Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Apr 27th 2014
GN 11 & 12
Now that the king has been revealed, it is up to Tsubasa to stop him. But Arisa still seems to feel some loyalty to the madman who led to her hospitalization in the first place. Can Tsubasa stop the king before he does more damage, both physical and emotional...and can she save her sister? The clock is ticking for both twins as Natsumi Ando's school drama comes to its conclusion.
Spoiler Warning: If you don't know who the king is yet, you may not want to read this review.
Stockholm Syndrome, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a positive bond between hostage and captor, and feelings of distrust or hostility on the part of the victim towards the authorities,” is generally not something we expect to find in manga for middle grade readers. But then, very little of Natsumi Ando's twelve volume mystery/thriller series Arisa has been particularly expected. While parts of it have strained credulity, such as the fact that very few people were able to see that Tsubasa was disguised as her much different twin sister, the general air of psychological trauma and groupthink that pervaded the class had a creepy air of reality to it. Now as the series comes to its conclusion, with Tsubasa determined to take down Midori and bring his actions to light, we find Ando tackling another disturbing facet of his total control over his classmates – the aforementioned Stockholm Syndrome.
That it is Tsubasa's sister Arisa who suffers from it is perhaps no surprise. After all, she was the first one to be pulled into Midori's schemes, and his emotional hold on her as her boyfriend is perhaps stronger than the one he had on other classmates. What is disturbing, however, is that Ando doesn't seem to understand the repercussions of what she has written. When all is said and done, Arisa really hasn't taken any steps towards recovery, and in fact still seems very invested in what can only be called an emotionally unhealthy (or even abusive) relationship. This drastically affects the enjoyability of the series' finale, bringing it into territory that, while sadly not unfamiliar in shoujo manga, had at least been absent previously.
Fortunately, the rest of the conclusion is just as fast-paced and nail-biting as ever. Now that Tsubasa knows who she's up against, it becomes imperative that she learns as much as she can about her nemesis' past. To this end she sets up a diversion so that she can go to the place where he grew up unmolested. This trip turns out to be the single most important event in the series. A good villain is really only as believable as his backstory, and Midori's turns out to be a doozy. Not only does it sufficiently explain his unbalanced behavior, it also sheds a light on Tsubasa and Arisa's relationship. If Arisa was the dominant twin, or if Tsubasa were not as determined and balanced as she is, this story could easily have taken a different turn. The parallels between Midori and Tsubasa are unexpected, but they definitely add to the character development of both, as well as working nicely with the generally sinister air Ando has maintained over all twelve books. She also makes it easy for readers who want to to find a measure of forgiveness for the bad guy...but for many readers, understanding will not exonerate him, and makes Arisa's attachment that much more unnerving...which given the parallels, may be exactly what Ando was going for.
Of the two final books, volume eleven is the stronger simply because it gives us many of the answers we've been waiting for. Volume twelve is fast-paced and urgent, but it also has the previously mentioned uncomfortable elements, as well as a short story that, while Ando explains its placement, really should have been put in an earlier volume. Volume eleven also has a short story about what happened to Mariko after she left her previous school, and that is a strong piece with some very interesting elements and a twisty plot. Art for both books is as strong as the rest of the series has been, with the twins looking same-but-different when not bewigged, and faces contorting only just enough to be truly scary. There's still a lot of gray space, but it works for the story.
Arisa has been a wild ride, an unexpected horror/mystery shoujo gem. If Ando ends it on a slightly uncomfortable note, which gives it a mildly unresolved feeling, it may be best to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that there was a point to it. Arisa herself may never get over what happened, and that's, in a more realistic way, perhaps how it should be. As for Tsubasa, she has come out even stronger than before, and it is easy to see that she will remain someone who won't be beaten down. She saved her sister, but she also saved herself, and one gets the feeling that that's what she walks away with.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Tsubasa's strength comes across clearly, Midori's past actually really does explain his actions. Tense and exciting to the end.
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