Alice, Hatter, Queen: all are waiting.
Cheshire Cat smiles.
Won’t you join us?
I wasn’t long on my path to becoming an otaku before I encountered shojo manga. How could I not like it? I enjoy reading young adult novels, and all of the shojo manga that I’ve read thus far has been better than any of the Twilight books, but they still center on romance, fantasy, and above all, a girl’s point of view. Then I took it one step further by reading my first reverse harem series, and now I’m officially hooked. If I believed in guilty pleasures, this would be the ultimate: stories with one female protagonist in which flocks of super cute guys fawn all over her. It sounds potentially shady and/or vapid, but reverse harem manga, like any genre, comes in all shapes and sizes: shady, vapid, and otherwise. I was lucky enough to stumble upon one of the “otherwise.”
Heart no Kuni no Alice (or as it’s known in English, Alice in the Country of Hearts) is a different take on Alice in Wonderland, which was what first attracted me. The manga is illustrated by Hoshino Soumei and based on a game developed by QuinRose. The story begins in a similar way to the original with Alice and her sister enjoying a lovely day outside. However, once Alice is spirited away by a man with rabbit ears named Peter White who professes his undying love for her, you know that this isn’t the Wonderland you remember.
The setting and characters, while somewhat familiar, still manage to be exciting and new. Alice soon finds herself in the Country of Hearts, a particularly violent section of Wonderland where inhabitants shoot each other at the drop of a hat. There are three main areas in this country that are at war with each other. The first is Heart Castle, ruled by Vivaldi, the current queen of the land of Hearts (who is obviously based on the Queen of Hearts). The second is Hatter Mansion, home to a mob gang led by Blood Dupre, aka the Mad Hatter. The third is the Amusement Park, which is run by a man named Mary Gowland (supposedly a take-off on “merry-go-round,” and possibly based on The Duchess). Most of the popular and much-loved characters from the original are scattered throughout the various kingdoms, such as Boris (the Cheshire Cat) who lives in the Amusement Park and annoys the castle guards for fun, and Dee and Dum who serve as miniature thugs and guard over Hatter Mansion.
Going in knowing that it was a reverse harem I was expecting it to be frivolous and one-note. However, it’s far more complex than just a showcase of cute boys fighting for Alice’s love. Questions arise as to the nature of characters’ relationships to each other, and the value of life is discussed. Alice herself is a likable if unwitting guide through this Country who asks the sorts of questions about her surroundings that you wish the original Alice had. She is kind and curious, but her tumultuous relationships with her sisters and her past love really make her an identifiable heroine. I wasn’t immediately hooked after reading the first book, but luckily I had purchased the first two volumes at the same time, so I went ahead and read the second. I was so glad that I did, otherwise I would have missed out on one of my favourite mangas to date.
This manga kept me turning pages to find out what happens next, and unlike a lot of romances, there is no clear winner for Alice’s heart. I find myself rooting for different characters the more that I read, and at present I can hardly stand the wait for the sixth volume to be released on July 12th of this year. (My current favourites are Boris and Elliot March, aka the March Hare, but who knows after the next volume?) And while this is far from the most feminist piece of prose that I’ve come across, I do admire that Alice is no passive doll sitting on the shelf. She goes out to find her own adventure, and she succeeds every time that she walks outside. If you’re in the mood for a slightly twisted and indulgent romance with a hint of mystery wrapped in a classic storybook package, you’ll be hard-pressed to do better than Alice in the Country of Hearts.
Rating: ★★★★★ Best shojo harem manga EVAR.