Saturday, December 9, 2017

REVIEW: Arisa (manga, vols. 2-12) by Natsumi Ando, translated by various

I read the first volume of Arisa almost a year ago. I felt that it had significant problems - a premise that required too much suspension of disbelief and artwork that didn't really fit the "feel" of the series - but I was intrigued enough by it to want to continue on.

Boy am I glad that I decided to continue on via library checkouts during my vacation rather than via purchases. If I had purchased it, I'd have instantly offloaded upon finishing it. It was a mediocre series that never got better and that, in fact, became downright bad at the end. The one bright spot was a short spin-off included at the end of one of the volumes, a horror-comedy featuring Mariko, Arisa's best friend. Unfortunately, as good as that short was, it made it even clearer that many of the characters in this series really, really needed therapy, and not just for someone to like them for who they are.

Ando had no idea how to properly build up suspense, was fond of fakeouts, and threw a cheap twist at readers right at the end. Also, it really bothered me how much her characters were willing to excuse and/or forgive.

While writing up this post, I discovered that my notes were pretty bad. I left out lots of details, resulting in volume descriptions that seem to have little-to-no connection to the previous volume. Also, I somehow neglected to record the volume in which Mariko's short was included. That said, even though my volume descriptions are incomplete, please be aware that they're still filled with spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Arisa (manga, vol. 2) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Andria Cheng - Tsubasa thinks Akira is the King, but she turns out to be wrong: the original King was actually Arisa, Tsubasa's twin sister. Tsubasa feels confused and helpless but springs back into action when the current evil King threatens her sister. Readers know that the current real King is Mariko, Arisa's best friend, but Tsubasa and Akira don't know that. Akira learns Tsubasa's true identity (remember, she's currently pretending to be Arisa) and agrees to help her find out the identity of the current King.

Dang this series went downhill fast. No real suspense because readers have been told that Mariko is the King, and so it's just a matter of waiting for Tsubasa to catch up and protect her sister in the meantime. It feels a bit melodramatic too.

I'm iffy about the revelation that Arisa was the original King. King Time was once a nice thing she did for her fellow classmates, but if I'm understanding this right, at least one of the "nice" things she did would have been an academic integrity violation. I mean, couldn't she just have started a study group that all her classmates were invited to attend?

And one thing that took me out of the story: the desktop folder with no name. I'm not sure that's even possible. It would have made more sense for it to have some kind of generic name, rather than no name at all.

Arisa (manga, vol. 3) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Andria Cheng - Tsubasa thinks that Mariko is the King, but it turns out that Mariko was just being used by them. She was jealous of Arisa's relationship with her boyfriend, Midori, because she was always so easily forgotten by friends and classmates in the past. Mariko gets made "invisible" by the current King and ends up transferring - "Arisa" (aka Tsubasa) tells her they can still be friends. Midori looks like another likely King candidate, but Tsubasa thinks he's genuinely nice. Then Rei Kudo transfers into the class. He seems potentially suicidal, and certainly physically fragile. The end of the volume indicates that he's likely the King.

This quote from Mariko to Tsubasa made me headdesk: "I forgot that you can get the things you want without asking the King." So this is apparently the excuse that Arisa's classmates are using for overlooking the damage the King is doing. "If I don't get the King to grant my wishes, then my wishes will never come true."

Although the indications that Mariko was the King turned out to be a fakeout on the author's part, her behavior was so over-the-top that I'd still say she probably needs therapy. Anyway, I was happy that Tsubasa and Akira added Midori to their list of King suspects so quickly, but I was not happy with the way Ando added Rei Kudo to the top readers' list of suspects practically the instant he appeared. This series had better not be 100% fakeouts, but if Rei Kudo isn't a fakeout then Ando has pretty much mined all of the series' suspense already. There's no buildup, no tension, just boom, new developments.

I'm also wondering what happened to Takeru, Tusbasa's friend. And it bugs me that Tsubasa is already falling for Midori, her twin sister's suspiciously perfect boyfriend (who has somehow still not figured out that he isn't talking to the real Arisa).

Arisa (manga, vol. 4) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Andria Cheng - Rei manipulates Osawa into stealing Midori's phone from Tsubasa. Osawa wants a girl he likes to like him back. Unfortunately for him, the girl hates him, so he makes a wish that gets her blinded. Meanwhile, Midori basically breaks up with "Arisa." And Tsubasa learns that Akira has been hiding things from her - he knows a girl in a wheelchair, Shizuka Mochizuki, who he has given multiple phones to. The extra phones give her a better chance of using her wishes to get revenge against Arisa.

Another volume, another over-the-top crazy person. Right now the King candidates are Rei, Shizuka, and Midori. As vengeful as Shizuka is, she probably isn't the King, because why would she need to collect phones in order to get her wish granted if she were? And speaking of Shizuka, I wouldn't be surprised if her hatred of Arisa were based on a misunderstanding that just got way out of hand. ::sigh::

At this point I think Akira is a jerk. And honestly, all of the students in this class are idiots. And also horrible people. The King clearly isn't a god and doesn't have superpowers - it isn't like King Time wishes are the only way these wishes could be granted and, more often than not, the way the King grants them tends to be harmful. And yet here we have a student who makes a wish about a girl he supposedly likes, thereby putting her in harm's way.

Arisa (manga, vol. 5) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Andria Cheng - Tsubasa has a new enemy: Shizuka, the King's first victim. She tried to commit suicide after being bullied on the King's orders but ended up in a wheelchair instead. Even before that, she had an insane grudge against Arisa for being ranked higher than her on test scores. She made Akira steal Arisa's notebooks so she could copy them and score higher than Arisa, but it didn't help. Akira feels guilty because he unknowingly chose to go to Arisa rather than to Shizuka when she was in trouble, and sorta kinda contributed to her ending up in a wheelchair. Tsubasa wants to get the phones back from Shizuka.

A quote from Akira: "[Shizuka] wants revenge [on Arisa], no matter the cost. Even if it means working with the current King to do it." OMG, these characters. They're so frustrating. Shizuka is so obsessed that it never occurs to her that the current King might be the same person who got people to bully her. Yes, Arisa should have stepped in and done something to stop her classmates and whoever was King on her behalf, but I still think Shizuka's rage would be better directed against the entire King system, rather than just Arisa. Heck, she might as well just be angry at her entire class. They're all horrible.

This was better than the previous volume, as long as I accept that these kids are all just crazily obsessed. Shizuka at least has a bit more reason to be like this than some of the others (her horrible home life played a part - her adoptive mother was awful), but Akira was an idiot for enabling her.

In this volume, Shizuka uses her wish to damage "Arisa's" reputation, making everyone think she cheated on Midori with Akira. Super.

Arisa (manga, vol. 6) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Andria Cheng - Tsubasa kidnaps Shizuka to take her to an outdoor party, hoping that making new friends (Tsubasa's friends from her real school) will help her get over her desire to get revenge on Arisa. It works, at least for a short while. Unfortunately, the King tells Shizuka Tsubasa's secret, and Shizuka has a meltdown and uses all three of her phones to wish for Arisa (the real Arisa) to be erased from this world. However, instead of granting her wish, the King opts to grant the wish of the person with the fourth phone, that the King get rid of the person with the other three cellphones. Akira grabs the phones and gets hit by an ambulance. Shizuka decides to go to an orphanage to get away from the King and the temptation of King Time. Before she leaves, she gives Tsubasa the URL to a chat room showing a conversation between Arisa and someone named "K." Then there's a long flashback to Arisa and Tsubasa's childhood, and an incident where Tsubasa tried to get her sister to run away with her after their parents decided to divorce.

My reaction to this series is just one long frustrated scream. Ando consistently overdoes it with the characters' craziness. It makes it difficult to believe the moment when they supposedly snap out of it, like here, when Shizuka magically got over her murderous rage.

And the chat room convo just made me shake my head. In no way does it prove that Arisa was the King who got Shizuka bullied and injured. I can easily imagine a scenario where someone close to Arisa logged in under her name and had that convo with K. In fact, I strongly suspect that "K" is Rei Kudo and that "Arisa" is Midori. It's likely that Rei spoke to Midori thinking he was Arisa.

The flashback to Arisa and Tsubasa's childhood just proved that Tsubasa has never really taken the time to think things through. She somehow thought that 5000 yen (which currently works out to about 44 USD) would be more than enough for her and her sister to have fun for a day and then get themselves a hotel room for the night. Granted, she was a kid and probably had no idea how much things cost, but still. Even back then, Arisa was the one who took care of things when her sister's plans didn't pan out. That doesn't bode well for the rest of the series.

Arisa (manga, vol. 7) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Andria Cheng - Tsubasa arranges to meet with "K" at the place Arisa and Midori went to on Arisa's last birthday. Since Tsubasa doesn't know where that is, she's forced to ask Midori. She's shocked when she goes to her and K's meeting place only to find Midori there, but he says he was told to be there by Rei Kudo. Rei then takes over the class, supposedly on the King's orders. He says he wants them to be the best class ever and has them all working themselves to death for fear of being erased by the King. He even starts a fire so that he can force the class to save people. After that there's a bonus manga: How Takeru met and fell in love with Tsubasa. He initially thought she was a delicate princess of a girl (totally his type) and later found out otherwise.

Tsubasa continues to plunge ahead without thinking things through, and she also continues to make assumptions. For example, she assumes that K, Rei, is the King because he (at this point, the King is almost certainly male) was the one who suggested that Arisa start King Time. I'm still convinced that the second King is Midori, but Rei is pretty messed up himself. Then again, so is approximately 90% of the cast (and that may be a low estimate).

The fact that the King doesn't have magical powers kind of ruins this series for me a bit. He isn't supernatural, some kind of low-budget Light Yagami, he's just a messed up middle schooler who can absolutely screw up. And he honestly doesn't seem to be that smart, either, despite what Ando wants readers to think. It's just that the other characters are so foolish that he seems brilliant by comparison.

Arisa (manga, vol. 8) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Andria Cheng - Tsubasa worries about the King hurting Midori and is faced with a choice: going after an injured Midori or getting her classmates out of a trap. She chooses Midori and then races to the abandoned warehouse where the class is supposed to catch the murderer. He's there, but he gets stabbed, possibly by someone in the class. Rei collapses, and while Tsubasa gets help, Midori asks the King to help the class get rid of the body. Readers are told that Midori was the King all along and Rei was helping him because he thought Arisa was afraid that their mom (the parent she'd been sent to live with) liked Tsubasa better than her. Tsubasa's true identity is revealed to the entire class and she gets locked up with the body. She escapes, and Arisa finally comes out of her coma.

Uuuugh, I can't believe there are four more volumes of this to go.

At the moment, my theory is that Midori found out some dirt on Arisa and got her to allow him to use King Time for his own amusement, or maybe he just found out her password and began pretending to be the King without her permission. It would understandably have shocked her that someone who was so close to her would abuse her trust like that.

Tsubasa is an idiot. If Mariko, Akira, Rei, and Shizuka all aren't the King, that literally leaves only one suspect, Midori. And yet she still trusts him. The series could be over by now, and yet...

Arisa (manga, vol. 9) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Andria Cheng - Arisa wakes up but appears to have amnesia, because of course. Rei is shocked she's awake even thought he hasn't gotten rid of Tsubasa yet, so Midori knocks him out to keep him out of the way. Then Midori visits Arisa and says something to her (reminds her of her secret) that prompts her to go back to class with all four phones. She says she's going to protect the class, but then she sees Tsubasa and acts like she hates her, like the things Rei said about her being afraid their mom preferred Tsubasa over her were true. Tsubasa goes to Rei's house with Midori and Midori kisses her and then knocks her out with a pill and ties her up.

WTF, Ando? I don't care what Arisa's secret is, it can't possibly be worth hurting her twin and setting her up to be offed by the King (the wish she transmitted on the phones is pretty unambiguous, considering what the King has done up to this point: "Get rid of my twin sister."). I'm also annoyed at the indication that that stupid story about Arisa being worried their mom liked her sister more might actually be true.

I know I said this in my comments for the previous volume, but Tsubasa is an absolute moron. By this point it should have been crystal clear to her that Rei wasn't the King, leaving Midori the only candidate. And yet she went to Rei's house with Midori as her only backup.

And as far as the pill went, WTF Ando? You had Midori drug Tsubasa via a pill he forced into her during a kiss. Are you kidding me? Besides the general grossness of the whole situation, I want to know how something that knocked Tsubasa out that fast didn't affect Midori in the slightest. He had to have had that in his mouth for at least a few minutes.

Arisa (manga, vol. 10) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Ben Applegate - Midori arranges for Tsubasa to be killed by an explosion in Rei's house, but Rei saves Tsubasa because they both care for Arisa, and he wants Arisa to be saved. Arisa sneaks into the hospital to see Rei (and Akira? my notes are confusing). Tsubasa finally learns more about what happened between Arisa and Midori: Arisa was the King, at first, but got depressed because everyone had started complaining that the King only granted easy wishes. She couldn't bring herself to grant a wish with a stolen test answer sheet, so Midori took care of this wish in her place. Then, when she was sad that her mom had chosen to go on a trip on her birthday instead of staying with her, Midori pushed her mom so she'd break a bone and have to stay at home. Despite all of this, Arisa says she's going to stay with Midori on her own.

This volume made me so angry. I hate all of these characters. Hate them.

First, Tsubasa and Arisa's mom. "You really are boring." WTF kind of mother says this to her child? I can't believe that stupid story about Arisa and Tsubasa's mom preferring Tsubasa was actually true.

Next, Arisa. I understand that she felt abandoned by her mom, who seemed to prefer to be anywhere but with her daughter. However, that wasn't a good justification for her decision not to tell anybody about what Midori was doing. The volume with the flashback to Tsubasa and Arisa running away when they were younger showed that Arisa was capable of going against even her own twin when she felt it was necessary, so why didn't she tell anybody about Midori's actions? She could have stopped everything early on, and yet she chose not to. And ugh, the wish. She knows Midori is capable of killing people, so why did she wish for the King to get rid of her?

Like Arisa, Midori felt abandoned by his mother, who literally left him. And again, that isn't a good excuse for what he did. I'm probably supposed to feel more sympathy for him than I do.

Arisa (manga, vol. 11) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Jackie McClure - Tsubasa goes back to her old school after Arisa shows her a letter Midori gave her indicating that he plans to come clean about his crimes after the summit allows him to see his mother again. But Tsubasa wonders if that's true, and so she goes to the orphanage where Midori lived since he was abandoned at age 3. She learns that he was a twin too, and Akari, his twin, died after their mom abandoned them for more than a month. She had trained them to fear going outside, and so they didn't try to leave until it was too late. Tsubasa decides that what Midori must really want out of this summit is revenge against his mother, so she tricks Arisa and takes her place again. But Midori knows immediately that it's her. It turns out that he already knows where his mom is, and his true goal is to get revenge against the entire world.

This series is like a lower quality version of Naoki Urasawa's Monster. That series had its own issues when it came to melodrama and dragging on longer than it should have, but Urasawa's Johan was smarter and more intense than Ando's Midori could ever dream of being.

I just want to shake Arisa. When given a choice, she always opts to stay with horrible people and then wallows in her own misery. The only reason she was separated from her sister and living with her horrible mother was because she didn't want her mother to get lonely - she chose to stay with her mother (was this an inconsistency on Ando's part? because I don't recall the sisters being given a choice at all, and yet this volume definitely indicates that Arisa could have lived with her dad and sister instead). And she chose to stay with Midori, even knowing that he was a murderous and messed up little monster.

Even if Akari died of neglect, that's no excuse for Midori injuring and murdering people and Arisa and Tsubasa opting not to report it to anybody. Does no one remember the dead body? And the multiple badly injured students, some of whom could have died if things had gone a little differently?

I took terrible notes for this series and somehow forgot to say which volume had the short starring Mariko, Arisa's friend, but a little googling tells me it was probably this one. It was probably the best thing in the entire series, a sort of horror comedy. Granted, Mariko was super disturbing, as was her horrible teacher, who deliberately arranged for low-performing students to be bullied so they'd leave his class and stop making him look bad, but I could tell that Ando does much better with comedy that she does with a straighter mystery/thriller series. This short did make Mariko's bittersweet departure feel even more "off," though. Mariko didn't need someone like Tsubasa to decide they liked her just as she is - instead, what she needed was for someone to help her learn how to interact with people in a more healthy way, rather than obsess about them.

Arisa (manga, vol. 12) by Natsumi Ando, translated by Jackie McClure - Tsubasa thinks Midori planted a bomb among the thousand paper cranes (like that wouldn't be super noticeable), but he actually put one under her mom's chair. Arisa gets stabbed while protecting her mom, and Midori escapes. He goes to see Arisa in the hospital but gets captured by Tsubasa and some cops. In a surprise twist, Midori is stabbed by Osawa (remember him? the guy whose wish resulted in his crush being temporarily blinded). Arisa confesses to Midori that she still loves him. Midori ends up in a juvenile detention center (I think?), and Tsubasa visits him and tells him that Arisa is waiting for him. Bonus manga: A flashback to Arisa visiting Tsubasa's school to try to figure out why Tsubasa thinks she might soon be expelled.

Huh. The series is now over and Tsubasa was never paired off with anyone. That might be the best thing I could say about it. I was sure there'd be a relationship between her and either Akira or Takeru shoehorned in at some point. Instead, there's an indication that Akira and Shizuka might become a couple at some point in the future.

Arisa deciding that she still loved Midori just made me shake my head. Considering what she and everyone else had been through, Tsubasa should have been against their relationship, not encouraging it. In order to make Midori slightly less horrible, Ando wimped out and revealed that the guy who was supposedly killed a few volumes ago was actually just pretending to be dead - somehow a whole classroom full of people transported him to a new room and never realized he wasn't really dead, and somehow he stayed quiet while Tsubasa was locked in with him. And even if he was pretending, that still doesn't excuse all the times Midori hurt and almost killed fellow classmates.

This was a terrible ending with a cheap shocker of a twist. How did Osawa manage to hide in a room that the police had supposedly prepped for catching Midori? And why Osawa, of all people? I had to go back through my notes to remind myself who he was, and I'd only read the volume he last appeared in (volume 4) a day prior.

If someone asked me if they should give this series a try, I'd tell them to skip it and read something like Monster or Death Note instead. Both of those series have their problems, but they're still way better than this one.

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