By Tetsuya Imai. Released in Japan by Tokuma Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Ryu. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Beni Axia Conrad, Adapted by Maggie Cooper.
I spent most of this first volume mostly enjoying what I was reading, but something felt off, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was reminding me of something else, but I wasn’t sure what. Then I realized it was reminding me of Madoka Magica. Not for any plot or characterization reasons, but because the art in Alice & Zoroku does not match up with what is actually happening on the page. Madoka Magica always felt weird to me because I read Sunshine Sketch first, and had trouble reconciling the uber-moe art with the events on the page. The same sort of thing happens here, and to a degree it’s helped along by the premise. This SHOULD be a series about a young mysterious girl who ends up living with a grumpy old cuss and together they learn to open up to each other. It should be (pardon my age showing here) Punky Brewster. As it turns out, there’s a lot more going on.
The girl on the cover is not Alice – at least not literally. She’s certainly a figurative Alice, though, and there’s Wonderland quotes and motifs throughout the work. Sana is an experimental child who has the ability to make anything she imagines into reality. She’s escaped from her evil research center where she’s been kept (which we’re already starting to see may not be quite as evil as she painted it) and is on the run in the middle of the city. There she runs into Zoroku, an old man who works as a florist, lives with his granddaughter (who seems to be in high school – I’m assuming dead parents here), and seems to spend each day going around being vaguely pissed off. She is, of course, a child who grew up in a lab, so has no sense of social skills or any ability to be sensible. But she’s cute. Oh yes, and who other kids, twins, are trying to kill her, and caring very little about collateral damage. Will she melt his stern heart and be taken in?
The series is eight volumes and running in Japan (I think it got an anime as well), and this first volume definitely feels like a lot of setup for a future payoff. We get a few other cast members introduced, most of whom don’t make much of an impression, with the exception of the granddaughter Sanae, who seems to be an odd mix of airhead and motherly type and is a lot of fun. Zoroku is probably the strongest character here – stubborn as a goat, but he has a strong sense of right and wrong, and is not afraid to tell off a child when he sees them running roughshod over it. As for the research center Sana is escaping from, we get a few flashbacks and expository scenes that hint that Sana’s nature is more that of a tactical nuclear weapon than an actual child – again, metaphorically speaking.
Overall, while I still didn’t quite get past the cognitive dissonance of the artstyle, which says this should be a fluffy slice-of-life series (it isn’t), I enjoyed enough of Alice & Zoroku to try a second volume.