by Rebecca Silverman,


GN 3

Arisa GN 3
As promised, Himetsubaki Junior High's trip to the planetarium turns into King Time for class 2-B. The other four are chosen to have their wishes granted, but is the king aware that Manabe has given Tsubasa his number? After the field trip tensions mount among the students of 2-B as one of the chosen jeopardizes their chance to have their wishes granted. Is this all part of the king's plot? Or are there more forces at work than Tsubasa is aware of?

Any dedicated reader of the mystery genre knows that the obvious answer is almost never the real one. Natsumi “Kitchen Princess” Ando knows it too, and she leads readers on a merry chase this volume as characters are presented and discarded as king possibilities. By the end of the book we may be marginally closer to knowing who the mysterious wish-granter is, but then again...what was that about obvious answers again?

That being said, it is definitely time for some more concrete clues. Ando has given readers the runaround for three volumes, and at this point people would be justified in feeling a little annoyed. When a Mysterious Transfer Student makes his appearance, (“He's a halfie!” the students cry, justifying his blonde hair) it feels more like shoujo staple #203 than a major clue. While it is very possible that Rei could provide vital insight into the mystery of the king, it also seems a bit far-fetched. Could he have been pulling strings at Himetsubaki Junior High while attending another school? Maybe, but Ando's introduction of the character feels like time wasted when she could have been developing a member of class 2-B.

Not that the other students don't get their due in this volume. We see more of them than in the previous two books, with a few even acquiring names. Ando is at her best when she is showing how fully under the power of the king the children are. The images of wild-eyed middle schoolers raising their cell phones in homage to their unknown “savior” are chilling. Ando has hit on a very real situation that could be easily exploited in her setting. Middle school is such an unsettling time for most people that it feels entirely possible that a group of eighth graders could be sucked into a wish granting cult that appeared to be real. Ando then takes it a step further by making the members of class 2-B suffer from a sort of withdrawal when the king announces that he will only work with five people. Panic is clear on their faces and they turn on each other like hungry fisher cats when they try to get the chosen to grant their wishes. It is easy to picture them as medieval peasants fighting over a crust of bread or junkies looking for a fix in their single minded mania.

Ando's standard Nakayoshi style art works very well for the scenes of wide-eyed deprivation. It is less effective when she is attempting to scare the reader through more conventional means, as large sparkly eyes and simple faces do not instill fear easily. Some pages are too crowded with tone and images to read easily, but on the whole the art is pleasant. Arisa and Tsubasa are convincing twins, even if one does have to wonder just where Tsubasa was able to procure a totally believable Arisa wig. Most of the major characters are easily distinguishable, as are many of the background boys. Some of the girls of 2-B are very similar to each other, but as they are unnamed minor characters, it isn't a big issue. Only one page has a glaring artistic flaw, with Mariko's legs appearing detached from her body when she's supposed to be sitting regally in a chair. Needless to say, the moment is lost.

The central conceit of the story, that Tsubasa is posing as her comatose twin sister Arisa, gets put to the test in terms of believability in this volume. Arisa's boyfriend Midori asks “Arisa” on a date, and seems totally oblivious to the fact that he is, in fact, dating his girlfriend's twin. Is this going to be dealt with later? Or is Midori simply the ultimate nice guy, so clueless that he doesn't even notice that his girlfriend has been replaced? Granted, middle school dating is not necessarily the intimate affair that adult dating is, but it strains credulity that he doesn't seem to be aware of the switch. On the other hand, it perhaps says something about the make up of Arisa's class that only two of her classmates notice that anything is off with their class president. Could the story not have worked otherwise? Or are we giving Ando too much credit?

Overall this volume of Arisa is slightly less thrilling than its predecessors with a more contrived feel. But it is still an interesting story with a central mystery worth solving. Ando's use of the cult-like King Time is especially convincing in a middle school setting, and the addictive quality of the king himself remains a compelling mystery that readers will still want to solve. Pay attention to the man behind the mirror – if you can guess who he is.

Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : C+

+ Interesting central mystery, good setting with a creepy cult aspect.
Some of the switched-twin plot strains believability, art isn't always as scary as it could be.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Natsumi Ando

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