Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Today’s “romance” manga is not only a shojo re-telling of Alice in Wonderland (which I just know will annoy MarkAndrew to no end!) but a great commentary on the inherent creepiness of “harem” titles.
Alice in the Country of Hearts, by Soumei Hoshino and Quinrose, re-imagines every “male” character from the Alice in Wonderland books as a dreamy but not altogether right-in-the-head fellow who is destined to fall in love with a fairly pedestrian Alice Liddell. Alice is forcefully dragged to Wonderland from her idyllic (although rather isolated) life by Peter White, otherwise known as the “White Rabbit,” who claims to love Alice and wants her to keep her in Wonderland forever. Alice, who is no pushover, stridently rejects his romantic overtures but not before he can trick her into drinking the potion that keeps her in Wonderland playing a strange “game.”
From the dangerous Mad Hatter to the obtuse White Rabbit, all the male characters in this world are fascinated by Alice because she is an “outsider,” although their idea of how to express their “love” (which is really just interest or perhaps attraction to difference) ranges from kidnapping to death threats. When she’s informed by the character “Nightmare” that while Wonderland existed independently of her — i.e. it isn’t just her dream — the men here will all fall in love with her because she wished to be loved by everybody. This is rather problematic since some of these attractive men are completely unsavory characters, many of them armed to the teeth, since this version of Wonderland is comprised of a set of fiefdoms that are constantly at war with each other.
This is an incredibly un-romantic romance since everyone is under orders from the universe to fall for Alice no matter what, which means it is hard to see any relationship as “real” or sustaining. The characters all seem to be playing their own game while Alice struggles to learn the rules and assert sanity into the various rituals the characters insist upon performing. While Alice is surprisingly likeable, the members of her “harem” tend toward the mysterious, if not outright sinister. Reverse harems are becoming rather common place in shojo manga, so it is amusing to see this one so completely mock the conventions of the traditional shojo romance. The first guy to set eyes on Alice is a big old creep and the handsomest, dreamiest guy around may be a serial killer (I find this both creepy and hilarious). Although the title has a few problems — such as the warring factions in Wonderland plot, which doesn’t really make much sense — I enjoyed the fact that there may be no Prince Charming to save Alice from trouble. This gives me hope that this version of Alice will save herself, much like her original did in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
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