Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Arisa, Volume 2 by Natsumi Ando

Arisa Sonoda is the twin sister of a girl named Tsubasa Uehara. For a long time, they were separated, but kept in touch by letters after their parents separated. Tsubasa, despite looking like her sister a great deal, doesn't share Arisa's calm and happy temperment, being known as "The Demon Princess" at her old high school. But when Arisa falls victime to an apparent attempted suicide, it pushes Tsubasa into going undercover at her sister's school, Himetsubaki Junior High. There, Tsubasa wears a wig that looks just like her sister's hair and style, and pretends she *is* her sister to find out what is really going on and who might have wanted Arisa dead.

Already, Tsubasa has discovered a mysterious person known as "The King", who is promising to make student's wishes come true, but who also uses the wishes and the making of them to rule over the class and enforce his or her sense of order and control. (Actually "The King" implies that the character is male, but in Japanese it's closer to "The Ruler", which is more gender-neutral. It's probably something like O, since that means something very like "Ruler".) But the "King" apparently thinks that Arisa is a traitor, either to the school or to him/her, and is trying to take out or kill her, which makes Tsubasa have to unmask the King to discover who hurt her sister.

While investigating who the "King" really is, Tsubasa has to deal with Midori Yamashita, Arisa's boyfriend who isn't aware that Tsubasa has switched places with her sister, and Akira Manabe, who Tsubasa thinks is her current top suspect to be "the King", since Akira has a definite dislike of the school and is the class outcast. Meanwhile, her own friend from her school, Takeru Udegawa, is working with her to uncover the real identity of "The King". So when Takeru breaks into Akira's room and finds a copy of the card declaring Arisa a traitor pinned to his corkboard, Tsubasa thinks she has found the identity of the King at last. But could it truly be this easy?

During the next King time, one of the class asks for Field Day to be cancelled. The King agrees to grant the wish, but tells the class that if someone gets injured, the Field Day is sure to be cancelled. When Tsubasa points out that this means someone in their class will get injured, the class refuses to believe that the King will cause one of them to get hurt. Even Arisa's best friend, Mariko Takagi.

But while someone does get hurt, and the day is cancelled, but the next King Day fulfilled wish is "Please return the Real Arisa Sonoda". But while Tsubasa wonders who knows the secret she is trying to hide, and who might know the truth about who she is. But is the person who wants "The Real Arisa Sonoda" back someone who means her harm, or someone who misses Arisa and thinks she's changed ever since Tsubasa took over the role of her sister? And can Akira ever convince Tsubasa that he isn't the King? And when Akira finds out Tsubasa's true identity after an attempt on her life, can she convince him that she means well? Or will the secrets she is hiding mean that no one will believe anything she says, and she'll be rejected by anyone who knew her sister?

I find this series kind of creepy. The whole idea of a class of kids who can be controlled by having their wishes picked at random to be fulfilled is horrible, and yet, freakishly plausible. When I was in High School myself, I could see some of my fellow classmates doing just about anything for that. Although in Japan, the schools are much more highly regimented than they are here in America. For example, most schools (at least as depicted in Anime and Manga) have a fairly strict dress code and lots of rules that students are expected to follow- again, much more so than American schools, even private schools.

So despite the schools being regimented, students, just like Kids anywhere, want to stand out and be different. In Japan, since the uniforms they wear are decided on by the school, they have to look to little things to stand out- how baggy their socks are, cellphone charms, or what they wear in their hair. So they want anything that make them stand out- and this is just one way to stand out and be different.

The identity of the King, whoever he or she is, is something that is still a mystery, though Tsubasa is slowly eliminating the suspects of who the "King" might be. But she's experienced several drawbacks in her search, and someone seems to think that she is a threat. The question is... who? And when will she uncover the truth about the King?

I have been enjoying the series so far, but I do find it disturbing in its implications about the nature of High School kids, yet at the same time, disturbingly plausible and close to reality. There is a ruthlessness in teenagers that this story brings into high relief that makes the story super-realistic. Highly recommended.

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