Alice’s(?) Wonderland

This installment in the Alice series is about chapter 15 of Ouran High School Host Club. Ouran is your standard gender-bending high school romance comedy, and it’s quite popular. At the beginning of chapter 15, Bisco Hatori, the mangaka, makes a joke about being out of ideas, so it’s possible that this chapter was simply filler – an attempt to buy some time. Still, it came out in roughly the correct time frame and picks up on the trend, so here we go.

The Host Club at Ouran makes a habit of putting on set pieces. They dress up all of the club members as, for example, members of the ancient Japanese nobility. So dressing up as characters from Alice in Wonderland would not be without precedent. However, this chapter also (very) loosely follows the plotline of Alice, in addition to dressing up the Ouran characters as Alice characters.

This version is not intended to be serious. From the beginning, a pair of twins is cast – together – to play Alice because the would-be female Alice is too practical to chase a rabbit down a hole. The characters make asides commenting on the proceedings throughout, and Alice is switched out on occasion to further the plot. There are five Alices in total, and only one – the main Alice – is female. The twins who started off as Alice return as the Cheshire Cat, and the third Alice comes back as the Mad Hatter. The final Alice takes the female Alice’s place when she wakes up.

This version has a lot of ups and downs – it starts off with jokes about the Alice theme and cross-dressing… moves to a spooky forest where we hear about an evil queen who has ordered an execution… at which point we get more jokes about gossiping… and so on. In a sense it displays both the good-humored, topsy-turvy nature of the original and the darker, grimmer tone of Burton’s version. The Ouran Alice jumps between the two tones frenetically, but never stays with the darker tone long enough to seem serious.

The humor is also aimed at an older age group than the original Alice. At one point, the female Alice gives the growing drink to a baby and he grows into a hunky, naked high school boy, whose nudity is quickly and comically covered up by some male characters. The question of gender comes up frequently in this chapter, which was perhaps to be expected since the entire series revolves around a girl being mistaken for a boy. Aside from the magically growing man and the three male Alices, the Red and Black queens are both men in drag. Yet both the Red and Black queens lead Wonderland into problems – first the Red Queen bankrupts the land, then the Black Queen institutes a reign of terror to balance the budget. Alice saves the day, but the story ends with a male character ruling as the White King. You could look at this as Alice crying out for a real man, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Throughout the story, men dressing as women is displayed problematically. At first, they seem to solve problems, as when the twin Alices chase the rabbit. But the twin Alices are quickly shown to have acted from childish boredom, a boredom that causes them to wander off mid-story. The second male Alice recklessly agrees to vanquish the evil Black Queen despite not having any resources or any real idea what’s going on.

The female Alice, by way of contrast, saves the day. She uses the growing potion to, basically, summon a creature that defeats the Red Queen. The manner in which she does it is reminiscent of magical girls, stock characters seen in many shoujo anime and manga. So Hatori is playing off of well-known stories and characters for this part of the chapter.

So far, male characters in drag are not so good, while the actual female character kicks butt. On top of that, male characters dressed as male characters also come off badly. One is depicted as having a “double personality” – sweet, but also extremely nasty by turns. The White King who supposedly will heal the land after the problems brought on by the White and Red Queens shows up twice. Undercutting his role as savior is his earlier appearance as a mysterious (and creepy) merchant who gives the shrinking and growing drinks to Alice and therefore manipulates the entire rest of the story.

If you look at the other female characters though, there are more problems. Some wasted public funds on an expensive garden, while another gossiped about the Red Queen’s private life. That leaves us with just Alice, who can’t even manage to stay one person for the length of the chapter. Everything is topsy-turvy, with executions threatened and danger maybe near, but the characters emerge unscathed – even the Red Queen, who returns in the last scene as Alice’s mother. Hatori uses the Alice story as a launching point for her own brand of comedy, which happens to have a similar vibe to the original. In other words, Hatori’s version is a wild ride that plays fast and loose with the source material, but it does retain a sense of the good-natured confusion and irrationality of the source materials.

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