The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?For high school student Yukko, things have just gotten strange. Waking up shrunken down, Yukko quickly discovers that all the humans in her prefecture have become tiny while everything else, including animals and bugs have stayed the same! Now trying to get some answers, Yukko, her dog Poco, and a mysterious girl named Alice must escape her prefecture in hopes of fixing this problem. This bloody and dark take on the shrinking scene in Alice in Wonderland will make any modern Alice fan's heart race.
Wonderland is not Yuugo Ishikawa's first English release - the mangaka is also responsible for survival horror manga Sprite.
Wonderland is available through Seven Seas Entertainment for $12.99 as a physical copy and comes out November 20th, 2018. Volume 2 is set to be released in February 2019. Wonderland is also available at all major retailers.
Is It Worth Reading?
While I like the concept of Wonderland – a mysterious bio-engineered hazard has shrunk people in a single prefecture – I'm not thrilled with its execution. That's largely because I feel like the creator really doesn't understand how domestic cats work. I realize it sounds like a small thing, but given that (domestic) cats are a major piece of the threat being presented to the shrunken humans, it truly does need to feel credible, and having lived with cats my entire life, it frankly doesn't, especially with studies debunking myths that cats don't care about the people they live with. I find it hard to believe that a sudden size change would turn a pet into a deadly predator when nothing else has changed, hunting instincts notwithstanding.
Feline issues aside, Wonderland just doesn't quite seem to know what it wants to do. As a horror story, it would be more effective if the humans were presented as the more alarming threats. That does start to happen in the latter half of the volume, when the so-called rescue squads are proven to be more like executioners. From the horrific scenes of them gassing the shrunken residents of Yukko's town to the way they refer to the people as “subjects” or “experiments,” it's clear that there's something going on at the national (or maybe even international) level, and that the people of Yukko's prefecture have become unwitting guinea pigs for a nefarious scheme. It's not even a particularly isolated place, which is even scarier – one of the characters, the inevitable girl named Alice, is apparently a foreign tourist, which indicates that the town is one large enough to draw such a crowd. How, then, did it end up the testing ground for a what may well be a new bioweapon?
That's the kind of question the series needs to start exploring in its next volumes, because “tiny people survive in big world” has been done before, and better, throughout literary history. Now that we know that Yukko, Alice, and anyone else who sticks around long enough to get a name are in danger, the task is to focus on why. If Wonderland can successfully transition into that, it will become a much more compelling and effective story, even if it never answers how on earth anyone can actually walk wearing doll shoes.
Despite its core concept being ripe for comedy, there's something haunting about Wonderland, and the manga goes the horror route more than anything. The story is as realistic as possible when it asks what would happen if you woke up shrunken to mouse-size. The answer is apparently cats become your mortal enemies. Lots and lots of cats. Along with ravenous birds. So much of the first volume is spent on Yukko coming to terms with what's going on and escaping danger, witnessing just enough about the SDF's behavior to know the government isn't really her ally, that there's hardly room for the reader to breathe. However, by the same token, it crams too much into Yukko's first day as a tiny person. Things do start getting into unintentionally comedic territory when she and Alice go to a mall and toy store and there's already a Lord of the Flies-esque dystopian community inhabiting the store—on what seems to be the first day or so of the change. Though only Yukko, foreigner Alice, and dog Poco stand out, that's enough this early on to give us characters to root for. The dog's function in this world is especially interesting to see, as he shows loyalty to Yukko even when she's diminutive-sized.
Ishikawa's art is easily one of the strong points of the volume, with realistic cats and birds, cute or harmless in other settings, shown as truly terrifying creatures to the tiny people. Backgrounds are highly detailed and character designs aren't very cartoony, helping to sell the seriousness of the situation and how overwhelming even the most banal of locations can be when humans are shrunken down to size.
Though the ending of the first volume is somewhat disappointing, Wonderland volume 1 starts off strongly and manages to keep up the tension throughout most of the volume. There's still a lot of mystery to be uncovered, but enough is established to keep the reader coming back to see what other challenges living as a mouse-sized person in the human world might bring.
I didn't really expect Wonderland's premise to be played for horror, but here we are. And I'll say this: I was never bored. And I think it's an effective thriller.
Wonderland is an example of how anything can be played for effective drama. The manga opens with the main character's parents being massacred by the family cat. The synopsis is Honey, I Shrunk the Kids but with the war boys from Fury Road riding around in toy cars. And yet, the scene with the cat is genuinely frightening. From the outside, it might appear silly, but the terror in the character's face is real. Her tears at her family's death are heartbreaking. And it's all due to strong execution, where the reader can see real humanity in seeming absurdity.
In all honesty, though, I don't care that much about Wonderland's central mysteries. This is mostly because it is so engaging as a non-stop thrill ride that my investment is purely in if our lead will survive the day. And judging by how the broader story is a collection of rote government conspiracy tropes, I'm not really confident in the answers to the questions being all that compelling. I also don't know why Wonderland is yet another tick on the list of modern stories cribbing from Alice in Wonderland. I'm sure this is related to the places the story ends up going (there's a character named Alice who has all kind of bizarre intrigue about her) but it feels slightly counter to Wonderland's appeal. There's a chance that a focus on the mystery elements could make later volumes less captivating. But in this first volume at least, these details are backgrounded enough to let the fight against the elements take center-stage.
Wonderland hails from a school of storytelling where all the writing energy is in the main characters using tactics to overcome obstacles. It's the kind of thing that might not be the most resonant or moving tale ever spun, but has such a solid foundation it can't help but be enthralling. I think your enjoyment of it might be predicated on if you can take this premise seriously on any level (or if you don't mind some gore), but if you can get past it, I think there's a solid little horror-thriller here. I don't know if it can sustain itself continuing on, but I very much enjoyed this first volume.
When high school student Yukko wakes up incredibly small, she thinks this is all just a bad dream. Quickly, Yukko realizes that this is real life and not a dream at all! Suddenly betrayed by things she has always taken for granted, Yukko must search for answers while avoiding cats who want to play, government researchers, and crazed men on remote control cars. With the help of a mysterious warrior named Alice, Yukko and her dog Poco are on the quest for answers.
Wonderland is a combination of so many big fears under the guise of an Alice in Wonderland inspired manga. Seeing your family die before your eyes, being attacked by your pets, and having humanity turn on you is all seen within the first volume of Wonderland. On the surface, it's a pretty basic plot, but the more readers think about what's happening, the scarier it becomes. Though it's not the most original story, Yugo Ishikawa does an excellent job at execution. Readers learn with Yukko and feel the same fear that she feels. When she's confused with what's going on, so are we. Each chapter had a new twist Yukko had to face that felt realistic, or at least as realistic as it is to get shrunk down to the size of a cell phone.
Overall, Wonderland's plot is nothing to write home about, but its pacing, execution, and emotional experience is definitely something worth to explore, even if you do not consider yourself a horror fan.
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