Shuzo Oshimi’s Latest Work: Welcome Back, Alice (Vol. 1)
Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations
(This one gets a bit weird, even for manga anime standards, so if you’re easily grossed out maybe skip this one for now).
*Terrible impression of Jerry Seinfeld* “What’s the deal with gender? and sex? get outta hereeee.”
Oshimi’s The Flowers of Evil is still one of the wildest experiences I have had with a manga to this day. It is a psychological thriller in mostly the best way possible, letting you feel everything the main character feels as his life becomes a spiraling mess. I never ended up watching the anime, but from what I saw of the promotional material…yeah the manga was a significantly better choice.
Of course, that manga is, at this point, over 10- wait, Flowers of Evil is almost 15 years old…anyway, his newest series, which started back in 2020, is called Welcome Back, Alice, and has a decidedly similar character set up and tone to his most successful work. I say this not as a diss, but merely an observation, for thematic reasons which we will get into shortly.
First, though, for those unaware, a quick mostly spoiler-free summary of the opening volume: Yohei is a loner middle school kid who all of a sudden becomes friends with a boy named Kei and a girl named Yui. The group gets close until Kei moves away. When the three meet up again in high school, pre-existing romantic feelings get complicated when Kei comes to school dressing like a girl, and saying they no longer identify with either gender.
Ok, for anyone interested just based on that quick summary, just go ahead and read it, it’s weird but interesting. For everyone else, strap in.
So, That Just Happened
Well, Oshimi is nothing if not a little bit weird. Ok, actually “a little” is putting it lightly. I mentioned The Flowers of Evil at the beginning because as far as the overall tone and setup the manga are actually remarkably similar, at least as far as the coming-of-age set-up and deeply horny main character.
Also, I do not know if this is just me being dumb, but the opening chapter was just kind of confusing on a text level because the characters that were not Yohei kept shortening his name to Yo, which felt more like a general greeting than a nickname so the part about them being friends prior felt very tenuous.
Which, even without the confusion, it still kind of does, as most middle school friendships do. This feels especially true after Yohei sees Yui confessing to Kei behind the gym building, after which the middle school crush jealously kicks in, and their relationship sours. Que the time skip and Kei’s transition and we get to the real meat and potatoes of the story.
Oshimi’s Take on a Non-Binary Character
For what it is worth coming from a random internet critic, I do things it is still noteworthy to have a stated Non-binary main character from an otherwise relatively notable mangaka (I say main character because it feels pretty obvious that Kei is the focal point and will as or more important than the other two). Representation has come a decent way but is still far from perfect.
What’s more, that representation does seem to matter to the overall story. Yohei starts the story with a fairly normal heterosexual crush on Yui, but ultimately ends the volume with the two of them reevaluating their feelings towards Kei.
Oshimi states at the end of the volume that the story is about exploring male hypersexuality and ultimately how fragile it can be. As far as motivations for writing a story, I think this makes sense, especially at a time when that same hypersexuality drives a lot of internet grifters telling men that being cold and misogynistic is the best way to get women along with reinforcing decades-old stereotypes about queer people.
Still, using your only genderqueer character in a way that portrays that as not just hypersexual but very willing to violate boundaries for no reason might not be the best way to do it. It is one thing to say stereotypes are bad, but it is another thing entirely to do that while also then reinforcing those stereotypes. Ultimately, the story has yet to cover much ground, in the first volume, and Oshimi is an intelligent enough writer that it feels worth giving it more time.
Oshimi’s art sits in a weird place for me, because while I would by no means call it bad, he also probably would not make my top mangaka artists list any time soon. It comes with a sense of realism that, while mostly uneventful, becomes infinitely more detailed in the moments when the story ramps up, or when he wants you to experience the same intense feelings as the characters.
The same is true of Welcome Back, Alice, with the backgrounds often being solid but uneventful, which fits the more intimate subject matter of the story. If the author were making his debut attempt at an expansive shonen action series, I would probably be a bit more disappointed, though.
The character designs, on the other hand, do feel unique and in line with the personalities they are supposed to represent. Kei is much more boyish and feminine even before presenting as such. Yohei looks like a typical middle-school/high-school nerd (and certainly acts like it). Yui looks like…well, a girl that it would be totally reasonable to have a crush on if you’re a nerd idk. Saying they look stereotypical feels more like a compliment in this case given that it appears to be the focus of the story.
After Flowers of Evil, it honestly feels like a wasted effort to try and guess where this man will be taking his story. That being said, I do expect it to be significantly more unhinged as time goes on, but hopefully in a good way? Like I said, the dude’s an intelligent writer, I just hope the significance of the subject matter is not lost on him as the story goes on.
As of right now, the manga has four volumes in English and 30ish chapters. So, assuming I like the story enough to get that far, I’ll probably continue to cover it on a weekly or biweekly basis until I catch up.
Have you read Welcome Back, Alice? Let me know your (spoiler-free) thoughts in the comments below.
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