Alice & Zouroku (& the Wandering Witch)

Posted on Apr 20 2017


Welcome, all, again. A new viewing season has begun and, to be honest, I’m not quite sold on it. Not yet, anyway. There are a number of series that show potential, and a larger number of maybes, or even maybe-nots. Very few shows this season have commanded my immediate attention; one that did, however, is Alice and Zouroku. And I was rather surprised by this. After all, we’ve been flooded with Alice interpretations over the years, to the point that it must have become one of the most instantly recognizable sub-genres in anime. Genre: magical girl/fantasy; sub-genre: Alice. I shied away from that log jam years ago. I pretty much avoided anything Alice-related in anime, and got solidly smacked-down with disappointment whenever I forgot my own rule of avoidance. But something strange and wonderful happened just recently, something called Flip Flappers. And I unexpectedly fell into an anime re-imagining–intentional or not–of Alice as two unique but interdependent personalities working in tandem to take on Wonderland in all its bizarre and sinister glory! It was like somebody had given my computer a hit of acid, and I got to ride for free. And what a ride! Suddenly, Alice no longer seemed like such a tired idea.


When Alice & Zouroku was announced, I was cautiously curious. The premise was certainly familiar, but the artwork looked bright and, well, fun. And I can think of many worse things to fall for than fun. But first, back to that familiar premise: children of extraordinary abilities are collected into a research facility for study, undergoing medical (and, one would assume, other) testing. Nothing new there, nor in the revelation that someone might want to escape such a dismal existence. See, the original thing is–get ready for it!–that the facility uses other research subjects to pursue the escapee. . .wait, no, we’ve seen that before, too. So, children isolated and then manipulated into chasing down one of their own number, who just happens to be a pretty, innocent young girl completely ignorant of the everyday world into which she’s escaped, alone and vulnerable. Pretty generic stuff so far. But just because the same recipe is used in preparing the same ingredients does not mean that a particular dish will taste the same everywhere it’s served! (What, have you already forgotten watching Food Wars?) The folks at J.C. Staff–and Tetsuya Imai, before them–have given us something special, here.


To begin with, there’s Zouroku; this guy is a masterpiece of character design! He’s old, and not interested in hiding it. He’s cantankerous, and happy to be so. And he’s so old-school that they probably didn’t even have schools back then! He’s not so much a stick-in-the-mud as the mud itself: quiet and resilient, indifferent to the masses. But not to his granddaughter, Sanae, nor to his employees at his florist shop. Those whom he cares about, he cares about deeply (however gruff his manner). But he also cares about ideals: honesty; integrity; doing a proper job; even pleasing his customers. He is what most people would call a curmudgeon, if most people knew the word curmudgeon. But while he firmly believes in good, old-fashioned discipline (no child under his roof will wind up spoiled because a rod got spared!), he also seems greatly offended by the idea of gratuitously hurting children.


And Sana, our escaped Alice, has indeed been gratuitously hurt while in the custody of the research facility. At least that’s her opinion of what happened, lent some credence by the fact that she might just die during the facility’s efforts to reclaim her. Sana is a young slip of a girl with sparkling eyes and an infectious smile, likable despite her awkward mannerisms. And although loathe to admit it, Zouroku is almost instantly concerned for and protective of her–even after her mere presence causes him to wreck and be taken briefly into police custody. (But check out some of that old-fashioned discipline meted out before the cops arrived–Sana and perps all in tearful contemplation together!) So while there’s plenty of action, this promises to be a character-driven show. And that’s a promising place to start.

Alice & Zouroku has a lot going for it. It’s formulaic premise will virtually guarantee a default audience, as will its genre and sub-genre affiliations. Quality story-telling will then exponentially expand that audience. Character exposition is another of this show’s strengths, although it’s so strong that it might eventually somewhat inhibit character development; we’ll see how that plays out. And the artwork, while for the most part stylistically unexceptional, is nonetheless well-done and creates a warm, welcoming mood for the viewer. I like that, and I like this show. A lot. Maybe almost as much as Sana is starting to like that grumpy old man.

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