Things were strange enough when Alice Liddell found herself stuck in the Country of Hearts, a fanciful but violent version of Wonderland where everyone is heavily armed and obsessed with her. Just when she has settled in and begun to learn the rules of Hearts, she isn’t in Hearts anymore! Without warning, the world has shifted, dumping many of its inhabitants, and even some of its buildings, into the parallel Country of Clover. Alice’s friends assure her that this happens from time to time, but she is still confused and distressed. She has to find a new place to live, and she misses the friends who were left behind in Hearts. At least Boris, the Cheshire Cat, made the move to Clover. That’s a relief, as he’s a good friend—or maybe more than a friend.
(Here I should probably clarify that Boris is a human with cat ears and a tail, not an actual cat.)
Alice in the Country of Clover, Alice in the Country of Hearts, and Alice in the Country of Joker are based on Japanese computer games in which players acting as Alice can pursue romance with the Wonderland character of their choice. This makes for a plethora of manga series, each focusing on Alice’s relationship with different characters, including Elliott, the March Hare; the Bloody Twins, Tweedledee and Tweedledum; the Mad Hatter, and more. Complete at seven volumes, Cheshire Cat Waltz is the longest of these series so far.
Perhaps because of its length, Cheshire Cat Waltz covers its central relationship in much more depth and detail than others, such as the one-volume Bloody Twins installment. Alice and Boris like each other, but Alice is reserved and uncertain, unnerved by Boris’ enthusiastic advances. Eventually both admit their feelings and they make it boyfriend-and-girlfriend official. Their relationship progresses physically, too, from kisses to sleeping next to each other to sex. While lust and innuendo abound, the real focus is on their developing relationship. The big question for much of the series is not whether the two will have sex—which happens about halfway through—but whether they will move in together.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Wonderland without a cast of kooky side characters, and it wouldn’t be Hearts or Clover without deadly plots, frequent shoot-outs, and dangerous rivalries. Wonderland is divided between “role holders,” named characters like Boris and the Mad Hatter, and “faceless” servants, soldiers, and townspeople, who are depicted without eyes and are considered interchangeable and replaceable. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of faceless collateral damage when role holders clash. In Cheshire Cat Waltz, this social system comes to the forefront more than once. Alice takes a job in a café run by faceless townspeople who are surprised to find that she can tell the faceless apart, as none of the role holders can. Later, sick of being second-class citizens, a network of faceless plans attacks on role holders, and more violence ensues.
The violence is frequent, but not gory. In addition to fighting, there are a few scenes that imply torture of faceless agents. Role holders regularly pop up smeared or spattered with blood—totally unconcerned about it—but it’s rare for established characters to be really hurt.
Despite the frequent innuendo and the number of scenes that take place in bed, the series goes out of its way to avoid showing nudity. Even when bathing, female characters appear to be wrapped in towels. The one actual sex scene shows almost nothing below the shoulders, focusing on dialog and facial expressions. Alice has a tendency to get tearful and seem uncomfortable during sexy scenes, which may bother some readers. Overall, though, she seems happy with her physical and emotional relationship with Boris.
Each volume contains a part of the main story, plus one or more short stories set in Hearts or Clover. Some of these continue from one volume to the next like the main plot. Each also contains a several-page preview of another manga series at the end.
These books are whimsical and fun. Fans of any of the other Hearts, Clover, or Joker books will likely enjoy Cheshire Cat Waltz. As romantic stories go, this one has an unusually high bullets-to-kisses ratio, but shojo readers who don’t mind some non-relationship action may also enjoy the series.
Alice in the Country of Clover: Cheshire Cat Waltz, vols. 1-7
Art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781935934912
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781935934929
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9781935934936
Vol. 4 ISBN: 9781937867102
Vol. 5 ISBN: 9781937867331
Vol. 6 ISBN: 9781937867669
Vol. 7 ISBN: 9781937867744
Seven Seas, 2012-2013
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen (16+)