingly, the Wonderland game ends with a gunshot and blood. To be honest, though, it’s a bit of a relief. On top of Wonderland’s inherent weirdness, the series has had so many different layers of violence, deceit, and insanity, it was difficult to keep track of it all. At any rate, readers who envision Lewis Carroll to be as crazy as his Hatter can consider Are You Alice? an uber-violent origin story for Alice in Wonderland.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Are You Alice? Vol. 10

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 released the tenth volume, and you can read on for the review. (If you’re interested in my reviews for previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

When Lewis Carroll took in a little black cat for Alice Liddell, he most likely never imagined that it would be the sole witness to his final throes of madness. Nor could he have fathomed just how much a cynical alley cat could make of his discarded characters. So spins the tale of how the Cheshire Cat came to be–and how he may yet come to be Lewis Carroll’s undoing.

The Review

The journey through this Wonderland has been a twisted–and often violent–dive through the rabbit hole. Now Volume 10 backtracks in time to show how that rabbit hole came to be, which is a twisted and violent tale in itself. And our guide though this particular story is the Cheshire Cat.

The Cheshire Cat has been a difficult character to comprehend, but so is everyone else. As such, I assumed he wasn’t anything special. Turns out he is special indeed. Unlike the other Wonderland residents, he is not bound by a rule nor did he receive his name from the White Rabbit. But what makes him truly unusual is that he actually knew the original Alice and Lewis Carroll.

The narrative begins well before the cat meets Alice. As it turns out, Alice is the cat’s third owner. Even so, his life’s beginning provides a pretty good look at the “real” world, where Alice in Wonderland was written. Judging by his series of owners, this place may not be Wonderland, but it has its own kind of crazy, So much so that it’s almost fitting when Carroll loses his sanity. Having the cat as narrator also allows a glimpse into Alice and Carroll’s relationship through the eyes of a third party who can neither interfere in the tragedy that unfolds nor say anything about it. And as graphic as the volume’s images are, one of the most disturbing parts is the unillustrated text, “The Correct Way to Kill off Alice.”

Once the setting shifts away from the “real” world, however, that cat is doing plenty. Turns out the 89th Alice owes the Cheshire Cat a great deal for his existence In addition, the more we learn about Wonderland, the more it takes on a Toy Story-ish kind of feel. Carroll created Wonderland, but, like the toys in Toy Story, the scraps of words he discarded take on a life of their own. The Cheshire Cat might not have been able to do much for Alice as an ordinary cat, but he’s doing plenty in Wonderland, manipulating bits of writing for her sake.

Extras include closing remarks from the creator (although the background illustration is extremely dark), the short bonus manga “Are You Mack?” and the title page and table of contents printed in color.

In Summary

The story delves into the past, in particular, the Cheshire’s Cat’s past in the world of the original Alice and Lewis Carroll. These chapters fill a lot of gaps, plus they unveil surprising information about where the 89th Alice came from. The ultimate fate of Wonderland remains to be seen, but you will come away with a better understanding of the Cheshire Cat’s part in this story of discards.

First published at the Fandom Post.