What They Say:
And you thought your school was weird!
Mikan and Hotaru are best friends! (Well, according to Mikan, anyway. Hotaru doesn’t seem to care.) Then one day, Hotaru is escorted away in a fancy black car, apparently scouted by a school in Tokyo called “Alice Academy.” Crushed at the loss of her favorite pal, Mikan scurries after her, determined to enroll, too!
But Alice Academy is a mysterious place. Can Mikan tough it out in a school where explosions, superpowers, giant baby chicks and axe-wielding teddy bears are the norm? Though it’s not as if she has a choice, because once students enter Alice Academy, there is no escape!
The only language track available is Japanese in Dolby Digital Stereo. English subtitles are provided for non-Japanese speakers like me. The audio quality was fine with no distortions, drop outs, or any other discernable issues.
Each episode is presented in 4:3 aspect ratio and, like the audio, there were no discernable issues with the quality. Everything was clear and easy to see.
The show’s 26 episodes are spread across five discs—each labeled “Periods” to keep up with the school theme. Discs one through four come housed on center insets and overlay each other. This disc overlaying isn’t as bad as the dreaded stack pack, but it’s still a pain. The final disc is set in the back cover. Each disc is stamped with an image of the protagonist Mikan with one or more characters from the show.
The front cover features the main cast against a pink background. Mikan and Hotaru stand at the front, with Class Rep behind them. Behind him are Ruka, Permy, and Natsume. They all look happy—except Natsume, and it’s a cute, if uninspired cover. Up at the top in a white border is the title “Anime Elements.” I believe that this is a new label by Sentai, but a casual Internet search didn’t bring up anything, so I could be wrong.
The spine continues the pink theme, and the back cover features a large picture of Mikan and Hotaru in a very Alice in Wonderland theme with Mikan as Alice and Hotaru as the white rabbit. Flanking it to the right are screenshots from the show and beneath it is the cast and crew credits and DVD specifications.
Overall, it’s a fine package, but I don’t know how eye-catching it would be to a casual observer. Nothing about it really screams “buy me!” and that should be the primary goal of a cover.
The menu for each disc follows the same patter. The picture stamped on the disc serves as the background image. It takes up the majority of real estate and to the left of it are the various options. It’s easy to discern which option you’re picking because it’s flanked by a star on each side. It’s a perfectly serviceable menu, but, like the package, it’s not terribly eye-catching.
Along with the clean Op/Ed and previews for other releases, this set comes with character bios and translator notes. Typically, I don’t care much for extras, but I enjoyed reading the translator notes, as they provided me with a greater understanding of the cultural references made in the show. I wish more sets would do that, actually.
Based on the manga series of the same name written and drawn by Tachibana Higuchi, Gakuen Alice (or Alice Academy) tells the story of best friends Mikan Sakura and Hotaru Imai. When the series begins, the two attend a small school in the country, but when the prestigious and mysterious Alice Academy enrolls Hotaru, the two separate, much to the dismay of Mikan. After not hearing from Hotaru for months, Mikan decides to run away to see her best friend. This fateful decision ends up changing Mikan’s life forever and sets the stage for lots of craziness and fun.
See, Alice Academy not only functions as the premier school in the country—molding future world leaders—it also exists to train and control students with extraordinary abilities. Both the ability and the user are called “Alice” (hence the title) and these powers take many forms. Hotaru possesses the technical Alice, basically allowing her to build anything, kind of like the mutant Forge from the X-Men. Other Alices include the ability to read minds, the ability to manipulate pheromones, and the ability to create and control fire. These abilities make the school the most wondrous and dangerous place to attend, and Mikan inadvertently becomes its newest student.
When she first arrives at the academy’s main gate, the guard turns her away. Undaunted, she accepts the help of two sketchy men who tell her they are teachers and will take her in the back way. All she has to do is get in their totally not-creepy van. Obviously, these two are not teachers, but kidnappers looking to ransom off Mikan, figuring that her family must be loaded if she’s going to Alice Academy. Thankfully for Mikan, Narumi Anju, a real teacher, comes to her rescue. He uses his pheromone Alice to make the men go away and then tries to use it on Mikan, but finds it has no effect. Intrigued, Narumi helps Mikan enroll in the academy on a probationary basis, believing she possesses the rare nullification Alice.
Mikan is overjoyed to be able to attend the same school as her beloved Hotaru, but with enrollment comes many varied and unique problems for our protagonist. The student body is almost uniformly unaccepting of her, and her standing at the school is at the very bottom. The Alice Academy ranks its students on a star system, going from zero to three. Each tier brings with it more privileges and a greater allowance. Mikan immediately gets on the bad side of the strictest teacher in the school, Mr. Jinno, and finds her classified as a “No Star.” Because of this ranking, she gets the worst room in the entire dorm, barely any food, a pittance for an allowance, and the worst jobs in the school. The other students believe that this will force Mikan to quit, but the girl practically runs on optimism and she plows through these difficulties with grit, determination, and a positive attitude.
Her attitude slowly turns her classmates over to her side, but some prove harder to win over than others. The two most popular students in the elementary division are Natsume and his friend Ruka. They even have a fan club devoted to them, run by the girl Mikan nicknames “Permy.” Natsume takes an instant dislike to Mikan, as does Permy. The two eventually come around, but Natsume and Mikan’s relationship takes many complicated turns, giving them a real Moonlighting feel.
Natsume possesses the fire Alice. This places him in the “Dangerous” class, and none of the students really know what he’s asked to do. We learn eventually that the Academy sends him off on dangerous missions, and that his Alice is shortening his lifespan. It would be an understatement to say that his relationship with the school is complicated, and he displays an aloof and dangerous personality because of this. Contrary to his image, Natsume does care deeply for his classmates to the point where he takes on dangerous assignments just so no one else will have to.
It’s through Natsume that we see that the Alice Academy is more than just sunshine and roses. It exploits the students just as much as it helps them, and this dual nature creates many enemies, including many former students. Mikan and Natsume become embroiled more than once in these anti-Academy plots, but, disappointingly, the series never brings about any real change. At the end of the series, we don’t really see that the Academy is going to change its policies. The students remain exploited.
One of the reasons why this important subplot doesn’t resolve well may be due to the fact that the show tries to cram in a great deal of story in 26 half-hour episodes. The main plot centers around Mikan and Hotaru’s relationship, but branching off from that is Mikan’s struggles to fit in and find her place, her burgeoning feelings for Natsume, the threats from the anti-Alice forces, and the secrets of her own past.
Mikan’s parents died when she was very young, and she was raised by her grandfather. Gradually, after her enrollment at the Academy, we learn that during Narumi’s time as a student there was a girl attending with the nullification Alice. This girl, much like Mikan, was outspoken, passionate, and compassionate, and she lobbied for changes to the school, hoping to cease the exploitation of the students. This lead to a sort of mini civil war among the students and the girl was expelled. We’re never told the girl’s name, but there’s no doubt that she’s Mikan’s mother. All through the series I waited for this to be revealed to us and to Mikan, but nothing ever came of it, making it a distracting, extraneous plot thread that could have been cut.
Gakuen Alice is an odd series. It starts off slow, and frankly unengaging, but it picks up the pace once Mikan joins the Academy. The show grows on you as you watch it, but it comes to a rather unsatisfying end with too many plot threads left dangling. I greatly enjoyed Mikan as the protagonist, and I thought that she played off well against Hotaru, who is quite where Mikan is loud, inwardly focused when Mikan is externally focused, and logical where Mikan is passionate. At first, I didn’t really get their relationship, but as time went on, it became clear that the two loved each other because they saw within one another something they lacked, but admired.
The relationship between Mikan and Hotaru is great, and the show comes packed with plenty of fun, silly, and endearing scenes, but ultimately, the series left me cold. The show’s lack of focus and resolution ended up hurting it quite a bit, and its hunky-dory ending just rang false.
Gakuen Alice just didn’t work for me. Although I liked the protagonist quite a bit, and thought that the majority of the show was charming, its lack of focus and resolution made it unsatisfying. Frankly, the show tried to do too much in too little time (although 26 episodes should have been enough). It’s cute, but sometimes kawaii just isn’t enough. Dr. Josh gives this a….
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean opening, Clean closing, Bios, Liner Notes
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: C+
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: April 5th, 2016
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection