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Gakuen Alice DVD Collection – Review

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Gakuen Alice DVD Collection - Review 1

Title: Gakuen Alice
Published by: Nozomi Entertainment
Based on: The manga series under the same name by Tachibana Higuchi
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Supernatural
Audio: Japanese Dubs
Subtitles: English
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Runtime: 650 minutes
Cost: Litebox $29.99 as of this post from Right Stuf
Special Thanks: A copy of this series was purchased out of my own pocket

I have been following the Gakuen Alice series since the first volume of the manga was released in English by Tokyopop several years ago. It caught my eye because I was much younger and happened to have interest in a now little-known book series “Children of the Red King” by Jenny Nimmo, which surrounded a group of school students who had a single special ability from hearing voices from pictures to turning into birds who were made to attend Bloor’s Academy. Of course, apart from that the storylines were very different, but it was interesting to see how one different plot could take different paths. But enough side-tracking… what did I think of the anime series to a manga I have read much of? Read on to find out in my review of the Gakuen Alice DVD Collection by Nozomi Entertainment.

Mikan and Hotaru are best friends! (Well, according to Mikan anyway… Hotaru doesn’t seem to care). Then one day, Hotaru is escorted away in a fancy black car aparently scouted by a school in Tokyo called “Alice Academy”. Crushed at the loss of her favorite pal, Mikan scurries after her determined to enroll too! But Alice Academy is a mysterious place. Can Mikan tough it out in a school where explosions, superpowers, giant baby chicks and axe-wielding teddy bears are the norm? Though it’s not as if she has a choice, because once students enter Alice Academy, there is no escape! 

Gakuen Alice DVD Collection - Review 2For those familiar with the manga series consider yourself forewarned that this anime series was released considerably early in the series lifetime, therefore while you could consider the first half of the series or thereabouts similar to the manga with some exceptions, the second half carries a unique plotline which isn’t half bad. The series can be spread over a number of different plots, some of which are purely mean’t to develop the main characters as rivalries break down and crushes blossom while others were mean’t to more accurately portray the many sides of campus life – both the good and happy times as well as the secrets that put students and civilians at risk. This resulted in several shifts between plot and filler which while at times might have corresponded with what was shown in the manga, at times also dragged on leaving me feeling the time could have been better used… for example a very extended school festival arc for one that took several episodes to get through and contributed very little.

Gakuen Alice DVD Collection - Review 3While they spent more time developing the relationship between the four main “child” characters (Mikan, Hotaru, Natsume and Ruka), what you could consider the “Main Plot” is taken from the Reo arc of the manga and surrounds a man named Reo who is part of an Anti-Alice known as Z and starts a whole plot surrounding the dark secrets of the academy – making it quite possibly the more interesting part of the series as most series that do seem to go down this track seem to be conservative about it. This carries over as an anime-exclusive plot for the conclusion which to be honest had its moments but could have been thought out better. The primary issue was that while they did somewhat follow the original plot, the anime’s plot was more aimed at being child friendly with hit-or-miss humour, more filler episodes and resolve through talking rather than having a more important role for the characters unique Alice’s at times took away from the experience.

But perhaps I am being a bit rough on this series, as it is a school-life series surrounding a group of elementary schoolers who just happen to have magical powers and for that part at least I thought it succeeded. However, while the series was creative and imaginative in terms of building the world of Gakuen Alice, it was hard not to want more when there was so much potential to begin with – perhaps making it a better idea to have waited just a little bit longer to release the anime and have more source material to work with.

Gakuen Alice DVD Collection - Review 4

Moving on to the series design quality, I would consider it somewhere between average and above average. While you have to consider this anime was released 2004 and to its credit, tried to maintain the same art style as Tachibana Higuchi used in her manga release, they so also lost some of the potential it could have had. They tried to capture the normal look of students in a school, so considering most of the characters are children they didn’t go for the elaborate hairstyle options but chose relatively simple ones alongside at times the usual set of normal and elaborate hair colours. The designs were also based off their characters personalities so Mikan with her chirpy personality has a variety of different expressions while Hotaru being a lone wolf type maintains a bored like expression through most of the series. Environment designs were most probably the winning element of the series with a light watercolour styling to exterior areas and a more simplistic yet colourful detailing to interior designs that would not benefit from the watercolouring style. Perhaps the big thing to complement the series on is the use of colour… something that they use well to portray the moods of the setting but the childish designs joined with a simple plot may give off an impression that this series is just aimed at children.

Gakuen Alice DVD Collection - Review 5

The soundtrack is perhaps the best component of this series, with a sizable and fairy well done soundtrack that helps set the mood. Providing a well rounded set of suspenseful and light-heart tracks which I suppose are overused a bit, it is memorable and should not be cause for complaints by most viewers. Most of these tracks are softer in tune and make use of several instruments – with a heavier focus on the violin, piano and surprisingly the trumpet to give a darker tone to the suspenseful elements. Also included in the soundtrack are two lyrical tracks performed by Kenichi Suzumura “Lazy Love Guilty Love” and “Venus” which actually work pretty well given the context they are used in. The series opening theme Pikapika no Taiyou by Kana Ueda is an enjoyable track that is complemented well by a very Fairy Tale / Alice in Wonderland themed animation which has Mikan searching for Hikaru. The ending theme on the other hand Shiawase no Niji by Kana Ueda and Rie Kugimiya was not memorable and to me, easily skippable.

The voice cast included a number of well known voice actors and actresses which provided an overall enjoyable listening experience and matched their characters personalities well. Kana Ueda managed to meet the range of voices you would have expected a ditzy girl such as Mikan to have while Rie Kugimiya, Miwa Yasuda and Romi Park each managed to capture their individual characters (Hotaru, Ruka and Natsume respectively) vastly different personalties and played them well. This is however, one series that would have been better with an included English dub, as I don’t deny that the Japanese cast is great but I feel Nozomi Entertainment would have been able to reach a wider viewer demographic if they had.

Gakuen Alice DVD Collection - Review 6

While there is nothing particularly unique in terms of extra content within this collection, there is quite a lot of it spread over the five discs within the set. On a single disc they include the textless opening and closing sequences for the show while on every disc they include a set of two trailers for Nozomi Entertainment titles, translation notes which are of quantity and quality and character bios which I have never really seen much point to including but they are there if you want to refer to them. Unlike the original release of this anime (Which I believe is still available for purchase) that had a box with individual DVD’s in very slim cases – this comes like you would usually expect anime releases to come – within a single DVD box. The cover art is simple but clean and looks fine on a shelf and the CD artwork features some nice artwork featuring groups of characters.

Gakuen Alice DVD Collection - Review 7To conclude this review, I am still not fully sure where I stand on this series. It does a good job at capturing the school life of students at an exclusive academy for the magically gifted but it is still let down by some rather bland episodes. Flipping to the other side of the storyline, it made use of what it had and did a good job at it – but the conclusion that was left felt unsatisfying and could have used more to it. I think you are better off watching this anime before reading the manga as you will most probably be left nitpicking at certain elements. I won’t deny that I enjoyed watching this series and feel it is worth a watch, but I don’t think it will appeal to everyones tastes and would have been better of waiting just a few more years until being released where they would have had more to work with and could have easily justified a plot-driven 26 episode run. Given that the manga series is still running and considerably well known, I wouldn’t rule it past them doing Gakuen Alice 2 or even another couple of OVA episodes. Either way, time will tell.

Final Score
Storyline / Character Development: C
Design:
C+
Music/Voice Acting: B+
Extra Content: B
Personal Preference: B-
Overall Score: C+
Sam
Sam
Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fifteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.
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