Gakuen Alice Volume One is a manga by Tachibana Higuchi, and it was published in North America by Tokyopop in 2007. The rating for Gakuen Alice is “T+” for teens 13 and up; after reading this volume, I would agree with that rating.
The main character of Gakuen Alice is an energetic and clumsy girl named Mikan, who lives in a remote village out in the countryside. She considers Hotaru to be her best friend; unlike Mikan, Hotaru is intelligent, rational and rather aloof.
One day, Hotaru is whisked away to a school for geniuses in Tokyo. Over the course of nine months, she only sends one piece of correspondence to Mikan. Frustrated, Mikan runs away to Tokyo to try to find Hotaru.
When Mikan arrives in Tokyo, she discovers that the “school for geniuses” that Hotaru attends is actually a school for people with special powers; these special powers are called Alices. One of the instructors realizes that Mikan has a hidden Alice, and he has her admitted to the school. A boy at the school named Natsume serves as an antagonist in the series. During the course of the first volume, Mikan must discover what her Alice is, as well as try to make friends with her new classmates, in order to remain a student at the school.
My first exposure to Gakuen Alice actually came from watching the first episode of the anime series. I thought the premise was a little on the strange side when I saw that episode, and reading the manga didn’t really change my initial reaction to the series. Maybe this is due to the fact that I’m not really in the target market for this series, but by the time I finished reading Volume One, I really didn’t find myself invested in the story or in any of the characters. Meanwhile, my 14-year-old daughter, who also read this manga volume, said that she enjoyed the story.
When it comes to the art, I noticed that Higuchi was utilizing quite a few of the tropes usually associated with shojo manga. However, since the majority of the characters in this series are in elementary school, I thought these tropes looked a little out of place. Probably the worst use comes in the character designs for two of the male students, Natsume and Luca. They have been given a “bishonen” (“beautiful boy”) look, but I think using that look on characters who are already supposed to be little boys doesn’t work; in fact, I thought their designs looked rather awkward.
While I may not have personally enjoyed Gakuen Alice, I believe that this series will have a strong appeal for female manga readers who are in their early-to-mid teens.