Monday, July 2, 2018

MANGA REVIEW: Arisa - a 2009 shoujo manga you should avoid

I found a copy of the first volume of 2009's "Arisa" by Natsumi Ando used at a local Barnes and Noble and decided to give it a try since it was a random shoujo by a known mangaka (not that I've ever read her other work "Kitchen Princess"). I read volume 1, and neither loved nor hated it, but suspected it might be not my normal type of shoujo (I like thoughtful high-school romances or thoughtful slice of life, or thoughtful strong but wounded girl stories - this is most definitely not those three). Then a couple weeks later I stumbled onto the entire series at a local library (one I hadn't been to before while waiting to pick my daughter up at summer camp). I borrowed the rest of the series and read it in a couple days and determined that, yup, it wasn't actually very good and so I'm glad I borrowed it before buying it.

The plot goes something like this: Tsubasa and Arisa are twin sisters whose parents divorced three years ago and each took one sibling with them (because manga). They have not seen each other in three years despite living very close together (because manga) but they do write letters back and forth all the time (yes, letters - despite having cell phones). They decide to meet up for the first time in three years (again suggesting just how easy it would be to have done this over the years) and for some inexplicable reason Tsubasa is encouraged to pose as Arisa for a day at school. When she returns saying she had a great time, Arisa tries to kill herself by jumping out a window. She's now in a coma (because manga). That's where this very troubling series begins.

Tsubasa decides, with her father's blessing (because manga) to pose as her sister some more and infiltrate the school to uncover what's going on that would prompt her seemingly perfect and happy sister to try to kill herself. That's when we find out about "The King" a mysterious cell phone accessible all-powerful anonymous person who has been granting wishes to the class but is starting to "get rid" of anyone who doubts him/her (because manga). Tsubasa (as Arisa) begins to push back against some of the group-think and meanness she encounters, getting on The King's bad side and becoming the victim of bullying by the class.

However, this story isn't a dark rumination on suicide and depression, nor does it end up being a treatise on classroom bullying which is where I thought it was going. Instead, it's a trashy mystery-ish story with endless plot twists (are they really plot twists if things are just randomly changed for the sake of faking readers out?) as Tsubasa tries to uncover The King's identity and solve why her sister won't wake up.

Did I mention that they're in middle school? Yup, 8th graders actually (2nd year middle school). Other than one of her parents being shown occasionally there are no other parents in the story. The kids are out doing all sorts of things at all times (including getting framed for murders). I have a 14-year-old daughter and I guarantee you that she doesn't look like these kids, act like these kids, or have the lack of supervision of these kids. I know it's shoujo, but come on, it's carried to excessive places here, particularly in the depiction of 8th graders as if they were full-on nearly adult high-schoolers.

So let's jump to what might be the most concerning part of this whole series. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT STOP READING IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING (you were warned):
At the end, when it's revealed that it was Arisa's boyfriend who was committing terrible crimes as The King, including several fake murders, causing a girl to break both legs and be in a wheel chair, endless despair for tons of bullied kids, and another kid who is going to jail for trying to kill the King. And so what do the girls do once it's solved? They decide to keep visiting him in jail (they're 14) and Tsubasa says she'll keep supporting Arisa's endless and eternal love for this psychopathic 14 year old! And that's how the series ends. With a lesson to young girls that it's okay to think the first person you ever date will be your love forever and that it's okay to love a psychopath and visit them in jail knowing that your life will be scarred forever because your parents are not involved in your life at all nor safeguarding you from making these incredibly stupid decisions at...14 years old! Parents, don't let your kids date psychopaths. Don't let them visit psychopaths in jail. Teach them that they'll probably fall in love with more than one person (and not marry their 8th grade sweetheart). Teach them that they're worth being treated nicely and that nice kind people are out there. Don't let them think that what these girls do, and what this manga stands for, are in the least bit okay! Parenting rant over, now for the other problems with this series.

First, they never call the police or other adults, ever. And why not? I mean, if a stranger on a cell phone is granting wishes that cause serious bodily harm to classmates and other citizens, my first instinct is to solve the mystery myself, isn't yours?! COME ON! I know there would be no story if they called the police, but then the answer is to WRITE A BETTER STORY! The one time the police do get involved they refuse to look into or investigate any of the things Tsuabasa shares. Why? Because if they did, again the story would be over. I hate when contrivances or poorly created motivations keep a story moving rather than writing something that could plausibly exist in the world. Even fantasy has internal logic and rules.

The plot itself is a series of endless switches of character motivation back and forth that reminded me of the last few seasons of the TV show "Alias" when it was impossible to figure out which side characters were on from episode to episode because they had double crossed each other way too many times. There was no foreshadowing (other than a panel with a dark figure...could this be the king? but no literary foreshadowing of any sort), no character development for either the lead or backing characters (one backing character - a boy from Tsubasa's school was so randomly used, I couldn't figure out why he was in the story at all; and the non-boyfriend male lead - a friend of Arisa's - SHOULD have been Tusabasa's love interest, but instead the author made him in love with the broken-legs-girl who was barely in the story). And I'm fine with a story that doesn't center around relationships, that's actually a good thing for shoujo, but while Tsubasa seemingly had no interest in boys she ends up FALLING FOR HER SISTER's PSYCHOPATHIC BOYFRIEND WHILE HER SISTER IS IN A COMA and lets him kiss her! (because manga).

The art is so-so, I'm definitely not opposed to the style. It's not the hyper exaggerated shoujo-style (which I like), more of the "life like" shoujo style (which can be good), so it was okay if not distinctive. But the characters made no sense as they flip-flopped, the story was only made possible by stupid decisions and random twists not good writing, and the end message was so offensive and awful that I cannot possibly recommend this series at all. I'm giving it a 3/10 "Unacceptable Content and a Waste of Time." This was purely a trashy story. And while not every trashy story is bad (plenty of people like them for valid reasons) the moral center was WAY off.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3