Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party
Newly arrived in the Country of Hearts, Alice is sick and tired of Peter White's devotion. Only knowing the Castle and the Clock Tower, she heads out to find a new place to live and finds herself in mob territory. But they seem like nice guys, so Alice moves in to Hatter Mansion, where the leader, Mad Hatter Blood Dupre, looks just like her lost love from her past. Is true love possible with a mafia man in a violent blood-soaked wonder world?
The latest alternate take, or route to follow, in the manga adapation of QuinRose's Alice in the Country of Hearts series, The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party takes some surprising turns from its fellow story spin-offs. The first thing readers are likely to notice is that staple artist Mamenosuke Fujimaru is not the mangaka for this series – yaoi artist Riko Sakura takes the reins in the tale of Alice and Blood's romance. It is a very nice change to have a new pen, and Sakura tends towards more background and clothing details than previous artists, giving Alice a more doll-like quality that is nicely at odds with her cynical personality. Unfortunately she is not especially good at drawing bodies, and many times characters look oddly shortened when they are sitting, while men tend to be fairly triangle shaped, with the broad shoulders and narrow waists so common to less literary romance descriptions showing why that sort of thing works better in one's own head. Nonetheless, Sakura does give us her own vision of QuinRose's world that still feels familiar to fans of the franchise, making for a breath of fresh air in the series.
The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party takes place almost immediately after Peter brings Alice to Wonderland. Alice has been living at Heart Castle with Peter and Vivaldi, but Peter's stalking form of love has reached the point where Alice simply cannot stand it any longer. She flees the palace to temporarily stay with Julius at the Clock Tower before setting out again. In her rambles she stumbles into Hatter Mansion territory, which is where we see our first major difference in this retelling: Alice is unaware that the mansion or the Amusement Park even exist. This is a nice twist on the other entries in the franchise, and really gives us the feeling of starting something new rather than rehashing a story we've read (and enjoyed, admittedly) many times before. We haven't really seen Alice explore Wonderland's oddities as something brand new since the original Alice in the Country of Hearts manga, and by this point for most of us it has been long enough since that came out that this feels like a fresh take. This is aided by the fact that Ace and Boris never show up in this volume, while Gowland merely gets a portrait image, simplifying the cast of characters.
On the subject of characters, Peter is at his creepiest and most obnoxious in this book. This is perhaps necessary in order to make Blood, the most physically predatious of the men, more palatable as a romantic lead. This remains true of the character for the volume, as he speaks in innuendos and lures Alice into his bed quite early in the book. (Interestingly enough, while this is the most sexual of all of the storylines thus far, it is also the least explicit.) Alice quickly realizes that Blood may just be looking for a good time and that she, to borrow a phrase, tenders herself more dearly. Whether or not this is the case is still unclear, although a brief epilogue in Blood's voice opens the very real possibility that he does have feelings for Alice, whether he himself realizes it or not. In fact, he seems to be set against feeling anything romantic for Alice – when he's with Vivaldi, he denies any sentimental attachment to the outsider, although his later actions might belie that. In any event, it is a good mix up in the franchise to see one of the men deny that he is in love with Alice rather than jumping into it whole hog (Boris) or coyly beating about the bush (Julius).
The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party is one of the more unique takes on the Alice in the Country of Hearts franchise. With a new artist and a romantic lead who is more physical and less emotional, there is a definite feel that this is not the same old, same old, and at this point that's a plus. There's still plenty of what has made the franchise a (guilty?) pleasure, and the more cynical Hearts Alice is a nice change from the Clover or Joker iteration we've been seeing for a while now. If you've been a fan all along, you'll likely enjoy this entry into the series, but if you've been feeling like it was going stale, The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party might just be the boost you need to get back into things.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : C
+ New artist and a return to the more cynical Hearts Alice mixes things up a bit. Bringing it back to the beginning simplifies a lot.
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