by Natsumi Ando
published by Kodansha Comics; $10.99 US
It’s been a long time since I’ve checked in with Arisa. I loved the first book, three years ago, released from Del Rey Manga shortly before they ceased publishing. However, by book 3, I was disagreeing with the author’s pacing and character choices. I checked back in at the mid-point of the series only to find it formulaic and repetitive.
So picking up Arisa Volume 12, the final volume, was an indulgence. I didn’t expect to understand what was going on, but the plot resolution, involving the mysterious, controlling King having planted a bomb at some kind of school ceremony, was straightforward enough. However, since Natsumi Ando emphasizes the emotional payoff instead of the logical plot, I didn’t care much about any of these people, so I wasn’t able to participate in the climactic feelings.
The art wasn’t particularly gripping, either, as we got lots of big-eyed closeups as the characters struggled with life-and-death situations, and more frequently, how they FELLLLLLLLTTTTTTT about it all. I guess it’s closing the loop that this was all caused by someone delusional over twins, but it feels a bit too pat and fictional, not like someone would ever act in real life. (I know, it’s shojo manga, but I like best those examples of the genre that capture realistic emotion, even if the events are ludicrous.)
The reversals — there’s a bomb! no there isn’t! yes there is! now there’s a stabbing! — come fast and furious, so much so that there’s barely any time to process one before there’s another surprise intended to shock. I found this pacing annoying, leading me to skim superficially over all the revelations. There was also one major reveal that wasn’t explained, since the surprise character isn’t named on the page, at least not to someone who hadn’t read the last few previous books.
I’d be curious to know if someone who followed the series the whole way through found this final volume more satisfying. It’s certainly the case that all the major questions — the identity of the bad guy, the motivation, whether the twin sisters reconcile, and what happens to all the significant characters — get answered, which I imagine would be rewarding. However, the “I love you” revelation may annoy the more mature or thoughtful reader, given how Stockholm-syndrome-ish it is.
The book also has an extra story, a flashback to a time before all this when Arisa (the good sister) pretended to be Tsubasa (the rough-and-tumble sister). Understandably, Arisa was freaked out by Tsubasa’s gangster friends. (The publisher provided a review copy.)