Alice in Anime Wonderland

by Rebecca Silverman,

Few children's novels have achieved the level of notoriety that Lewis Carroll's Alice duology has – 1864's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its 1871 follow up, Through the Looking Glass have been the inspiration for more spin-offs than can be reasonably mentioned outside of its own encyclopedia. Alice hasn't just stuck around Anglophone countries, either – her popularity is world-wide and the name “Alice” remains a popular baby name in a variety of nations. When it comes to anime and manga, it's hard to throw a stone without hitting some version of her story, whether it be violent, gender-swapped, romantic, or even just barely thematic, Alice has continued her adventures in a variety of ways since the original novel's translation into Japanese in 1908. (An 1899 version was more of a Japanese adaptation rather than an actual translation.) First published in novel form, as opposed to magazine serialization, in 1910, the novel has gone on to become required reading in many Japanese schools, and scholar Masafumi Monden suggests in his examination of Alice in Wonderland in Japanese idol music videos that Alice has become the embodiment of the Meiji ideal of “shoujo.” He defines this as not simply an equivalent of the English word “girl,” but rather as encompassing the three Meiji ideals of girls' education and behavior: chastity, affection, and aesthetics. This enduring definition of proper femaleness, along with the virgin/whore dichotomy, has made Alice, particularly as represented by both Tenniel's illustrations and the 1951 Disney film (released in Japan in 1952), a symbol of that ideal.

Who is the Japanese Alice? In the 1899 version she was a girl named Mie, in 1908 she was Ai. She's a teenager mourning the death of her sister while being romanced by rabbits, jokers, and hitmen, a girl trying to kill her siblings to rule the family, a confused young man not sure who he really is. She's a magic power and curiosity, irresistible to lesbian Clamp characters, she's a magical girl. By the end of this article we may not fully know who Alice Pleasance Liddell becomes when she's in Japan, but we can certainly see some of the specific permutations her story takes as it inspires a pop culture far different from the one she was born of.

Straight Adaptations are probably the rarest of the bunch. It does make sense, given the fact that the first translation wasn't all that faithful – there are aspects of Alice that appeal to Japanese culture, but other parts are either too British, too Victorian, or simply too much of an in-joke between Carroll and his original audience of the three Liddell girls to be interesting. (For a good explanation of all of the jokes, I'd recommend checking out The Annotated Alice or The Even More Annotated Alice.) The best example in this category is the 1983-84 TV series Fushigi no Kuni no Alice, which pretty much just takes the original story and animates it, similarly to what Disney did in its 1952 film. The character designs are much less Tenniel-inspired, which is interesting, as it makes the story look more like it's for children than some other versions. Every so often child-friendly manga adaptations appear as well, such as Rod Espinosa's manga-style version, or just illustrations that hark back to the original text. As far as Alice in anime and manga goes, this appears to be the format that gets the least love, but it does prove a good jumping off point for other variants.

One where there's some crossover between strict Alice adaptations and more fanciful ones is the Gender Swapped takes on the tale. Ikumi Katagiri and Ai Ninomiya's Are You Alice? casts a young man as the titular character and plays fast and loose with some of the components, but ultimately treads fairly closely to a lot of Carroll's original text and imagery, bringing in Mary Ann and always having one chapter title taken straight from the books. In this version “Alice” has almost become a title, simply a name for someone who wanders into Wonderland, which is much more violent in this version. (That violence is actually an interesting trend and we'll see it pop up in most types of Alice anime and manga.) Ayumi Kanno's I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland takes a different approach in that a boy is pulled into the world of Carroll's book and stuck in Alice's body, while Alice's spirit is placed in his. This is a much more hijinks based take on the story, which is actually fairly unusual – one of the only other ones is CLAMP's infamous Miyuki-chan in Wonderland where all of the other characters in Carroll's book have been turned into women rather than Alice being a boy. In this version, everyone wants to get under Alice's skirt, although she's much less enthused about the idea than they are. Similar in its homoeroticism is Tamayo Kobayashi's Boy alice in wonderland, where protagonist Arisu gets on the wrong bus and ends up in a Wonderland where everyone is male and ready to fall in love with Alice – which can be pronounced “Arisu” in Japanese. Unlike Miyuki, Arisu does all right with this over the course of his two volume manga. A third example of this subgenre goes even further: in Ryō Takagi's Fushigi no Kuni de Aimashou, a boy named Alice falls into Wonderland and meets the Mad Hatter, who tells him that they used to be a couple. In this yaoi take on the story, romance is central, again leading up to some slight crossover between popular ways to adapt Carroll's texts: romance.

Lewis Carroll's Alice may have been about seven years old, but that hasn't stopped anyone from making her older and setting her up with younger, hotter, and more human versions of Wonderland's denizens. One of the best known is QuinRose's seemingly endless array of Alice in the Country of _______ manga, based on the different routes available in the otome games of the same title. These stories are interesting not only in that their Alice is a much more bitter girl than her original, but also in that they incorporate real-life Alice's sisters, Lorina and Edith, both of whom do make guest appearances in the original text. (That lorikeet Alice meets with the Dodo is no randomly chosen bird.) The premise of the first series, Alice in the Country of Hearts, is that Alice is brought to Wonderland by Peter White, the White Rabbit, where she is presented with a wide variety of handsome men who are all in love with her because she's an “outsider.” The many variations of the series are basically different routes from the games – what happens if Alice ends up with one guy over another. As in Fushigi no Kuni de Aimashou, the different men of Wonderland are in competition for Alice, who really isn't sure how or why she's there, which is another common theme in Alice anime and manga. QuinRose's Alice is convinced that she's dreaming and that her fantasy is to have all of these men in love with her; in reality she's covering up something that she really doesn't want to remember, similarly to how Ryō Takagi's Alice has lost his memories of the past. In a sweeter vein, Kazuko Furumiya's one-volume series Heart no Kuni de Ochakai features a heroine who is not named Alice but dreams of going to Wonderland. A boy who befriends this poor little rich girl helps her to find Wonderland for real, which in turn makes her a more comfortable, happier person. There's a sweet romance in here, but it's almost more Alice-themed, which is probably the most common way that we see Alice herself in anime and manga.

Probably the best example here is a 1998 TV series called Alice SOS, which follows a group of children who must rescue a kidnapped Alice from Wonderland and the other fantasy worlds to which she is taken. Lacking an English release, this doesn't have the notoriety of other stories, despite having an interesting storyline. Doubtless the best known in this category is Gakuen Alice, though it's a far more tenuous connection than some of the others. In Higuchi Tachibana's shoujo fantasy, special extrasensory gifts are known as “alices,” presumably a reference to how Alice herself has the ability to do things that most ordinary people wouldn't or couldn't, such as talk to flowers, shrink and grow, and face off against a wicked queen. Heroine Mikan is herself an Alice figure in her boundless curiosity and also her strength to see things through. Carroll's Alice is stuck in a strange land with no idea how to get out, but she makes the best of her situation; Mikan is in much the same situation at Alice Academy, trapped in a Wonderland where the rules don't always make sense and she has to stand on her own two feet and figure things out. Similarly we have Eternal Alice Rondo, which uses the power that Alice has over hearts to unlock stories. This Alice is possibly an unintentional tongue-in-cheek reference to the hold that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has over people all over the world and on literature. We can see this theme also in Yu Watase's Alice 19th manga, which takes a magical girl approach to the old Alice game: her Alice is granted the power to go inside of people's hearts with the power of words. In the same vein Vanilla Ware's game Odin Sphere also uses a little girl named Alice to tell its story by having each chapter of the game open when she reads its story in a book – the power of words when wielded by an Alice inspires storytelling once again, which is a fitting tribute to Carroll's work.

We can probably give the game American McGee's Alice a lot of credit for popularizing our next category, though: violent Alice. Released in 2000, the video game spawned a lot of Goth imitators, and that was not strictly relegated to the US where the game was initially released. Kaori Yuki has been one of the major purveyors of violent Alice stories since the first chapter of her manga Godchild (2001, so after the aforementioned game) features a white rabbit murdering young girls in a twisted take on Carroll's tale. Her current series Alice in Murderland takes her bloody Alice fantasy even farther: Stella Kuonji's family announces one day at their monthly tea party that Stella and her siblings must fight to the death until only one child remains, who will then become the heir. Within Stella is a murderous alter-ego known as Bloody Alice, who delights in killing where Stella would prefer to sit the game out. Yuki also makes use of Alice themes and imagery in some of her other works, such as Cruel Fairy Tales and Ludwig Revolution. We could argue that Peach Pit's Rozen Maiden series also incorporates Alice-themed violence as well, although it's nowhere on the level of Yuki's work – still, the plot device of beautiful, living dolls killing each other in “The Alice Game” is striking. Of course, although not Japanese, there's also the anime-inspired Spanish video game Zombie Panic in Wonderland, by the same brilliant minds that brought us the DS game Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie Barbeque. As you might guess, this has a manga-style Alice (and Dorothy and Snow White) whipping out a variety of machine guns in order to save Wonderland from a zombie invasion. The most difficult to place is probably Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki, which has a lot of elements of both the violent style of Alice retelling and the simple thematic. I tend to put it here in the more violent category because things get pretty grim for protagonist Oz, and his companion Alice is known as the Bloodstained Black Rabbit. Pandora Hearts draws from a lot of different fantasy works, but Carroll's duology is a major source of inspiration and a large part of what makes it fascinating in the first place.

The final typical type of Alice tales is probably the most common: stories that simply have Alice mentions or themes without making it the entire story. This would be series like Cardcaptor Sakura, which has visual and storytelling references to Alice without being an outright Alice-themed work, or Project ARMS and Eureka Seven, which both use Alice-inspired codenames throughout the series. Black Butler also indulges in some Alice, as does Ouran High School Host Club, whose manga take on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is one of the funniest I've ever read. Many manga have Alice splash pages or imagery that is otherwise unrelated to the story; Maid Sama! and Hana-Kimi come to mind, but it's virtually everywhere – in the article I mentioned in the beginning, Monden is surprised to note Alice imagery in Yayoi Ogawa's Kiss and Never Cry. Alice is everywhere if you look for her, and her enduring popularity is both a testament to the international appeal of Lewis Carroll's books and a treasure hunt for her fans. Who would have thought that a story made up to entertain three little girls in the mid-19th century would have such reach? It's a wonder indeed.

Don't forget to tell us your favorite Alice anime and manga versions, as well as any that didn't make the list in the forum!


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