Monday, December 26, 2016

REVIEW: Arisa (manga, vol. 1) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Andria Cheng

Arisa is a mystery series licensed by Kodansha Comics.

This review technically includes spoilers, since the class's secret isn't revealed until the second half of the volume.

Review:

Tsubasa and her twin sister Arisa have been separated for three years, ever since their parents got divorced. They’ve managed to keep in touch via letters, but Tsubasa is still understandably excited about getting to secretly visit her sister soon. Tsubasa, whose habit of getting into fights has earned her the nickname “the Demon Princess of Higashi Junior High,” absolutely idolizes her seemingly perfect and popular sister.

During the visit, Arisa convinces Tsubasa to pretend be her for a day. The experience is just as wonderful as Tsubasa expected it to be, so it’s a complete shock when Arisa tries to kill herself. Her tipping point appears to have been a note she was given by someone at school: “Arisa Sonoda is a traitor.” What does it mean, and what secrets have Arisa and her classmates been hiding? Tsubasa decides to continue pretending to be Arisa while Arisa is in a coma, in order to solve the mystery and protect her sister.

I don’t think I’ve ever read any of Ando’s other works, but I’m pretty sure her Kitchen Princess series is cutesy romance. In general, her artistic style screams “generically cute." I have no idea how she ended up doing a series like Arisa, a mystery with a distinctly dark and disturbing edge. I was reminded a bit of Higurashi: When They Cry, except that Ando’s artwork didn't push the creepy moments far enough - it was just too cutesy, on the whole, for the subject matter.

Then there was the premise itself, which required a lot of suspension of disbelief. What kind of parents would completely separate their twin children for three whole years? And then their mother was conveniently unreachable when Arisa tried to kill herself and ended up in a coma, while their dad seemed perfectly fine with Tsubasa essentially no longer going to school and instead pretending to be Arisa. And everyone instantly accepted Tsubasa’s weak explanation for why she no longer remembered the class’s creepy “King time.”

Complaints aside, this was a surprisingly gripping first volume. Tsubasa expected to learn that her sister had been bullied and instead discovered that the entire class was taking part in something called “King time.” Every week at the same time, everyone in the class enters their wishes into a website. One person’s wish is chosen and granted by the “King,” whose identity no one knows. The King doesn’t seem to care if anyone gets hurt, and anyone who speaks out against them (the gender of the King is also unknown) risks being ostracized. Ostracized students receive a note: “[Student’s name] is a traitor.”

By the end of this volume, Tsubasa has identified one particular student as potentially being the King, having some connection to the King, or knowing who the King is. While I’m kind of annoyed at her decision to meet with him in private even though he’s already demonstrated that he can’t be trusted, I’m intrigued enough to want to read more.

If I had more shelf space, I’d probably order a couple more volumes right now - the story is interesting enough to make up for the improbable situation and incongruous artwork.

Extras:
  • A 6-page comic designed to show off a few of Ando's early character design sketches for Arisa.
  • A 4-page comic in which Ando talks about getting a dog. It's adorable.
  • Two pages of translation notes.
  • A preview of Arisa volume 2.

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