Gakuen Alice 5 by Tachibana Higuchi: B+

gakuen5From the back cover:
The Alice Festival is coming to a close, but the surprises and fun aren’t over for Mikan and her friends yet! Things get a little crazy for Narumi’s musical when an accident takes out some of the performers and Mikan has to step in as the star of the show. But what will happen when she and Luca have to kiss on stage?! And as if that’s not enough, as soon as the kids are back in class, it’s time for exams, and Mikan is in for some bad news when the scores come back!

I wonder how it is that this series is able to use common manga clichés without annoying me. First there was the genuinely entertaining school festival, and now there’s the tried and true “school play wherein the princess is played by a boy in drag” bit. I think it’s because Higuchi-sensei is able to use each scenario to both show the uniqueness of the school and bring about some nice moments for the characters. The play is totally goofy, for example, but Natsume ends up being kind to a super-cute little kid as well as thwarting a smooch between Mikan and Luca, so how could I not like that?

I also like that one’s expectations are subverted. Like, of course whenever a group works really hard like Mikan’s Special class did on their festival attraction, they’ll get the big medal at the end! Except they don’t, though they do get recognition of a sort. And, of course, when our plucky heroine buckles down to study for her exams (cue studying montage!) so that she can earn a visit to her grandpa, she’s going to win! Except Mikan gets the lowest grade in the class.

In addition to this, some of the mystery has returned with this volume, with some more details about Mikan’s parentage coming to light and more notice of her presence, and affect on Natsume, by the headmasters, which is definitely not a good thing. So far, at least, I get the impression that Higuchi knows where she’s going with this story, which is always something I appreciate.

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