Now that Tim Burton has had his way with Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, what better than a modernized manga-sized take on this much retweaked classic? Alice in the Country of Hearts by Quinrose and Soumei Hoshino (Tokyopop) is an “older teen” series centered on a young girl’s kidnapping down the rabbit hole into a Wonderland caught in bloody war between its three territories. Our heroine is carried into this landscape and “brought into the game” by a bespectacled rabbit-eared human named Peter White. Peter, like the rest of the male inhabitants of Wonderland, has fallen in love with Alice and schemes to make her his.
But the stalker-esque rabbit/man isn’t the only pointy-chinned male with a disturbing amorous interest in our gal. There’s the mafioso Hatter, who resembles an old flame of Alice’s, and Julius, the longhaired overseer of the clock tower set in Wonderland’s center. Thinking that she’s in a dream, our heroine wonders what it is about her subconscious that inspires her to imagine every male is pursuing her (“I guess my subconscious is as stupid as this world,” she tells a blood-coughing dream demon): not the kind of question that the younger Victorian Alice would’ve considered, but, then, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams was a good 35 years away when the original children’s book was released.
Adapted from a romantic sim game entitled Wonderful Wonder World, Alice in the Country of Hearts takes the original memorable cast of caricatured John Tenniel grotesques and transforms most of ‘em into besotted bishonen prettyboys. Though characters regularly stop to deliver intentionally confusing exposition about the territorial conflict, in the first volume, at least, the focus is on “outsider” Alice’s growing awareness of her power as an object of desire and the nature of the game going on all around her. Forced to consume a vial of “medicine of the heart,” she is unable to leave Wonderland until the vial itself is refilled: which she can only do by meeting and interacting with more of the love-maddened inhabitants of her dream world.
As in the original Alice, each character pronounces their own nonsensical take on the rules of the world, but since this version of the character is older, they don’t do so with the same air of infuriating adult condescension. There’s still a level of casually threatened violence (“To the inhabitants of this world, ‘death’ isn’t particularly important,” Peter White says at one point), but in the first volume, at least, it’s treated more as an afterthought than an actual threat. What mainly matters is romance in this Country of Hearts, where even the formerly gargoyle-faced Queen of Hearts is rendered as a sinisterly sexy vamp.
As a lover of the original Charles Dodgson books that sparked this manga series, I can’t help wishing that it featured more Carroll-ian nonsense. During some of the opening volume’s more talky sequences, in particular, the manga can feel hemmed in by its own rules. Still, there are enough fantastic details in this first book to have me curious about what happens in the second, which promises to open with a tea party at the Hatter’s Castle. “I’d like to have an outsider, someone unusual on my arm,” the sinister Hatter says. “If I get bored with her, I can just kill her.” Makes you wonder what kind of relationship dreaming Alice had with her old boyfriend, doesn’t it?