Alice in the Country of Hearts Volume 2 by QuinRose and Hoshino Soumei
I continue to be weirdly fascinated by this dating sim manga set in the world of Alice in Wonderland. I was hoping that some of the metatextual elements that I saw in the first volume would be expanded on in the second. This didn’t exactly happen, but there was enough world building in the second volume that I want to keep on reading. I think this manga is like vanilla ice cream made excellent by some awesome raspberry melba sauce. The dating sim core of the story isn’t so great, but there is enough plot and character development in place to make me eagerly want to read it despite that shortcoming.
One of the things I liked about the second volume was that there were more elements that reflected the source material. The volume opens with Alice attending a nighttime tea party at the Hatter’s mansion. It seems like she’s a little more relaxed in Wonderland, taking time to tease Eliot (the March Hare) about his insistence that he isn’t a rabbit despite his ears and fondness of carrot cake. Peter White’s relentless pursuit of Alice continues, but I felt like his speech patterns incorporated more rhyming so I enjoyed the reference to the original White Rabbit.
While the first volume set up Alice’s “game” in Wonderland, the second volume makes it clear that there is plenty of danger for Alice to be concerned about. Julius’ work at the clock tower involves serving as a mortuary for the secondary characters that inhabit Wonderland. When they die and turn into shadows or “after images”, they leave only their ticking clock hearts behind. Julius repairs clocks, giving characters new identities and erasing their old personalities as they are reborn. Ace, the easygoing knight with no sense of direction works for Julius and he is extremely overzealous in his duties as a clock collector.
Part of the motivation behind all the characters chasing after Alice is also explained. Since she’s an outsider from beyond Wonderland she represents their only chance at change. If this was a typical dating sim manga all the male characters would be lost in adoration for Alice immediately. However this isn’t exactly the case. Ace and Peter get into a standoff over Alice, and Ace informs Peter that he doesn’t love Alice, but he does find her interesting. Alice comments to Ace that he doesn’t truly care about her, because if he did he wouldn’t be grabbing her to use as a bullet shield. While the first volume was somewhat frenetically paced, the second volume features Alice getting to know all the characters a bit better.
Honestly, the fact that I still enjoyed the second volume says a lot for this manga. I’ve generally been bored by the first volumes of other dating sim manga that I’ve tried to read like La Corda D’Oro or Haruka Beyond the Steam of Time. So while I don’t think Alice in the Country of Hearts approaches the levels of quality of my favorite series, it does stand out as being an excellent example of its sub-genre, with a surprising amount of world building and thematic depth. I’m definitely on board for the third volume to see where this story is going.
Review copy provided by the publisher