Review: Arisa, vol. 1

ArisaArisa, vol. 1
By Natsumi Ando
Rated T, for Teens, ages 13+
Del Rey/Kodansha, $10.99

Fourteen-year-old Tsubasa tells people exactly what she thinks, which has earned her the nickname “demon princess” in her high school. Guys find her straightforward manner appealing, but Tsubasa longs to be more girly and have more girlfriends—like her twin sister Arisa.

Arisa and Tsubasa have been apart for three years, since their parents’ divorce, but they have kept in touch. As the book opens, they get together for the first time and decide to switch places for a day. Thanks to their correspondence and some quick prep, Tsubasa pulls it off, spending the day enjoying the affection of Arisa’s girlfriends and her hunky but sweet boyfriend, none of whom suspect anything is up. It’s a perfect existence, which makes it all the more shocking when Arisa jumps out the window upon Tsubasa’s return.

The proximate cause of the jump was a note, which Tsubasa assumed was a love note but actually said “Arisa Sonoda is a traitor.” Fortunately, Arisa doesn’t die, but she does go into a coma, and Tsubasa decides to assume her identity in order to see what caused her to try to take her life—and perhaps bring her back, just in case the coma is purely emotional in nature.

The game is on! With the setup firmly in place, Tsubasa starts investigating, starting with the assumption that Arisa was bullied. Arisa’s school is almost Stepford-like; everyone is cheerful and affectionate and delighted to have their old friend back, and Tsubasa can’t figure out what’s going on—until it’s time for the school’s weekly ritual, and the story shifts into a much creepier mode, going over to the darker side of human nature.

Arisa isn’t as bloody as Battle Royale or The Drifting Classroom, but what’s going on isn’t that different: The kids are being manipulated by unseen forces, and the result is that they are turning on each other one by one. Tsubasa sees this firsthand after one of her classmates expresses momentary doubt—and the others immediately begin bullying her. The violence is psychological, not physical, but it is real nonetheless.

Natsumi Ando is the creator of Kitchen Princess, a book that embraced every cliché of the shoujo romance genre but still managed to weave interesting stories about three-dimensional characters. This book is even better. The mystery at the heart of it is not all that original, but it is an excellent metaphor for high school life. And Tsubasa is convincing as a conflicted but determined teenager. She shines through as a real person, insecure and quirky but good-hearted under it all. Her classmate, Manabe, is the wild card that keeps the story interesting, as Tsubasa tries to figure out which side he is on—sometimes he seems to support the other students, other times he rebels.

Visually, this book is a shoujo as they come. The characters are highly stylized, with eyes like saucers, and the panels float on a river of screentones. While readers unfamiliar with manga may find that off-putting, it’s not a bad thing, as shoujo manga does creepy stories very well. One of the most effective techniques for creating uneasiness is to stay close to reality but change a few details; when Tsubasa’s classmates drop their everyday cheer and shift into darker mode, their eyes are hidden and the shadows deepen.

As in Kitchen Princess, Ando gets briskly to work on telling her story. While the first volume in a series is often all setup, Ando moves the plot along and reveals a few secrets while dangling others to keep readers interested. Overall, it’s a well done mystery, a sophisticated story wrapped in sweet, sweet shoujo art.

(This review is based on a review copy supplied by the publisher.)

New titles and fresh reviews

Digital Manga has just announced four new licenses on their web page: Border, vols. 1-3, by Kazuma Kodaka; Bad Teacher’s Equation, vols. 1-5 by Kazuma Kodaka; Blue Sheep Reverie, vol. 4 by Makoto Tateno; and the novel Demon City Shinjuku: The Complete Edition, by Hideyuki Kikuchi.

Meanwhile, Udon has unveiled their latest manga series, the two-volume Street Fighter Gaiden.

Lori Henderson posts this week’s all-ages comics and manga at Good Comics for Kids.

Japan, Inc. takes center stage in Jason Thompson’s latest House of 1,000 Manga column at ANN.

Jones, one of my favorite infrequently-updating bloggers, does a guest turn at The Hooded Utilitarian talking about “visual aliens,” characters who are drawn in a noticeably different style than the rest of the cast. He starts with Moyasimon and extends it to Western comics, but I could have come up with a lot more examples from manga, where I often find it rather distracting.

Trick or treat: Melinda Beasi has a seasonally-themed Three Things Thursday column at Manga Bookshelf: Ghost hunters. Shannon Fay’s latest Halloween manga pick is Madeline Rosca’s delightful Hollow Fields. And to really get you in the Halloween mood, check out Pink Tentacle’s gallery of Tatsuya Morino’s drawings of classic monsters from Gothic literature. (Last link via Comics Alliance.)

Happy blogiversary to Rob McMonigal, who has been writing about graphic novels for two years now over at Panel Patter.

News from Japan: Shin-Men, a new anime and manga series based on Crayon Shin-Chan will start running on TV and in Monthly Manga Town magazine, the home of the original. The series features five little men based on a mixed bag of elements (fire, water, wind greenery, and iron) who will fight against evil pigs. Also, Say Hello to Black Jack creator Shuho Sato has found an overseas site to translate his manga for free; Sato announced earlier this week that he was looking for unpaid translators.

Reviews: Kate Dacey looks at two new kid-friendly releases from Viz, Panda Man to the Rescue and Taro and the Magic Pencil, at Good Comics for Kids. Deb Aoki takes the express line with seven short reviews of recent manga at About.com.

Zack Davisson on vol. 2 of 20th Century Boys (Japan Reviewed)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vols. 3 and 4 of Butterflies, Flowers (Comics Worth Reading)
Kelakagandy on vols. 1 and 2 of Demon Sacred (kelakagandy’s ramblings)
Zack Davisson on vol. 2 of Dorohedoro (Japan Reviewed)
Julie Opipari on vol. 4 of Ghost Talker’s Daydream (Manga Maniac Cafe)
Penny Kenny on vol. 52 of InuYasha (Manga Life)
Greg McElhatton on vol. 3 of Kobato (Read About Comics)
J. Caleb Mozzocco on vol. 1 of The Stellar Six of Gingacho and vol. 1 of Summoner Girl (Blog@Newsarama)
Anna on vol. 1 of Wicked Lovely: Desert Tales (Manga Report)

Translators wanted: Must work for free

Kate Dacey takes a long look at this week’s new comics, and she even includes some snippets of reviews.

ICv2 talks to Asako Suzuki, who recently returned to the manga world as a line editor at Tokyopop, about her work there, and they also talk to senior editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl about the possibility of rescuing some of the licenses dropped by Suzuki’s former employer, CMX.

Attention scanlators: Looking to go legit? Shouho Sato is looking for volunteer translators for his online manga. If you want to try out, check out his Twitpic account, where you can submit your translations.

Gottsu-Iiyan is unimpressed with the new ComiPo comics software, and he is concerned it will lead to an influx of hack work in an industry already dominated by hacks.

Melinda Beasi and Michele Smith discuss creepy comics in their latest Off the Shelf column at Manga Bookshelf, and Shannon Fay continues her Halloween series with a look at Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.

This week’s edition of The Manga Curmudgeon’s Seinen Alphabet is brought to you by the letter N.

News from Japan: Kimi ni Todoke is selling like hotcakes! Also, ANN has the latest Japanese comics rankings in case you’re curious how the other books did. Sankaku Complex (NSFW) reports that Kodansha is offering its authors a 25% royalty on digital manga, much lower than the rates offered by Apple and Amazon, although the evidence for this seems to be a set of Tweets by a fairly obscure manga-ka. Perhaps better-known creators can negotiate a better deal?

Reviews: Carlo Santos casts a cold eye on another round of new releases in his latest Right Turn Only!! column at ANN. Noah Berlatsky continues his story-by-story look at Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories with a lengthy review of Iguana Girl. Other reviews of note:

Lissa Pattillo on vol. 1 of Cross Game (ANN)
Kristin on Gorgeous Carat Galaxy and vol. 1 of Our Kingdom (Comic Attack)
Julie Opipari on Higurashi When They Cry: Beyond Midnight Arc, vol. 1 (Manga Maniac Cafe)
Deb Aoki on vol. 1 of House of Five Leaves (About.com)
Julie Opipari on vol. 1 of March Story (Manga Maniac Cafe)
Lori Henderson on vols. 2 and 3 of Time and Again (Comics Village)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 33 of Vagabond (The Comic Book Bin)
Lori Henderson on Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide (Manga Xanadu)

New releases and Yaoi-Con news

David Welsh and Brad Rice check out this week’s new manga.

Melinda Beasi rounds up the week’s manhwa news, much of which occurred on Twitter, at Manga Bookshelf, and she also makes xxxHolic her pick of the week.

Deb Aoki posts a guide to Yaoi-Con, which happens this weekend. And Jennifer LeBlanc of The Yaoi Review will be interviewing manga creator Hinako Takanaga (Tyrant, Little Butterfly) at Yaoi-Con, so if you have questions for her, send them along by Friday.

Reviews: Ash Brown posts short takes on the week’s reading in Experiments in Manga. Kate Dacey has brief reviews of a handful of recent releases at The Manga Critic.

Diana Dang on vol. 1 of Alice in the Country of Hearts (Stop, Drop, and Read!)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 1 of Arisa (The Comic Book Bin)
Dave Ferraro on AX (Comics-and-More)
Lori Henderson on vol. 2 of Black Butler (Manga Xanadu)
Jaime Samms on Cold Light (Kuriousity)
Connie C. on Dawn of Love (Comics Village)
Anna on vols. 1 and 2 of Dengeki Daisy (Manga Report)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Dragon Girl (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Michelle Smith on vols. 1 and 2 of Gyo (Soliloquy in Blue)
Anna on vols. 8 and 9 of Kekkaishi (Manga Report)
Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 2 of Kingyo Used Booksco (Comics Worth Reading)
Zack Davisson on vol. 2 of Kingyo Used Books (Japan Reviewed)
Katherine Farmar on vol. 2 of Maiden Rose (Comics Village)
Oyceter on vols. 8-10 of Mushishi (Sakura of DOOM)
Connie on vol. 8 of Pet Shop of Horrors (Slightly Biased Manga)
Connie on vol. 4 of Rin-ne (Slightly Biased Manga)
Erica Friedman on vol. 7 of Sasamekikoto (Okazu)
Kristin on vol. 1 of The Story of Saiunkoku (Comic Attack)
Snow Wildsmith on vol. 1 of The Story of Saiunkoku (ICv2)

Monday news roundup

As I noted at Robot 6, it looks like Manga Fox is back to its old tricks, posting scanlations of Naruto, Bleach, and other licensed manga after publicly proclaiming it would no longer do so last summer.

Erica Friedman brings us up to date on all things yuri in the latest edition of Yuri Network News at Okazu.

The Comics Village team picks the best of the past week’s new manga.

Kate Dacey gets into the Halloween spirit with a look at her favorite spooky manga at The Manga Critic.

In his latest short video, Masters of Manga blogger Marc Bernabe talks to Kimagure Orange Road creator Izumi Matsumoto about his early experiment with digital manga.

Tina Anderson shows off two new global BL anthologies that will be available at Yaoicon. (Via The Yaoi Review, which is celebrating its second blogiversary—congratulations!)

David Welsh has two license requests this week, and he also asks his readers to name their favorite manga featuring motherless characters.

Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith discuss wordless communication in manga, with plenty of examples, in their latest Let’s Get Visual column at Soliloquy in Blue.

Ed Sizemore, Sean Gaffney, Ron Lopes, and Johanna Draper Carlson discuss New York Anime Fest in the latest Manga Out Loud podcast. Ash Brown has some thoughts on the NYAF panel Gay for You: Yaoi and Yuri Manga for GLBTQ Readers at Experiments in Manga.

Job Board: Viz is hiring in their anime and magazine divisions.

Reviews: Ash Brown posts short takes on recent manga at Experiments in Manga.

Julie Opipari on vol. 1 of Arisa (Manga Maniac Cafe)
Sean Gaffney on vol. 1 of Cardcaptor Sakura (omnibus edition) (A Case Suitable for Treatment)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 2 of Code:Breaker (The Comic Book Bin)
Alexander Hoffman on Darker Than Black (Manga Widget)
Danica Davidson on The Dreaming: The Collection (Graphic Novel Reporter)
Greg McElhatton on A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Read About Comics)
Kelakagandy on vols. 1-3 of Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden (kelakagandy’s ramblings)
Danica Davidson on Himeyuka & Rozione’s Story (Graphic Novel Reporter)
Erica Friedman on vol. 2 of Hirari (Okazu)
Sophie Stevens on vol. 5 of Kimi ni Todoke (Animanga Nation)
Erica Friedman on Nobara no Mori no Otome-tachi (Okazu)
Sesho on vol. 1 of Omamori Himari (Sesho’s Anime and Manga Reviews)
Connie on vols. 6 and 7 of Pet Shop of Horrors (Slightly Biased Manga)
Shannon Fay on Pet Shop of Horrors (Kuriousity)
animemiz on Project X: Challengers: 7-11 (Anime Diet)
Connie on vol. 1 of Rampage (Slightly Biased Manga)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 5 of Rasetsu (I Reads You)
AstroNerdBoy on vol. 4 of Rin-ne (AstroNerdBoy’s Anime and Manga Blog)
Oyceter on vols. 6-9 of Sand Chronicles (Sakura of DOOM)
Carlo Santos on vol. 27 of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (ANN)
Kristin on The Vampire Knight Official Fanbook (Comic Attack)
Connie on vol. 6 of With the Light (Slightly Biased Manga)
Snow Wildsmith on Works (Graphic Novel Reporter)

What’s up at Viz?

Lori Henderson has this week’s all-ages comics and manga at Good Comics for Kids.

Apparently the Viz folks were dropping some hints on Twitter that big changes are afoot, and Lissa Pattillo sums up the frenzy of speculation that followed; digital distribution seems to be looming large on everyone’s minds.

Jason Thompson takes a look at the gender-bender manga Futaba-kun Change!, from the old Studio Ironcat, in his latest House of 1000 Manga column at ANN.

Sean Gaffney takes a look at next week’s new manga at A Case Suitable for Treatment.

Melinda Beasi writes about three same-sex stories she wishes were love stories, and she picks up on some clever commentary in her I Wish I Wrote That! column.

Caddy C discusses feminism in Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery at A Feminist Otaku.

All About Manga has an interesting post from Mexian otaku Angel Garcia, who enjoys anime, manga, and the company of fellow fans despite living in a place with a dearth of licensed material and a phenomenally high murder rate.

MangaNEXT is happening Halloween weekend, and Erica Friedman reveals her con schedule at Okazu.

News from Japan: Golden Boy manga-ka Tatsuya Egawa will draw a manga booklet to accompany the PSP game God of War.

Reviews: Deb Aoki hits the express line with seven short reviews of recent manga at About.com.

Zack Davisson on vols. 1-3 of Black Gate (Japan Reviewed)
Leroy Douresseaux on vol. 2 of Fairy Navigator Runa (The Comic Book Bin)
Lori Henderson on vols. 1 and 2 of Ghost Hunt (Manga Xanadu)
Snow Wildsmith on vol. 1 of Kizuna Deluxe Edition (ICv2)
David Welsh on vol. 1 of March Story (The Manga Curmudgeon)
Kris on La Satanica (Manic About Manga)
Lori Henderson on vol. 4 of Vampire Hunter D (Comics Village)