Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar's Game
Alice doesn't quite understand why Peter is so nervous about it being the April Season in Wonderland or why he insists that she not go to see the Joker by herself. After all, she only has to beat him at a card game, right? But this is Wonderland, and a game is rarely just a game here. Who knows what lurks on the other side of the looking glass...can Peter protect her from it, and more importantly, from her own memories?
When is a card game more than a card game? There are several answers to that question, but none of them entirely explain the situation when it comes to Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar's Game. In this version of QuinRose's Alice in the Country of franchise, Alice is living and working at Heart Castle without having chosen a true love and enough time has passed that it is now what the denizens of Wonderland call “The April Season.” In this special season, non-natives must cross through the Joker's domain in order to move between locations – for example, if Alice wants to leave Heart Castle and go visit Hatter Mansion, she must first visit Joker and beat him at a game of cards. Alice just takes this as another facet of life in the upside down world known as Wonderland, but some of her would-be suitors are upset. Peter, Nightmare, and Blood all seem to fear what Joker could do to Alice, although none of them are particularly forthcoming about why. Peter makes Alice promise not to play against Joker by herself, but without a solid explanation, Alice doesn't take his worry as something serious. What consequences that could have remains to be seen, but we definitely see a different side of Peter White in this volume, and as readers who are more or less omniscient, we realize that Alice may be in more trouble than it appears.
Peter fans can probably safely rejoice at this point, as it looks very much like Circus and Liar's Game is following the “Peter Route” from the games. The cover of this volume supports that theory and the upcoming cover for volume three also can be interpreted that way, but more importantly the content of the book focuses on Peter's thoughts and actions more than those of the other contenders for Alice's affections. This allows us to see him as more concerned about Alice than his actions in other spin-offs showed, although My Fanatic Rabbit did come close. Peter, it could be argued, knows the most about Alice and therefore might be in the best position to have genuine feelings for her, rather than emotions fabricated by Wonderland's own rules and logic. Blood is concerned about her interactions with Joker, yes, but it is Peter who is actively trying to save her, although whether it is from Joker or from herself is at this point unclear. This is another point on which Circus and Liar's Game is successful – the slow revelation of Alice's past. Cheshire Cat Waltz has also been doing a fine job of this, and devoted Alice readers will, with this volume, be able to put pieces together more decisively.
Unlike most of the other series within the franchise, Circus and Liar's Game brings Lewis Carroll's sequel, Through the Looking Glass, into play. (Does that cast Peter as a version of the White Knight? Interesting thought.) Joker's country is very much about carnivalism, and the funhouse mirror, or even just the idea of a reflection, is something that has long been cast as something strange and sinister. While the concept of “character” vs. “dark character” has been a staple of anime and manga for some time now, QuinRose uses its more alarming possibilities well, combining the idea of “carnival” with the uncertainty that humanity has about reflections to create a character who may not be fully as villainous as others think. The fear that Peter and Nightmare have about Alice remembering certainly begs the question of just what would be so awful about that...and Joker may have very different ideas about what a dose of memory will do for her.
Art for Alice in the Country of Joker is once again provided by series regular Mamenosuke Fujimaru. While she is not the best in technical merits – bodies remain blocky, particularly Alice's – her lines are improving, and her faceless circus children can be downright scary. There are some transitions that aren't as clear as they could be, and things do get confusing during Joker's scenes, but on the whole there is a clear improvement from her earlier work on the franchise. As always, Seven Seas has done a nice job with the presentation, providing color pages and a full franchise explanation for those new to the series, and making use of Lianne Sentar's rhyming speech for Peter, which I personally think works for the character.
Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar's Game is one of the strongest entries into the Alice world, building upon Hearts and Clover rather than just retelling. This second volume ups the ante for Alice and her suitors, with slow reveals of just what it is that Joker is after and what has Peter and Nightmare so scared. If you're tired of the alternate worlds where Alice simply ends up with a different guy but still like the franchise, this, Cheshire Cat Waltz, and the original run are, when read the opposite order, are your best bet. So pick up your cards and join the game, Alice fans – we're only just getting started.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Builds on the earlier series rather than just retells, answers are becoming clearer. Fujimaru's art is improving and carnivalism is well used.
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