Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Arisa, vol. 1

Story and Art by Natsumi Ando
Published in the US by Del Rey Manga

Slugline:  A real psycho high school drama

Tsubasa has not seen her identical twin Arisa in years, and upon meeting her after all that time they decide that Tsubasa will replace Arisa for a day at school. She does so and finds that her sister’s life seems just as good as Arisa had said in her letters. When Tsubasa tells Arisa so, Arisa reveals her deep depression and tries to commit suicide. As her sister lies in a coma, Tsubasa decides to find what hidden secrets in the schoo are resposible for Arisa’s attempt. Tsubasa discovers out her fellow students send texts to someone named the King, and those texts come true.  With that power, the students’ cruelty has come out and Tsubasa needs to discover who the King is, even as she becomes a target.  She may have an ally, the standard bad boy of the class, but his real allegiances are more complicated.

At first this reads like the typical high school shoujo, with Tsubasa being the violent girl that has trouble controlling those tendencies while her identical twin having the perfect life that Tsubasa wishes she could have.  The fact that Tsubasa would be given the chance to live Arisa’s life in the manga was given, but the fact that she would get that chance by Arisa attempting suicide is not.  From there the story takes a darker turn than most shoujo as the class is revealed to have a dangerous secret, and the manga is less about Tsubasa trying out Arisa's perfect life but about uncovering secrets.  Rather than her violent self being a liability, it may be the only thing that lets her survive to find out what is going on.  While the story does not get as dark as others, it quickly moves into the shadows that most shoujo never venture towards even as its visual style remains unchanged.  This is a story that has more meaning than it first appears.

Arisa, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Ghost in the Shell

By Shirow Masamune
Published in the US by Kodansha

Slugline: Philosophical violence or violent philosophy?

Motoko Kusanagi is a paramilitary police officer unit in near future Tokyo.  Cybernetic enhancements and computer use is near ubiquitous, allowing human brains to be hacked to alter memories or have a full body replacement.  Most of the stories in the volume are stand alone as Motoko and her squad rein in government excesses of the rest of the as rampant corruption and self-serving agendas are behind nearly every case they tackle.  In one Motoko encounters a ghost, a living program, and the experience leaves her shaken.  When it looks like that one of the politicians have finally succeeded in getting Motoko thrown under the bus to further his own schemes, Motoko turns the situation around with the help of the ghost.  This leads to her making an unusual decision though debating what is life and its meaning has a lot of resonance in the volume overall.

Ghost in the Shell is a classic manga in American because Shirow Masamune’s long relationship with Dark Horse Comics meant that his titles have been available in the US long before the rise of popularity and availability of other manga.  This story has been retold several times in anime, though this is a case were the retellings have allowed adaptors to boil the story into a coherent whole.  For instance, the Ghost in the Shell movie melded together a half dozen separate stories from this volume into a single narrative.  This makes the source material suffer in comparison to later versions, which is unusual. The art is much softer and fluid than you would expect in such a hard sci-fi setting.  So expecting to read this and find the great original material that all the adaptations have ruined is not realistic but it is still a good story though fond of its philosophical musings. 

Ghost in the Shell is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand