US Distributor: Nozomi Entertainment
Production Studio: Group TAC
Was this provided by the publisher? Yes
More Info: MyAnimeList

I’m going to start this review with a disclaimer: I don’t normally watch these genres. Magical girls and shoujo generally aren’t in my repertoire of commonly viewed items. That said, I’m always open to new things.

When the DVD arrived in the mail, I had flashbacks to when I used to tell my academically focused high school friends that I watched anime. When normies think of anime, they immediately picture one of five things:

  • Gratuitous nudity or women with oversized breasts
  • Something so saccharine and colorful that they start to question whether they are epileptic
  • Giant robots

I’ve watched anime since I was a kid. I lived in Japan for about six years, in fact. Since then, I’ve only managed to watch one magical girl anime for more than one season. [SAILOR MOON THEME PLAYS IN THE BACKGROUND] I won’t bother telling you which one that is.

The main character is Mikan Sakura. She’s optimistic and imaginative, with wild and crazy schemes. Her “best friend” Hotaru Imai is her exact opposite. While Mikan also has a creative mind, Hotaru is quiet, reserved, and fairly socially awkward.

In the beginning of the series, Hotaru is instantly torn away from Mikan when she’s recruited to a specialized school. Being the annoying, persistent, and optimistic person that she is, Mikan follows her to Alice Academy: a school that is dedicated to educating students with special abilities known as “Alices”.

Being a navy brat, I know what it’s like to have your elementary school friends move away and to move away from everything that you’ve been used to. Even with the correlation, it was still hard to relate to Gakuen Alice’s characters. Not because of the magic aspect or the charter school, but because it was difficult to see the cast as more than a handful of one-dimensional caricatures. As the series went on, I found that I liked the main characters (Mikan and Hotaru) more, especially in contrast to the overwhelming number of unlikable characters at Alice Academy. It shows a lot of dedication on Mikan’s part, to be able to stick out that much bullying so that you can be with your best friend – who doesn’t really treat her all that well in the first place. I’m not bitter or anything.

You can do a lot better than that lot, Mikan.

As the series went on, I could see past my dislike for most of the side characters, and found the second half of the series to be much more interesting. There is a lot of build-up to the last couple episodes. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will leave you with this tidbit: stick it out. The cavities are worth it.

One of the things that I didn’t understand in the beginning – although, being a naïve high school girl in a former life, I might understand more than I want to admit – is the fact that Mikan is so dedicated to Hotaru even though she is a cynical and neglectful friend.

As the show went on, I realized that Hotaru reminds me of my nephew, who has autism and struggles to connect with people on a social level. While he might seem stand-offish, he does show his love and dedication in other ways. Hotaru’s personality works the same way. She cares for her friends and is a kind and intelligent girl but she doesn’t show her emotions the same way that Mikan does. Let’s face it, that black hair probably started off blue. I almost wish it had been blue – actually – to help distinguish between similar characters.

Watch it. While it’s not a favorite and I’m still not a big fan of the genre, Gakuen Alice is packed with a lot of heart and the last half is quite compelling. My heart went out to Mikan as she was bullied by the other Alices at the school. Yet, despite all of that, she tried her best and never stopped smiling or loving her best friend. It’s a lesson that we could all learn from. If you like lighthearted comedies that are peppered with slapstick and action, and just a dash of romance, give Gakuen Alice a shot. You won’t regret it.