Twin sisters Arisa and Tsubasa look alike, but couldn’t be more different. Tsubasa is known as the Demon Princess to her classmates. She’s as tough as nails and, even if she does have good intentions, often acts without thinking. Arisa is class president, popular, and into all the “girly” stuff that Tsubasa just doesn’t get. Because of their parents’ divorce, the sisters have lived apart for three years and kept in touch only through letters. During a long-overdue visit, Tsubasa tells Arisa how much she admires her and her perfect life. But things aren’t as wonderful as they seem. Tsubasa is shocked when her twin jumps out the window in a suicide attempt, all over a note she received at school. What could’ve caused Arisa to try to take her own life?
Arisa survives her fall, but remains in a coma. It’s up to Tsubasa to go undercover and learn the truth about her sister. Disguised as her twin, Tsubasa infiltrates Class 2B and discovers that every Friday, during study period, they hold “King Time”. Everyone whips out their cell phones, enters the Secret King’s Room online, and makes a wish. It could be for anything, like to pass next week’s test, get out of going on a field trip or… for someone to disappear. No one knows just who the King is, but he always grants one wish, no matter how outlandish or sinister. As Tsubasa digs deeper, she realizes that Arisa is inextricably connected to the King. Everyone in 2B has something to hide and, if the King wills it, they will turn on each other in an instant, even if the victim is their beloved class president.
Arisa is a suspenseful mystery that explores bullying, peer pressure, friendship, and trust. I had my doubts about the series to start with, figuring it would primarily focus on Tsubasa’s feelings of inadequacy and the twins’ relationship. Instead, I got a series knee-deep in intrigue, bullying with a side of mob-mentality, and a surprising number of potential teen megalomaniacs. We see how devastating it is when the King declares someone a traitor – the student loses his/her identity and is completely ignored by the rest of the class. In the first volume, one girl finds her desk covered in garbage after she expresses fear over the King making a teacher disappear. It’s crushing to watch the others act as if she doesn’t exist, driving her to make her own attempt at leaping out the window. Tsubasa colorfully expresses the reader’s disgust and outrage at the class’s blind faith in the King.
The first three volumes will leave readers with more questions than answers. Even as certain characters are crossed off the suspect list, new ones are introduced, each carrying a secret. A note at the end of the manga stresses that in Japanese, there isn’t a pronoun used to refer to the King, and that, while the translation may refer to the King as a “he”, this doesn’t mean readers should conclude that it’s a guy. You’ll want to keep your own line-up of suspects handy.
The artwork is appealing, but not overly pretty. Ando has a flair for the dramatic – scenes will suddenly transition to dark and foreboding, no matter what the setting. At school, stairwells will be littered with dead-eyed teens singing haunting songs; hospital rooms are haunted by talking stuffed animals; and Ferris wheels turn suddenly dangerous. Mariko, Arisa’s best friend, is perhaps the best example of Ando’s ability to turn characters from sweet to menacing with just a change of lighting. What is it about a girl with hair draped over her eyes that fills me with dread? *brrr*
While I was pleasantly surprised with the tension and mystery of Arisa, I was disappointed in the lack character development. It’s still early in the series, but the most fully realized character is Tsubasa, with her stubbornness, strength, and devotion. However, if current characters are any indication, the series could have quick reveals of their backgrounds and then write them off. I’m hoping that’s not the case as we get deeper into the mystery of the King’s identity.
The series is rated as 13+, but it carries some heavy issues. While there isn’t any gore, there is violence: attempted suicides, drownings, and serious injuries occur in the first three volumes. Threats are made by the King and there is plenty of bullying and manipulating. There’s little in the way of fan service – the perverted teacher is quickly dispatched by the Demon Princess. Readers looking for a fast-paced mystery with heavy issues and creepy characters will find a lot to love with this series.
Arisa, vol. 1 – 3
by Natsumi Ando
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780345522412
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781935429166
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9781935429173
Del Rey, Kodansha Comics, 2010-2011
Publisher Age Rating: 13+