I was supposed to go to the manga store today, since they were offering me a read-all-you-can-for-free deal just for today. I even took a day off from work just for it. But as it turned out, I happened to watch episode three of Gakuen Alice the night before on Animax and straightaway, I was hooked and downloaded the fansubs. By the time I finished the 15 episodes out so far (by Naisho), it was already 5 pm and not worth making the one hour trip to the manga store anymore. So, were 15 episodes of Gakuen Alice better than 10 hours of free manga reading? Of course, this article would not exist otherwise.
I don’t know how popular this series is, as it aired during a time when I was preparing for my A level examinations and it completely slipped under my radar. And it was shoujo. But judging by the fact that it still isn’t completely subbed yet, I would presume that the popularity isn’t as high as it should be.
First, I have to state that I rarely ever watch shoujo anime. In fact, I didn’t even finish Paradise Kiss. I can only remember enjoying Daa! Daa! Daa!, Ultramaniac and now this, Gakuen Alice (henceforth known as GKA. GA is Galaxy Angel). So what attributes does GKA possess, that got me hooked straightaway?
3 main things – Hotaru, comedy and superpowers.
Gakuen Alice’s premise isn’t too original or mind-blowing. Two ten year old girls, Sakura Mikan and Imai Hotaru, go to a village school and are best friends. But one day, the government sends Hotaru to the Alice Academy, where she isn’t allowed contact with the outside world. Mikan, being the single-minded loyal friend, runs off and heads to Tokyo, where the Alice Academy is located, to see her best friend again. Of course, she finds it but is denied entry. Two guys try to kidnap Mikan but she’s saved by one of the teachers of AA, who uses his super power, mind-control pheromones, to defeat the bad guys. As he tries to use the same trick to charm Mikan into going home, he notices that Mikan also possesses an Alice (superpower).
So he enrols Mikan into AA, where she must try to get along with her classmates and uncover sinister schemes by both the school and outside forces. Doesn’t sound too special right? It really isn’t. The strengths of the show lies in the characters, pacing and comedy. Superpowers are also a sure-hit with audiences.
Mikan is to Shoujo what Naruto is to Shounen. She’s loud, genki, a klutz, likes to eat, cute, depends on her best friend a lot and never gives up, always trying to protect her loved ones but is the one needing protection. Sounds familiar? Voiced by Ueda Kana (need I explain? She’s famous.) with her Kansai accent, she owns Arika hands down. I didn’t like her at first but in a few episodes, you cannot help but pity and subsequently start encouraging her. Mikan’s treated badly, deprived of nutrition, discriminated against and physically tortured yet takes it all in her stride thanks to encouragement from friends. There was many a time when she just wanted to pack up and leave but somehow things worked out.
Oh she’s exactly like that girl from Hana Yori Dango. Totally unoriginal, but it’s ok. Her Alice is crap too. I pity her.
Mikan has her highs and lows in her new school. Literally.
Hotaru is my favourite character here. She provides most of the comedy and has great chemistry with Mikan. Hotaru is evil, cold, heartless and as she says, “My best friend is myself.” And she charges money for every single thing. How cute. But deep down, she loves Mikan a lot and always protects the idiot. What’s appealing about Hotaru is that her self-control. It could be considered cruelty from others’ point of view though.
She has the Alice of Invention, so she can create creative and really useful machines. Sometimes, she pauses the show to give us a short brief on the new invention. Her seiyuu is Kugimiya Rie (Shana, Alphonse, Yakitate Japan’s Pastry Bikini Girl etc), who goes with an uber-monotone and calm voice, which fits Hotaru perfectly. Her inventions are really cool, damn I would love to have her Alice.
The male lead is as usual, a strong, silent, cool, brooding handsome bishounen with a dark past. And such brooding adolescent geniuses are always voiced by Park Romi (Edward Elric, Ueki, Hitsugaya Toshirou). Here we have Hyuuga Natsume, who has the power of fire. He’s violent, rough and hates the school. And Mikan. Not too interesting. He comes with his own fanclub too, but Natsume doesn’t even acknowledge their existence
The rest of the characters are very interesting though, each comes with their own unique Alice. Everyone loves a school of Superhumans.
GKA’s students are divided into four main ability types: Activated Abilities, Skill Abilities, Bodily Abilities and Special Abilities.
Activated Abilities include the usual X-ray vision, levitation, clairvoyance, mind-reading. It encompasses all the abilities that can be turned on or off.
Skill Abilities are like Hotaru’s. It involves being very good at something. Like Nonako’s super chemistry skillz, Anna’s dancing cookies and so on.
Bodily Abilities are basically physical attributes, like running fast and pheromones. The teacher, Narumi, is under this category.
Finally, we have a secret group of abilities, the Dangerous Ability. Natsume belongs here.
In spite of the comedic and seemingly childish nature, this show actually explores a few mature subjects, namely, segregation of gifted children, their roles in society and how adults make use of these children. A few factions are constantly trying to gain control of the more powerful Alice Users like Natsume, who are treated like weapons.
The AA is a very callous and ruthless place with lots of rules and rankings that determine how well a student’s life there is. Mikan is probably the lowest ranked student, so she gets just a bowl of rice a day, a spider webbed attic room, and has to do all the chores.
GKA scores big in the comedy department thanks to the antics of Hotaru. She makes even the most serious of characters get involved in funny situations. Mikan contributes with her self-deprecating humour too.
Character Design and Animation
The character designs are typically shoujo manga converted to anime. Guys are always bishounen unless they are background characters. But the girls are cute too, in an adorable way. This isn’t loli, but a tad moe. There is zero fanservice, no panty or cleavage shots, no unclean body contact.
The animation is pretty average to good, there is no point in discussing it since this type of show doesn’t need excellent animation so it falls into the average but good enough category.
The OP is a rather typical cute anime song. With a title like Pika Pika no Taiyou (Shiny Sun), it’s hard to expect otherwise. Mikan’s seiyuu sang it but the credits list Mikan herself. The opening sequence is sugary cute.
The ED, by Kugimiya Rie and Ueda Kana, is a slow, sweet duet. The ending sequence is also a typical one, with animation sketches of the characters.
I didn’t find the music special at all, but it does fit the series well.
This is a great series to watch. Unfortunately, the subs are not fully out yet. I’ll probably be catching on Animax though. GKA provides comedy, lovable characters, action, some food for thought and superpowers in a compact, easy to watch package.