Alice 19th

June 30, 2010 dreamkaleidoscope
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TITLE: Alice 19th
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Yuu Watase
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 7
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Yuu Watase (mangaka of Ceres: Celestial Legend, Fushigi Yugi, Imadoki, etc.), Card Captor Sakura, romance, drama, comedy

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We’ve all heard the saying, but in reality, words do have the power to hurt people on an emotional level, and the scars they leave behind on a person’s psyche can last much longer than a physical bruise or scratch.

In Alice 19th, battles are not fought with swords and guns. They are fought with words.

The heroine, Alice Seno, is an introverted teenager who lives in the shadow of her prettier and more popular older sister, Mayura. She has a crush on handsome upperclassman Kyo Wakamiya, but she doesn’t have the courage to tell him how she feels about him. Unfortunately, Mayura is also in love with Kyo and beats Alice to the punch by asking him out. Alice, not wanting to upset her sister, decides to keep her feelings for Kyo a secret and support their relationship.

One day, Alice comes across a mysterious rabbit named Nyozeka, who has the ability to transform into a cute little human girl. She gives Alice a special bracelet and informs her that she is a Lotus Master — a person with the ability to use Lotis Words. Lotis Words are a set of twenty-four runes that can be used to exorcise mara (bad feelings) from people’s hearts. In reference to the title, the first word Alice masters is the 19th word “rangu” (courage), when she saves Nyozeka from being hit by a car.

As a Lotis Master, the words Alice says have more power than those of regular people. She discovers this the hard way when during an argument with Mayura, she tells her sister to disappear. Mayura literally disappears, having been pulled into the darkness of the Inner Heart. Now Alice, along with Kyo, who is also discovered to be a Lotis Master, must learn to use the rest of the Lotis Words — as well as the legendary “lost word” — in order to save Mayura from being consumed by the hatred in her heart.

I’m a hardcore Yuu Watase fan, but in some ways, Alice 19th is the most disappointing of her works. Not because it is bad — it’s very good, in fact — but because it could have been a lot better. The problem is, the story is much bigger than the seven volumes she was given to tell it in. I would have liked this series to have been at least ten volumes, and preferably even longer. Alice and Kyo only really “master” maybe around five or six Lotis Words each; the rest they just memorize like studying for a vocabulary test, which comes off as such a cop-out when other Lotis Masters can study for years without learning all the words. Yes, perhaps reading about Alice, Kyo, and Frey (another Lotis Master from Norway who acts as their mentor and is in love with Alice) exorcizing the mara from people’s Inner Hearts might have become repetitive after a while, but I would have liked to have seen them learn to master the words, rather than just being told. That’s not good story-telling. A few of the Lotis Words aren’t even used in the series itself by anyone, instead only mentioned in bonus pages describing all the words!

Another major problem is that the rules of this series’ universe are terribly inconsistant. I don’t know if it’s a matter of translation, or if the original story is just as sloppy, but it seems like Watase changes the rules whenever it suits the plot, rather than having the plot work within a set list of guidelines. The biggest example is when the trio go inside Alice’s father’s Inner Heart. For some reason that I still don’t really get, only Alice’s Lotis Words will work there, when previously none of them have had trouble using Lotis Words in other people’s Inner Hearts. It’s really just an excuse to have Alice be the one to save her father by herself.

The story itself, however, is still good despite some short-comings in how it is told. I love the theme running through the story about the importance of communication and being true to your feelings, and the idea of fighting with words instead of weapons is a great way of conveying that theme. The great cast of characters also helps hold the plot together. Though Alice 19th comes off as being a plot-based story, I think it’s more enjoyable if you look at it as a character study. I don’t think I would have liked it as much if not for the characters, who make up for the weaknesses in the plot.

Loner Alice is very different from the usual Watase heroine, lacking the extroverted personality of say, Aya from Ceres or Tanpopo from Imadoki. I tend to like all of Watase’s female leads — yes, even the much-hated Miaka from Fushigi Yugi — but Alice is the only one I personally identify with. Like Alice, I tend to keep my feelings and opinions to myself, not wanting to cause trouble or take the risk of being hurt. I also can empathize with having a prettier and more popular sister (though in my case, I’m actually the older sister) and not having any close friends. In a lot of ways, reading Alice’s story is like reading my own diary, so it was very easy for me to understand her feelings and root for her to succeed.

I also really liked Kyo, who gets some fantastic character development throughout the series. Coming across at first as simply a nice guy with a penchant for using multi-syllabic words in conversation, as the reader learns more of his sad backstory, it is clear that he has a dark side to him that he tries very hard to hide from others and overcome. His feelings for Mayura and Alice are also refreshing in that, because of the things that happen in his backstory, he doesn’t really understand what he feels for them at first. It’s more realistic than falling for either one of them at first sight, and his confusion comes across as very believable.

Then there’s Frey, who is tons of fun. He’s the comic relief in the story, a shameless flirt who decides Alice will be the girl he marries the very first time they meet. Though he’s never a serious contender for Alice’s love, Frey and Kyo develop this great friendship/rivalry that leads to some of the series’ biggest laughs (and, I’m sure, fuels the slash-y dreams of yaoi fangirls). Like everyone else in the series, though, he too has a tragic past that he has to overcome. His story is probably the saddest in the series, in fact; I just wish it had been more foreshadowed in the beginning. As written, it kind of seems to come out of nowhere.

Disappointedly, the other three Lotis Masters who join the trio later on are not as fleshed out — another reason why I feel the manga needed to be longer. Chris, arriving about mid-way in the series, gets an adequate amount of development, I suppose, but most of the information about Mei Lin and Billy comes solely from their profiles. It’s quite frustrating because the two of them had the potential to be such awesome characters. Mei Lin is a cute up-an-coming starlet from China, while Billy is an African-American postal worker (of all professions) who grew up living in the projects. Though even a few of the minor villains are given short backstories to explain their motivations, the two of them are practically ignored and might as well not even exist. I honestly don’t see the point of introducing them if Watase wasn’t going to do anything with them. (There is a bonus short story at the end of the last volume about one of Mei Lin’s ancestors meeting Nyozeka and learning one of the Lotis Words, but I’d say that hardly counts as Mei Lin’s backstory.) 

As this is Yuu Watase we’re talking about, the artwork is gorgeous, of course. Though some may criticize the lack of individuality in her characters’ looks from series to series, I think the majority of the characters in Alice 19th actually have a distinct look to them compared to her other characters (except for Kyo, who looks a lot like most of her male leads. Still hot, though). I also liked the designs of the various mara they have to face and thought the battles were well drawn.

On the whole, Alice 19th is a decent series, but it could have been even better had some things been expanded on. There was so much potential… When asked what manga series I would like to see turned into an anime, Alice 19th is always at the top of my list. The manga laid the groundwork for what could be an awesome 52-episode (or even longer!) anime series, in which Alice and Kyo properly master all the Lotis Words and Mei Lin and Billy get an expanded role. It could be like the anime for Card Captor Sakura, which took an already wonderful manga and made it even better! (Heck, Alice even looks like an older Sakura.) Too bad that will probably never happen, but a girl can dream, right?

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