This is review number four hundred and one. This anime is part of the Spring 2017 lineup, and it’s called Alice to Zouroku. It’s a twelve episode anime that features Sven and Eve from Black Cat in a setting reminiscent of Usagi Drop. I bet there’s a fan fiction like that out there, but I don’t want to find out. Let’s just read on.
The anime follows a grumpy old man, named Zoroku, who takes a little girl, named Alice, in to live with him. Life is not easy with a child in the house, but it’s even difficult when she’s hiding from a group of people that kept her locked away in a research facility and she also has the power to virtually create problems magnified ten times. At the end of the day though, family sticks together and the two will persevere through it all.
Taking the Pants Off
This anime aired in Animax when it was released. I saw a commercial of it, and it’s about this cute loli girl meeting a grumpy old man. That sounds like a nice premise, right? It’s kinda like Usagi Drop, but without the shocking trauma, and I like that show a lot. I mean, a slow paced show about raising a kid is something I would really enjoy. The first episode didn’t feature a slow paced Slice of Life though. Nope, the anime opened with heavy rain and the loli girl escaping a place. She looks miserable, and the entire situation looks tense. My confusion about this slow paced show is nicely summed up with this image:
Is that a hairy arm? What the f*ck? This isn’t what Animax advertised. Damn them, they incepted me with the idea this show would be a cute little anime about everyday life. Well, actually it is but it doesn’t happen right away. From the promotional picture of the anime as well, we see Alice and Zoroku in a happy setting suggesting that they are living a quiet life. They didn’t feature any hairy arms, and I kinda wish they did. I want to know more about that weird arm. Where did it come from? How is it even possible that this thing exists in what was advertised as a Slice of Life show? When you watch this anime, questions really pile up and the worst part is that the show doesn’t really answer them satisfyingly. For anyone who wants to watch this anime, then be prepared. This show asks a lot from its audience, because you’re tasked to follow the plot. You’re not the only one trying to play catch up with the plot though, because the show is doing the same thing. It tried to do too much in such a short time, and the result is a rather confusing show where the status quo doesn’t settle until you’ve reached the second half.
I’m a big story slut though, so I do love this anime. The pacing is frantic and insane, but the potential of the narrative is really wonderful. The plot doesn’t really give you a decent payoff, but the main characters made this show special. Alice and Zoroku is the best part of this erratic anime. They helped the confusing story still come off as an endearing tale about relationships, while also being an action packed story about people with super powers. There’s the first major problem of this anime: it’s a slice of life show and it’s also an action packed affair. It could work, really. I’ve seen worst genre combinations, and this show doesn’t even crack the top twenty of overambitious shlocks. The problem with the genre combination is that the lack of exposition really got in the way, and the anime didn’t really provide a status quo to keep the show stable.
The anime opened with hairy arms-kun attacking Alice. Sure enough, she meets Zoroku after that encounter. Naturally, you’d expect the action stuff to be a side story while the show focuses on the growing bond between the two main characters. The anime didn’t really do that. Instead, the first episode explodes into a car chase. Nothing is explained. No one is properly introduced, and the characters are just thrown into one situation after the other. Alice went from escaping a disembodied arm to being chased by two girls with superpowers as well. The show never bothered to explain what the girls are, and they didn’t set a ground rule about the girls’ powers. It isn’t told in an exposition dump, but some rules are still mentioned. The girls are big eaters, their powers are all different and the entire thing is a conspiracy. So after seeing a grandpa subjected to an exciting car chase, the anime just resumes its slice of life pacing as if the action never happened. It’s horrible storytelling, because the audience is never really taken into account. Does it matter that we should follow the story? Someone ask the director.
I love this anime though, because of the main characters. Alice is a kid, and she acts like a kid. She is impulsive, childish, naïve and stubborn. If you’ve ever taken time to speak with a child, then you’d smile at how Alice behaves. She knows little about the world, and she’s just a kid with low impulse control that needs someone to really take care of her. Most child anime characters are often presented as responsible and smart. They’d usually be doing house chores, they’d act as the mother figure to the main character, or they’d be grown up enough to understand any situation. In a sense, child characters are often portrayed as “flawless”. We can’t blame them for anything, because they are kids. They know nothing, and that’s alright. This isn’t the case for Alice, because the character doesn’t level with the audience or their expectations. No, the audience is asked to understand Alice instead. It’s a wonderful reversal that also feels obvious when you think about it. The first time you see this child meet with a caring adult, everything just falls into place.
Alice and Zoroku play off each other wonderfully as well. While the story goes bonkers about government conspiracies and children subjected to shady things inside a research facility, the two main characters are kinda in a bubble of their own. None of the other things matter as long as Alice and Zoroku are together. While Alice can be a wild kid that isn’t properly disciplined, Zoroku is actually a stern parental figure. He is in his twilight years, and the guy has enough wisdom to understand the things Alice cannot. He also seemed to have lived long enough to realize life doesn’t really surprise him anymore. When Alice disappeared in front of him, the guy doesn’t really blink. When chased down the street by a flying anchor and arrows, the guy would just reserve all his emotions for when he gives a stern talking to the kids that are doing it. He is an amazing character. In the first episode, after being bloodied by the car chase, Zoroku just disciplines the two kids that attacked him. He never asked questions or freak out about the situation. He just knows that the kids are kids, and they need to get a stern talking to. Paired with Alice’s impulsive tendencies, Zoroku comes off as an amazing character. And just like the rest of the people that instantly loved him, I want Zoroku to give stern talking to other anime villains as well. Put him in One Piece and let’s see what happens.
You can count on the two main character as the very base of the series, and this helps a lot when the following episodes goes from slow SoL to intense shoot-a-child-in-the-leg action. The first five episodes of the anime is actually the show’s first chapter. We were just thrust into a chapter without the main premise being properly established. This can get confusing as well, because you don’t expect the anime to wrap up its narrative in the fifth episode. The show has twelve episodes, so there’s time to deliver everything in a less confusing fashion. Thanks to the five episode limit though, the plot is always going on a brisk pace. An episode about eating pancakes turns into a show about Zoroku having connections to people that knows about Alice. After being acquainted to the new characters, the plot goes insane again by featuring a kidnapping, a backstory about hairy arms-kun, and then a big blow off on a moving ship that has a giant Trojan horse suddenly appear on its deck. Doesn’t the first five episode sounds fun? I think you kinda understood the show entered a chapter (a subplot that wraps up in a few episodes) during the third episode, but the anime doesn’t clearly express that. After all, they were talking about pigs for a few seconds, and then we suddenly see a child get shot in the leg in the same episode. It’s a bit too much.
While the first chapter is also being presented rapidly in the first five episodes, the anime also establishes one main plot point: the Dreams of Alice. This show features girls having special abilities, and they call out this cute ring to activate their powers. Nothing is really explained about them though, and the audience is asked to piece things by themselves. All that was ever established is that Alice is some kind of “queen”, Dreams of Alice can manifest to anyone and not just kids, and there are people trying to know more about them. The anime heavily featured twins that have special powers, a woman that have more than one ability, a little boy that can draw things to find someone, and a widow desperately trying to cling to her past. All are interesting characters, but the anime never explored them properly. In fact, half of these interesting characters are gone after the fifth episode. Alice’s origin, her powers and the true nature of Dreams of Alice serves as a major plot point for the entirety of the anime. It goes beyond the first chapter, and it’s discussed deeper in the second chapter. When I say discussed, the anime doesn’t really deliver expositional dumps. It’s just that Dreams of Alice is a talking point for the next chapter.
Once the first chapter closes, the anime does get significantly better. The slow paced Slice of Life that the anime initially advertised is finally presented in the following episodes. It just follows Alice knowing more about the world, Zoroku being awesome in his job as a florist and their everyday life together. I think I appreciated the SoL aspect more, and it’s thanks to the insane things the characters went through in the first chapter. After all, they went through so much, and so many emotional moments add to their special relationship. So it’s really just a matter of pacing yourself to the insanity of the first chapter to truly enjoy what the show has to offer. I think the anime just wanted to cover a lot of the original source, and I think its fine. Knowing everything that Alice endured gives you a better appreciation for the character. This kid is really special, and she deserves more moments to just be happy and safe. As I experience the anime go on a cool down, I think I also understand why the plot is so erratic. Alice had a very interesting line in the second chapter, when she was talking to another girl. She said:
“All the people i know are big, so when i talk about stuff like this, they don’t listen. I always feel so frazzled, but they’ll just say I’m doing great or I’ll understand when I’m older.”
This is the plot of the anime. I’ll now defend the anime’s poor presentation of its story. It goes back to the audience going down to Alice’s level. Remember, she is a kid that you need to understand. She isn’t some stereotype that you already know. Now that you’ve leveled with her, doesn’t the story seem to be in her point of view? Remember, we’re crouching down to her level, and seeing things as she sees it. The anime is now treating us as a child now, so exposition doesn’t really matter. The anime will just say that you’re doing great or you’ll understand when you’re older. Everything that happened in the anime doesn’t need a deep explanation for it, because the audience is nothing more than kids. They aren’t big adults, so they’ll never understand what Dreams of Alice are. Like kids, you can only rely on what you see and then go from there. This is also why Zoroku appears to look cooler, because he is an adult. This is why things that we don’t understand, like seeing kids attack each other with arrows, doesn’t faze Zoroku as much. He is the adult, and we are just like Alice. The best we can do is just hope that Zoroku makes everything better in the end. Of course, the anime flips this over its head during the second chapter. When discussing the truth about “Wonderland”, a space Alice created, Zoroku doesn’t understand it. He is now the child, and someone bigger than him is patting him on the head and telling him “he’ll understand when he is bigger”, which kinda makes the storytelling inspired. This is just my own way of making the show feel special though. With its intricate care of delivering nostalgia and such, I feel like the story is intentionally warped for a reason. I can’t confirm it though, since the original source isn’t translated into English as of this posting. No one wanted an English translation of the manga, and that makes me sad.
The second chapter involves a new set characters, and it also explores the idea of Dreams of Alice some more. It focuses a lot of time on the new characters though, and it plays off Alice growing as a person. She keeps saying “moja moja” in the second chapter, and it ties in with the new character. The second chapter has some wonderful stuff, like parental neglect and its effect on the person, and it also quietly moves away from the action packed story that it told in the first chapter. The second chapter is so satisfying, story-wise, that I really wanted more after the show ended. It feels like there are more things to explore and to understand, and I hope this anime gets another season. Considering that we can’t continue by reading the manga, then another season just feels right. I also want to see more of the two main characters growing together. I smiled constantly in the second chapter, because Alice is just so clingy to Zoroku. Her growth as a character is great that even the supporting characters acknowledge it.
This is an amazing anime from JC Staff. I know some people won’t like the first few episodes, since it does break the three episode rule, but I think the structure of the anime really makes it special. I mostly just love the fact that JC Staff is really delivering some great anime, and it’s reminiscent of the time they once matched Production IG in terms of how many good anime they are releasing. I missed a lot of their shows though, since I’m stuck watching 2014 shows, and I do hope I can catch up soon. I bet there’s one show that sucked between 2014 and 2017, and it’s my job to complain about it. This show is directed by Katshushi Sakurabi. I knew the guy when he directed Heaven’s Memo Pad, but I think he improved long after that anime. This show had some problems, but I think he did a wonderful job at presenting the show. He gave us a look at the world in both an adult and a kid’s point of view, and I really appreciate that. He also cared enough to give us some nice nostalgia pieces in the character design, and even the awful CG in the first episode. I mostly like the way he paced the anime though. The action and the SoL didn’t really conflict with each other, and he knew how to switch from one to the other. It was erratic and sudden, but it didn’t really ruin the show. Since I can’t access the manga, I also can’t tell if the author did intentionally want this kind of erratic pace. All I know is that I like it, and it made the show special.
Sight and Sound
Tetsuya Imai’s character design is actually a lot more childish than the ones in the anime. You could say that they look more like actual elementary students than the loli characters in the show. I do think it’s a smart move for JC Staff, since presenting Imai’s design makes the characters too real. I mean, seeing Zoroku with an actual child just has its dangers, especially with how naïve and impulsive Alice is. The manga design works a lot more effectively though, since Alice’s over the top cuteness works immensely with the design. Seeing her explore her world with wide eyed enthusiasm becomes a lot more interesting with Imai’s actual design. I like JC Staff’s changes though, since it gives us a sense that Alice can be an adult too. I dunno. I can only access the images and not the actual source, so it’s hard to know how they truly differ. I think the anime captured the vision of Imai though, since his playful story does translate well in the show. In terms of design, the characters doesn’t really standout that much. Aside from the kid characters, Zoroku is the only one that has a memorable design. I mostly like his eyes, but the rest of the cast isn’t as interesting. Aside from different hair colors, they don’t really have anything else. This works for the SoL aspect of the anime though, so it’s fine. Their personalities are a more stand out than their actual design. I do love Alice’s Lolita dress. The frills and the layers just look cool, and it really defines Alice. There are some characters with unique outfits as well, and I think the Dreams of Alice characters have their own look that truly defines them. The kimono wearing widow’s design compliments her characters, and the magic girl outfit of Shizuku defines her awesome character as well.
The animation is pretty great. Aside from the stiff and awful looking CG car chase scene from the first episode, I think the animation really made the show special. With the director’s talent to switch the pace of the show, the anime would feature intense action scenes with complex camera angles, and it would also feature intricate normal animation for the SoL. The detail work is really great for both genres. While the fights themselves aren’t really incredibly paced, the way it presents the superpowers are really well done. The tone and the atmosphere of the story compliment the action it’s presenting, and I love that. Detail is also given to normal stuff like Alice discovering her world, the way she enthusiastically walks the street and even simple scenes like eating food. They all look smartly presented, but the animation really becomes excellent when the show features the reactions of the characters. Alice’s reactions really make her come to life, because they’re all vibrant and expressive. A story can be told just from her expressions, going from this:
And then this:
It’s not just Alice though. Every character has some great facial expressions. I still remember the detective from the first episode. The way he reacted to Alice disappearing from the police station really puts an exclamation point on that moment. Facial expressions are also key for complex characters like the widow. She has one fixed expression, but it also has some variety in them. She knows how to react to a moment with just one expression, and that’s just amazing animation at its best.
The anime’s OP is “Wonder Drive” by ORESAMA. This is a duo group consisting of the singer, Pon, and musician/trackmaker, Kojima. I love this song, because it just sounds really cool. Pon’s way of singing is really enchanting, and the musical arrangement just feels vibrant and happy. This duo is amazing, and I want to hear more of their songs. I fell in love with the song thanks to the OP sequence though. The lyrics about casting aside doubt and just exploring new things nicely coincides with Alice’s journey in the anime. This journey is interlaced in the OP as well, along with her relationship with Zoroku. The way the characters are introduced is also nicely done in the OP, and it also highlights the facial reactions that make the anime amazing.
The anime’s ED is “Chant (kotringo edition)” by toi toy toi. I love Masumi Itou’s voice. Ever since she did the song for Azumanga Diaoh, I instantly fell for her voice. It’s easy to spot as well, but it’s odd that the song credits a group. I guess she’s in a band, but I’m not sure. I just love how unique and vibrant her voice is. The song is weird though, because it has white blood cells in its lyrics. It might be a translation error, but I don’t think so. I guess it’s just weird like that, or maybe it’s a direct description of Alice. The song talks about owning your cells and becoming who you truly are. It’s a good thing the melody is just fascinating to listen to. The ED sequence simply features Alice walking, and I actually love it. It captures her character nicely, but also nods to the zaniness of Wonderland.
8/10 “The story might feel like a mess, but the characters are strong enough to make this series worthwhile.”
The first five episodes will be the biggest hurdle for this anime. The story and the pacing are so fast and abrupt that it doesn’t really settle. Once the first chapter closes though, then the beauty of the anime truly shines. The amazing characters are nicely presented, their relationship grows with them and I guarantee you that the closing scene of the anime will give you mix feelings. It’ll make you smile, but also sad in a wonderfully indescribable way. It’s a great payoff to the messy first half of the anime. This show certainly won’t appeal to many people, but its beauty is undeniable. It’s an experience worth trying, so I highly recommend it.