Think Kodomo no Omocha meets Psychic Academy, with a little yuri thrown in for seasoning and you have Gakuen Alice.
I wasn’t originally interested in watching this series because I’ve had enough of cute for a while (hence my recent huddling on the couch with not-cute series like Otogizoushi and Phantom Memory Kurau,) but after a strong recommendation from a regular on the Yuricon Mailing List, this simply sounded to good to pass up. (And, see *this* is why you need to join the Mailing List – because there really is some excellent stuff out there, and no one, not even the dedicated seeker of yuri can find it all themselves!)
Gakuen Alice starts with a distinctly Sana-like main character, Sakura Mikan, energetically voiced by Maria-sama ga Miteru’s Ueda Kana, the voice actress for Yumi – proving once again that, like tatoos and piercings, once you’ve voiced a yuri character, you’ll be doing another and another… ;-)
Mikan is one of those hyper-energetic, loopy, yet irrationally likeable characters. In stark contrast stands Mikan’s genius best friend, irascabile and grumpy already at 10, Imai Hotaru, aptly named after the proto-goth Hotaru from Sailor Moon. Hotaru is delightfully mercenary and manipulative and, despite her obvious distate for displays of affection, she clearly cares deeply for Mikan. Which is why she doesn’t tell Mikan that she’s leaving for an “Alice” school in Tokyo.
“Alice” schools appear to be extremely elite private academies that take in only children with extraordinary abilities. In return, their families are given large sums of money, but the trade-off is that the students are cut of from friends and family completely. Mikan, devastated by the news, waits a few seasons, then heads off to find her friend, if only to see her for a moment, because life without Hotaru is simply intolerable.
For her part, Hotaru showed her affection for Mikan (and let me tell you I have a REALLY hard time stopping myself from calling her “Sana” every time) by giving her share of the “Alice” money to their school to keep it open…simply because it was important to Mikan. If *that’s* not love…
So, Mikan arrives in the big city, is immediately almost kidnapped and saved in the nick of time by a pretty young man from the Alice school Hotaru attends. Inexplicably, his powers do not seem to affect Mikan, something which intrigues him enough that he invites Mikan to attend the school. Not having a clue what’s going on at the school, but determined to be with Hotaru, Mikan agrees.
Future episodes look like they will be intermittently funny and painful, but I have to say that, even without the relationship between Hotaru and Mikan, this would probably be something I’d watch. In answer to the question “is it really yuri?” I’d have to say yes. Yes, they are young, and yes, it’s a relationship that lacks desire (and thank heavens for *that*!) but the love between the two girls is quite obvious and profound.
Story – 8
Character – 9
Art – 8
Music – 8
Yuri – 7
Overall – 8.
The comment around my house after the first episode was, “Is there more?” Barring incredible suckitude in future episodes, I think this one will be a keeper.