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Japanator Kinda Recommends: Gakuen Alice

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Let's go back, far back, back to 2004 when a young girl with a delicious name (Sakura Mikan) followed her genius friend (Imai Hotaru) to a school for children with special abilities called Alices. Do you remember the story?

No?

Here's the quick refresher, just in case:

Alice Academy, a school for kids who are discovered to have special abilities (ranging from super genius to telepathy or even attaching souls to stuffed animals) is where all the cool kids with special abilities (even special abilities like farts of doom or pheromone-exuding voices) go. While there, their ability to contact the outside world is limited, and they learn to hone (and hide) their skills until it's time to go out into the real world.

Sounds pretty straight-forward, right? Well, Gakuen Alice is a pretty straight-forward sort of show! Read on for my review of the boxed set of the animated series, and see whether or not it's for you!

Gakuen Alice DVD 5-Disc Set (Episodes 1-26)
Studio: Group TAC
Licensed by: Nozomi Entertainment/Right Stuf International
MSRP: $49.99 [Buy]

girls

The best way for me to describe Gakuen Alice besides calling it a show with kiddos for protagonists (something I'm not into, really), is to say it's a funny show with a slice-of-life feel to it (due to no strongly overlying plot throughout the series) and a little kiddie romance mixed in.

The main character, Mikan, is a total ditz and stupidly cheerful girl who has a knack for making the people around her feel happy, motivated and wanted. When she goes looking for her friend Hotaru who'd been taken away to Alice Academy, a teacher there discovers she has a very rare Alice, that is to nullify any other person' Alice (i.e. protect herself or others from harmful Alice).

aaaahh

The main premise isn't anything groundbreaking, and Mikan actually reminds me a lot of Kotoko from Itazura Na Kiss, which was at first tragic. I didn't really want to be subjected to a show about a dumb protagonist who turns out to be oh-so-special because of how happy she makes others feel. As it turns out, Gakuen Alice takes this a bit further by introducing a wide cast of characters, all who possess unique abilities and creating plenty of subplots to keep things balanced.

ruka

Predictably, the story has a "dark side," personified by Natsume Hyuuga, a boy who is classified as a "Dangerous Ability" type user for his fire Alice. He is basically unapproachable by all the other students besides a select few, including his friend Ruka Nogi, a boy who has the kind of pheromones to make all animals love him. The two boys naturally go through some big changes when they slowly and inevitably fall for Mikan.

Mikan was met with plenty of hardship when she transferred to Alice Academy. For starters, she had no clue what her Alice ability was until she was able to demonstrate it (by nullifying a fire attack Natsume had sent in her direction) in front of the other students for their acceptance. She then was subjected to the rank of "no star" in the school's ranking system which goes from none to three, and a "special" tier on top which dictates everything a student is allowed to from boarding/facility usage, to allowances and meals. Mikan eventually earns a star, but not before going through hell and back for it.

mikan x2

When I first started watching Gakuen Alice, I wasn't immediately endeared to the characters or even willing to follow through the entire 26 episode series. It wasn't until episode 6, when Mikan catches her first break in the entire show that I felt there was some hope for the character, and therefore the show. She meets her fellow upperclassmen with abilities that can't be categorized as scientific or mental or anything like that (in other words, unique abilities, just like Mikan), has some fun, and learns more about her own Alice.

Growth occurs when people around Mikan get closer to her and tell her to cut her whiny attitude, to stop complaining and realize that they're all in it together. She misses home, and this is a constant struggle for her, but then so do all the other students who've been taken from their families to the Academy where they are "protected" from the outside environment. The flip side is, some of the more stick-up-their-butt characters around Mikan loosen up when she touches their lives.

dance

The rest is all comedy and fun. There is some romance, though not too much considering they're small kids. And there's a bit of a creepy factor with one of the teachers, but overall watching Gakuen Alice is a pleasant experience. It's a feel-good show that loosely follows through a storyline, but feels more like you're just watching things happen as time passes by. There's a bit of an overlying plot point about the fact that Mikan's Alice is so special, and perhaps that she's destined for great things together with Natsume, but I didn't feel it was too prominent.

When I first saw the title of the anime and the OP, I thought it would have a lot of references to Alice in Wonderland. As it turns out, it only really references it in the sense that Mikan is a dummie, and goes from her ordinary country life to this supernatural world full of all kinds of impossibly odd things. In this I was actually glad, because I wouldn't have really wanted to deal with the overuse of that sort of thing. I couldn't really draw any other similarities besides the one broad theme.

pyon

The DVD set doesn't have a dub so I watched it all with subtitles. The OP is nice and energetic (performed by Kana Ueda, who voices Mikan), but the ED  (again, Kana Ueda, but joined by Rie Kugimiya who voices Hotaru) is bland and stupefying. In terms of extra features, you get the usual clean OP and EDs as well as character bios and extra info. From what I've read, the manga is actually superb and I've become interested in reading it since there doesn't seem to be another animated series in the horizon. The only real reason is because I do quite enjoy slice-of-life, and after I've invested enough time in one I'll always want to keep watching or reading just to see what happens. Does that happen to anyone else?

[Score: 6.2. The show is "okay;" didn't seek to do anything too special. Some will love it (I ended up enjoying it), many will pass.]


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Kristina Pino
Kristina PinoContributor   gamer profile

Kristina is a freelance photographer and writer from Miami now moved to Japan. She's a hardcore nerd culture enthusiast, Disney fan, sunflower admirer, and book slinger. Tweet her @geekerydo. F... more + disclosures


 



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