Alice 19th, Volumes 1-7 (complete) / by Yuu Watase
Translated from the Japanese by Lance Caselman
Originally published as “Alice 19th”
by Shogakukan, Inc., 2001
9781591162155 (volume 1)
Verso (volume 1):
Alice Seno is a seemingly shy and meek girl who always seems to be outshined by her older sister Mayura. One day, Alice has an encounter with a mysterious and magical rabbit girl, and her life is turned upside down. Alice discovers that certain words have power, and that she has the potential to be master of a set of sublimely powerful words called the Lotis Words. But power always comes with a price, and the price may turn out to be Alice’s sister Mayura.
*also, I copied this image off of GoodReads. My copy has the correct spelling of “story” (not “sroty”) on the cover. If you’ve got a first edition of this manga, I’d love to know if it was sent out with this spelling error… because that’d be hilarious!
This is a series that I read relatively regularly, so this is certainly not my first experience with this.
But without reading it, and from the clue of the cover alone, it is pretty obvious what the “Alice” part of this title refers to. This is yet another (of seemingly hundreds) of manga that draw influence from Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. Watase has named her main character Alice, a girl who follows a white rabbit into the strange and wondrous landscapes of the human heart. There’s no escaping that comparison. But, rather than being a metaphor or having great meaning, I think this is just simple inspiration.
Which leads me to believe that the “19th” may also be as simple. There are no translation notes on this, and it is definitely not referenced in the manga as far as I can tell so it’s not clear why Watase called her series Alice 19th. I’ve finally taken to the internet to check this out, and now wonder if she isn’t referring to astrology. This is pure speculation on my part, but it could refer to the 19th lunar day, which according to some websites on this day:
- The world is ruled hard and unfavorable to human energy.
- There is great danger to succumb to evil networks.
- The day is associated with moral purification of the soul and conscience.
Which are all major themes in this manga. There is even talk on some sites about the difficult state of dating relationships. I can’t help but think that Watase found a day in the astrological calendar with a lot of intriguing fortunes, and built a manga around it.
From the side panels, where Watase discusses her writing inspiration, she does mention this as being her response to the 9/11 attacks that shook the world in 2001. In its essence this is a story about the use of words as a mode to peace or havoc; that words are the first and last source of healing or destruction.
I’m not confident in this interpretation though, so I don’t want to get into it too much. But certainly, at the time this was published, these events could very well have affected Watase’s story. But, in general, this feels like a story that Watase likes to tell.
She has pit two characters who have a close relationship against each other. Here Alice (the hero) is a naive yet sincere character who in a moment of jealousy [“Marsha Marsha Marsha!“] wishes her sister, Mayura, to disappear. Due to the power of her words, and the fact that Mayura is already struggling with her own dark feelings, sends Mayura into the darkness to be consumed by the evil Darva.
The story progresses with many elements seemingly taken directly from some of Watase’s most famous stories. If you’ve read Fushigi Yugi or Ceres The Celestial Legend, in particular, you’ll recognize character dynamics, relationship woes, plot twists, and even costume and character design in this series. This is only a bad thing if you’re not a fan of her other work.
I am obviously a huge fan. So, at only 7 volumes, I’m happy that I get some of the “best” elements of her two biggest series in this short work.
But because this is such a short series, some of the seemingly important characters are added too late in the series. Just before she is about to go and fight her last battle, Alice is joined by a small group of powerful Lotis Masters (magic users). They’re added, I believe, to make the battle more epic, more harrowing, and frankly more plausible. I don’t know how much I would have enjoyed the series if the frightening bad-guy who was going to destroy the world, was defeated easily by a small group of four untrained teenagers.
Unfortunately, these extras are merely caricatures; paper-thin characters without any depth or motive. There’s no time to flesh them out. An extra volume would have been satisfactory. So this is certainly disappointing.
I’m also a bit disappointed in how little we get from Mayura in this series besides feelings of jealousy. There has to be more to her hatred than worrying about her boyfriend, Kyō, falling for her sister. I understand that as she is consumed by the darkness her personality is also somewhat absorbed, but I don’t feel like much of what she says has weight since she seems to only have the one emotion. I always wish for a little more from her or to at least understand her feelings a bit better, since this is essentially a story about feelings.
Overall, I really enjoy this title. There are certainly some elements that I don’t care for, but most of them are due to the length of the series and therefore easily forgiven. I would recommend this series, especially if you’re looking for a romantic shōjo fantasy that focuses more on fighting inner demons than outer ones.
If you like this, you might also want to try:
- Ceres: The Celestial Legend / by Yuu Watase
- Fushigi Yugi / by Yuu Watase
- Sailor Moon (especially the Dead Moon Circus arc) / by Naoko Takeuchi
- Magic Knight Rayearth / by CLAMP
- Flower of the Deep Sleep / by Yuana Kazumi
- QQ Sweeper / by Kyousuke Motomi