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"Alice" vs. "Arisu": Through the Looking Glass

I browse the web a whole lot when it comes to lain and one issue that is frequently debated is the "correct" spelling of Alice/Arisu. I feel that many people have been mislead or misinformed due to Pioneer's insistence of using "Arisu" instead of "Alice" in the subtitled version of lain. Since most people trust the subtitled release to be more faithful to the original, people have assumed that "Arisu" is more faithful to the original anime than "Alice". While "Arisu" is indeed an acceptable romanization of whatever the character's name is, there is more than sufficient evidence that the character is indeed "Alice", and any romanization is extraneous 1.

very minor spoilers ahead

1. A Strange Name |
2. The Anime Doesn't Lie |
3. Mizuki Alice in Wonderland |
4. Creative liberties |

1. A Strange Name

In the last episode, Alice mentions that her name is strange and indicates her discomfort regarding it. This seems to make sense if Alice is a foreign name.

Note: some people have argued that since the character's name is sometimes written in kanji as opposed to kana, the name can't be a foreign-derived one. However, I've been told 2 that there has been a recent trend of Japanese parents giving their kids English names (such as Alice, Amy, or Anne for girls and Gary or Mike for guys), but written with homophone kanji. There are even special guidebooks with popular kanji homophones for various foreign names. One reason I've heard why the names are written in kanji instead of kana is to avoid crank-callers or nosy Japanese people who want to talk with gaijin (foreigners) by looking for names written in kana in the phonebook.

2. The Anime Doesn't Lie

"Alice" itself is shown in the anime on numerous occasions.
For example, Lain sometimes receives "Mail form Alice" on her pocket Navi:
mail from Alice

Also, in layer:11, we see the following image in one scene (image scan courtesy of GohanOtaku):

background typographic elements

The lain artbook "visual experiments lain" confirms this usage of "Alice" as seen in the scan below:
Alice in VEL

3. Mizuki Alice in Wonderland

"visual experiments lain" also contains the following text on page 31:

A BOAT, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamly
In an evening in July --

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and wiling ear
Pleased simple tale to hear --

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

That is part of the ending poem of "Through the Looking-Glass" by Lewis Carroll, which, of course, was preceded by "Alice in Wonderland".

Lewis Carroll wrote these stories for his much-beloved child friend Alice Liddell. If we see Carroll's works as motivated by his love for Alice Liddell, perhaps we can see serial experiments lain as the story of Lain's love for Mizuki Alice. That lain contains an "Alice in Wonderland" reference (besides the Cheshire Cat) is confirmed in an email exchange I had with the writer of Lain, Chiaki Konaka, in September of 1999:

I asked Mr. Konaka if "Alice" was a reference to anyone, and he replied:

"Alice" is Lewis Carol's (sic). I often use the "Alice" as the metaphor in my scenarios. Alice in "lain" is same.

In an interview conducted by HK magazine (France) in the Winter of 1999, Konaka notes:

Alice gradually had an important role. I was surprised by myself that Alice's role in lain was similar with an original Alice in "Alice in Wonderland".

4. Creative liberties

Other "Alice" references in Konaka's works include "Alice 6", a TV show written by Konaka and directed by his brother, and "Alice in Cyberland" which Konaka wrote before working on lain

(Konaka's webpage is titled Alice6, as well, after the TV show, and all throughout his webpage, the character in lain is referred to as "Alice")

"Alice in Cyberland" is related to "serial experiments lain" in an even more specific way. The game features a trio of female characters named (Minazuki) Alice, Juri, and Rena. According to the Otakon 2000 lain panel discussion and the HK Interview, Konaka liked these names, so he wanted to use them for the secondary characters in lain. Hence we have (Mizuki) Alice, Juri, and Reika.

Alice in Cyberland

Reportedly (according to a secondhand source), Pioneer's translator for lain (who had production notes to aid him in the translation) wanted to use the "Alice" spelling but Pioneer itself insisted that it be spelled "Arisu". Was Pioneer artificially trying to make the subtitled version seem more Japanese by using such a spelling? Who knows...

Whatever the case may be, in our quest to understand the multiple facets of this wonderfully complex anime, I think it's important for fans to be aware of the "Alice in Wonderland" motif in lain, which is (unfortunately) somewhat obscured by the name change in the US subtitled release 3.


1. One might argue that "Arisu" is the Japanese version of "Alice", but the relevance of that argument is mostly along the lines of pronunciation as opposed to how it should be written in English. Indeed, "Alice" can be written in katakana or even kanji and then romanized to "Arisu". However, we prefer the original name to be presented in the English subtitle, not the romanization. I agree that however it is spelled, "Alice" or "Arisu", it would be pronounced Ah-Ree-Soo by Japanese speakers. In an anime subtitle, however, I wouldn't spell Alice as "Arisu" any more than I would spell my own name Lawrence as "Lorensu" in a subtitle (even though that's how it would be pronounced by a Japanese speaker). Similarly, we'd expect other English name spellings to be preserved in subtitles instead of romanizations of those names based upon the Japanese pronunciation of them. For example, I'd expect to see the word "Christmas" in a subtitle instead of "kurisumasu".

2. The information regarding English names written with kanji homophones was provided by Shuvo.

3. Chiral sent me this interesting message which he gave me permission to share. Apparently, the Arisu/Alice debate is not completely unprecedented:

I believe that when Viz translated the PSME OAV's (around 1995), there was some controversy about Alice's name. Like, should it be "Arisu" or "Alice" or even some substituted in other name (if I remember correctly, on #anime! Trish considered the name "Victoria"). (Seriously!)

Well, I believe the Viz people decided to go read the manga before comming to a final decision. It turns out, Alice in PSME is also named after Alice of Alice in Wonderland. Alice's parents in PSME are fans of Lewis Carrol. So, they translated her name as "Alice".

I have to wonder if some significant fraction of "Arisu" in anime are actually Alice from Alice in Wonderland?


(I posted an earlier version of this article to the (now-defunct) Anime Grapevine on 2/6/2001)

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Last updated on February 23rd, 2001
Lawrence Eng