Alice & Zouroku – Mid Season Anime Review
Synopsis: Up until that point, the girl didn’t know about the “outside world.” It was filled with things she had never touched, scenery she had never seen, and people she had never met… In the face of such a broad new world, she was surprised, wavered, and her eyes were opened on the impulse of curiosity. The girl’s name: Sana. She was born and raised at a facility called the “Laboratory” without ever knowing anything about the outside world. This girl has the special power to materialize anything she imagined. Those with special powers like Sana were called “Alice’s Dream.” (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Mid Season (6-ish Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Alice & Zouroku opened the season with decent 2D animation and overly simplistic CGI that failed to impress. Six episodes, or so, in and the series has pulled back on that level of CGI usage, thankfully resigning itself to primarily 2D animation. Unfortunately even traditional animation continues to feel a tad sloppy, or basic, with character designs that seem to shift from scene to scene. This can be especially frustrating for a character like Zouroku, who’s older visage requires a lot of details that constantly seem less defined than they should be.
Linny: Another disappointment is how misleading the title is. For a show that has Zouroku’s name in the title itself, he seems to play a rather diminished role in the story thus far. Sure he is there at pivotal points but seems extremely passive for a titular character. Almost all the focus is on Sana and the first half seems to be devoted to exploring her personality, her escape from the research facility and the resulting attempts to recapture her. Even the mid series sneak peek we get for the second half of the show makes it abundantly clear that it’s going to continue to focus on Sana as she meets new friends with the featured key visual image having her and new characters right in the foreground while Zouroku languishes in the background.
Tom: It’s baffling why Zouroku even has his name in the title when ultimately the entire show is really about Sana, and Zouroku only exists to provide catharsis or life changing expositional dumps for Sana in order to facilitate her character growth. Heck Sana’s name isn’t even directly in the title, making it all the more confusing why the series tries to sell itself one way when it’s totally the other. It’s all the more frustrating that Zouroku’s left in the background because he is such a breath of fresh air. He’s a character type we don’t often see in anime in general and to have him thrust into the spotlight could’ve been quite unique. While Sana is adorable whenever she’s getting to know Zouroku or his grand daughter’s everyday life, as well as how to balance her powers, the show even seems disinterested in that aspect of its story. Instead it’s fully set on delving into the more action, mystery, thriller aspects of itself. And perhaps that would be fine if those aspects were actually done well, but the sad truth is they’re not.
Linny: Sana is clearly meant to be the adorable, innocent yet powerful protagonist but the show never engages in enough slice of life exposition to help the viewer form a strong bond with her. Instead, you’re given bits and pieces, just enough to make you realize how fun those parts are and also to leave you dissatisfied at just how little of it you get. The action and drama all happen so fast that you barely get breathing time to bond with anyone, making you struggle to care about the fate of the characters on a deeper level. And heaven forbid you really take to Zouruko and his gruff but honest, caring demeanor because you’re going to be extremely frustrated with the amount of screen time he gets.
Tom: Muddying the series further is its bevy of additional characters, from other children with the Dreams of Alice powers, to government agents, to evil corporate individuals. This expansive cast is woefully underused, many of whom appear in scenes where almost nothing happens. These scenes have very little bearing on the main plot of the series and their existence is even more baffling when the first arc concludes and these characters, along with their connection to the main plot, are resolved off screen with barely any mention or fanfare.
Linny: The flow of the show is a little disjointed. It starts off very sinister and action packed but then goes into slice of life mode as Alice and Zouruko get thrown together. For better or worse, the show is at its best when its taking its time just letting the characters be themselves and interact with each other. However, since the show quickly returns to its action/thriller tone, you would do best to pick it up for that, which is unfortunate as it’s action and thriller elements aren’t impressive by any measure.
Tom: Alice & Zouroku was never tagged as a slice of life, having been introduced with genre tags indicating its action/adventure and mystery direction. But as Linny said the show toyed with such moments just enough to showcase how that direction actually felt better and more interesting. In fact, even as an Action/Adventure Mystery anime, Alice & Zouroku feels woefully ill equipped to match even those expectations. I’d describe it more so as a fantasy or supernatural thriller than action/adventure, and even then the series just doesn’t have the chops to make that work, as made obvious by how willing it is to take it’s entire opening arc and shove the resolution off-screen, allowing our characters to explain it all away as if none of it was really a big deal to begin with.
Linny: Alice and Zouruko sounded interesting when I first read a summary for it. The idea of an innocent little girl and grumbling older man thrown together as an unusual leading pair sounded extremely promising. However, thanks to a large and poorly utilized cast, along with average animation and action, the show seems to be quickly sinking into mediocrity. It’s hard to care or get invested in the story when the show itself seems more interested in showing off its action elements, which aren’t bad but isn’t enough to carry the show all on its own. You could give Alice & Zouroku a try if you’re someone who likes shows that focus mainly on epic contemporary brawls between super powered ‘humans’ but don’t pick this show up expecting a truly gripping mystery or any character substance.
Tom: This review is really just for episodes 1-5, as the sixth episode was a recap/sit down with the voice actors. That said, this special episode gave some idea of where the series is headed and it doesn’t look good. Zouroku, based upon the preview visual and voice actors comments, still seems to be taking a backseat, with all the focus on Sana and, apparently, another supernatural incident involving more girls who’ve gained the Dreams of Alice powers. If you’re like me, this is a disappointing revelation as the series has generally failed to utilize its characters or plot to the fullest effect. It’s especially disheartening if the series’ flirtation with the slice of life dynamic was infinitely more appealing for you than its actual offerings. But if episodes 1-5 were exactly what you wanted it sounds like we’re about to get much of the same.