I might be the worst person in the world to review this book. Does that mean I haven’t played the game? Maybe some of the time. That’s not really the reason, though. I have what I call a “Alice Problem”—an unhealthy interest in Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books. Folklore buff like me already knows too much about the things this book plays with, at least on the surface.
The world in which the story takes place seems to have been shaped by Harry Potter, Disney characters, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or at least the 1951 Disney movie based on it, Alice in Wonderland. On the surface, Yu Enma’s last name seems to fit with the whole villain theme; Enma is the Buddhist king of Hell. The main character, Yu Enma, has no plans to get his call to magic school, but it happens to him one day on his way home from school. The kendo team captain wakes up in a small area that turns out to be a coffin-shaped portal, which scares him. When he comes out, he’s met by a magic school that insists he’s been picked to join. He quickly turns down their offer. Nobody can figure out how to get him back to Japan, which they have never heard of, so he ends up working as a cleaner in exchange for a place to stay.
It is a very strange mix if this seems like it. The so-called “Twisted Wonderland” is named after seven Disney villains. This book uses the Wicked Queen’s magic mirror from 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” as well as an empty version of the dwarves’ house. So far, this doesn’t seem to be mixing up The Queen of Hearts and The Red Queen, which are Carroll’s two most famous queens. So far, all the words that have been attributed to Riddle (who is thought to be a descendant of the Queen of Hearts) are actually Queen of Hearts things, as is his temper. Carroll himself explained the difference between the two by saying, “I imagined the Queen of Hearts as a personification of uncontrollable passion—a blind and aimless Fury.” I imagined the Red Queen as a different kind of Fury. Her passion would be cold and calm, and she would be formal and strict, but not mean. She would be pedantic to the extreme, and she would be the essence of all governesses!” There is also a demon named Grim that looks like Cheshire Cat. This is likely a reference to The Brothers Grimm, whose collections of German legends are often (and sometimes wrongly) seen as the inspiration for Disney’s fairy tale movies. It’s clear that some work is going into putting all of these different parts together, but so far the Alice parts stand out the most.
This is partly because the manga is based on a story arc from the game that is about the House that the Queen of Hearts rules. There are a lot of references to painting roses and Yu’s desire to go home, which makes him feel a lot like Alice. Riddle uses lines from the Disney movie as magic. Even though the choice to mix Snow White and Alice is strange, the idea of Disney villains as ancestors is a bit strange, as are the choices they’ve made (why no Lady Tremaine or Gothel?). This is probably done because of the colors of the Queen of Hearts’ roses, which may make you think of the less well-known fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. There is a brief mention to that story near the end of the book.
Since this book is based on the beginning of the original game, it makes sense that it feels like a lot of setups. Yu is supposed to be the main character, but he kind of fades into the background. His drive is admirable, though. The characters were designed by Black Butler creator Yana Toboso, and series artist Sumire Kowono does a great job of capturing her signature beauty. Kowono also does a great job of imitating the styles of different Disney eras. The statues of the bad guys are all instantly recognized, and the dwarves’ cottage is perfect in every way, making me think of the first time Snow White walked into the original movie. The plot also moves along at a good rate, even though it feels like the story hasn’t even begun yet. And if the mix-up of references doesn’t bother you, it does have some interesting parts. In the end, though, I think this might be most fun for people who know the source game as well as Disney’s sources or the movies that are mentioned. To be its own thing, it’s not quite getting there. That might change in later volumes, but it’s not quite enough to make the first one really interesting.