Arisa by Natsume Andō is a shōjo, mystery manga series about twin sisters who were separated when their parents divorced. One day, the girls plan on meeting secretly as a way of reconnecting. They end up swapping places for the day and the unpopular, tomboy twin gets a taste of her sister’s perfect high school life. When she comes home to tell her sis how lucky she is, Tomboy Twin ends up watching as her Perfect Twin jumps out of a window in attempted suicide. Devastated and determined to uncover the reason behind her sister’s desire to die, Tomboy Twin goes undercover at her sister’s school long-term to uncover the mysteries of her twin’s unknown life.
I have had the first four volumes of this manga sitting on my shelf since I began my collection many years ago. In an effort to read more manga before buying others, I finally picked this up. The first volume offers a lot of questions that I hope shall be answered as we progress through the series. It has a somewhat conflicting tone at-times, but the enigma of the darker happenings at this school make it too irresistible to give up on.
One of the things I really like about Arisa so far is the fiercely determined Tomboy Twin. Her love of her sister and her knack for not giving up is really nice to see in shōjo storytelling. She’s also blunt, kind of a klutz, and doesn’t shy away from being who she is even if people don’t necessarily like it. There’s such an empowering message behind this kind of persona and it makes her quite endearing to me.
Another quality I like is the mystery of what is going on. Typically when teenagers are suicidal, especially in manga serials, it can almost always be credited to bullying. But as we learn more secrets regarding Arisa’s (Perfect Twin) friendship circles and school activities, it becomes apparent that this isn’t a mere case of bullying. There’s darker and more twisted happenings. This helped to grab my attention and push me forward, but it also makes me want to proceed cautiously for fear that it’ll be unnecessarily convoluted and dragged out later on (e.g.: Electric Shock Daisy).
As I mentioned earlier, there are conflicting tones to Arisa that can disrupt the flow of emotions whilst reading. On one hand, we have the common, happy-go-lucky, slice-of-life vibe with cute friendships and fluffy, brewing romance, but then on the other, there is this fucked-up situation involving a girl’s attempted suicide. One page will literally be happy, smiley panels and then the next will flip a switch into tragedy mode. This makes is harder for me to build a deeper connection with the story because I’m constantly being forced to shift my thoughts and mind-set before I’m ready to. It’s frustrating sometimes, but as the mystery deepens and then unravels, I’m hoping the series shall stick more strongly to one emotional ambiance over the other.
There is nothing overtly unique about the art style. It’s rather typical of the shōjo genre with giant, sparkly, round eyes and slender figures with straight hair and big smiles. Everyone looks cute in their uniforms. There aren’t too many background details unless necessary, as the panels focus more on characters’ faces, actions, and dialogues. This is pleasant because it helps to centre the story very much on what is going on and who is involved. However, it also makes the visual aspects of reading relatively pedestrian.
So far, Arisa Volume 1 has offered a promising first impression, regardless of the handful of monotonous concerns, and I am looking forward to picking up the next few instalments over this coming week. If you are in the market for an older shōjo, mystery manga with some traditional artistic elements very unique to the genre, then I RECOMMEND the first volume at the very least.
Total Volumes: 12
Content Warnings: Attempted suicide and brief discussion of suicide. High school bullying. Brief bits of mob mentality.