Sunday, July 31, 2011

Video Backlog: "Gakuen Alice"

Publisher: Nozomi Entertainment (Right Stuf, USA)
Format: Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles
Length: 26 Episodes x 25 minutes
Production Date: 2004 – 2005
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

One thing this becoming a rarity in the English language market is shoujo anime. Sure most of the CLAMP stuff has been released, but outside their work, girl’s stuff is hard to come by. While not a shining example of the genre, this show is still pretty fun. The story revolves around 10 year old ditz Mikan Sakura who decides to run away and follow her best friend Hotaru Imai, who has been accepted into the Alice Academy, a school which is apparently set up to take in geniuses. After an attempted kidnaping, she is saved by one of the school’s teachers, Narumi, who accepts her into the academy. However the school specifically recruits children that special powers which are called Alices. The students don’t initially accept Mikan because it seems she has no Alice. However Narumi is certain she has one.

Like a lot of shoujo anime, it is initially very humorous, but soon heads into territory I don’t particularly like. It’s to do with the way Mikan is treated by the school, the students and teachers. As you may have guessed, she’s treated pretty appallingly with threats by students and lots of teasing, a teacher who doesn’t like her or her Alice, and naturally she is given arduous tasks which she would have no way of completing successfully. But of course she smiles like an idiot all the while. And her so called friend, Hotaru Imai, is no help at all and is always rather cold to her, because she’s a genius. Once the show passes about the half way mark, things brighten up a bit. Mikan find the “freaks” in the school and finds acceptance and naturally the kids in her class magically begin to accept her, even though the situation has not really changed. I’ve never liked this melodramatic claptrap in shoujo, even when it’s done for laughs like it is here.

For the most part, the second half is pretty light and humorous, but there is a darkness behind the purpose of the school. It is brought out into the open by the end of the show, with the help of an outside group who is against what the school does, but it’s all wrapped up too neatly and conveniently at the end of the series. There are a couple of problems here. One is that the manga is still ongoing. Second they’ve toned down a lot of the darker elements that were in the manga. So the horror of what the school is up to is revealed and the fact that students can’t go home to see their parents, ever, is glossed over. Add in the appearance of the three principals of the school which is also glossed over and not explained or built on. There’s a lot of loose ends not tied up by the final episode.

So to sum up, it is a fun little show with quite a few laughs and some great characters. However it does seem rather unfinished and I was disappointed by that. I would like to see more shoujo available commercially in English, but of better quality than this one. I suppose “Rose of Versailles” is out of the question? But good on Nozomi for releasing this. I know this material isn’t a big seller. I did notice some rather major screw ups in the subtitles in the last episode. It’s not too distracting, but it is pretty disappointing. 6.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 24 months (it's much easier this way than listing the number of discs).

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