#1 An Alice in Wonderland story not obsessed with Wonderland
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have long been inspirations for creators around the world. Even in distant Japan, mangaka and anime producers have found themselves taking inspiration from Carroll’s works. Not entirely surprising, since it’s fair to argue that Alice’s tales are the baseline of the ever-popular isekai genre.
However, oftentimes “inspired by Alice in Wonderland” comes down to “loose adaptation of Alice in Wonderland“, either putting the story through the filter of some popular genre or borrowing a few too many of its elements. While I am sure Alice in Murderland or Alice in the Country of Hearts have their merits, I don’t really need to have a story I already quite like retold to me like that. Especially Alice in Murderland sounds redundant since American McGee’s Alice exists.
Magical Girl Squad Alice had me apprehensive at first, but it really taps into the spirit of Carroll’s Wonderland stories, rather than the literal elements of it. Arusu is a quirky girl in current day Japan who finds normality rather boring and seeks refuge in her fondness for magic and witchcraft. Her wish to live in a more interesting world is granted when she almost dies in a freak accident, whereupon she awakens in a forest filled with bizarre creatures. She has been transported to a world where magic is real and an entire society is crafted around witchcraft and wizardry.
It pays homage to Carroll’s work by having Arusu (a butchering of the English name “Alice”) explore a fantastical world, but that’s where the line is drawn. We aren’t in Wonderland and you won’t find any of its residents making cameos here. After seeing Carroll’s work reinterpreted so often, I was delighted to have a story that builds its own world using Carroll’s methods rather than his ideas.
#2 Magical idealism
Arusu believes that magic should bring happiness to people, making it a shock for her when she arrives in the fantasy world she always dreamed of, and finds it a dark, depressing place. Witches are elitist snobs who mistreat and kill those who aren’t good enough at magic, and Arusu soon finds herself locked up in a prison where hundreds of magical critters are caged up; who are routinely harvested for magical reagents. To fight back against these injustices, Arusu sets them all free.
The story paints Arusu as an idealist that wants to create a better world and free the witches from the ruling class of cranky, old traditionalists. However, she is too young to realize how her actions endanger the people around her. With the witches now unable to obtain vital magical resources, shortages hit and devastate their society. Shortages give way to tension between different people, putting the world on the brink of all-out war as everybody scrambles to recapture what animals they can find.
Arusu herself is forced to start hunting these creatures alongside her “friends” Sheila and Eva, both of whom are cursed as punishment for Arusu’s actions. While Eva is young and easily swooped up in Arusu’s worldview, Sheila was the star pupil; raised to be the next generation of fanatical traditionalists before her career was devastated by Arusu’s shenanigans. They don’t get along so well.
Magical Girl Squad Alice presents interesting moral problems for a fantasy story. Arusu makes for a likable chaotic good protagonist, but I was pleased to see that the show never shirks away from showing how her careless nature snowballs and causes new issues in its fallout.
#3 Cute critters
Arusu, Sheila, and Eva are tasked with retrieving all the different species of magical animals and this basically becomes the monster-of-the-week type episode that bridges the gaps between major story moments. All the creatures are quite imaginative, ranging from cute spooks to flying, feathered pigs.
Sheila and Arusu bicker a lot about how they should go about their task, while Eva just wants everybody to get along so they can all get rid off their curse. Alice wants to go the pacifist route and slowly convince each animal to live with them. Sheila doesn’t want to hurt the animals per say, but she does realize that there is a crisis going on that would be fixed if they caged all these beasties back up again. She uses a lot of cool gadgets and magic to capture her targets, making her a very tactical and resourceful character.
Their quest is complicated when other groups begin to interfere, such as when a professional team of ruthless “sprite hunters” is introduced. They consider it laughable to treat animals with any amount of dignity at all, so will use lethal force for anything and everything they need to get done. A dead animal in a cage is still an animal in a cage, right? Even worse, as war begins to loom, the girls gain even more competition from the mysterious warlock cults. They want the animals alive, but are more than willing to incinerate everything else on their path.
#4 Gorgeous art & world design
Magical Girl Squad Alice was first intended to be included in one of my Quick Anime Reviews segments, but only 2 episodes in I realized this wasn’t going to fly. Studio 4C crafted such a beautiful world in a wholly unique artstyle, that I knew right away this show deserved a full review of its own.
The world of the witches is an imaginative, dark fantasy place where stereotypical magic themes meet with industrialization. You get people flying around on brooms, but they also got MASSIVE multi-personal brooms floating around like gosh darn zeppelins. Magical creatures walk side-by-side with robotic servants, and it’s often difficult to discern what is magical and what is technology. It’s imaginative and constantly surprising, making this the first time in a while that I have been so genuinely excited to explore a new fantasy world.
The artstyle is incomparable to anything else for me, so thank God for screenshots. The backgrounds and scenery are often very detailed and elaborate, but you’ll notice that characters and creatures are colored in with little to no shading or gradient. it’s very noticeable and, honestly, I kinda like it. It makes the characters really pop and makes each color stand out more, which helps emphasize the character designs and their clothing. This style also works well throughout the show, serving it well during the funniest of comedy bits as well as the dramatic or emotional moments.
#5 Short episodes
Magical Girl Squad Alice has 40 episodes of 9 minutes each, which was another reason for why it was quite a stretch to include it with the Quick Anime Reviews. Adding in a few bonus episodes, that’s almost twice as long as a regular anime cour.
The brief length of each individual episode does allow storylines to be very compact, however. Binging through this anime was absolutely delightful, as the story moves along at an ideal pace. This was also an anime original, created by Garo and Iria: Zeiram author Keita Amemiya, so there was basically nothing tying the creative team down. Something you’ll certainly notice as you watch through the series. It’s a very different experience from watching yet another TV anime crowbar its source material into a 20 minute timeslot with advertisement breaks in-between.