Review: Alice & Zouroku
The story centers on a little girl called Sana, who is one of the children that holds the power of "Alice's Dream," an ability that enables her to materialize anything she imagines. After escaping a lab where she was a test subject, Sana ends up in a normal world where she encounters an old man named Zouroku, but will he help her?
April 2, 2017 - June 25, 2017
Director: Sakurabi Katsushi
Writer: Fumihiko Takayama
Starring: Ohwada Hiomi & Oosuka Akio
Genre: Adventure, Mystery, Seinen
Winner of the Japan Media Arts Festival’s New Face Award for manga, Alice & Zouroku began its serialization in 2012 and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, as its anime adaptation testifies.
In my review of the first episode, I had really high hopes for this series about the bond between an escaped test subject and a grumpy old man. Now that the anime has completed its run, read on to see if Alice & Zouroku‘s character dynamics, plot, pacing, and unique style help it make its mark on the spring 2017 anime lineup (and whether it should land in your to-watch list).
Spiritual Content: The Alice’s Dream power is derived from a purely magical source, unrelated to spirituality. However, there’s a scene where a character prays for help (unspecified, but at the foot of her bed), and she receives the Alice’s Dream power as a result. This seems to be more related to her emotional state, rather than a spiritual force bestowing the power upon her, however.
Violence: There are scenes of destructive battles in the middle of a city and on a boat. Those with Alice’s Dream power battle fiercely throughout the series, and various weapons are manifested during a particular battle. There’s also some graphic blood splattering, thus qualifying the darker seinen genre of this story. A battle between Miriam and Shizuku is worth noting. Miriam’s Alice’s Dream power allows her to summon hundreds of enormous hands, each of which spew copious amounts of blood as they are gunned down and giant fingers are sliced off by Miriam’s foe.
Language/Crude Humor: Swear words like “d**mn” and “h*ll” are used mildly.
Sexual Content: Not sexual, but there are scenes of Sana and Sanae in the bathtub a couple of times. Nothing inappropriate is shown, as both girls are covered in water, but the repetition of location seems a bit unnecessary.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Zouroku smokes and drinks.
Positive Content: Zouroku is a very strong moral character, disciplining the kids on “right and wrong” when they begin to stray. He values respect and advocates doing the right thing. Zouroku also shows compassion and love by taking Sana in, looking after her, and caring for her and his granddaughter, Sanae. The anime incorporates lessons about consequences, humanity, and loss.
From its first episode, Alice & Zouroku raises a plethora of stimulating questions in the viewer’s mind. What’s an Alice’s Dream power? How does it work? How do people get it? Who’s this mysterious person that saves Sana and has obviously mastered her Alice’s Dream power? What experiments have been performed on Sana, and who are these people she’s running from? How will she, a girl who’s spent her life in a laboratory, function in everyday society under Zouroku’s care?
Alice & Zouroku snagged me with these tantalizing questions, and the more I pursued the show for answers, the more it began to hone in on Sana and her journey of self-discovery. The moment Sana finds out she isn’t human unlocks a series of philosophical implications for the show. Exploring these weighty revelations, Zouroku, Sana, and Miriam (another woman with the power of Alice’s Dream, tasked with taking Sana back to the research facility) discuss what it means to be a human–a conversation that cements the relationship between the title characters. Despite Sana condemning herself as a monster and believing the world would be better off if she remained a lab rat, Zouroku accepts her for who she is.
Perhaps that is the aspect I most enjoyed about Alice & Zouroku–Sana’s relationship with Zouroku and his granddaughter, Sanae. In one of the best scenes of the whole series, Zouroku asks Sana if she would like to be part of his family through adoption. Without spoiling her answer, I’ll just say that Sana’s reaction could fill an article’s worth of analysis.
Alice & Zouroku’s action and battle sequences are super creative and unique, as demonstrated particularly well in a match between Miriam and Shizuku (who works for the government). Shizuku, who also possesses the Alice’s Dream power, can summon hundreds of weapons and items, and the way she uses her power to combat Miriam’s power (giant hands that represent her husband–more on that later) results in one of the best fight scenes in the series.
Miriam is important to the story for more than just participating in its most unique battle, however. She is, in many ways, a focus of the series’ first arc. After her husband dies in war, Miriam is struck with such grief that she seemingly receives the Alice’s Dream power as a result. It materializes as a pair of giant arms, representative of her husband’s, which causes her to believe that her husband is back with her again, as his giant arms caress and comfort her. Her unstable emotions are evident as she fights, which makes for a psychologically compelling battle.
The second major arc follows Hatori, another Dream of Alice (individual with the Alice’s Dream power). With her power, she can command anyone within her vicinity to do whatever she instructs them to do. Those affected develop a greyish tint and a zombie-esque nature. Hatori’s power first manifested when she overheard her parents fighting with each other about struggling to raise her. She uses her powers to keep her parents from fighting… but at the cost of her power eventually having a permanent effect. With her parents left in a macabre, zombie-like state, Hatori brands herself an evil witch and runs away.
When Hatori ends up in Sana’s hometown, using her powers to disastrous results, the arc spins into a revenge narrative, where the consequences of one’s actions are unabashedly portrayed and then turned over to the viewer to ponder.
Topping off the anime’s thought-provoking philosophical discussions and heartstring-tugging moments, Alice & Zouroku boasts delightfully clean and smooth animation. The words “new” and “refreshing” come to mind as I try to describe it. All things considered, the art in Alice & Zouroku stands out to me, even during its more mundane moments, because it distances itself from many of anime’s generic art patterns. It’s simply enjoyable and entertaining to watch come to life.
Unfortunately, the anime’s quality of animation isn’t matched by its pacing. Though I praised the pacing of Alice & Zouroku’s first episode, the story occasionally loses touch with its own rhythm in the long-run–either moving a bit too slow or a bit too fast, giving the viewer too much time to digest or too little. Miriam’s backstory, for example, springs up in the plot, kicking off the first arc a bit too suddenly, only to rush the resolution of the conflict and clean it up a bit too quickly as well. With the experimental facility shut down by the government, I was left wondering what story the anime had left to possibly tell. These issues may be the result of the show trying to simultaneously pace Sana’s own progress in the story, as she’s never interacted with the outside world and her first conflicts within it are entirely new experiences.
Another development that could have made the show stronger is more explanation of the Alice’s Dream power and the Wonderland world (which is where these powers stem from and where Sana was born). By the end, I still didn’t really understand how or why people randomly received the Alice’s Dream power, what Wonderland was, and where it came from. The show touches on answers to these subjects without ever explaining them satisfactorily.
Similarly, certain backstories could have been fleshed out a bit more, including key players like Zouroku, the research facility, and Shizuku. The other Dream of Alice characters, who seem like candidates for the story’s bigger roles, are never explored in depth.
Quite aware of its draw, Alice & Zouroku refreshingly keeps its main focus on character dynamics without having to rely solely on its well-written suspense and entertaining action to bring viewers back for more. The blurry line between the natures of the two main, conflict-driving characters also gives credit to the series’ creators and how well they were able to utilize the characters’ struggles to move the story forward. In conclusion, Alice & Zouroku is an extremely creative (venturing through Wonderland is a trip) anime with a heart-warming center. (I mean, just look at that last screenshot and tell me you don’t feel all fuzzy inside.)
+ Zouroku - Strong, moral protagonist
+ Sana - Fun, interesting protagonist
+ Strong character dynamics and relational development
+ Unique, attractive art style
+ Realistic antagonists
- Overall pacing seems inconsistent
- Wonderland is left unexplained
- Backstories of key players left unrevealed