What They Say:
On the run from the research facility that imprisoned her, a little girl named Sana finds herself living with a stern but caring old man named Zoroku. With the abilities to teleport and summon anything she can imagine, Sana has some difficulty integrating into society. Will Sana learn to live a normal life, or is the Wonderland she created the only haven she can depend on?
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the English language dub that gets a 5.1 bump, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is one that is heavier on dialogue than action but it has some bigger moments throughout that lets it shine. The dialogue side is well-handled with how placement works and the overall directionality of it so that with multiple people on screen it flows well with the highs and lows. The action throughout the series is pretty good and when it shifts into higher gear with some of the more unusual elements of it, especially in the last few episodes, it gets to stretch nicely – particularly in the 5.1 mix that orchestrates more to the rear channels. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2017, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with eight on the first and four on the second. Animated by JC Staff, the series has a strong look to it with some really great character designs that retain lots of detail throughout. This combined with the color design means a winning combination as the more fluid sequences stand out beautifully and there’s a good depth to it all. It plays more to real world than a simple approach and the character coloring really is appealing, especially with Alice’s hair, while the backgrounds hold a lot of detail in the settings and with enough shading to give it depth. It’s a clean looking encode throughout where there’s nothing in the way of breakup or noise during regular or high-motion sequences.
The packaging for this release comes in a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case that holds the four discs for both formats with an o-card that replicates the same design but uses different artwork. The front cover goes for a nice bit of ornate pink and white to frame everything where the o-card has Alice and Zoroku together and the case has Sana with Asahi and Yonaga walking about the city with Dream of Alice steps. The color design is soft but it works well to have a light and fun approach while also showing off the two different forms of Alice when it comes to her hair. The back cover is the same for both where it uses the same kind of pink and white and has a few shots from the show along the top. The summary of the premise is well-covered and we get a good breakdown of the extras. The production and technical information are a bit harder to read with smaller text in the same white on pink but they do reflect how the discs are put together clearly and accurately. No show related inserts are included but we do get a great two-panel full color spread on the reverse side showcasing the cast in a fun way.
The menus for this release keep things simple with static images that work well even if they are busy simply because they’re filled with great character designs and the whole Alice in Wonderland element of it all. With it using the reverse side cover artwork, it’s filled with lots of appealing colors and richly detailed characters floating around to give it an otherworldly feeling. The logo is kept to the upper left in a way that doesn’t have it stand out while the navigation is at the bottom left with it a small pink block with white text. The navigation is straightforward and easy without a lot to do beyond the basics here but it functions cleanly and without problems both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback.
The extras for this release are fairly straightforward as we get the clean opening and closing sequences but also the inclusion of some of the original promos and commercials for the series and its releases.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name, Alice & Zoroku is a twelve episode anime series that aired in the spring 2017 season. The manga, being released in North America by Seven Seas Entertainment, began in 2012 and has seven volumes out as of this writing. The anime from JC Staff is an interesting one as the first episode was a double-length one, basically making it a thirteen episode series, and it has a pretty good budget overall as I really like the look of the show and the world that it creates. It may have a lighter touch with colors such as pinks and the girlish elements of some of the leads but it has a solid real world design overall and firmly inhabits it in order to make the Wonderland side stand out all the more.
The premise for this series kind of reminded me of Elfen Lied in a way, albeit a cuter one but one with some real darkness to it as well. Within the bowels of a secret research facility we have an unknown place called Wonderland that exists. Sealed off and being researched, there are a small number of people that can tap into the power within it, the power being called Dreams of Alice. One of those people is a young girl who has only know Wonderland and is known as the Red Queen. She’s now escaped the facility in order to see the real world and ends up in Shinjuku where she, in her bright and outgoing way, comes across an old man named Zoroku. His interaction with her is spurred by the fact that she’s been looking at some food in containers for a few hours and the cashier asks him for a little help.
It’s a simple enough little introduction that alters both their lives as the Red Queen, who is better known as Sana in all of this, realizes that he’s a good and true person and sort of basically aligns herself with him. While there’s an element early on about Sana being out in the world that concerns the researchers and others, it turns into something that “allows” it to happen a little too easily and places a lot of trust into Zoroku with all of them. Zoroku’s your standard world-weary but wise to the world person who isn’t looking to getting into anything but does what’s right because it should be done, true Japanese style. Taking her into his home works well since he’s also involved with his own granddaughter, Sanae. Sanae’s parents died previously so there’s some appeal in having someone else under the roof to take care of and for Sanae to not feel quite so lonely.
Sana’s abilities through the Dreams of Alice basically allows her to kind of do anything but Zoroku’s presence is something that the researchers like since he is able to provide an authority figure she’ll listen to in tamping down what she does. It’s an interesting balance early on as he chides her for using her abilities foolishly (and publicly) and that disapproval really makes an impact on her. But it’s a teaching thing because he does want her to use her abilities when it makes sense to, which she has to use some critical thinking toward. That provides for a really good dynamic between the two as he gets to teach and reward her with praise for choosing right and she gets to grow well as a young woman, though her being human is something called into question a lot because of her relation to the Wonderland that’s explored later in the show.
The nature of the series is an interesting one as we see others that are connected to the Wonderland show up with the twins Asahi and Yonaga and there’s a range of others as well with abilities and those that work within the research side. It’s well-populated in a way that allows for some diverse characters and all but at the same time there’s a kind of simplicity here that leans a little into the dreamlike for me. At its core, it’s about Zoroku taking her in and seeing Sana become a part of family and understand ways to use and not use her abilities. But it also slow builds the background storyline with what Wonderland is up to, which really is a slow burn that doesn’t come together until the last few episodes with some of them trapped inside of it. That’s an interesting arc but a lot of what we get before it are smaller human drama moments. The ones with Zoroku are what works best for me with Sanae’s interactions close after that.
But something just didn’t click in the bigger picture thing. Some of it, I think, is simply that the cast feels too big and that it loses a strong narrative to work with. We get a mix of adults coming into it with their own intentions that combined with the early uncertainty about the research facility and what Wonderland is leaves it intriguing and interesting. But I don’t think it follows through well enough that it really cements the concepts and you become engaged in it. It also spends a lot of time with some of the supporting characters to breathe life into them but I found few of them all that interesting. While I wouldn’t want just a show about Sana and Zoroku, I found myself really wishing there was more of it. Or just more time with Zoroku himself and his life because there are some interesting things to kick around there with him.
Alice & Zoroku is an interesting series that has some neat ideas to it but I wonder if it comes together better in manga form. Some of it is just the structure of the series with how it presents everything. I’ll even admit that double-length opening episodes always feel weird to me in how it gets things started because they’re so rare that I’m not sure a lot of writers know how to structure them. For me, the core of the show with our title characters is what works the best but we don’t get anywhere near enough of it. Combine that with the Wonderland side and research project taking too long to really come together and a supporting round of characters that never quite gel and it doesn’t work as well as it should. There’s a lot to like with the concept and ideas at work here and I really liked both lead characters a lot as they were just fun to watch throughout, particularly since Alice does act like a little kid in the right kinds of ways. Funimation put together a good release here with an enjoyable looking package, a fun dub, and a clean and appealing looking visual design.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 LAnguage, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English subtitles, Promo Videos, Commercials, Textless Opening & Closing Songs, Trailers
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: July 17th, 2018
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.