Alice and Zoroku
An elderly florist named Zoroku Kashimura encounters a hungry little girl who seems strangely naïve- and who possesses even stranger powers. The girl is being called the Red Queen (and has a tiny crown atop her head to prove it.) She enlists Zoroku in her efforts to remain free, and in particular avoid capture by The Facility, the place where she came from. The Facility enlists its inmate kids (and one adult) with comparable psychic powers- collectively, such people are called Dreams of Alice- to take back the Red Queen (whom Zoroku renames Sana) by force, even while Zoroku is trying to help Sana lead a normal child's life.
Alice and Zoroku makes quite a few references to Lewis Carroll- it even has a Wonderland, complete with rabbit and Cheshire Cat, and other Carrollian accoutrements- and so maybe it is fitting that this show's sweetness is tempered with some pretty "dark" characters, for there was a terrifying side to Carroll's own work that is normally not appreciated- the Alice books contain quite a bit of creepiness and subtle allusions to death- my wife says they actually gave her nightmares as a child- and Carroll's "epic poem" The Hunting of the Snark is PURE nightmare, a surreal journey into the abyss. One complaint I have about Alice and Zoroku is that its cartoonishly simplistic character art is really much more suited to a light comedy than to the show's darker themes (and characters.)
Alice and Zoroku is composed of two story arcs, each one featuring a "dark" Dream of Alice character. In the first arc, it's an older female who has already succumbed to the darkness in her soul; the second features a younger female who'd like to fight her personal darkness but thinks that it's futile. (With one exception, all the Dreams of Alice we see are female.) The first of these is a woman named Minnie C. Tachibana, usually just referred to as "Minnie C." She's the chief pursuer of Sana for The Facility; The Facility has taken advantage of a certain obsession of hers, and has secured her cooperation by promising her a fulfillment of that obsession that I'm pretty sure they can't actually deliver. Minnie C. is callously, unspeakably cruel to Sana, and rationalizes this by saying Sana isn't "really" a child, which may be technically true. But Sana doesn't only LOOK like a child- she also THINKS like a child, having a child's sensibility, a child's worldview, and a child's lack of experience- in short, she really IS a child in every way except her origin. It seems Minnie C. has to justify her villainy somehow- she reminded me of Breaking Bad's Walter White in her ability to make excuses for the worst conduct imaginable- because that promise of fulfilling her desire trumps everything else for her. (Minnie C. is voiced by Mamiko Noto, who over the years has gone from only doing "sweet" characters, to doing edgier sorts of women (in Princess Resurrection and Sweet Blue Flowers), to here finally playing a monster. She's certainly proven a versatile VA.)
By a rather convenient coincidence for the plot, Zoroku knows the very people in government who can help Sana fight against The Facility- whose ranks include a rather powerful Dream of Alice herself, one Ichijo Shizuku. (When working as a Dream of Alice Ichijo wears a costume that struck me as a cross between that of a maid, and that of a governess.) I won't deny that the action sequences near the end of this arc are exciting, but the ending seemed a bit abrupt- and left numerous obvious questions unanswered, which bugged me no end. Unfortunately, the second arc will do much the same thing.
As broadcast, in between the first arc and the second the show does a story reprise ("clip") episode. While this has become, in my view, sadly common of late- this is so obviously a cost-cutting measure for the studio- in fairness Alice and Zoroku does put a little "value added" here by letting the voice actors present the clips, talk about their work on the show, and give a little preview of the second arc. This is the kind of thing that I wouldn't have minded at all as an extra on the DVD, but making it part of the show as broadcast...still strikes me as filler.
Both story arcs chronicle Sana's increasing adjustment to society, and her increasing attachment to Zoroku and his granddaughter Sanae in particular. A running joke is that Zoroku is the kind of authority figure who can command, and RECEIVE, obedience from kids- even from the ones The Facility was employing to catch Sana. He "hates crooked stuff", as he says. And maybe even some of the Facility kids might be brought around, in time.
Arc Two is mainly about a Dream of Alice kid named Hatori Shikishima who has no idea (at first) that there are others like her. She DOES know that she has this power to make others do her bidding; she also fears her parents are splitting up, and cannot resist the temptation to do something about that. Hatori has a best friend named Ayumu Miho who wants to help her, but doesn't know what to do either. The course of events ends up making it impossible to conceal the existence of the Dreams of Alice anymore, but again we have that perfunctory sort of ending that makes us wonder what happened afterward- in what would have been a difficult adjustment for literally everybody.
Still, there is a sweet little coda that lets us know that things must have basically worked out OK, even if we didn't see any of the details. And while, as I said, I wasn't much of a fan of the character art, I DID like the closing song (called "Chant").
It's taken me a while to write this review because I've had a hard time deciding between three and four stars for this one. I went four in the end mainly on the appeal of the show's strong leads, its frequent sweetness and good intentions, good action sequences, and its interestingly troubled individuals- and despite the fact that I didn't think the show delivered everything it promised, and the fact that I didn't think the art was appropriate for the heavier moments of the show, as well as a couple of specific things that annoyed me: one was Zoroku's granddaughter Sanae's sing-songy voice; the other was some blatant product placement in Episode 5 (featuring the most realistic artistic rendition in the whole show; I guess that's what gets top priority, sadly.) — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: No fanservice. There IS some pretty shocking violence toward a child, however.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Alice and Zoroku © 2017 J. C. Staff
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