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Gakuen Alice A Vol. #01 Manga Review

5 min read
Mikan is going to have to rely on her courage and spunk if she's going to stay in school, or even stay alive!

Only children who have special abilities – called Alices – get to go to Alice Academy. Mikan just lost her best friend, Hotaru, to the school without warning. She doesn’t know anything about Alices or this Academy, but she’s not going to let that stop her from reuniting with her friend.

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist: Tachibana Higuchi

What They Say
Young Mikan runs away to Tokyo following her best friend, Hotaru, who has been enrolled in an exclusive, secretive private school for geniuses. But it turns out that Alice Academy is a lot more than meets the eye. If Mikan wants to stay by Hotaru’s side, she has to both pass the strange “entrance exam” and face the even greater challenge of befriending her very odd new classmates. Whether it’s Hotaru’s gift for inventing gadgets, the cranky Natsume’s fire-casting ability, or Professor Narumi’s control of human pheromones, everyone at the school has some sort of special talent. But what ability, if any, does Mikan possess? Mikan is going to have to rely on her courage and spunk if she’s going to stay in school, or even stay alive!

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Gakuen Alice is essentially a shoujo X-men featuring little kids instead of adults. As broad and stupid as that may sound, it’s pretty accurate. Mikan Sakuraba is an energetic yet emotional and airheaded 10-year-old girl in a small, rural town in modern Japan. One day she learns that, without warning, her best friend, Hotaru, is leaving town to attend Alice Academy, an almost mythical school that takes only the best. Being the kind to look before she leaps, Mikan journeys to the Academy in an attempt to enter and stick with her friend.

Upon arrival, she’s quickly duped and almost kidnapped (don’t get into a stranger’s car, children) until a professor from the Academy puts a stop to it with powers. <I>Magical</I> powers. Not flying through the air blasting lasers from his eyes magical, but magical all the same. After saving her he tells her yes, she may indeed be able to join the Academy! Her! Even if she’s dumb as a brick.

And so begins Mikan’s new school life. She begins as a probationary student, on a temporary, one-week admittance. If she can pass the entrance exam she will become a full-time student. Of course, things aren’t entirely simple. Alice Academy is named after the special abilities of its staff and students, called Alices, which allow them to do all kinds of crazy stuff. The traditional powers of flight, telepathy, and elemental control are all present, but it’s the more unique Alices that impress.

Of course, Mikan’s problem is that she doesn’t seem to have any powers. Most of the first volume is spent being introduced to the school, a few teachers, and the kids in her class as she tries to adjust to her new environment while determining what her Alice could be. I wouldn’t want to give away the Big Secret and tell you if she does, in fact, have an Alice (yes) or if she will be able to stay at Alice Academy for the foreseeable future (yes), so you’ll just have to read it yourself!

The part of Gakuen Alice that I find most interesting is that it takes special abilities, which are usually the domain of action manga, and moves it into a school setting with younger children. It’s certainly not the first manga to attempt this, but it – and this is the important part – does it extremely well. Although this first volume doesn’t venture far past Mikan’s hard-fought entrance to the Academy, the potential on display here is obvious.

Until the next volume, which promises to divulge new and tantalizing secrets about Alice Academy and its students, we’ll have to be content with interesting characters and settings. To be fair, most of the kids in Mikan’s class come off as obnoxious bullies, but I suppose that’s to be expected. Having superpowers and being told you’re better than everyone else is sure to have negative consequences. I hope they eventually get personalities because that’s a large pool of potential gold wasted as unlikeable cretins.

Those who are given individual time are far more interesting. Mikan herself is a fairly typical heroine; strong-willed, kind of stupid, and extremely emotional, she is nevertheless an interesting person to spend time with. Her Alice is, in my humble opinion, one of the best there is, if not <I>the</I> best. Everyone’s had those pointless discussions with their friends – which superpower is the best of them all, could Superman beat Aquaman if the latter had a kryptonite shark, etc. – and Mikan’s is always my number one pick.

The extended cast is no slouch either. My favorite has got to be Hotaru, Mikan’s best friend and child genius. She is very calm and has a real love/hate relationship with Mikan. She’s also quite greedy; although she often has everyone’s best interests at heart, and just doesn’t like to explain her reasoning, she is also quite legitimately, unapologetically self-serving, and is always looking out for herself as priority one. Narumi, Luca, and Natsume are all interesting in their own rights as well, and Natsume clearly has some dark secrets buried under the layers of jerk, but for my money Hotaru’s still the best you can get. Then there’s the Academy itself, of course, which has yet to be revealed to any great extent but is sure to be filled with whimsy, wonder, and quite possibly Wonkavators. With so many engineering geniuses, why not, right?

In Summary:
Gakuen Alice was a real pleasure to read. The artwork may not be fantastic, but the story grabbed me immediately and the characters are endearing right out of the box. It helps that I love superpowers but am growing increasingly weary of protracted fighting sequences. If you feel the same, I cannot recommend Gakuen Alice strongly enough.

Content Grade: B
Art Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: C-
Text/Translation Grade: B

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Release Date: December 26th, 2007
MSRP: $9.99