Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz, Vol. 7

By Quin Rose and Mamenosuke Fujimaru, based on the game by Quin Rose. Released in Japan as “Clover no Kuni no Alice – Cheshire Neko to Waltz” by Ichijinsha. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

(Note: this reviews mentions THAT Alice spoiler later on. You know the one.)

Now that this series has finally come to an end, I think it’s a good time to take a look at it in a larger context. Volume-wise, it’s the longest Alice series to date. However, many of these volumes were bloated up with side stories – some featuring Alice and Boris, some not – to the point where I suspect the actual content would struggle to make it to 5 volumes if put together on its own. Overall, I think the series was successful, but its tendency to meander and focus on the romance over the darker themes make it perhaps midrange in overall quality. Let’s see if we can pin down what it did best.

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First off, the premise of the Clover world spinoffs (as opposed to Hearts) is that Alice has been there longer and is finding love with someone she already has a friendship with, as opposed to a sudden passionate love. I think it does a pretty good job of that here – much as I’m not a fan of the romance part of this series in general, the author does a good job of showing us Alice and Boris’ friendship, and how that’s affected by their growing love. It also shows off dealing with Boris’ cat-like tendencies – he can wander off, or seem aloof, and is quite changeable – as well as Alice’s mood swings and anger issues. And, of course, jealousy. It didn’t really knock me out, but as a romance it’s perfectly sweet.

The other thing I think this manga did very well is the attention that it gave to the ‘faceless’ inhabitants of Wonderland. Our view of this world has almost entirely come from Alice and the 12 ‘role-holders’, all of whom are naturally drawn to her by their very existence. The faceless are meant to be bodies filling out the story, so unimportant they don’t even get eyes. And yet Alice can tell then apart, something that mildly astounds everyone else. What’s more, here they are shown to have goals and lives beyond support of the heroes and heroine. Some are plotting a takeover against the hatter, some are jealous of Alice’s ability to get someone to love her whether she likes it or not, and some are just doing a job, even if it means their death. I’m still not certain about the faceless overall, but I have a much greater understanding of them after reading this.

And then there’s Lorina. This is the second book we’ve seen recently where Alice is shown abandoning the real world and staying in Wonderland with her love. I’ve discussed how this makes me slightly uncomfortable, something I think is entirely intentional on the author’s part. Cheshire Cat Waltz is not as dark and twisted as, say, Joker and Liar’s Game, however, so we see Alice, who’s having another post-traumatic breakdown, visited by Lorina’s spirit, who reassures her that it’s OK to forget and move on, and that her death (looks, it’s been 15+ books, I am now prepared to reveal the horrible secret of the Alice books) was not Alice’s fault. So her stay in Wonderland is couched in terms that make it look less like escaping from reality and more like accepting this is her new reality. How you feel about that depends on how you view the Alice series as a whole, I think.

As for the major drawback of the series, well, it meanders. It meanders even more than my reviews do. And just when each volume seems to be leading up to an exciting bit, the story ends halfway through so that we can get either side-stories of Alice and Boris in the Hearts world, or even worse, Crimson Empire side-stories that have nothing to do with this world at all. Read all at once, it must be more tolerable. Read over the course of a year, it’s a mess.

Still, overall, I’m pleased to have read this. Alice and Boris are cute, and it fleshed out the personalities of the non-Hatter cast a lot more. (The Hatter cast got a lot to do as well, but they always do.) It’s a good read for fans of the series. Just be prepared for the story to start and stop a lot.

Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Mad Hatter’s Late Night Tea Party, Vol. 1

By Quin Rose and Riko Sakura, based on the game by Quin Rose. Released in Japan as “Heart no Kuni no Alice – Boushiya to Shinya no Ochakai” by Ichijinsha. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

We have now had about seven or eight spinoffs to the Alice series, most of them being variations on “well, what if Alice fell in love with this person instead?”. It’s been so long, in fact, that we may have forgotten that the original manga adaptation was pretty definitive about Blood Dupre being the canonical love interest, and its 6 volumes revolved around that. Of course, being an otome game adaptation, the manga can easily delight in all the possible routes. But it does mean that this spinoff, also dealing with Alice and Blood, is coming to us with a handicap: is there anything introduced here that we can’t get in the main series?

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That’s not the only handicap, unfortunately. I’ve said before that I prefer Alice when it’s a psychological mystery rather than when it’s “which hot guy do I want to go out with”, and despite occasional attempts at a plot, this is very much the second. Alice is clearly attracted to Blood, with only his resemblance to her old tutor and his blunt ways holding her back. And even that doesn’t last long – Alice and Blood are in bed halfway through this first volume. (Again, I note that I am pleased that the series allows Alice to be sexually active without shaming or punishing her for it – probably a benefit to running in Ichijinsha’s josei line, where this sort of thing wouldn’t be out of place.)

As for Blood, well, he’s a charming rogue, and thus has the usual charming rogue issues. He’s attracted to Alice and wants her around, but demands control, and is jealous when she sees other men – particularly Julius. Yes, this is a Hearts world, so the clockmaker is back in the story, and everyone still hates him. I’ve mentioned before how much of this is due to the metatext of the game – his status as a neutral party, his connection with death that might remind Alice of why she’s in Wonderland in the first place – but this is a romance rather than a mystery, so honestly it’s mostly just the fact that they’re different types. Julius offers Alice peace and relaxation, something that Blood simply cannot provide.

There’s a lot of old ground gone over again – this being the Hatter Route, we get the subplot involving his secret relationship with Vivaldi again, as well as his ability to fluster and enrage alice simply by opening his mouth. If you’re a fan of Blood Dupre, you may want to give this a try, but for those wondering if this is a required read as an Alice fan, I’d have to say no. You get most of what happens here in the main series. (I was amused to see that this seems to be the only non-BL series the artist has drawn – she specializes in smutty yaoi.) I still like the Alice series, but the spinoffs are running out of ways to charm me.

Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Clockmaker’s Story

By Quin Rose and Mamenosuke Fujimaru, based on the game by Quin Rose. Released in Japan as “Anniversary no Kuni no Alice – Tokeiya” by Ichijinsha. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

You would think that I would have run out of things to say about these volumes. Sometimes I have, when they’re particularly pointless – see last month’s batch of Bookshelf Briefs for my opinion of the Ace spinoff – but there always seem to be a few nuggets of interest to keep me going. It also helps that this volume focuses on one of my favorite of Alice’s romantic choices, Julius Monrey, the clockmaker. (In case you’re wondering about the ‘Anniversary’ thing in the Japanese title, it’s what they called the updated PS3 version of Alice in the Country of Hearts.)

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The basic premise won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s read the previous spinoffs of this endless otome game series. Alice is trying to get away from an oppressive Peter White at Heart Castle, so she asks Julius if she can stay at the clocktower for a while. He agrees, and they gradually begin to open up to each other. As their relationship deepens, however, Alice has to not only deal with her own feelings, and the fact that her beloved is not the type to take the initiative, but also realize that Julius is hated by a large number of folks throughout Wonderland. Can she come to terms with what his job really entails? And what of her ever-present need to return to her sister?

Julius is a rarity in the set of Wonderland males that Alice runs into. He’s passive, introverted, and taciturn. He will happily stay in his tower for weeks, just working on clocks and sleeping when he remembers to. After several stories with Blood, or Ace, or the twins, or Eliot, or Boris, he feels like a breath of fresh air. He also causes Alice to need to be more proactive, rather than simply have the love interest be aggressive consistently until she gives in. There’s lots of adorable scenes here.

Also, he’s a mortician. Who can resurrect the dead. Only not really. Wonderland’s weird world, where everyone has clocks instead of hearts, and people can be ‘resurrected’ but aren’t quite the same people they were before, makes almost everyone uncomfortable, and that gets taken out on Julius. He’s clearly not doing this for fun, but it’s his role, and he regards it as necessary. But in a way, hanging out with him is keeping Alice in a constant shadow of death – something that I imagine makes Peter quite nervous, given what they’re all trying to make Alice not remember.

This one-shot also has an unusual ending in that, when Alice confesses her love, she chooses to remain in Wonderland and stop trying to return to her own world. Which she’s done before, but in this case the vial filled with people’s feelings that she carries around throughout the game is seen in the final shot to be shattered at her feet. It’s a striking image, showing that there’s no going back. I will admit I’m not entirely happy with the basic premise of the series being ‘if she remembers her traumatic past that makes it a bad end’, which seems to romanticize denial more than I’d like. Still, it does make for a good capper on what has been a fairly enjoyable, if slight, story.

There are also two Crimson Empire stories at the end. Luckily, they are shorter in length than they were in the Ace book. I say luckily as they were incredibly boring and tedious. Alas, you’re better off with Alice than Sheila.