Title: Trick or Alice
Company: little cheese
Release date: 8-4-12
Lewis Carroll’s magnum opus has been adapted countess of times over the years, not least of all to eroge. Everything from nukige to otome-ge have taken the famous literary figures and added their own interpretation, yet Trick or Alice manages to be wholly unique amongst dozens of others with the same premise.
The story begins with Arisa, a girl who has been living her peaceful days to the fullest, finding contentment in her modest happiness with her family and friends. But on her birthday, those quiet days are swiftly ended, her world thrown into chaos and illogical contradictions. She finds herself trapped in the fantastical world of Wonderland, where all her friends have been replaced with bizarre lookalikes, and everyone insists that she is Alice, the girl they have all been waiting for. However, she learns that everything is not all magic and enchantment, for the Queen of Hearts is a tyrant over all, Wonderland is an endlessly repeating world where time cannot advance, and only Alice can break the cycle. Desperately wanting to find the real Alice and return home, Arisa now finds herself bearing the burdens of an entire world.
With a plot so intricate, the art so enticing, and the characters so appealing, it immediately caught my attention. Unfortunately, excitement turned to dread when the scenario writer turned out to be none other than Hiyo, the same individual who has penned quite a few disastrous titles in the past. However, I put aside my doubts to give the trial the benefit of the doubt. And I am pleased at how richly rewarded I was for doing so.
Despite my earlier worries, Hiyo’s storytelling has gone from uninspired and unappealing to a layered, solidly-constructed tale with its fair share of slice-of-life antics, but also with great character depth, genuine romance, and a tangled web of mysteries and motives.
Gone are the days of frustratingly heartless heroes being swooned over; while not all the male characters are prince charmings, their flaws and secrets present them as actual people, rather than a compilation of stale clichés. Even the most unstable and vicious of men is hinted to have a reason for his behavior, and it’s not considered appealing in any way, but rather a product of madness. Even the sub-characters have important roles and steadily forge unbreakable bonds with the others, rather than being used for cheap comic effect.
As a heroine, Arisa is a triumph, neither disturbingly passive nor emotionally underdeveloped. She exceeds well above and beyond a mere two-dimensional character sketch, very much acting as a real girl would when torn away from all that she loves, trying to adjust to a strange world, garnering sympathy throughout her conflict. She cannot stand harassment and defends others when in danger, she is clever enough to listen to her instincts and follow her own judgement, but she also hides much of her own issues beneath a smiling face, making her just as interesting, or even moreso, to read about than the heroes.
The art is simply adorable, with plush illustrations and soft, curved lines, vibrantly colored with a pastel palette. It looks wondrous, especially in comparison to the more generic styles with a much harsher aesthetic, less attention to detail, and lack of life in the rigid paper dolls. Here, while the special effects are minimal, the characters are given multiple sets of clothing, and even the heroine has a wide array of poses and facial expressions. The background music fluctuates between average to flawless, with some unique instrumental choices like music boxes, acoustic guitar, and accordion contributing to a perfectly whimsical and airy mood.
Otome-ge with erotic content are often ill-reputed for featuring transparent heroines, monstrous heroes, and completely loveless relationships. Trick or Alice subverts all three of these with brilliant originality, and sets high expectations for its nearing release.
Minase Arisa (Alice)
With a personality as sweet as candy, Arisa is a young lady who exudes pure charm and innocence, thoughtful towards others and with a bright sense of humor. She enjoys good-natured teasing with her close friends, stuffed animals, and tea parties like any ordinary girl, but she also has a bit of spice to her as well. She dislikes it when boys get a little too friendly with her, and is never afraid to make her displeasure known through a few well-placed smacks. Despite her cheerful demeanor, however, she has a tendency to worry and fret over others, and often gets lost in her own troubled thoughts.
Once in Wonderland, she is given the new name of Alice, in spite of her protests. Unfortunately, she finds her stay is anything but pleasant, feeling confused, homesick, and wanting to return to reality as quick as possible.
Minase Shizuku (Black Rabbit)
Arisa’s adored older brother. While seemingly unemotional, rarely initiating conversation and scarcely changing expression, he cares deeply for his beloved younger sister and treasures her above all else. Their relationship has only deepened with the absence of their parents, and he tries to fill her loneliness with presents and kind words.
He guides Arisa to her new home as the Black Rabbit. However, in this new form, he insists that he has no siblings and claims to not recognize the name Shizuku at all.
Kisaragi Ren (Round)
Lighthearted and energetic, he dotes on Arisa like a playful younger sibling and claims that she will be his future wife. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to please, his affectionate hugs and other gestures tend to bother his dear friend rather than please her, leaving him on the receiving end of her slaps. Not that he ever takes offense, always greeting her with laughter and a smile.
He appears as Round, the clingy and childish Dormouse. It appears his only two interests are sleeping and playing games with Arisa, especially the latter.
Kurotani Nao (Cheshire Cat)
An idol of the school, he is extremely popular and has gathered a large number of fans due to his charismatic and suave nature. The smallest flirtatious gesture from him can send girls swooning, and Nao greatly enjoys basking in the attention. But in spite of this, he has remained strictly on a platonic level with Arisa, occasionally flustering her but failing to capture her heart with his silken words. Mellow and free-spirited, he even takes authority figures lightly.
As the Cheshire Cat, he is even more flamboyant than before, completely discarding any sense of modesty, ignoring Arisa’s own comfort levels to lavish her with attention, whether it’s wanted or not.
Kamijou Touya (Shadow)
Asagi’s twin and older brother, he is warm and friendly towards Arisa, hoping to become even closer friends with her. Polite, responsible, and a lively conversationalist, he gets along quite well with others, although there appears to be friction between him and Asagi.
His Wonderland form is called Shadow, the equivalent of the Tweedledee and Tweedledum twins. He is much more chipper and immature than his counterpart in reality, but is always willing to help Arisa.
Kamijou Asagi (Light)
In stark contrast to his sibling, he is the most anti-social of the two and seems to be in a constant foul mood, although not outright hostile. His rude behavior and refusal to even speak to Arisa forces Touya to often apologize on his behalf, but he is too preoccupied with his own burdens to bother being kind.
His Wonderland form is Shadow’s twin, Light. He is just as brusque as his self in the real world, and unlike everyone’s obvious adoration for Alice, he says to have no concern for her.
Tokitou Tsukasa (Chrono)
Sharp-tongued and absolutely brutal with his words, Tsukasa is the sadistic school doctor who tolerates little from students and teachers alike. His overbearing presence greatly distresses Arisa, who tries her best to avoid him. Yet in spite of his cruel nature, he acts surprisingly concerned towards her at times―however, this turns out to be just a ruse, as he is quick to turn violent once she rejects him.
He has been given the role of Chrono, the Mad Hatter, who has been plotting to capture Alice with the help of other Wonderlanders. His insane obsession stems not only from repressed lust, but from a desire to destroy her.
A solemn young girl who seems to be an ally of the Black Rabbit, at first. In truth, she has been conspiring with Chrono to capture Alice, and is considered his “possession”. Yet despite remaining subservient to him, she is the only one who can withstand his fierce temper and calm his hysterical outbursts. The true nature of her relationship with Chrono is a mystery.