Friday, August 12, 2011

Arisa, Volume 1 by Natsumi Ando

Tsubasa Uehara is a twin, but when her parents separated, her and her sister had to live apart. Tsubasa is somewhat girly, but at the same time, she is known as the "Demon Princess of Higurashi Junior High" because of her temper and penchant for lashing out at those who annoy her. But Tsubasa's sister, Arisa, is the most precious thing in Tsubasa's life, even if they haven't spent much time in each other's company. Tsubasa remember her sister with great fondness, and also thinks that her sister has a perfect life, a thought which makes her happy.

When they finally meet again, Arisa is happy to see Tsubasa, and when she expresses an interest in finding out what Arisa's school is like, Arisa convinces Tsubasa to wear a wig and go to school as her so that she can find out for herself. So Tsubasa goes to school as Arisa, where she meets Arisa's boyfriend and all the rest of her friends, including a boy named Manabe, who used to be a bad boy but who mysteriously changed after meeting Arisa and talking to her. Just before leaving school, she finds a letter addressed to her sister, which she assumes is a love letter. But when she gets home, Arisa is no longer happy and laughing, and she seems disturbed that Tsubasa enjoyed pretending to be her.

As Tsubasa hands her the note, Arisa apologizes to her sister and throws herself out the window, falling twenty feet to the ground. Tsubasa is upset when she realizes the note she gave her sister says, "Arisa Sonoda is a traitor". And a week later, despite the fact that she fell into trees and bushes that broke her fall, and there is nothing wrong with her physically- she simply won't wake up. It's as if she simply doesn't *want* to wake up, and Tsubasa is feeling guilty about causing her sister to jump because she didn't realize how conflicted her sister was about her school.

But she is determined to do something about it, so she dresses up like her sister again and tells her father that she is going to be attending Arisa's school as Arisa to try and find out why her sister doesn't want to wake up. On the way, she gets help from one of her own classmates, Takeru, who wants to help her. And once she is in school, she pretends everything is okay, and gets a giant shock- in fourth period, everyone tells her "it's time", and they seem shocked that she doesn't know what they are talking about, but she explains it away as "spotty memory from her accident". It turns out that this is something called "King Time", when everyone in class makes a wish and sends it to the website on their cellphones. And out of all the wishes, one of them is chosen to be fulfilled.

Today's wish of the day seems to be for the gym teacher, Todoroki-sensei, to disappear. He's kind of a sleeze, spying on the girls and enjoying how they look in short gym shorts. But everyone seems convinced that he really will disappear. And the next day, Gym is first period, but is cancelled because Todoroki-sensi hasn't come in, and all his things are gone from the teacher's lounge with no explanation. Is there really a King granting wishes to the class? And yet, even though the class is happy about it, they quickly turn on a girl who suggests that the King and King Time may have gone too far in "disappearing" the teacher. It quickly becomes apparent that the power has gone to the heads of the students, and that it has turned some of them vicious. But what does Arisa have to do with "King Time" and why does someone in the class feel that she is a traitor? A Traitor to whom, or what?

And then, when talking to one of Arisa's friends by the lockers, she sees the girl get a note claiming she is a traitor, and the entire class sings to her a leave-taking song that leaves her crying and shocked. She doesn't want to leave, but seems convinced that she'll be forced to. Can Tsubasa, as Arisa, keep her from having to leave, or will the 'King' who may have caused Arisa to try and commit suicide have another victim?

This was an intriguing setup for a manga. Two sisters, separated, but still loving each other, are separated again when one of them is called out by a mysterious "King" denounces one of the sisters as a traitor. And since no one at Arisa's school appears to know she even *has* a twin, Tsubasa is able to pretend to be her. In fact, that's the only part of the scenario that I found questionable. Some of these girls are supposed to be Arisa's friends, and they don't know about her twin sister? The only explanation I could come up with is that they aren't as close friends as Tsubasa imagines them to be.

All the rest of it, the students using what was supposed to be something good to do increasingly bad acts, is all down to human nature. And the fact that Japanese students don't have as many freedoms as American students do, makes this even more likely. When they have found a source of power that is theirs, the impulse will be to exploit it and push the boundaries... and that's exactly what they are doing. The nature of the mystery is who is this 'King', and how is he, she or they (because it might be more than one person) accomplishing these actions? And the spooky way Arisa's classmates have treated anyone that the 'King' dislikes is made even more Spooky by how they ALL do it.

This book was amazingly good and strange, and the way the kids in Arisa's class are acting, especially when they gang up on the other girl and sing that "sad parting" song was full on creepy, and I can see why the girl was so freaked out, especially when you consider how some of these were probably considered her friends. I can't wait to read more. Highly recommended.

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