Tempest’s Downpour – Anime In-Jokes 3: Alice in Wonderland

Posted on May 05 2010

Wonderland must be some television station in Japan, because Alice tumbled down the rabbit hole and wandered her way into Japanese entertainment. She’s the main character, side character or if she doesn’t make an appearance she oftentimes has an institution, trophy or ritual named after her. And sometimes she’s behind the curtain, pulling the strings as she spirits people away and releases them into their own Wonderlands.

Why does Japan love Alice so much? There is almost no research done on this topic, so I can’t tell you what the professionals say. However, my personal belief is that Alice represents everything Japanese entertainment holds so dear: a young person going on an adventure and meeting zany, off-the wall characters along the way, with death threats and imposing bad guys and death threats sprinkled liberally. All she needs now is a mecha.

I may not be correct, but one thing is certain: Alice is everywhere. Stop in at the local bookstore, sit down to watch a movie, TV show or even a music video and she’ll be there. If you walk down the street, there will be Alice-themed gothic lolitas [1] and if you dash into a restaurant for peace, there is an Alice-themed eatery in Tokyo [2].

Alice's Restaurant
Pictures from the Alice-themed restaurant

For those of you who live under a rock or have violent phobias of pop culture and good literature, Alice in Wonderland is the story of a young girl who tumbles down a rabbit hole and finds herself in a curious world called Wonderland, where inanimate objects talk and rabbits wear waistcoats. It’s filled with enough puzzles to boggle Professor Layton and enough unusual anthropomorphs to fill a furry con.

There have been numerous film adaptations and even more works based off the hit novel, which sold out the minute it hit the shelves and has never been out of print [3]. Of course there was an anime adaptation that aired in the 1980’s [4] (and anyone who didn’t see that coming must revoke his/her Otaku License).

But Alice makes a bigger impression when she’s out of Wonderland. In Pandora Hearts, Alice tries to gain back her lost memories while all of her old friends from Wonderland cameo [5].

In the Bloody Roar game series, the main protagonist, Alice, is a young woman who can transform into a giant white rabbit and must do battle against others of her kind. Alice, as a running theme, is a big-boss or summon in the Megami Tensei RPGs, and Teddie even wins a crossdressing competition for his Alice costume in Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4.

Alice the Rabbit
Alice the Rabbit from Bloody Roar

Alice is a force to be reckoned with when mechas and psychic institutions are named after her. Kiddy Grade features Tweedledee and Tweedledum who pilot a ship known as the Cheshire Cat. Another mecha anime, Project ARMS has weapons named after Lewis Carroll’s characters. Dolls battle each other for the title of “Alice” in Rozen Maiden, and people with special powers called “Alices” attend psychic institutions in Gakuen Alice.

Alice grows more powerful the more omnipotent she becomes: she recklessly casts characters down their own rabbit holes to discover their twisted Wonderlands. Miyuki-chan in Wonderland is a prime example of that, mirroring the Alice tales with an adult and somewhat homoerotic theme. In Kyo Kara Maoh, Yuri tumbles down the rabbit hole (toilet, actually) into the demon world, and becomes the new king. Inuyasha, Haruka: In a Distant Time and Fushigi Yugi… this is all starting to sound familiar.

Then there’s the ever-popular “it was all a dream” episode. Ouran High School Host Club, Slayers Try and Cardcaptor Sakura all give their heroines cracktastic dreams about becoming Alice and wandering blindly through a Wonderland where all the characters resemble people they know in a twisted Wizard of Oz fashion.

Twin Cheshires
Hikaru and Kaoru from Ouran as the Cheshire Cats

Even Miyazaki is not immune to Wonderland’s influence. Spirited Away is its own Wonderland story, where Chihiro wanders into a mystical outside the realm of human reality, does battle against monsters and suffers under the tyranny of a selfish female villain who enslaved the colorful cast of characters.

In My Neighbor Totoro, Mei follows small creatures with long rabbit-like ears into the forest, tumbles down a hole and discovers a whole other world she never encountered before [6]. Later in the movie, she and her sister Satsuki take a ride on a cat-bus that strikingly resembles the Cheshire Cat.

Totoro standing beside the cat-bus

She made a cameo in Buck Tick’s music video “Alice in Wonder-Underground.” Visual Kei band Alice Nine wrote a song about her, and even artists like Tommy Heavenly6 have donned the blue-and-white dress for their music videos.

But why is Alice so special? It seems that tumbling down rabbit holes is the preferred mode of transportation, rather than flying or getting whisked away by a storm. Why don’t people attend Dorothy Academy or fight in mecha named “The Wendy Darling”?

Give me your thoughts/opinions/dissatisfaction. Feel free to comment or discuss in the forum how we can build an uprising against Alice’s monopoly.

[1] http://www.morbidoutlook.com/fashion/articles/2002_07_gothiclolita.html
[2] http://www.lacarmina.com/blog/2008/02/gothic-lolita-ginza-cafe-alice-in-wonderland/
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice%27s_Adventures_in_Wonderland
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fushigi_no_Kuni_no_Alice
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_based_on_Alice_in_Wonderland
[6] http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DownTheRabbitHole

The vast majority of material mentioned in this article has been viewed a ridiculous number of times by Tempest Wind because she’s a raving Otaku.

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  • EagleEyes May 6, 2010 at 2:13 AM

    A nice read tempest. I would say Rozen Maiden is a favorite of mine, as far as Alice stories go.


    Also I must point out that the Digimon Halsemon has attacks name “Eagle Eye” and “Tempest Wind”. That is all.

  • mollybibbles May 6, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    It has always boggled my mind as to why Alice is so ravingly popular in Japan.. I personally fell in love with Alice in the Country of Hearts. It seems even more twisted than the original story which was twisted in and of itself.
    Another fantastic article, Tempest!

  • Sandgolem May 6, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    Loved the Ouran Highschool Hostclub episode of Alice. Seems like Lewis Carrol influenced alot of people throughout the world. Even my own personal favorite author Roger Zelazny did many piece influenced by Alice.

  • toyNN May 6, 2010 at 9:22 PM

    Great article. Never really put together of all these Alice influences in anime but they are clearly there. I like your reasoning why – Alice is almost their template (even comes with a special neko).

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