Alice in the Country of Hearts Volume 1 by QuinRose and Soumei Hoshino
As I was reading Alice in the Country of Hearts I started wondering if it was an adaptation of a dating simulation game. Alice Liddell is transported to a Wonderland filled with beautiful boys who all seem to want to fall in love with her. But would Japan really turn this classic work of English literature into a romance game filled with bishonen? They sure did!
In this version of Wonderland, the white rabbit is a cute guy with spectacles and rabbit ears who decides to toss Alice down a rabbit hole and force her to drink a mysterious liquid by kissing her. He introduces himself as Peter White and says that he is in love with her. Alice is not amused at her first kiss being stolen from her and vows not to acknowledge it. Peter announces that since Alice drank the medicine, she has “to play the game.” He leaves and Alive begins to explore. As she wanders around the strange world she discovers that Wonderland is split into three factions, with a neutral clock tower in the center. Julius runs the clock tower, and he provides Alice with background information about Wonderland and the game she must play. The empty medicine bottle begins to fill up as Alice interacts more with the Wonderland inhabitants. When it is full again she might be able to go home. The warring areas of Wonderland include the Hatter mansion, which serves as a hideout for the local mafia and is guarded by a pair of twins. The man in the hat is Blood Dupre who looks suspiciously like someone from Alice’s past. An amusement park run by a man with an unfortunate name and the Castle of the Queen of Hearts completes the geography of this altered Wonderland.
There is always something a little shallow about manga that adapts dating simulation games. Perhaps because of the nature of the source material it is all too obvious which characters are matched up with stereotypical traits. There’s the dangerous one, the stupid but sweet one, the enthusiastic one, etc. The plot is really secondary to the parade of hot guys. The costumes in the manga are a cosplayer’s dream. Alice’s striped socks, ruffles, and hairbow are very cute, and I appreciated the attention to detail in the costumes of the male characters. Everyone seems to have several pocket watches pinned in various places on their person, and there are plenty of tiny heart, club, diamond, and spade motifs that remind the reader of a pack of cards. Unfortunately while the costumes are elaborate and the backgrounds are attractive in Alice in the Country of Hearts, the character designs and execution don’t approach the levels of hotness that I would need to read the manga for eye candy alone.
There were two things in the manga that did capture my interest. One was that Alice is aware that the whole adventure is a projection of her unconscious, and she isn’t too happy with the quality of her imagination or her own emotional neediness. Alice meets a man named Nightmare when she goes to sleep in Wonderland and she asks “On what planet would everyone trip over themselves for me? I guess my subconscious is as stupid as this world.” She finds the rules of Wonderland disturbing because she assumes her mind is creating them and nothing makes sense. When Alice thinks about the fairy tale Heart Castle and frilly clothes she’s wearing, she wonders if she secretly craves them, and concludes “this is the most humiliating way to explore my subconscious. I hope I wake up soon.” If this aspect of the story is followed up on in future volumes, it has the potential to be interesting.
The other aspect of the manga that I thought I’d like to see explored further is the stark difference between the characters in Wonderland who seem to have agency and those who do not. All of the male characters who seem to be about to fall in love with Alice (and Vivaldi, the Queen of Hearts) are characters called “ones with duties,” people who have a function in Wonderland. The soldiers and servants are drawn with less detail in their faces and are effectively disposable props, speaking to Alice’s cry in the original source material “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”
So as a dating sim version of Alice in Wonderland, I found Alice in the Country of Hearts interesting since Alice is aware of her dream and offering her own internal commentary on the ridiculousness of her situation. I’m hoping that this aspect of the story is explored more in volume 2, because I probably won’t be as interested in reading the series if it is only an endless parade of Wonderland hunks.
Review copy provided by the publisher.