Alice in the Country of Diamonds: Bet on My Heart

By Sana Shirakawa, Quin Rose, and Nana Fumitsuki, based on the game by Quin Rose. Released in Japan by Ichijinsha. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

The Alice spinoffs, which is to say everything but the 6 main books that Tokyopop/Yen Press put out, have always had an issue to deal with which is to say that they’re made for readers in Japan who have played the original games that the series is based on. North America hasn’t really had that luxury, even though we do now have a somewhat machine-translated tablet version of the Hearts game. So there’s always a risk that you read something that requires, if not prior knowledge, at least passing familiarity with the game world you’re in. Or, as in the case of this light novel, you have a product that lots of times seems to read like an advertisement for a game you can’t get over here.

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That isn’t to say this isn’t a good novel, it’s quite well-written. The prose flows well (excellent translation by William Flanagan), and Alice and Blood, the main stars, sound like themselves. The premise, as you may have guessed, has Alice dropped in another world, a la Clover or Joker. But whereas Hearts had Alice looking for a passionate love, and Clover had Alice develop a relationship based on friendship turning to love, here she’s further in the past of Wonderland, no one knows who she is, and everyone starts out disliking her intensely. (Hence “Diamonds”.) Alice has her hands full trying to deal with this, and it’s not helped by ending up at Hatter Mansion with a Blood Dupre who’s far less adept at being aloof yet teasing than she remembers.

This book is drenched in the Blood/Alice ship, and fans of other ships won’t get much here. Eliot fans should particularly stay away, as he’s abused and beaten by Blood throughout, usually when he’s trying to shoot Alice. As for new characters, the White Queen and her Black Rabbit barely get a look, so most of what we get is Jericho Bermuda, the Gravekeeper, who seems to be based on Carroll’s dodo bird. He’s Alice’s oasis of calm in the excitement of dealing with Hatter mobster wars, and it’s frustrating that most of the hints we get about him being a “walking dead man” are not answered here.

There aren’t the sharp edges I like in some of the other Alice spinoffs – Alice doesn’t think of Lorina once, and most of her worries once she’s fallen in love come from a fear that she’ll switch countries again. The Hatter family are more battle ready and drenched in blood than the earlier games, as they’re still gaining power. But mostly I think this is a good book that makes a reader yearn to play the game. We want to see what’s up with the White Queen switching between child and adult form, like the Twins used to do. (They’re just adults here.) We’d like to see why the Black Rabbit seems to hate Alice (inverse of Peter, I expect.) Joker was mentioned to be here as well, but remains unseen. Jericho looks to be the author rewriting Mary Gowland to be less irritating, but who knows?

So this is a very good novel for Alice fans who want to dip into prose, or Alice/Blood shippers. But it also frustrated me, as it offers many questions without answers as well.

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.