Tsubasa and Arisa are twin sisters who haven't seen each other for three years due to their parents' divorce. They have communicated through letters, but finally decide to meet each other again. Arisa, the more gentle of the twins, suggests that Tsubasa take her place at school for a day, just for fun. However, there are things about Arisa and her school that she hasn't mentioned to Tsubasa -- dangerous things.
I always found myself fascinated with the premise of this manga even before I began reading it, because it had the "psychological" and "shoujo" tags on MyAnimeList but not a tag for romance, despite the girly art. That, along with various recommendations online for this manga really got me intrigued, and I ended up speeding through Arisa in a couple of days.
The story of Arisa was never a simple shoujo school romcom. From the very beginning, a mystery is presented in the form of Arisa's attempted suicide and Tsubasa's resulting desire to find out why her twin tried to kill herself.
The subsequent twists and turns shape this manga into a very interesting psychological thriller, albeit involving middle school kids. Now, I'm not going to pretend that Arisa's story didn't have flaws. I won't doubt that many people will pick up on various plot holes and bullshit moments in this manga. However, I found myself so engrossed in the story that I overlooked a lot of these finer details, and I feel that anyone else who gets really into this manga like I did will probably experience the same thing. Arisa is also not your typical shoujo manga, as it relies on mystery and suspense rather than romance to advance the story. The demographic may be shoujo, but much of the drama in Arisa focuses on non-romantic elements.
One of the main reasons I was able to forgive some of the plot conveniences in Arisa was because I was so invested in the characters. Tsubasa really is an endearing lead, and I loved that no matter how tough things got for her, she would always get right back up and try to fix things. She was such a refreshing change from the average helpless shoujo protagonist, and in some ways I disliked Arisa (the character) because she reflected the latter archetype a lot more. There were times when the characters' motives were rather far-fetched, to the point of being ridiculous for a bunch of 13-14 year old kids. But that didn't hinder my enjoyment of the manga, and there were numerous moments in Arisa (the manga) that were genuinely mature and insightful.
Arisa has absolutely gorgeous artwork, if you enjoy very girly shoujo-styled artwork. The lines are crisp and clean, and the female characters' eyes are all sparkly and huge. I especially loved how the mangaka drew the sisters' hair, as it was always portrayed to be perfect and flowing regardless of the situation they were in. I didn't really care for the male character designs, but I probably would have found them attractive if I was a bit younger. Also the mangaka likes to feature Arisa (the sister) and Tsubasa in various outfits and hairstyles on the covers and on the pages before the manga, which was really beautiful. The only small gripe I have with the art in Arisa is when certain characters would make evil faces, as these were always overly twisted and hideous for a bunch of middle school kids. But then again, Arisa isn't exactly perfect in its realism (or lack thereof), which I will get to a bit later.
For me, Arisa (the manga) was love at first sight. Everything from the perfect girly art style to the psychological exploration of its characters was exactly what I wanted from this manga. Arisa isn't deep or complex, but it's interesting and immensely enjoyable. I loved reading this manga, and that's why I've rated it so high and why I now have Arisa added to my favorites on MAL.
However, I understand that Arisa may not be for everyone. In many ways, Arisa is a rather unrealistic portrayal of middle school life. Some of the characters' actions in this manga would seem drastic even for adults. But in a sense, Arisa does touch on many aspects of human nature, just in a very melodramatic fashion. For example, the idea of "groupthink" and the diffusion of responsibility that often occurs in preteen and teen social groups was over-exaggerated to extremes in Arisa, but the manga was highly effective at conveying the message that young people need to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions.
Overall, I think Arisa is a very good manga when you simply enjoy the story for what it is and don't try to pick apart every little plot device in the story. I would definitely recommend Arisa to shoujo fans, but I would also like to recommend this manga to fans of mystery and psychological thrillers who would like something lighter but in the same vein. Of course, that isn't to say Arisa is light and happy. In fact, much of the story is quite dark. But if the summary (and this review) has you thinking that Arisa might be a good read for you, then I would go ahead and start reading. Hopefully, you'll be sucked into this story as I have been for the past few days.
Have you ever read a shoujo manga and thought "We should put these characters in a psychological thriller"? If so, Natsumi Andou has got your back.
First things first: This is not a romance. This is a story about a girl who loves her sister more than anything and also a thriller. It gets a little macabre. Not gory, but pretty horrible at times.
It's a thriller first and foremost, and that's where it excels. Characterization can be weird and arbitrary in the way people suddenly act illogically in a way that's convenient to the plot, and the author's prone to a lot of half-assed, unearned swipes
at redemption for previously evil characters, but ultimately it's not really the point. This is a thriller. And while you have to suspend your disbelief way more often than not, it's not more than most shoujos, and it's worth it, because Andou keeps you on your toes. There is absolutely nothing predictable about this manga - from beginning to end, it engages you completely.
Not to say it's perfect; this manga has very little reread value. After the initial shock, there's usually a lack of substance, resolutions that come far too easy. But it's not quite a disappointing or a regrettable read, either. There's something to be said for a story that's engaging like this, and it definitely handles its twists better than M. Night. It's akin to that really good thriller you catch on TV; maybe it's not worth $12 and a trip to the theater, but it's not time wasted. If you're in the mood for a good mindless thriller, go for it.
I got shallowly interested in this manga because it has quite high of a rating here and decided to read it to fill my nothing to do moments. In the begining i thought it was a spinoff of that Erich Kastner novel about separated twins, but then it surprised me the realisation of genre (psychological, mystery) also the depiction in the undertone of the plot of the psychological group processes, group thinking.... yeah, social psychology stuff.
So the plot is interesting, kept my eyes glued to the pages, mystery was good and suspense, even made me do making my own theories who the
mystery man was, so to say. Downsides are too many cliffhangers and too many soap opera-ish twists and general feeling that it could be better.
Art is your average shoujo style, sparkly eyes.... very girly, but character design wasn't very well executed, characters were drawn very generic, so un unexpirienced shoujo manga reader like me had trouble to differentiate the characters at moments, and i probably wont remember what they looked like tomorrow, but their personalities were rather well made.
In the end it was a good read, and i would praise it more and give it better score if i were between 13 and 17 years old....this just wasn't my cup of tea, but still likeable, nevertheless.