You guys asked for it, so here it is. Alice & Zoroku is a show that I watched as it aired but dropped around episode 3 or 4 due to a lack of interest and that exams were taking full control of my schedule. First of all, thank you to everyone who told me to give this another shot because this show had a lot more going for it than I gave credit for. Not only mixing up the general supernatural escaped test subject premise that’s been done to death but working so well to present its own themes entirely. Albeit a bit late, here are my full thoughts on Alice & Zoroku.
Alice & Zoroku
AN EXQUISITE STORY OF POWER ENTWINED WITH A CONCOCTION OF ANIMATION STYLES
ADVENTURE, MYSTERY | ANIMATED BY J.C STAFF | DIR: SAKURABI, KATSUSHI
The Premise of the Show
Sana is a supernatural ‘princess’ with a temper who has escaped the clutches of a hidden research facility. Like the other children of the facility, Sana harnesses the power of Alice’s Dream, where the possibilities are merely limited by her own strength. During her escape she encounters an elderly gentleman by the name of Zoroku, a stern man of rules, honour and respect. Now caught up in the hidden manhunt of Sana (known as The Red Queen), how will the pair cope with the all of Japan’s strongest forces on their tail – waiting at every corner.
Phenomenal Feature-Length First Episode
One of the main reasons this show peaked my interest (aside from the CG Mini Cooper screenshots that seemed to plague my timeline) was the fact that its episode one promoted a 40+ minute run-time. This immediately gave me an insight into how the staff planned to pace the series – and they did it spectacularly. Although as a concept, the whole supernatural experiment children idea has been done many times before, Alice & Zoroku decided to take time to ease their audience into their characters and plot points.
Obviously, this does has its inevitable downfalls. Logically, when you double an episode’s run-time, its quality should decrease by about the same factor and although its animation did wobble at times, it was never too distracting. Okay, so the CGI was off-putting and – whether intentional or not – did break away some of the engagement in the more active sequences. However, J.C Staff are an experienced studio and showed it in this first episode. Within those forty minutes alone, I must’ve taken around 20 screenshots of frames that I thought looked brilliant. Although some of the episode’s action looked peculiar in motion, it’s undeniable that whoever was in charge of story boarding and directing these shots knew what they were doing.
An unexpected balance of seriousness and silliness
In focusing your brooding story of child experiments and supernatural warfare around an energetic young girl, it’s difficult to consistently sustain that gritty tone. Thankfully, this show doesn’t attempt to do so, instead opting to work its story around the characters within it. A common theme within shows of this nature are emotionless characters, detached from a sense of feeling through their stressful upbringing. Alice & Zoroku decides to relegate this idea to a side character and keep its audience honed in on a hyperactive free-spirit which enables a series of pleasant human interactions to splice up the admittedly brutal story behind it.
Specifically, interactions between Sana and Sanae proved to deliver a much needed change of pace to this show. With Sana being oblivious to the formalities of the real world, Sanae’s “older sister” nature works wonders for developing the cast of characters as a whole. Not to mention her refusal to conform within one character trope, both narratively functioning as a mentor while still retaining her personality of a relatively ordinary girl. To me, Sanae acts as a mould for the majority of the characters within this series, much more than the typical “straight man” to emphasise the ridiculous nature of those around her.
Not the action adventure I expected; something much more
As always, I very rarely spend my time reading manga so most of the shows are a completely new experience. This show was no exception and my thoughts going into it are completely different to those having finished. From the previews and key visuals, this show seemed to be a hectic and heart-pumping action show focusing on an older gentleman and a small girl. However, this is only half truth as I feel this show presents so much more than a simple battle anime. With a clear focus on the show’s characters and their growth as people regardless of their history is where Alice & Zoroku really shine. Even though this show was advertised to me as a supernatural adventure into the realm of magic and mystery, I can’t honestly say I was disappointing when that wasn’t what I got.
Something about this show feels so pure and heartwarming. Perhaps the beautifully composed soundtrack, boasting a concoction of electronic, orchestral and more experimental pieces are what enhanced the already powerful sequences present. Just when you think a serious moment is going too far, the soundtrack will adapt and alter the mood entirely to the benefit of the spectator’s emotional response. Without such a fluid and expansive collection of tracks, this show would never be able to convey the multitude of themes and emotions that it pulls off so effortlessly. The most enjoyable scenes in this show are where the main cast are relaxed and finally free of danger. As a viewer, you wait with baited breathe in the high intensity sequences to resolve peacefully – not only for the sake of the characters but for your own enjoyment.
A surprisingly engaging narrative of the mind
One of my favourite aspects of this show is how quickly the writers ditch the concept of the research facility and use it as a base of origin rather than a focal point in the narrative. So many of these shows use a child test subject as their protagonist and proceed to neglect that aspect of the story. There is so much to this show that revolves around Sana’s coming of age and growth as a character that sets it apart. I’m not quite sure if “unpredictable” is the word to describe the show’s narrative but it definitely doesn’t take a route that I personally expected. Even in the later episodes, new aspects and plot elements are introduced which (combined with each episode’s cliffhanger) keep viewers coming back each week. Although my initial focus was on this show’s blend of hand drawn and CGI animation, it was the compelling narrative that kept me hooked through the latter half.
I can’t stress how important it is that this show revolves around such a young and impressionable character as Sana. Born into captivity and moulding an entire fantasy world of imagination, her new life in the outside world is one of mystery and growth. For me, I drew a lot of parallels between this show and Flip Flappers, a similar show in theme, genre and cast of characters. As someone who loves Flip Flappers, I have to admit that this show pulled off the intense amount of character development in a more effective manner. Observing Sana’s character in the first episode compared to that of the last is a truly awe inspiring feat to which the writers deserve all the credit they can get. Creating such a fresh story where admittedly unlikable characters can flourish so effortlessly is what I think makes this show as strong as it is.
Alice & Zoroku may not be the strongest show I’ve seen this year (perhaps not even this season), but it accomplished a lot more than I initially gave credit for. On a micro level, this show is a beauty to watch, with stunning mise-en-scene and a masterful execution of shot composition. Especially in the last few episodes where Wonderland became the setting, the staff really took advantage of the limitless opportunities that comes with a world created through a child’s imagination. Accompany that with a fantastic story that perfectly creates a cast of young characters without making their dialogue tiresome or unbelievable. This show has the potential to break your heart and make it soar. It gives me great pride to say that I was wrong about this show and to thank everyone who told me so. Alice & Zoroku is a great series that only improves in time, if you dropped it early on like I did, try and give it a second chance. You’ll more than likely be surprised. Not to mention this show has the catchiest opening of the season.