This review…took a while. Partly due to school commitments (as usual), but partly due to my discovery of Buzz Launcher. Oh, the customizability…
This is the manga I wanted to talk about for ages. My opinion on this manga has evolved (like a Pokemon! loljk) dramatically since I first started reading it long ago, but that hasn’t changed the fact that it was a very enjoyable read. Here is a look at a manga I didn’t expect to enjoy, but one that really challenged my views on shoujo manga, Arisa.
Summary: After being separated by their parent’s divorce, twins Tsubasa and Arisa have only communicated through letters. Upon meeting, the two decide to switch lives for a day, with each going to the other’s high school, leaving Tsubasa with the impression that Arisa’s life is great. However, Arisa’s sudden suicide attempt leads Tsubasa to think that something darker may be at work below the surface, and decides to impersonate Arisa at her school to figure out the mystery…
This manga does a lot of things really well, and I really enjoyed it. From the first chapter, I honestly wasn’t expecting much – twins that switch lives for a day (now where have I seen this before?). But the author really turns this situation on its head by using Arisa’s suicide attempt as a plot device.
I think the dark themes that Arisa’s suicide set the precedent for was a rather risky move for the author. I mean, this manga is serialized in Nakayoshi, of all things, which is marketed to middle school girls. While a lot of the manga in Nakayoshi is good (Sailor Moon, Shugo Chara, etc.), it isn’t exactly the most thought-provoking and thematically deep manga in the world, so it’s nice to see Arisa bucking the trend a little bit. I appreciate that this manga didn’t go too far with the dark themes, and managed to keep things age-appropriate while still taking the plot in interesting directions! Great job!
This manga could have been SO MUCH MORE if it had been serialized in a magazine catering to an older audience. Because this manga is targeted at middle school girls, the author wasn’t able to explore a lot of mature themes that could have been handled really well. Arisa could have been the manga that LIFE was, and if the author had been able to, I think this manga could have surpassed LIFE in terms of quality. There are certain situations in this manga relating to violence and romantic relationships where I could really sense that the author was holding back from taking this manga to really dark places. While it’s kind of a shame, I do think that this manga still has a lot of redeeming qualities.
On the surface, it seems that the personalities of the characters makes them seem rather ordinary and boring. However, the key in reading this manga isn’t to look at the personalities of the characters but rather their MOTIVATIONS. Arisa’s suicide is in my mind, the main signal for the reader to do this. Arisa’s seems to be bright and happy, but no person who’s actually happy would ever commit suicide – hence, the underlying motivations of the character need to be examined. There’s a lot of this “something below the surface is at work” dynamic going on within the characters of this manga, which made the manga rather fresh, and kept me invested in the progression of the plot. I really liked how the author tackled themes of acceptance and bullying in this manga, and how that played into the characters’ motivations as well.
Quite honestly, Midori-kun is growing on me as one of my favourite characters in this whole manga. His motivations are complicated, and the nature of his character kept me guessing the whole time (when I finally figured things out, I was shouting, “I KNEW IT. I KNEW IT!!!!” in my head). Creating a character that caused such an emotional reaction in me is really a great achievement on the author’s part.
(I really, REALLY want to talk about spoilers right now, but I’ll ruin the manga for you all if I do. But trust me, the story is really, REALLY good.)
The art is actually quite nice. The art style kind of makes me think of a “restrained Arina Tanemura” kind of style, because it’s sparkly, but not TOO sparkly. Basically, it’s cute without being over-the-top, and the guys are well-drawn too. That’s a win-win in my book! 😀
While I am piling on the praise for this manga (and it deserves it), a large part of me is still a bit disappointed. This manga could have won a huge amount of awards if it had taken the direction of a more mature manga. I’m still amazed at the fact that a manga published in Nakayoshi can have this much thematic complexity, and I know this author mainly concentrates her work in Nakayoshi-esque publications, but if she ever publishes a more mature work in a Cookie!/Betsucomi-like magazine, you’ll definitely find me reading it.
Anyway, if you like your shoujo manga tackling themes about bullying, friendship and love, you should definitely check Arisa out! The plot twists are definitely worth it!