Alice to Zouroku is based off of a manga which I have never read, so I didn’t know what to expect going into this first episode…
And I was pleasantly surprised! (Interestingly, this first episode is around 45 minutes long, though that’s not the only “surprise” I refer to here.) Don’t let its premise or cover art fool you; Alice to Zouroku has a wide audience appeal, with action-packed battles, heart-warming moments, and an underlying “mature” vibe through its themes, characters, and humor.
The first episode starts right in the middle of a “chase,” as a corporation of some sort is trying to track down a little girl, Sana. She (and several other characters introduced) has a power called “Alice’s Dream,” which seems to be the ability to materialize and control things by using crystalline ammunition. Not much information is directly revealed about this power, except that the corporation captures people who have this power and performs unpleasant experiments on them.
Sana briefly loses the pursuing corporation in the midst of a populated city, where she runs into a grumpy old man named Zouroku. The corporation tracks her down again, and Zouroku (without really much choice) helps her escape a second time. They get separated after being questioned by the local police about the damage done during the chase, but Sana eventually “transports” to Zouroku while he’s eating dinner (somewhat to his annoyance), decides that she “likes him,” and humorously declares Zouroku her servant… before being disciplined by Zouroku about respect.
Zouroku does eventually decide to help her for the time being and lets her live at his place, but lays down strict rules that she work hard and pull her own weight. The episode ends with Sana passing out in her room due to the strenuous journey she’s endured.
Looking back at episode one of Alice to Zouroku, three big things stand out to me: the pacing, the animation, and the characters.
Pacing: Even though “The Red Queen Escapes” is double the length of a conventional anime episode, I was engaged in the story the entire time, and the length actually seemed appropriate for what the episode covered (it still felt like one episode, rather than two small arcs forced together). There aren’t any “dull” moments, yet the story doesn’t feel the need to constantly throw things at the viewer to keep them entertained. The plot’s progression is natural, with the main characters’ introductions smoothly weaved in. The story is allowed to “breathe” at appropriate times, and be action-heavy at appropriate times–a perfect balance.
Animation: The animation style is especially interesting. The words “new” and “refreshing” come to mind. Everything looks very clean and smooth, especially the surrounding environments. The design of the characters (specifically their faces) is equally unique. I don’t usually focus as heavily on the art and animation of anime as I do on its other technical aspects (often, because many anime share the same generic art patterns), but all things considered, the art in Alice to Zouroku stands out to me, even during its more mundane moments. It’s simply enjoyable and entertaining to watch come to life.
Characters: The manner that characters are introduced goes hand-in-hand with the show’s pacing. This first episode doesn’t hold the viewer’s hand and, instead, makes them figure things out on their own. Sana is introduced from the very start of the episode, and she’s far from the only character viewers meet by the episode’s end. Little to nothing is directly revealed about these characters, with all developments taking place through interactions, dialogue, and behaviors. It’s very much “show, don’t tell” at its finest, which makes Alice to Zouroku‘s storytelling attractive from the opening scene.
Although the main characters introduced so far seem individually complex (my interest is piqued by all of them), I think that the one who really shines above the rest is Zouroku. He’s a brilliant character, and one that doesn’t come around too often in anime. He’s very honest, up-front, values respect and others’ safety, and points out things that typically gets brushed over in anime as… well… anime. For instance, he scolds and disciplines Sana, Asahi, and Yonaga for childishly having a full-out battle in the streets, destroying property and putting lives in danger. He’s a very strong “father/parent” character, and the unlikely friendship that gradually forms between him and Sana is sure to become even more interesting as the series progresses. Zouroku doesn’t seem as fazed as others when witnessing the “Alice’s Dream” power that Sana blatantly uses in front of him, which further adds to the intrigue of his character.
Overall, Alice to Zouroku has caught my attention in a way that hasn’t happened in a while. The humor is refreshing and interesting, the characters are original (or at least delightfully re-imagined), and the unique art style complements the professional pacing of the story. I’m looking forward to seeing where the season ends up!
Spiritual Content: There’s a point where one of the “Alice’s Dream” users jumps through the air, pushing off of a “magical” circular step containing the shape of hexagram (among other symbols) in the middle; but this (along with everything else the users construct) is connected to the “Alice’s Dream” power, which has more of a “super-power” vibe than a religious/spiritual one.
Violence: There are battles in the streets between those with the power of “Alice’s Dream,” which includes giant fists, bow and arrows, and giant wrecking balls. Many buildings, structures, and objects are destroyed during these fights.
Language/Crude Humor: “D*mn” (x1) and “h*ll” (x3) are used.
Sexual Content: None.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Zouroku buys a pack of cigarettes from the store. He smokes and drinks alcohol during dinner.
Other Negative Themes: None.
Positive Content: We can see what “loving your neighbor” (Mark 12:31) looks like in a practical way through Zouroku–how he disciplines the children on responsible behavior (getting them to think about others rather than themselves), and how he helps someone he doesn’t know (Sana) by buying her (a lot of) food for dinner and providing her with a place to stay, even at great personal risk.
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