An unbalanced story and inconsistent designs hamper the intriguing cast of characters in this original manga spinoff of the Alice in the Country of series.

Captive Hearts of Oz 1Title: Captive Hearts of Oz
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Seven Seas (US)
Story: Ryo Maruya
Artist:
Mamenosuke Fujimaru
Translation: Angela Liu
Adaptation: Lianne Sentar
Original Release Date: January 31, 2017
Review copy provided by Seven Seas

Really, this review could just boil down to a single statement: if you love the Alice in the Country of manga, you will love Captive Hearts of Oz. But if you’ve never read Alice in the Country of Hearts or any of its numerous spinoffs, here goes.

It’s easy to think Captive Hearts of Oz is an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz at first: a girl named Dorothy lives on a farm with her aunt, uncle, and her little dog Toto, and she finds herself in another world thanks to a cyclone. Her house crushes an evil witch, and a bunch of little people and another witch proclaim her a hero. She then sets off down the yellow brick road to meet the wizard.

“Yeah, yeah, I know this story already!” you might be saying. But do you know the name of the Good Witch Dorothy meets?

Glinda?

Bzzt! It’s Locasta.

Oh, the scarecrow and friends all have names, the Tin Man has had actual reconstructive surgery, and, behind the scenes, other characters keep talking about following the story. It’s obvious the heroine has been cast in the role of Dorothy, but the reasons why she has been summoned and why she has a lot in common with Dorothy Gale remain a mystery. In addition, the manga hints she isn’t quite a stranger to this world, and Locasta obviously has reservations about the whole situation. The “captive hearts” aspect is obviously a major part of the manga, and I am looking forward to the struggle between redoing the story and forging a new path.

The characters who know the truth about this Oz are far more interesting than Dorothy’s traveling companions. This is only exacerbated by the weak pacing of the story. Hayward the scarecrow gets a rather long introduction with his battles against a couple of crows (really humans with wings). Hayward just doesn’t understand Black’s complicated best frenemy relationship. It’s almost enough to make you forget this is actually a reverse harem because of all the early attention on Hayward.

Then when we meet the Tin Man, his whole life story is spilled right away by another character. As for the Cowardly Lion? He joins… I don’t know why. He says hi, then he’s recruited. It just seems really shallow after Hayward’s and Nicholas’ introductions. It’s like the author realized the volume is already almost over, and Leon drew the short straw. I’m much more interested in why Locasta wants to rebel and all the mysterious beings than some crow’s relationship with a scarecrow.

I also like it better when we see Dorothy with a personality outside of kind otome game heroine. I love to watch her stunned, often horrified, reactions when she realizes she has crushed a stranger or is invited to see the inside of Hayward’s brain. She also has a great moment where she takes on the role of villain, and although it’s an act, the scene breathes some life into the character instead of just having her being dragged along by the story.

The art seems a bit strange since I am only familiar with Fujimaru’s work because of all the Alice in the Country of manga. It’s always hard to adjust when an artist starts a new work, but Dorothy’s outfit isn’t that different from Alice’s; her dress shouldn’t keep changing from puffy short skirt to flat and long. Something about Toto kept nagging me until I realized his striking resemblance to Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, something I now can’t unsee. I do like the brightness of the manga, giving each panel plenty of space. The color pages in particular make me wish this was a full-color manga to show off Hayward’s heterochromia and grass-green hair. I also love Locasta’s outfit, a nice mix of the magical girl style and traditional mage/witch garb. Of course, no good reverse harem is without a bucket-o-good-looking-bachelors, but it’s easily the man in the hat (whose name I won’t reveal) who winds the Most Handsome award.

Dorothy and the Lorax… I mean Toto.

All in all, the story feels a bit unbalanced. I’m loving the machinations and struggles of the characters in-the-know, but the manga just can’t decide how much and how long to focus on Dorothy’s group. I’m hoping this can be corrected now that the main group has assembled. At the very least, I’ll be sticking around for the Hottie of Oz… I mean Wizard.