In a double-length premiere that manages to be both action-packed and subversive, J.C. Staff’s Alice & Zoroku (Alice to Zouroku) teases a magical realism story with plenty of narrative hooks.
The way the anime handles the presentation of those hooks and its character interactions doesn’t convince me to widely recommend it, but there’s more good than bad in the first two episode of this show.
A young girl named Sana escapes from a shady human-experimentation research facility in the dead of a rainy night in Japan, and she starts her getaway by teleporting large distances through space. A tiny, 3D-animated floral crown floats above her palm and makes a shattering noise when she initiates a jump. This might be why the researchers call her “The Red Queen,” a powerful ESP-using child who’s calorie intake they limit so she can’t run too far.
Sana gets away by teleporting through space
Whether it was the rose-coloured crown that inspired her nickname or the naive, crimson eyes she directs towards her pursuers (including an older ESP-user who summons a giant and hairy human arm,) It’s clear that Sana is the interesting star of Alice & Zoroku. And with decent early animation and smart directing decisions, the show explains her place in the world and makes a good first impression.
After Sana makes her escape to a nearby city (aided by an unknown third party who blocks the titan arm and slips Sana jars of energy-rich marmalade) she crosses paths with Kashimura Zoroku, an elderly man who can apparently hold his nerve in the midst of backroom yakuza deals.
Alice & Zoroku handles these introductions and chance meetings well. Sana, hungry after her jump, searches for more food in a convenience store, and Zoroku slips into the same shop to buy his usual cigarettes. Their first encounter effectively teases their future connection, and when Sana teleports into his car in the parking lot, the dialogue seems fitting for the steely old man and the sheltered girl who’s never left a lab.
Her pursuers catch up and cut the conversation short, though. Two ESP twin sister hurl wrecking balls, anchors and arrows at his car in an attempt to stop Sana, but she uses telekinesis to lurch the vehicle to safety.
The city street destruction from this scene’s adolescent ESP users reminds me of another J.C. Staff anime, A Certain Scientific Railgun. Though, the passable 3D car animations from the opening nighttime escape don’t fare nearly as well in this daylight chase.
The street destruction is akin to A Certain Scientific Railgun
“Think you’re playing a video game?!” Zoroku reprimands the three children when his car finally crashes. It certainly looked like one. The 3D animations on his mini cooper look almost like something out of the 2003 Italian Job video game for GameCube — which is not a compliment in 2017.
The digitally distorted harpsichord and synth music gives the surreal ESP moments in this premiere an appropriately magical feel that helps you look past some of the animation oddities. And there are some smart jokes setup to subvert the expectations of the anime’s plot. Zoroku being a florist, and the yakuza boss needing an floral arrangement for his marriage proposal is one example.
The melancholic way that Sana and Zoroku escape, and eventually come to live together is engaging. And while any evidence of the car chase and destruction is mysteriously covered up, the show transitions nicely into its next story beat.
Sana’s ESP is absurd, yet Sanae hardly blinks at the sight
Although, the second episode is animated significantly less, and it’s lacklustre in its treatment of the Sana’s ESP absurdity. Zoroku’s granddaughter Sanae is a little too bubbly and accepting of piglets falling from the ceiling when she first meets Sana at her home.
On the other hand, Alice & Zoroku delivers on the potential of Sana’s insane power. When she’s well fed, she accidentally teleports around the globe, even visiting penguins in Antarctica before she returns home, and the show organically integrates her power’s limitations into the story, too. Conjuring a giant pancake from her own energy to satisfy her hunger doesn’t make sense, so when Sana tries to do it, she keels over in exhaustion as you’d expect.
Whatever the research organization that made Sana is after, it has some serious clout in Alice & Zoroku’s world. And with the tease of a similarly strong opposing force, it might be worth sticking around to see what Alice & Zoroku has to say.
Alice & Zoroku is streaming on Crunchyroll every Sunday.