Alice & Zoroku – First Impressions

I’ve been trying to write this impressions post for almost two weeks now. The reason I haven’t done it until now has not been because I wanted to prioritize other series or because I didn’t have a good grasp on my opinion of Alice & Zoroku. No, it’s just a really hard series to describe and talk about without spoiling too much of the premise. A premise so solid that I want people to go in not knowing too much in the first place.

But it would be unfair to leave one of the strongest series of the season to date be just because it’s hard to write about, so here goes. Alice & Zoroku follows two characters. A little girl named Sana, who have incredible superhuman powers allowing her to create matter out of thin air, instantly disappear to a different part of the world and more. She’s running from a research facility where people held her detained for a very long time, experiment on her and others in various ways. This escape leads her to an old man, Zoroku.

Zoroku ends up getting dragged into Sana’s escape and eventually decides to take in the poor girl, unsure of how or if he can help her. Your first question is probably “Why isn’t this called Sana & Zoroku?”, which is a fair enough question. I went through most of the first episode thinking the little girl’s name was Alice. The title refers to Sana’s title more than anything, which the series makes clear after we learn her name.

I think that’s about as much as I can give away of the story itself without going too far. It’s a series which has its strength in character writing and dialogue more so than anything else, with Zoroku being a very different kind of male lead thanks to him being an older man living with his granddaughter. It also helps that Zoroku isn’t a stereotype, despite his age. He still uses and understands technology and clearly have a grasp on the world around him.

Sana herself is a delight as well. While the fish-out-of-water trope of a character finally coming out into the real world has been done to death, Sana’s behaviour sells it. There’s a lot of action anime staring children that forget that said characters are children, writing them as young adults in tiny bodies. Sana on the other hand feels genuine in her childish behaviour. She’s impatient and acts before thinking, but it never comes off as anything more than her still growing.

As I watched two episodes before writing this, the first of which was a double-length pilot, there’s been more events and development in the series than is normal for my first impressions. While I was very impressed by the first episode, the second episode managed to raise the bar even higher by showing how the series handles characters when there’s no current active threat against them. At one point the second episode even starts feeling like you’re watching a comedy slice-of-life anime, making you forget the sadness Sana is going through for just a moment. It’s refreshing in a way, as it feels like the series isn’t worried about having to stick too close to one tone and theme all the time.

Visually, the series is somewhat of an anomaly. There’s some of the worst 3DCG I’ve seen mixed with 2D in a show in years, meanwhile the 2D is nicely animated but with an intentional “awkward” look to the character designs that should be off-putting but ends up being surprisingly charming. It’s a bit like watching Yuyushiki as a serious action-drama, a strange clash of styles but it works whenever there’s not too much 3D around to throw you out of the episode. And considering my favourite show last season was Kemono Friends, my 3DCG tolerance bar has gotten quite high.

Despite my high praise for the series, I have to admit that I am still a bit cautious about it going forward. It’s directed by Sakurabi Katsushi who last year directed one of my most despised sequels ever in Lostorage incited WIXOSS, and considering I was praising that series during the first episodes too I’m hoping it’s not going to be a repeat of that disaster. So far his work on Alice & Zoroku is great and he’s not directing an anime original story this time, so hopefully my fears won’t come true and the series will stay strong throughout.

I’m rather glad to see Ohwada Hitomi in the lead role as Sana. She’s not had too much work in the past but she did great as Midori in Shirobako and her performance here is superb as well. She’s not the only voice actress with a smaller portfolio given room to perform either, as Kito Akari and Fujiwara Natsumi puts in a show-stealing performances as the twins Yonaga and Asahi. There’s also Uchida Shuu, a newcomer tackling her first role, playing the mysterious Cleo, a recurring character in the first two episodes. Her character is rather quiet, so I can’t speak too much for her performance yet but I’m glad to see so much new talent in this show!

I really recommend Alice & Zoroku, to practically everyone. It’s funny, sad, serious, silly and manages to nail all those things over and over. While I wouldn’t call it my favourite series of the season so far, if it does end up there come June I won’t be disappointed. It’s a truly wonderful start to a series that I hope most people will love. It’s a shame it has awkward moments like the truly bad 3DCG sequence in the first episode, but I’m hoping we’ll have less of that moving forward.

Alice & Zoroku is licensed by Crunchyroll and is currently being streamed on Crunchyroll.
Click here for more Spring Season 2017 impressions!

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