Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar's Game
Alice has decided to stay on in the Country of Clover despite not falling in love, and now it is the April Season. Living at Heart Castle, where it is always spring, Alice is enjoying her day-to-day life when the mysterious Joker and his circus come to town. Now her memories are getting muddled and she doesn't quite know what's going on, although the men of Wonderland seem concerned. Who is the Joker and what is this game he is playing?
Unlike QuinRose's other Alice games, Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar's Game does not thus far appear to be a romance. Instead the story takes on the tone of a sinister mystery as the Joker's circus comes to town and veiled references are made to some sort of “game” that he plays. The implication is that Alice will have to play as well, whether or not she is aware of the fact, and several of the men seem to have doubts about her ability to survive it.
The book begins with a full-out retelling of the first two series, Alice in the Country of Hearts and Alice in the Country of Clover, that takes up the 100-odd page first chapter. Unlike in My Fanatic Rabbit, however, this serves not to set the scene for Alice to choose someone else to fall in love with, but rather to remind us of the bizarre intricacies of living in Wonderland. Blood, Peter, Julian, and Ace get the spotlight not as romantic interests, but as reminders of the more dangerous aspects of the world Alice is in, with much made of Blood's resemblance to Alice's old crush. Peter is, as always, the most aggressive of the males, but his interactions with Nightmare highlight the possible reasons for his bringing Alice to Wonderland in the first place rather than his undying love for her. (Although it does seem highly possible that the two things are related.) Nightmare himself plays an interesting part as the sounding board for both Alice and Peter, painting a contrast between his dream appearances and his waking world persona. It is worth mentioning that he, Gowland, and Julian all exist simultaneously in this version of the story, as does Pierce, possibly because, as we are frequently reminded, it is April Season.
Circuses and carnivals have a history of representing a loss of control and the rules of society in fiction, and Joker's circus does not appear to break with that tradition. Although we do not know much about it thus far, the way that the other characters speak of it indicates that there is something even more removed from normal about April Season and Joker's arrival. We learn about it as Alice does, which lends a sort of sinister air to the proceedings. The fact that the circus comes to town in April is of course a reference to April Fool's Day, and it fits right in with QuinRose's established world to have that last for the entire month in Wonderland. We don't see a whole lot of Joker himself in this volume, but what we do see is ominous – he makes many references to the “game” that people must play during his season and his chief companion appears to be a small faceless girl with a serious violent streak. In terms of what this particular spin-off has to offer fans of the entire franchise, this book is the first to really make a noticeable mention of the fact that the so-called “faceless” characters actually do have facial features – it's just that nobody really looks closely enough to see them. This little tidbit adds to the overall creepiness of the volume, as it implies not that the people are terribly replaceable (which would indicate that they have no personalities or distinguishing features), but rather that no one cares enough about them to notice who they are.
Art is brought to us once again by Mamenosuke Fujimaru, who did the art for both Bloody Twins and Cheshire Cat Waltz, and there are some improvements here consistent with an artist who has simply been drawing a lot – Alice is more feminine in appearance and feet don't look as boxy as they did in earlier Fujimaru books. It still isn't as pleasant as Soumei Hoshino's interpretation of the franchise, but it still gets the job done. The English adaptation is by Lianne Sentar, so Peter speaks in rhyme, and otherwise the translation is largely unremarkable, although fans of the original book may be irritated that Pierce is referred to as “the sleepy mouse” rather than “the dormouse.” Fujimaru remarks several times that she feels that this adaptation does not do the game justice, but as someone who has not played the original, this does not feel inadequate or as if it is leaving out large chunks of information. If you are privy to the story in its original game form, you may feel otherwise.
So far Circus and Liar's Game is an interesting break from the franchise's formula, focusing on Alice having to exist successfully in a carnivalesque environment without also being forced to choose a man. While this may very well change, at this point the story has an intriguing darker feel to it that nicely shakes up the expectations established by earlier franchise entries. Parts of the first chapter can drag for those familiar with the basic outline of the stories, but overall this is one of the more interesting entries into QuinRose's alternate tale of the girl who fell down the rabbit hole.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B-
+ Mystery taking over for romance gives the franchise a needed boost, Fujimaru's art shows improvement.
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