Alice the 101st Volume 1 by Chigusa Kawai
Strong art enlivens a somewhat typical music school storyline in the manga Alice the 101st. At an exclusive music academy the students are buzzing about the admission of a 101st student. Who is the special case who secured an extra spot at the school? Aristide Lang is a violinist with unconventional training who announces to his roommate Theo that his nickname is “Aristo.” Everyone ends up calling him “Alice” instead. Alice initially seems to be utterly lacking in technique, appearing amazingly unproficient when he’s asked to play a piece when reading music. Alice struggles to fit in with the school, dealing with teachers who have no patience to teach the fundamentals when most of the students arrive at the school after training intensely for years. But when Alice plays a memorized piece by his long-lost father he blows the listeners away by the power of his music.
An older viola student Victor sets Alice up as a rival for the school prodigy Maximilian. Maximilian is a brilliant technician, but the music he produces is cold and empty. If Alice can master the fundamentals and get over his block about playing while reading music, he might end up being able to challenge the best student at the school. Alice quickly bonds with his roommate, and they have a few encounters with a quiet girl who seems to have no awareness of the size of her cello because she hits everyone with her cello case wherever she goes.
I found the art in Alice the 101st really appealing. Alice is shown with his emotions all over the place, ranging from mischievous to overwhelmed and depressed as he struggles with his new environment at school. Kawai’s character designs are expressive, and she’s able to portray the intensity and focus of the music students as they master new skills. I think out of all the classical music related manga I’ve read so far (La Corda d’Oro, Versus, etc) Alice the 101st is my favorite.
Access to electronic copy provided by the publisher.