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review 2016-07-17 19:02
I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland (manga, vol. 3) art by Ayumi Kanou, story by Visualworks, translated by Jocelyne Allen
I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland Vol. 3 - Ayumi Kanou

At the end of the previous volume, the King of Hearts, angered by the sight of Makoto's (technically Alice's) face, magically sent him away. Hatter tried to save Makoto and got sent away as well. At the start of this volume, Makoto wakes up to discover that he's in chains. Several menacing men threaten to torture and rape him if he doesn't tell them where the King's palace is, but thankfully Hatter saves the day. Their troubles aren't over, however, as a new enemy, the Jabberwock, arrives.

I felt so-so about the previous two volumes and was expecting more of the same, so it was a shock that this one actually gave me more intense feelings. Unfortunately, they were primarily the negative sort.

The beginning of this volume was awful. First, that Makoto was threatened with rape to begin with. It would be nice if people writing fluffy (if problematic) fantasy for what is probably a primarily female audience could leave rape out of it. Second, Hatter's response instantly reduced his appeal, more so than even the stupid skirt flipping incident. As he charged in to save Makoto, he said this to Makoto's captors: “Didn't your mother ever teach you not to take other people's things?” It was gross that Hatter, the primary romantic lead, referred to Makoto as his property, especially in this situation. Third, I hated that Makoto's near-rape was used as an excuse for the series' steamiest on-page moment. In order to “disinfect” Makoto's emotional wounds, Hatter licked Makoto's throat the way his near-rapist had done. And it worked.

But there were additional problems! All throughout the series, Makoto has had difficulty reconciling the difference between his behavior while inhabiting Alice's body and his mental image of how men should behave. In this volume, those issues came to a head.

The series has never shown Makoto in his own body, so it's tough to say if his behavior changed after he swapped bodies with Alice, but I'd guess that he's probably still the same person, just questioning his “manliness” more now that he's in a female body and feeling attracted to another guy. Makoto, however, was convinced that he was starting to turn into a girl. He couldn't lift a heavy rock. He cried all the time. Lots of guys hit on him, and, in this volume, a guy almost raped him. When Hatter needed backup, Makoto couldn't bring himself to shoot one of the bad guys. And then Makoto enjoyed it when Hatter licked his throat. None of these things fit with his mental image of a proper man.

The next part, with the Jabberwock's labyrinth, could have led to Makoto to some kind of big gender-related epiphany. Instead, he got to save Hatter and thereby confirm for himself that he really is still his mental image of what a guy should be. After all, guys save people. (Now I wish, even more, that Alice had been permitted to be a competent fighter working alongside the Wonderland guys. But all her “weapons nut” stuff was surface level only, played almost entirely for laughs.)

In addition to the Jabberwock, a couple new characters showed up to force the story to move along more quickly and serve as advertisements for the game (the only reasons I can think of to introduce two brand new characters and one mostly new character in the final volume of the series). Then came the final battle (sort of) against the King of Hearts.

Even the series' own characters thought the revelations and ending were stupid. The King controlled monsters, killed his own people, and was prepared to destroy his country for the absolute dumbest reason. I think the last time I've seen such a whiny over-powered man-child reaction to a situation like this was Neil Gaiman's Sandman. I felt like applauding when Alice instantly blew up on him. And Makoto got to punch him and kick him in the face. Okay, violent, but the guy deserved it.

And then there wasn't a proper ending. I had expected Makoto and Alice to have to make a decision about whether to stay in Wonderland or leave, but even that choice was taken away. The romance, too, stopped at an unsatisfactory point. Makoto still hadn't admitted that he liked Hatter, and Alice's attraction to Dum from back in the first volume was utterly forgotten.

This series was purely an ad for the related games. While it's true that the Alice in the Country of Hearts/Clover/etc. volumes were all ads for their related games as well, at least those were written like complete stories. I Am Alice, not so much.

Extras:

  • Two full-color pages, one of which is a list of characters.
  • The URL and QR code for the I Am Alice: Boy x Boy social game. This was clearly copied and pasted from the previous volume, because it retained the “Box x Boy” typo.
  • Initial character designs for Makoto, Alice, Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Dormouse, Jabberwock and Dum, along with a few comments from the artist.
  • A four-panel comic introducing the premise of the I Am Alice: Boy x Boy social game – in order to get home, Makoto will have to win a Wonderland fashion contest.
  • A 1-page afterword written by Kanou, which includes this statement: “In other words, please go and check out the game now. This is not stealth marketing; it is blatant marketing!!” I still don't think it's too much to ask that this 3-volume game ad include a real ending.
  • A 1-page (actual) ad for the I Am Alice: Boy x Boy social game, which doesn't appear to be available in English.
  • A 14-page preview of Girls & Panzer.

 

(Original review, including read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-07-17 02:46
I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland (manga, vol. 2) art by Ayumi Kanou, story by Visualworks, translated by Jocelyne Allen
I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland Vol. 2 - Ayumi Kanou

This volume focuses more on the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and Dormouse's issues with Dum. The Cheshire Cat freaks out at the thought that the King of Hearts might view his current actions as a betrayal. Then Dormouse tells Makoto a little more about why he hates Dum, but Makoto finds it hard to believe that serious and responsible Dum could have coldly executed March Hare, Dormouse's loved one, even on the orders of the King. After that, it's time for gardening (yes, really). This break also allows the White Rabbit to deal with his newfound awkwardness around Makoto. He hasn't adjusted well to the news that Makoto is really a guy in a girl's body. Putting it like that makes this sound a lot like a trans story but, again, I'm probably putting way too much thought into this.

What about the King of Hearts and the possibility of Alice and Makoto returning to their own world and getting their bodies back? The volume gets back to that halfway through, when the group finally arrives at the palace.

I don't know why I don't hate this volume. The pacing was weird, Alice was criminally underutilized, Makoto continued to be bland, and Hatter flipped Makoto's skirt to cheer him up. Despite all of that, it's still just “meh” with occasional decent moments.

The aspect that bothered me the most was probably Alice's underutilization. After yet another sudden battle, I realized that, despite Alice being a weapons nut who took perfectly good care of herself when she first arrived in Wonderland, she never fought alongside the Wonderland guys. Everybody had to stop her from recklessly throwing grenades at the palace, and that was it. Even if Makoto's body was more out of shape than she was used to, there still should have been moments when Alice was genuinely useful. Even her role in the series' overall romantic storylines was seemingly forgotten – there was no sign of her attraction to Dum.

Oh, and speaking of characters being out of shape, at one point Makoto tried to lift a stone and was having trouble. That inspired him to think this: “I thought Alice said she trains! Guess a girl's body just doesn't have the same strength...!” Seriously? The implication is that Makoto could have lifted the stone if he were back in his own body, except in the previous volume Alice noted how out of shape he was compared to her and how it made running much more exhausting. Granted, Alice's body might have more stamina than Makoto's and yet less strength, but I'm more inclined to think the series was just being inconsistent and going with the lazy “girls are weaker” route so that the White Rabbit could swoop in and help.

The Cheshire Cat's backstory was nice enough, although it made him seem even more childish. Dormouse and Dum's issues could have been easily resolved if Dum had been a tad less stoic, but I did enjoy that part. My favorite of the backstory breaks was probably Hatter's. It was sweet and a bit silly. Actually, other than the skirt flip (why???), Hatter was probably my favorite thing in this whole volume. Even though I still don't understand why he likes Makoto so much, his devotion to him is nice.

What else...? Oh, look at the cover! Alice's hands are so horrible, one of them shrunken and the other one weirdly balloon-like, with a rosy blush that only makes it look worse. Flipping through the volume, it looks like there are a few slightly “off” hands, but nothing nearly that bad.

Anyway, one more volume to go!

Extras:

  • Two full-color pages, one of which is a character list.
  • The URL and QR code for the I Am Alice: Boy x Boy social game. (In an amusing editing error, the game is called I Am Alice: Box x Boy. I can just imagine it now, a lovely romance between a box and one of the game's male characters.)
  • One two-panel joke comic about the ending of the gardening portion of the volume. I actually wasn't thinking so much about what that character saw as I was about the whole "riding on his shoulders while wearing a skirt" aspect.
  • A 1-page afterword from Ayumi Kanou.
  • Another game avatar dress design created by Ayumi Kanou.
  • A 15-page preview of No Game No Life. This is one of those cases where the basic premise seems like something I'd like (two siblings are secretly the most powerful and unbeatable gamer in existence), but the fanservice instantly puts it on my "do not want" list. In 15 pages there were multiple instances of the 11-year-old sister blushing while posing provocatively, as well as several upskirt drawings. I am totally not the audience for this series. I wouldn't think most readers of I Am Alice would be, either. Seven Seas could stand to improve its targeted marketing.

 

Rating Note:

 

My rating is probably too generous, but eh. ::shrug:: I still don't dislike this series (and this volume in particular), despite its issues and general blandness. So far, it's exactly what it presented itself as being. It could potentially have been more, and better, but that's why it's not getting more than 3 stars.

 

(Original review, including read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-07-16 23:34
I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland (manga, vol. 1) art by Ayumi Kanou, story by Visualworks, translated by Jocelyne Allen
I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland Vol. 1 - Ayumi Kanou

Makoto is an ordinary boy who gets sucked into Wonderland via a book. To his horror, he also discovers that he has swapped bodies with Alice, a girl who was sucked into Wonderland in the same manner some time before him. Alice, a weapons nut, quickly tells Makoto some of what's going on. It turns out that Wonderland is teeming with monsters, which are controlled by the King of Hearts, the ruler of the country. Alice has heard that a gate in the King's palace can help her and Makoto get back home and hopefully get their bodies back, but first they have to survive the monsters and find the palace, which is hidden from ordinary Wonderland citizens.

Thankfully, that's when Alice and Makoto come across the White Rabbit, a captain in the King's army. All of the King's soldiers know how to get to the palace, and although you'd think one of the King's soldiers would be yet another enemy, most of them are as fed up with what the King is doing as the rest of the country's citizens. The White Rabbit agrees to help, but first the group needs to gather up a few more allies.

I picked this series up for several reasons. First, I figured it might be nice to try another Alice in Wonderland reinterpretation. Second, the artwork looked decent when I flipped through it. Third, it was cheap. And fourth, the store had the entire series, all three volumes.

The art did turn out to be okay. All the characters looked good. The linework was nice and the use of screentone was decent, although some of the pages tended to be busier than I preferred. The main thing I didn't like was that the action scenes were occasionally hard to follow. At one point, the group was attacked by a monster, and I had to sit and stare for a bit in order to figure out exactly what was going on. I'm still not sure that the monster that attacked them looked the way it had just a few pages earlier. Also, it took me a moment to realize that Dormouse had thrown knives at an attacking gryphon. The page only showed him moving his hand and the gryphon reacting – no sign of the knives. In fact, it wasn't until I looked at the panel again while writing this review that I realized Dormouse had actually sliced the tips off of some of the gryphon's feathers.

This volume was okay. Not great, but okay. Alice in no way looked like a modern girl, although her grenades indicated that she was supposed to be. The story was mostly focused on quick character introductions and laying out the basics of the series and character relationships. Nearly all of the cast was male, and all or nearly all of the cast was interested in Makoto. That was expected, as was Makoto's blushing and embarrassed “but I'm a boy, why am I blushing?” thoughts.

So far, this looks to be one of those cross-gender body swap stories meant to be a giant tease. In stories of this type, sexual attraction is brushed away as being tied to the body the character is inhabiting, so the guy in a girl's body being attracted to another guy isn't really a sign that he's gay or bisexual, just a result of him currently inhabiting a girl's body. Here we have Hatter, who knows that Makoto is a guy in a girl's body, deciding to mess with Makoto a bit by flirting with him, and Makoto experiencing confusing feelings of attraction to him. The end of the volume indicated that Hatter's feelings had maybe become serious, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was really just Alice's pretty smile that he fell in love with. Makoto's personality was too bland for someone to believably fall in love with.

One nice indicator that maybe this series wasn't going to be one of those “bodies are naturally attracted to the opposite sex, regardless of the person inhabiting them” stories was Alice. She was attracted to Dum even while inhabiting Makoto's body (too bad her feelings didn't seem to be reciprocated). While it was true that there were literally no other female characters she could have been attracted to, it would have been easy enough for her not to develop an attraction to anybody.

I really shouldn't expect too much from this series, though. It's only three volumes long and packed with characters, some of whom still need the details of their (probably tragic) backstories explained. The attraction between Hatter and Makoto will probably never go anywhere beyond flirtation and blushing, and Makoto will continue to say some variation of “but I'm a guy, I shouldn't be feeling this way!” or “he knows I'm a guy, why's he doing this?” while refusing to examine his own feelings too closely. And Alice's feelings for Dum will continue to be unrequited and are just there to give fangirls a different variety of “fake gay” thrill.

We'll see, though. Despite the pressing issue of the King of Hearts and his monsters, the characters found time to have a picnic, enjoy cherry blossoms, and play a game, so maybe they'll find time to explore gender and sexuality issues in more depth than you normally see in these kinds of series. (I doubt it.)

Extras:

  • Four full-color pages, one of which is a character list.
  • The URL and QR code for the I Am Alice social game. I believe the manga was based on this game, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, the site is in Japanese and I'm not sure the game is currently available in English.
  • A 1-page afterword from Ayumi Kanou.
  • Kanou's designs for a special edition avatar dress for the game.
  • A 17-page preview of Dictatorial Grimoire.

 

(Original review, including read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-06-02 18:00
Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
Stars Above: A Lunar Chronicles Collection - Marissa Meyer,-Macmillan Audio-,Rebecca Soler

I'd been looking forward to this book since the day I heard about it. It's always nice to revisit characters you already know and love in new stories. Stars Above is a collection of short stories that let you do just that. Most of them are backstory and critical moments of the main characters from the rest of the Lunar Chronicles series. It was great to get a full picture of these key moments for them. There are three new stories, though. The Little Android, Mechanic and Something Old, Something New are not backstory. 

 

I've loved the characters since each of their appearances in their respective books and gushed about them then (Cinder, Scarlett, Cress, Winter and Fairest reviews at their links). It was also great to hear Rebecca Soler's voice again as she narrated this book as well. 

 

The excerpt from Heartless was good. It didn't make my heart flutter like CInder had, but that's to be expected. The concepts are not similar enough to create the exact same reaction. I love a fairy tale reimagining more than I can possibly express, and my affinity for Alice in Wonderland just isn't as up there. Meyers is a wonderful writer, though, so I'm sure I will still love it.

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review 2016-05-19 00:00
Impressionism: Reimagining Art
Impressionism: Reimagining Art - Norbert... Impressionism: Reimagining Art - Norbert Wolf Introduction & Acknowledgements

--Impressionism: Reimagining Art

Endnotes
Selected Bibliography
List of Works Illustrated
Index of Names
Photo Credits
Imprint
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