By Tachibana Higuchi
Released in the US by TokyoPop
Slugline: A happy, fun-filled tale of an authoritarian government exploiting children for the good of the state and favored corporations.
Mikan's best friend Hotaru has been recruited for the government school for Alices, special geniuses who are educated separately from other students in Tokyo. Just as an aside, they call students Alices, even the boys. Why not call them Alans, let them retain their gender identity at least. Oh wait, I forgot, this is Japan. Never mind. Mikan is depressed and alone in her school, but when discovers that Hotaru went to the Alice school because the payment for her going to the school would keep her and Mikan's old school open. So yeah, the government is now buying kids, nice. Once Mikan learns that, she decides that she has to see Hotaru at the Alice school, and runs away from home to Tokyo to see Hotaru. Once there, one of the teacher's talks to her on the sidewalk outside of the vast walled compound where the Alice live and learn, and invite Mikan to join them. Once he prevents one of the Alices from escaping. Once inside Mikan learns that the Alices are not only geniuses, but many of them have extranormal abilities such as mind reading and pryokinesis. Mikan is normal, so she is mystified on why she was invited to join, but is happy to be reunited with Hotaru. Through a series of challenges laid out by pyrokinetic boy, a fellow student in her class, Mikan discovers that her ability is to be normal, as in to shut down other Alice's powers.
I snark, but there is a sad little subtext running through the title, of kids under the control of the government for their own good, and for the good of the nation. And its economy. I'm not sure what it reveals more of, I or the society of Japan. This title is fairly predictable, I could tell what Mikan's ability within a couple of her pages of her meeting the teacher that admits her. But it is a solid kid's tale, which makes me wonder why it is rated for 13+. No major plot holes that you could drive a bus through, though once again the fact that being a parent is one of the most dangerous jobs in Japan is proven here, because Mikan is living with her grandfather, who doesn't seem to panic too much that his pre-teen daughter has run off to the big city.
Gakuen Alice, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.