While I don’t run my Secret Stars of Anime column anymore, one of my motivations for blogging is still to talk about various shows that are not as popular in the greater anime fandom, so as to expose the show to more people and give some love to these shows. In the spirit of my former column, starting from now, after a season ends I will look over the shows I watched that season and highlight a relatively overlooked show that I enjoyed the most. For the Spring 2017 season, I will be highlighting my favorite show of the season, Alice & Zoroku (Japanese title: Alice to Zouroku). A number of people seemed to have been turned off by the first episode of this show, either because of the admittedly horrendous CG used in the action scenes, or by the show’s unusual mix of heavy action sequences with more relaxed slice-of-life scenes, leaving some confused about the nature and direction of the show. However, after the first season, the use of CG more or less completely disappeared, and not only does the mixture of action and slice-of-life make sense for the story’s themes, but the second half of the show moves away from the action overall for a more character-based drama with fantastical elements that works better with the slice-of-life elements. All of this is in support of one of the best character-driven shows of the entire year, with plenty of heartwarming moments and lots of good themes to think further about.
The story stars Sana, a young girl and one of a number of people with “Dreams of Alice”, superpowers spanning a variety of abilities. While most people with such abilities are limited to one specific power, though, Sana has the ability to do almost anything she can think of, as long as she has the energy to do so. This is in part because she was “born” from a mysterious underground cocoon, attached to a mysterious place called “Wonderland”. After she was discovered, she was raised in a laboratory run by a secret organization trying to study these powers for what they can bring to society, but she hated the life of constant experiments on her and others in the lab, so one day she stages an escape. During this escape, she runs into Zoroku, an old florist, and decides she likes him enough to make him her servant, though Zoroku would have none of that. Nevertheless, after getting caught up with her pursuers and learning about her situation, he decides to take her in.
As I mentioned, this show explores lots of good themes, which is one reason why I love this show so much. This time, I will be looking a bit at many of those themes, in a post that is mainly about promoting a somewhat under-appreciated show like I might have done with my old Secret Stars of Anime column, though even if you don’t watch this show, I hope these themes will give you something to think about.
Obviously, family is one of the big themes of this show. The show is, after all, yet another in the long list of shows about taking care of children that I just can’t seem to get enough of. There are a few notable differences here, of course. Zoroku is much older than most of the caretakers of such shows, and he is already an experienced guardian, taking care of his granddaughter Sanae after her parents’ death. His no-nonsense attitude also contrasts with most of these caretakers with more caring natures; Zoroku prefers to show his care through discipline and teaching Sana right from wrong. Sanae is also around to provide warm big-sister affection, too, and overall the show makes it clear just how much happier Sana is with these two than with her life back at the research facility.
Where things get especially interesting is the second half of the show, where a second protagonist of sorts enters the picture: Hattori, an ordinary girl about the same “age” as Sana who also gains Alice powers one day. Her family life is definitely much less happy, with her parents always arguing and her mom showing disappointment that she could not meet the high academic standards she set for her. How this ties in with the Alice power she gets and how she uses it is something you will have to watch to find out, but it does provide a strong contrast to Sana’s family and shows how family affects us, for better or for worse.
One of the most poignant scenes from the first episode of the show is when, Sana, after Zoroku agrees to take her in, sees a shelf of flowers for the first time. In contrast to the darker tones used in the rest of the episode, this moment is bright and full of color, showing Sana’s wonder at experiencing something beautiful beyond what she ever saw while at the lab.
It’s in moments like these that the slice-of-life aspects of this show really shine. The contrasts between the action sequences in the first half and the slice-of-life parts are most effective here. The action parts may be considered the more conventionally entertaining part, but they pretty clearly represent unideal circumstances for Sana. Thankfully, with the help of others around her, including Zoroku, she is able to shift to a more peaceful life. Appreciating the small joys of life is a common theme in slice-of-life shows, but it’s even more poignant here when contrasted to the chaotic life Sana has to escape from.
Selfishness and the value of life
Of course, a show about special powers will also go into what it means to use those powers. Many of the other Alice power holders have no problem with using their powers for personal gain, oftentimes at the expense of others. It’s one thing to see this from the children, for whom seeing how their powers affect others is a good learning lesson. However, the extent to which the researchers are willing to use and even mistreat the Alice holders, all in the name of research and the supposed benefit of humanity is sickening.
Even more disgusting is one character from the first half who is probably the most villainous person on the show, Minnie C. Tachibana. Admittedly she is something of a tragic villain, as her husband, a fellow military member, died in combat, and her Alice power involves conjuring up large forms of her husband’s arms, which she considers a way to maintain her bond with her beloved. She is interested in Sana as a possible means of bringing her husband back to life, which is why she will go to any lengths to take her back to the research facility. She even justifies it by saying how Sana is not really human, due to how she was “born” and how the sheer magnitude of her powers make her more of a monster. Thankfully Zoroku manages to set her straight on the value of Sana’s life and how, despite her origins, she is plenty human to care about.
The value of children
In addition to looking at the value of human life in general, Alice and Zoroku takes an especially close look at the value of children in our society. I could say more on this, but aniblogger iblessall has written an excellent piece on this subject already on his blog Mage in a Barrel, so go read that for more on this theme.
Learning about ourselves and the world
Sana, for all her powers, is ultimately an innocent, sheltered girl who wants to learn more about the outside world. Through her eyes, we get to see many things we might otherwise take for granted in a new light. She also, however, has to learn about her own self and her own feelings. She mentions how she’s good at math because of how its structured so that everything has a logical answer, but feels “frazzled” about more abstract subjects like literature. She feels that same confusion when her emotions get disturbed in various ways, as she does not quite know what those emotions are or how to deal with them.
All this plays into Sana’s true identity, which of course I will not be spoiling here. Overall, though, Sana is motivated to learn not just about the world, but also about herself and what it means to be human. It is something that makes sense given who she is, but even Zoroku mentions that he is much the same way: constantly experiencing new things and having to make sense of them. No matter how old we are, we all have the opportunity (whether by choice or not) to experience new things and learn more about the world and ourselves.
For a show to have this many themes (and more) in just one cour of content is already rather impressive, but Alice & Zoroku makes it all feel natural simply because of who Sana is and how she deals with the world. As such, even beyond all these themes, the show works simply as an adorable show about a young superpowered girl and the grandfather that adopts her. If you want to check this show out, it is streaming on Crunchyroll (Japanese with English subs) and Funimation (English-dubbed).