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.

Alices’ Wonderlands

I wrote awhile back about the Alice in Wonderland trend. Well, I kept thinking about it, and I’ve decided to do a series of posts on various adaptations of Alice. Most of the posts will be about Japanese variations, but since I saw Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland yesterday, I thought I’d start with that. Fair warning, sailors, spoilers be ahead!

Okay, so what is Burton’s Alice? It is neither Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland nor Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, though it features characters and situations from both. However, the plot is largely new. Burton’s Alice is a 19-year-old lady facing an uninteresting marriage proposal at the beginning of the movie. The new plot involves the Red Queen as a murderous despot, whose fearsome beast Alice is foreordained to slay. Alice, however, is uninterested in slaying anything, and only gets backed into it through her deep friendship with the Mad Hatter.

(I feel the need to insert here that Johnny Depp portrays the Hatter with both charming and convincing insanity; Mia Wasikowska’s Alice is endearingly independent in a rather timid manner [at least at first]; Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen is self-centered in a greatly amusing way; and Anne Hathaway’s White Queen is just great – kind, but not all there, if you know what I mean, in a way that strikes me as perfect. And it wasn’t just them. There was a lot of good acting going on.)

*Ahem* Anyway, Alice is made older and the plot involves more action. This is where I got very excited: this film is crazy female character-centric. While TtL-GawAFT had the two kings show up for various portions of the book, the only time either shows up in this film is when we see the Red King’s head (sans Red King) floating in the Red Queen’s moat. Moreover, Alice’s story comes a lot closer to traditional male coming of age tales in this movie than it does in the original. In fact, the original is really more about a daydream (well, a pair of dreams) than about growth as a person.

The new movie is, instead, a bildungsroman. The unwanted marriage proposal creates social pressure which forces Alice to run away for a time to Underland (as it is called in this film). In Underland, she is informed that she has lost her “muchness”, to the extent that she is not even considered to be Alice. The White Queen eventually spells it out for both Alice and the audience: she will stand alone against the Jabberwocky, so she must choose – alone, without the pressure of others – whether to fight.

Once she has regained her muchness, or become self-actualized, Alice can then make choices for herself. She decides to leave Underland, and turns down the proposal in favor of going into business. In our final view of her, she is standing on the bow of a ship headed to China for trade. The implication is that she kickstarts trade between Great Britain and China.

Burton’s Alice is a young woman who begins by being swept hither and thither by whomever is around, but ends by changes the currents of global trade herself. From one who is acted on, to one who acts. And Alice acts kindly. She tries to help an old, delusional aunt, she helps preserve her sister’s peaceful marriage and her business acumen supports herself so that her mother won’t worry. She backs up that kindness with steel: she kills the Jabberwocky that terrified Underland’s citizens into behaving. In other words, Alice becomes the ideal classical warrior. I wonder what Lewis Carroll would say?