Tag Archives: Welcome Back Alice

The Place Where Shame Goes to Die: Welcome Back, Alice Volume Three

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It seems as though a lot of questions from the last volume have been answered relatively quickly, but maybe that is a bad thing? or maybe it is a good thing and I am just using that sentence structure for rhetorical effect. Either way, let’s talk about it.

In volume three of Welcome Back, Alice, Yohei finally gets what he wants. At least, Yohei gets what he thought he wanted in his relationship with Mitani. However, her prohibition on interacting with Kei at all leaves him with a seemingly much stronger yearning for his childhood friend. Mitani, meanwhile, deals with her own insecurities, most stemming from Kei’s transition, and largely takes it out on her new boyfriend.

Kei’s Identity

Something I have noticed, which was also pointed out by the “Reception” section of the manga’s Wikipedia page, is that Kei’s identity as non-binary feels…well, dismissed. Sure, it is true that everyone, except Yohei and Mitani, is pretty excepting of Kei’s identity in a way that feels genuine.

However, the use of “he” by every character other than Kei kind of undermines that identity and the whole mission statement of the series. Up until this point I had been using “they” to address Kei as a character, which felt more correct given the initial volume. Kei himself says explicitly that he does not identify as a guy.

I do not mean to come across as quick to label the series “problematic,” because that is not my intention. However, it does feel like a big oversight on Oshimi’s part, one that ultimately serves to weaken the message of the story by placing Kei back in the masculinity that he explicitly rejects at the start of his introduction.

Mitani and Heterosexual Attraction

The more of this series I read, the more my theory about Oshimi’s writing style feels correct. If Kei represents a sort of radical sex and queer positive life that might be better for Yohei, Mitani very much represents traditional heterosexuality, with all the pros and cons that come with that.

On the one hand, being with Mitani means Yohei will not have to worry about being judged by his peers. His life remains stable but is maybe not be what he truly wants. On the other, a relationship with Kei comes with the societal stigma of Kei’s identity (and maybe his own but that remains to be seen) but ultimately still feels like the choice that will make him happiest.

There is also a sense of betrayal and manipulation that comes with their newfound relationship. When Yohei tries to kiss Mitani and is rejected, she admits that “[she] thought she could love [him],” implying that her confession was more a way to drive a wedge between him and Kei. The whole thing feels messed up in a way that represents the toxicity present in a lot of heterosexual relationships.

Decision Point

Yohei is clearly under a lot of pressure in the context of the story. Navigating relationships, especially romantic ones that challenge societal norms, is not always the easiest task to handle mentally. However, as mentioned before, he is presented with a serious decision to make.

At the risk of making too many comparisons. the setup is fairly similar to The Flowers of Evil. Both main characters are forced to comply with a set of socially acceptable boundaries, for they risk revealing something that society might deem disturbing. Both even go as far as to comment on young male sexuality. However, Welcome Back, Alice feels more purposeful in its attempts to do so.

Predictions

At this point, it feels hard to say what will happen. Oshimi tends to make pretty sudden plot-related shifts. Still, it seems as though whatever decision Yohei is planning on making, romantically at least, will probably happen in the next volume. If it does not, however, it will likely mean some serious social consequences.


How do you feel about Welcome Back, Alice? Let me know in the comments below.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for the support on Patreon

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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Decisions and Thrills: Welcome Back, Alice Vol. 2

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First off, I want to say it was a good idea to let this series grow a bit more before writing it off entirely. Whereas the opening chapters are a bit more based on the shock value and spectacle of Kei’s character, the chapters in volume two get much more into the meat and potatoes of the overall story.

Volume two focuses largely on the aftermath of Yohei and Mitani’s meeting with Kei at their apartment. Yohei has clearly developed what he considers to be complicated feelings as Kei, at least in his mind, is still a guy. Mitani seems to have the same complicated feelings and even admits to him that she still has some residual attraction to Kei. However, Yohei is still attracted to Mitani, creating a weird, dishonest love triangle that feels destined to fail.

Oshimi as a Writer

I mentioned near the end of my discussion of volume one that the main trio of Welcome Back, Alice felt like characters that were purposely written to embody certain stereotypes. While I do still feel that is the case, it feels a bit incomplete as an analysis. Rather, it is much more accurate to say that Oshimi’s characters are often inhabited as much by concepts as they are personalities. At least, it feels like this is the case more so than with other authors.

Taking Yohei as the easiest example, his character feels very much like a teenage boy, at least as far as his personality is concerned. However, he also represents what it means to be an average Japanese teenager raised in a heteronormative environment. Kei makes him uncomfortable not just because they have a tendency to violate personal space rather quickly, but because their identity is fundamentally at odds with Yohei’s limited worldview.

Yohei spends the entirety of the volume grappling with both the character of Kei as well as the concept of a deconstructing gender binary, as well as what it means for those who were close friends to socially transition. Oshimi does a lot of similar things in The Flowers of Evil and the opening chapters of Inside Mari, as well. Although, dissecting those would just make this unreadably long, so I will save that for another post.

A Tendency for Thrills

This idea of characters embodying concepts also contributes well to the author’s affinity for psychological thriller-style stories. In a way, it reminds me a lot of the way Jordan Peele has tackled concepts surrounding black identity in his more recent movies, like Get Out, Us, or Nope. Both writers utilize characters to their fullest, not just as the basis for interpersonal conflict but as a bulwark for ideas they wish to discuss.

This is not to say that all of these properties have the same sense of scale or stakes. I know this might be a stretch, but gender, sexual orientation, and racism are all, in fact, different concepts. Additionally, all of them present unique problems under which the characters themselves are forced to make decisions. However, it is interesting to see two different writers with vastly different social and cultural experiences tackle ideas in a similar way.

Yohei’s Decision

Bringing the discussion back to the series itself, I do love the way this volume ends. Chapter 10 sees Yohei make a choice: Be with Mitani, the thing he has wanted for literal years, but at the cost of not being able to hang out with Kei. Yohei, not realizing Kei was hiding in their closet while he confessed inside their apartment, seems to immediately regret his decision. He is not entirely sure about his feelings and is put in a scenario where he has to make a rather absolute decision.

This is where Mitani’s character becomes a lot more interesting. Rather than accepting Kei’s new identity, she opts to use Yohei’s very obviously conflicted feelings against him as a way of spiting Kei. Kei has similar romantic feelings for Yohei, but, as demonstrated by their conversation before he arrives, has a different view of what it means to love someone.

Predictions

Much like last time, I do not have any strong predictions. However, my hope is that Oshimi will continue to respect the weight of the topics he is grappling with, which, from his author blurbs at the end, seems likely.


Have you read any Welcome Back, Alice? How do you feel about the series thus far? Let me know down in the comments. Also, if you’re interested in reading this series or the aforementioned Flowers of Evil, Bookwalker is doing a sale on both until the 23rd, which is probably tomorrow from when this post comes out. Not sponsored, but figured I would highlight it regardless.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for being a supporter on Patreon.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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Shuzo Oshimi’s Latest Work: Welcome Back, Alice (Vol. 1)

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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(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 off of 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.

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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.

The Art

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.

Predictions

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.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for the support on Patreon.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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