The creator of Flowers of Evil and Blood on The Tracks is back with his latest series Welcome Back, Alice – a unique exploration of gender identity and sexual orientation whilst growing up. Yohei, Kei and Yui are childhood friends and things get complicated when Yohei witnesses Kei and Yui in an intimate moment. But when unexpectedly Kei moves away and returns a few years later to reunite in high school, he is wearing feminine clothes and presenting as female. Suddenly, Yohei is thrown into a maelstrom as he struggles between his infatuation with Yui and his lust for Kei.
Shuzo Oshimi is a mangaka who has never been afraid to get under his readers’ skin. Many of his works deal with sensitive topics, sometimes in a controversial fashion. Flowers of Evil and Happiness – albeit in different ways – explores puberty and bullying, whist Blood on The Tracks dwells on abusive parenting. Now, he is exploring LGBTQ themes in a way that is unique to his style.
It isn’t immediately clear as to why Kei has changed gender. Though claiming to have quit being a boy and taking on a very feminine appearance as it apparently suits them better, they are happy to flout their masculinity in the male restroom and actively seeks to confuse the male students – particularly Yohei. Oshimi’s works are never simply black-and-white, and this is no exception, with most of his characters operating in a shade of grey. Whether Kei is deliberately trying to mess with his old friends, or is trying to challenge and change their perceptions about gender and sexuality by flaunting their non-binary status is open to interpretation. Regardless, it’s an engaging narrative, with Yohei in particular being taken on emotional rollercoaster as he tries to make sense of his feelings brought on by the situation.
As to be expected from Oshimi, the art is tremendous. It remains highly detailed and is a key factor in the success of his storytelling. He has a great handle on depicting high school characters and rarely needs to resort to exaggeration to get tone or emotion across. The haunting quality that lingers in his work is just strong in this series and helps enhance the state of confusion running across the teenage cast.
This is another strong entry in Shuzo Oshimi’s formidable body of work. Fans of his will know exactly what to expect and appreciate his fearless approach to storytelling, whilst those looking for manga exploring gender identity will find this a fascinating read.
Welcome Back, Alice 1 is out now from Vertical (9781647291044, p/b, £10.99)
Want regular updates and weekly reviews on the latest in graphic novels and manga? Follow us on Twitter @turnaroundcomix.