Arisa Vol. 1 (Del Rey/Kodansha)

Tsubasa trades places with her super-popular twin sister Arisa only to discover that her sister’s school has an ominous secret in this surprisingly dark shojo story from Kitchen Princess artist Natsumi Ando.

 

196 pgs., B&W; $10.99
(W / A: Natsumi Ando)
 
Arisa and Tsubasa are twin sisters, but they couldn’t be more different: Arisa is popular and gets good grades while Tsubasa’s temper has earned her the nickname “Demon Princess” and numerous trips to the principal’s office. They’ve lived apart and attended different schools since their parent’s divorce three years ago, but have kept in touch by sending letters (old-fashioned, I know). After spending a day together, they decide to do the ultimate sisterhood thing: Tsubasa will attend Arisa’s school, as Arisa, for a day so she can experience what it’s like to be the popular one for a change.
 
No one suspects a thing (major suspension of disbelief required here) and after a day of basking in popularity, Tsubasa comes home thinking that Arisa’s life is just as perfect as she imagined. Someone even leaves a note in her locker which Tsubasa thinks must be a love letter. What we see, but Tsubasa is too happy to notice, is that her classmates have turned into ominous figures watching her with expressionless eyes.
 
Well thank heaven for that! If this were just a bubbly junior high series full of cute boys and happy girlfriends that would be really boring, don’t you think? Instead Tsubasa finds her sister seriously depressed (“I bet you’ve never thought what it would be like to disappear from the world” is not something you expect to hear from a girl with a perfect life) and after reading the note takes a dive out of an open window. What did the note say? “Arisa Sonoda is a traitor.”
 
Junior high is a tough time of life for most people, but that does seem extreme: traitor to whom, and who gets to make these judgments? It must be important or Arisa wouldn’t have tried to kill herself—fortunately her fall was broken by some trees and, although she’s in a coma, there were no serious injuries. But Tsubasa’s old temper is back and this time in a good cause: she thinks her sister was being bullied at school and she’s going to get to the bottom of it by going undercover and continuing to attend school as Arisa.
 
Everything seems to be peachy on the first day: Arisa’s classmates greet “her” with friendly overtures including a big welcome-back sign. But there’s something Arisa forgot to tell her sister, something which happens on Fridays during fourth period. Tsubasa is able to claim that the accident has left her memory fuzzy so she doesn’t remember about “King Time” (which also provides the author with a good opportunity to fill the rest of us in).
 
OK, I’m going to stop there: you have to have some reason to buy the book, after all. But I will say this: the big secret involves cell phones and wishes and it’s very very creepy (sort of like Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” in fact). It’s also a perfect metaphor for arbitrary power and how it can warp social relations. There’s a lot of exposition since this is the first volume, but it looks like it will be an interesting series which offers something a little different from your basic school manga.
 
Natsumi Ando’s art is pretty straight shoujo style: lots of sparkly big eyes and screens while the chapter heading pages are a veritable riot of flowers and doilies. It’s well done though, and perfect to set up expectations of a harmless girly story which she cleverly undermines with occasional hints at the ominous side of the story. Extras include two bonus manga (one in which the characters try to take control of their own destiny and one about the author’s dog), two pages of translation notes and a preview of vol. 2 in Japanese. | Sarah Boslaugh

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