Gakuen Alice 1 by Tachibana Higuchi: B-

gakuen1From the back cover:
Young Mikan runs away to Tokyo following her best friend, Hotaru, who has been enrolled in an exclusive, secretive private school for geniuses. But it turns out that Alice Acdemy is a lot more than meets the eye. Whether it’s Hotaru’s gift for inventing gadgets, the cranky Natsume’s firecasting ability, or Professor Narumi’s control of human pheromones, everyone at the school has some sort of special talent. But what ability, if any, does Mikan possess? Mikan is going to have to rely on her courage and spunk if she’s going to stay in school, or even stay alive!

I watched a little bit of the Gakuen Alice anime several years ago, so was familiar with the general premise as well as the events that take place in this volume. I’m not sure why I didn’t go farther with the anime, but I think I might’ve had difficulty with some hurdles that also present themselves in the manga: unlikable characters and too many gags.

Our main character, Mikan, is spazzy and selfish. I might’ve liked her more to start with if Higuchi had resisted the temptation to draw many outlandish reaction gags as Mikan learns more about the Alice Academy and its peculiar occupants. In the second half of the book, while traversing a dangerous patch of woods on campus, Hotaru finally tells Mikan that she needs to stop behaving so childishly. Probably I was supposed to sympathize with the heroine there, but really all I could think was, “Thank you, Hotaru!” Thankfully, Mikan does get more tolerable around that point, as well.

Hotaru has some problems with likability at first, too. We are told that she agreed to go to Alice Academy in exchange for money that she then used to keep the school where she met Mikan financially afloat. She also was cold to Mikan on her last day in an attempt to cause Mikan to forget about her rather than nurture sad memories. That’s well and good, but the problem is that we are told these things and not shown them. It’s not until the second half of the volume that Hotaru actually exhibits some real warmth towards Mikan, even deigning to smile a little when Mikan’s Alice is finally revealed. So far, though, she does seem friendlier in the manga version.

Something that I didn’t pick up on very much in the anime is the hint of something more sinister going on at the school. Natsume is being caused agony by something, though whether it’s the dangerous nature of his powers or something else is not yet revealed, and both he and his friend Luca seem to sport mysterious scars. This is definitely the most intriguing aspect of the story right now.

Gakuen Alice is published in English by TOKYOPOP and seven volumes have been released so far. The series is still ongoing in Japan and eighteen collected volumes have been released as of March 2009.

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