In this dreamy and dangerous version of Wonderland, a story repeats over and over. People are pulled into various roles: the Queen, the Hatter, the Duke and Duchess, and, of course, Alice. But Alice’s part in the story is risky—in fact, Wonderland has had eighty-eight Alices die so far. Each time, the White Rabbit must come to our world, find a new Alice, and bring her to Wonderland.
The eighty-ninth Alice is different. For one thing, he’s a boy—a sullen teen who doesn’t seem to remember much of his past life. For another, the White Rabbit didn’t bring him to Wonderland, he got there on his own somehow. Desperate to find a meaning for his existence and to have a name of his own, the boy seizes upon the role of Alice. And what is that role? Well, this boy may not yet know everything that’s expected of him, but the Queen of Hearts has made one thing clear: Alice’s main goal is to kill the White Rabbit.
Under the protection of the taciturn, gun-toting, chain-smoking Hatter and with visits from the strange Cheshire Cat, the eighty-ninth Alice tries to learn the rules of this bizarre world. He doesn’t really want to kill anyone, but if that’s what it will take to make him belong, he’s willing to do it. Now if he could only find that rabbit . . .
The above summary might make this manga sound easy enough to understand, but I actually find these first two volumes confusing on multiple levels. Some things are intentionally kept vague or secret: the Hatter’s background, for example, and the specifics of the story being repeated in Wonderland. (It seems to be a version of the original Alice in Wonderland story, but with some pretty big differences, like the fact that Alice is expected to kill the White Rabbit.) These things are alluded to and will presumably become clear later. Other things, however, are just difficult to understand. Flashbacks are unannounced and can blend with the present events. Speech bubbles rarely indicate who spoke, which is sometimes evident, but definitely not always.
The art is elegant and whimsical, featuring willowy people and anthropomorphic characters (the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit are people with animal ears). The cast is almost all male, including the Queen of Hearts and Alice. We do sometimes see previous Alices, whose deaths transformed them into “regrets”—girlish ghosts that can change into deadly monsters as they pursue the current Alice. The characters’ expressions are mostly without extremes: a mild smile, a habitual look of irritation, the appearance of serenity or boredom. Alice shows more emotion than most, highlighting his uniqueness in Wonderland.
This Wonderland is a violent place. Regrets stalk the streets, attacking Alice and undermining the stability of the world. The Queen of Hearts executes anyone who fails to fulfill his or her role. The Hatter is quick to shoot when someone threatens Alice. Even the ever-smiling Cheshire Cat holds a few killer secrets. There are hints of sexuality, too – the Queen of Hearts alludes to what he might have done with Alice if Alice had been a girl, and we see the Cheshire Cat lolling in the bed of a scantily-clad mystery woman. (It doesn’t get more explicit than that, though.)
The first two volumes of Are You Alice? leave a lot of questions unanswered. Some of these will probably be addressed later and readers may find these mysteries compel them to continue with the series. As long as ambiguous speech bubbles and nonlinear plot twists don’t confuse or frustrate them too much, the pretty art, action, and interesting characters will keep readers invested for future volumes.