Jade Woodruff’s “Life on Anime” – issue #21: ‘Gakuen Alice’

A few years ago, I was searching for the next Card Captor Sakura.  CCS is my personal favorite anime series because of nostalgia.  It wasn’t just one of the first anime I watched, it was the show my future husband shared with me that really sparked my love for anime.  It was my first subtitled Japanese animation and definitely the first I had seen with a legit romance subplot.  Card Captor Sakura captured my heart in the early 2000’s.

Needless to say, I’ve always been searching for other shows that can give me that nice balance of fantasy, action, romance, and fun.  But they’re so hard to find!  When my friends don’t know where to look, I look on the internet.

Episode-26-Friendship-Is-Endless-gakuen-alice-20428087-606-454

For Card Captor Sakura, one of the most recommended series is Gakuen Alice.

I’m here to dispel that.

For more on this… click “Read More” and see for yourselves.

Aptly described as Harry Potter meets Card Captor Sakura The Anime, Gakuen Alice is about a school of talented students who can use magic.  While we would call them Wizards, this series calls them Alices.  It’s not their choice to go to this special school; it’s required.  The series follows a nearly useless girl named Sakura Mikan as she follows her friend Hotaru, a gifted Technical Alice, to the school even though she isn’t an Alice herself.

But wait!  It turns out that she is and Alice!  She has the rare ability to negate other Alices.  Unfortunately, this is considered pointless and she’s put in a class full of other people with “useless” abilities.

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As Sakura Mikan makes friends at school, she learns more about why students are forced to attend, the different types of Alices, that some abilities require the Alice’s life force for power, and more about her classmates and teachers.  There’s even a little love theme that creeps in mid-series.

Unfortunately, Gakuen Alice quickly becomes episodic, opening more doors than it closes.  In its 26-episode run, it loosely ties up the major plot points while taking several somewhat necessary excursions.  Though these episodes provide a greater look into the fantasy setting and side characters (some of whom are never seen again), they come off as pandering and wasteful because the major plot points and even the mild love themes are left lukewarm by the end of the last episode.  Did I really need three episodes of Mikan walking around the school festival?

Fortunately, the series ends where it started: with Hotaru’s and Mikan’s friendship.  The last episode, though somewhat disappointing was at least true to the main character’s primary reason for leaving home, bringing her full circle.  The Potter-esque plot involving the teachers, a secret society, and child labor were quickly swept under the rug.

Gakuen Alice is a far cry from Card Captor Sakura.  It lacks the mature approach to romance and the complicated emotions that accompany love.  Created in 2004, Gakuen Alice feels more like a Card Captor Sakura meets Harry Potter Fanfiction that was created for kids, not all audiences.  And maybe that’s why Gakuen Alice is considered “good”, because it’s branded as a children’s show with its PG rating, simplistic art style, muted color scheme, and imaginative characters.  It certainly felt like a children’s show.  While Card Captor Sakura looked like one on the outside, it was far from it.  I was hoping that the recommendations for Gakuen Alice weren’t because of the “magic” aspects or character archetypes that may as well have been completely ripped from CCS, but because of the promise of complex characters and themes.  I was clearly mistaken.

Instead, the most mature, yet clearly immature, scene is where Natsume (the love interest) pulls Mikan’s shirt open, looks inside and says “you call those boobs?”.  Does that belong in a “children’s” show?

My biggest gripe about the series is the dated animation.  It’s barely tolerable.

Gakuen Alice looks like it was made in the mid-1990’s or, at best 1998.  It was made in 2004.

Gakuen Alice Comparison

Let’s just take a look at what other anime were released in 2004 and, for kicks, 1998Fullmetal Alchemist was well animated for its time so, naturally, it’s going to look better.  It was fluid and exciting to watch, even when nothing was happening.  Elfen Lied had a similar muted color palate to Gakuen Alice, but that created more impact when bright red blood was flying everywhere.  In other words, there was a reason the colors were muted in Elfen Lied. Even Pokemon Advance (the one with Mei) and the severely flawed Melody of Oblivion (we’ll save that for another day) looked leaps and bounds better than Gakuen Alice.  All were released in the same year.

In 1998, Trigun and, ironically, Card Captor Sakura started their runs!  I promise.  I didn’t pick that year intentionally.  It just happened.  Though Card Captor Sakura didn’t look amazing, it certainly didn’t look as drab, dated, and flat as Gakuen Alice.  Trigun looked great for its time, but still looked like a 90’s anime.  Pikachu’s Vacation also aired that year, proving even early Pokemon titles look better, although not by much.  That brings me to His and Her Circumstances.  This looks about right.  Though His and Her Circumstances was produced by Gainax, an industry giant, and would have had a higher budget as a result, it looks about the same as Gakuen Alice which was produced by TAC (they haven’t done much since 2010).  That doesn’t say much for either series, to be honest.  I reviewed His and Her Circumstances a while back and I remember one of my biggest complaints was about the animation being dated compared to other titles that ran the same year.

There isn’t much to say about the music either.  It’s bland, just like the art.

The only things that stood out to me about Gakuen Alice (other than it ripping off Card Captor Sakura’s characters) was Rie Kugumiya as Hotaru and SHAFT on the credit role.  What were you doing SHAFT?

I Googled the series because I just had to know if there was a Manga or Light Novel preceding the anime.  There was!  And, even after flipping through just a few of the pages online, it is clearly superior to its anime adaptation.  The series is drawn well and there’s definitely more romance.  Honestly, the manga looks more like a shoujo title.  Gakuen Alice The Manga looks like something I would enjoy.


The Bottom Line:
Overall, Gakuen Alice is a lukewarm attempt at adapting an inferior fanfiction-esque story merging Card Captor Sakura and Harry Potter.  If you’re looking for something mildly entertaining to run in the background while you do something else, I guess it could be considered worth watching. I guess.  Maybe it could be alright for kids?  Still.  There are much better ways to pass your time.  If you just have to see this, I’d recommend scrounging up a copy of the manga.  It looks much better and I’m considering reading a few chapters myself! SImply put, not everyone’s a winner, and this one just isn’t very good. – 3.5/10

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-Jade Woodruff
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine
@BentoStudios

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