Friday, May 21, 2010

The first volumes of a couple of manga series, both of which star characters named Alice

Alice 19th Vol. 1 (Viz) This is another fantasy shojo series from Yu Watase, the woman responsible for the epic, 18-volume Fushigi Yûgi, a popular fantasy series in which two Japanese school girls get sucked into the Chinese Universe of the Four Gods book.

The star of Alice 19th is Alice Seto, a young, shy school girl who resembles Fushigi Yûgi’s Miaka in character design if not in personality. She’s supposedly a plain and less attractive girl, at least compared to her older sister Mayura, but the only notable difference is that Alice has short dark hair, while Mayura has long blonde hair.

Mayura is on the school’s archery team with Kyo Wakamiya, a kind and dreamy boy that Alice is secretly in love with—a secret she keeps from Kyo due to shyness and embrassment, and from Mayura because Mayura likes him too.

The first volume shares a little more with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland than the name of the protagonist; Watase’s Alice also meets a little white rabbit, which she chases and ends up having an adventure in another world, but there the similarities end.

This rabbit is actually a magical little girl with bunny ears who can change shape to disguise herself—so long as the shape is some form of rabbit. She informs Alice that the young girl is actually a chosen one sort, a master of the powerful Lotis Words.

Alice reacts by running away from the rabbit girl, and spends the bulk of this book ignoring the business of magic words and destiny, focusing instead on the love triangle that develops between the three main characters—at least until she realizes the power of her words, and she wishes her older sister off to a cornfield of sorts, and she must journey into the hearts of others to find her lost sister.

I know how girly that sounds and, well, it is shojo. There’s so little of the fantasy aspect of the storyline introduced at this point that I can’t really assess where it’s going, but the Alice’s conflicts at home and school are engaging, and Watase does her usually excellent job of diffusing overblown melodrama with humorous touches. I particularly enjoyed her reaction to being chose for some mysterious magical girl role in favor of dealing with her more pressing boy problem.

In addition to drawing really cute cute boys,

it turns out Watase does pretty cute bunny rabbits.

You’d chase that white rabbit, right?

Comic Vol. 1 (Yen Press) This is actually a Korean work, and is thus manhwa not manga, but what the hell, I’m calling it manga for the sake of this post. This site isn’t that specific after all, and the characters do have big eyes!

I love the title of this comic, which is what originally attracted to me in the first place. It’s a comic called comic, and not in a sarcastic, jokey sort of way, like Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s (awesome) Comic Book Comics, it’s just what it’s called, as it reflects the subject matter.

The Alice in this comic is Alice Song, a school girl who has just placed third in Cake Magazine’s amateur/student manga contest, and as a result suddenly finds herself thrust into the world of comics.

In a series of unlikely but necessary coincidences, the guy her third-place winning romance comic is about—a former teacher—is now an editor at the magazine, who she reunites and will be working with. Her first assignment is to help Saturn Kang, an artist she admires, finish his pages to hit a deadline.

But it turns out Saturn is a) super-cute b) her age c) a real jerk who refuses her help and offer and friendship and d) a boy who attends the neighboring all boy’s school under his real name, Patrick.

But is there something behind Saturn and Alice’s traded barbs and punches? Is it mutual attraction? A seed that could eventually grow into love?

Of course there is! The first volume includes three chapters, in which Alice, Saturn and the other players are introduced. Near the end, at an awards ceremony, Alice and the readers are introduced into a handful of other very colorful young comics creators, who will presumably play larger roles as the series goes on.

The character designs are fairly typical of romantic comedy manhwa I’ve read before. Heads are small, necks and limbs long, hand giant, fingers freakishly long, with everyone ranging from pretty good looking to gorgeous. I can see it being kinda off-putting to someone completely new to the genre, but then, Comic probably isn’t the best comic to start with when you’re trying your first teenage romantic comedy serial from Asia, anyway.

The drama and humor are all quite competently handled, the characters are all interesting looking and most of them have interesting traits to endear them and, the series is certainly made more interesting by intersecting with the comics industry. If you like comics, certainly you’ll like this comic about comics, right? It’s like a movie set in the film industry, or a TV show about characters who make TV shows (there’s one of those on NBC that’s awfully popular right now, isn’t there?).

I’d certainly look forward to reading the next volume of this series.

Especially to find out why the cover of the fifth volume has Saturn/Patrick wearing a Nazi uniform on it.

(Above: This is a picture of Alice's former teacher, who is now her editor. That is how the average comics editor looks and dresses, right?)

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