As punishment for slacking on the job, the shinigami Lapan is ordered to go to the Human Realm in the body of a skeleton to retrieve a wandering soul. However, much to Lapan's lecherous delight, a slip-up lands his soul in the body of the young Alice, a buxom student at an all-girls' school. With the skirt-chasing Shinigami (as Alice) leaving a storm of sexual harassment allegations in his wake, whatever is poor, beskeletoned Alice to do?!
Alice On Deadlines by Shirō Ihara is a fantasy comedy with plenty of ecchi to boot. It follows the story of a completely sweet and innocent young high school girl called Alice whose life gets turned completely upside down and then some, when the Shinigami Lapan comes from another world to retrieve a soul. Shinigami literally translates to "God of death", and the concept is most relatable to western society's own image of death, the Grim Reaper. The soul-retrieval is a job given to Lapan after he's caught slacking off, and unfortunately for him, a past incident in which Lapan ended up with a human girl as his host body, has lead his boss to prepare a skeleton for him to possess during his time in the living world (since it is against Shinigami law to appear as they are in the living world). This leads us on to the unfortunate Alice, who happens to find herself standing right next to this skeleton when Lapan arrives in the living world. The result is that he ends up in Alice's body, and Alice in the skeleton. This wouldn't be too much of a problem for poor Alice had Lapan been a gentleman, or perhaps didn't have a knack for losing his passage papers, but alas, neither of these are true. The result is a lot of humour, and a lot of ecchi as Lapan takes every liberty to enjoy his new body, and Alice makes a futile effort to stop him.
The artwork in the manga is a sort of clash of styles, as while the main emphasis in each chapter is humorous or pervy scenes, most end with a climactic battle against the soul of some sort. The art style is very cute throughout, though never becomes so cute the characters could ever be considered chibified (unless deliberately done for comic effect), whereas the souls whom Lapan must battle with often have some very surreal and almost gruesome designs. Overall the art is of a very consistent quality. While the ecchi scenes and action shots get plenty of space on the pages, every panel has the same attention to detail, which gives the manga a good feel that the author really cared about the project. Having said this, the anatomy of the female characters can sometimes be a little too stereotypically attractive at times. At least in this volume, don't expect your standard variety of "sexy girl", "cute girl" etc. All of them are quite curvy in all departments. Obviously to the core audience, this won't be a problem at all, but it's something to bear in mind if you're looking for an ecchi with a little more variety.
Story-wise, each chapter is very episodic and the overall story only progresses a little throughout the whole manga. However it remains interesting throughout and is a very good start for the first volume of the series. In terms of the episodic plot lines, a personal highlight was the third chapter in which Lapan goes on a date (still in Alice's body of course) with the guy of her dreams, while Alice is forced to do nothing more but supervise from the shadows in her skeletal form. It's a very welcome change of pace from the standard "beat the bad guy" plot of the first two chapters, and has a lot of cute and amusing moments, with a particularly hilarious ending.
Also worth mentioning Ė there are a lot of nice little touches in the setting that give the manga it's own unique flavour. For example, rather than the standard sailor uniform filled Japanese high school, the author chose to have Alice be a student at a Catholic school with very formal, elegant flowing dress-like designs for the uniform. Another nice touch is the portrayal of the world of the Shinigami as amusingly modern, with skyscrapers and offices, and Lapan's boss being not a giant, dark looking manager of death but a smart, chess-playing businessman.
My only personal minor criticism is that the translations of the sound effects and signs tend to be very small under each panel, as oppose to blanking out signs or fitting the English text onto them along with the original Japanese for signs and sound effects. This is not much of a problem and most won't mind at all, in favour of keeping the original art, including text, clean. Also, the small text issue is understandable since the space between panels isn't exactly accommodating. The downside is that with sound effects the end result is that you'll read the sound effect separately after looking at the panel in question, which sort of takes you out of the moment and almost gives the effect of seeing the action, and then "hearing" the sound effect a couple of seconds later.
Like most manga, each chapter begins with a very nice piece of full-page artwork, in greyscale but fully shaded unlike the regular artwork. Also, the end of the book contains a couple of fun omake frames and a mini comic featuring the author commenting on the number of panty shots in the book. There is also a preview of the first few pages of the second volume, which is a nice bonus, and finally, a mini translator guide for some of the Japanese words used frequently in the book which is very useful (especially to reviewers who decide it would be a good idea to mention what Shinigami means at the start of their reviews).
Overall I'd say this book is worth considering if you want some silly fun that's got a bit of story and a lot of panties. The first volume shows great potential for the plot to grow and get more interesting as time goes on, but as a lone book, you should look elsewhere if you want ecchi as well as an enthralling storyline. You can find Alice On Deadlines in the manga section of most large bookshops and at most online retailers that sell manga.