Title: Arata The Legend
Author: Yuu Watase
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Sunday)
Volume: Volume 2 (ongoing), $9.99
Vintage: 2009 by Shogakukan in Japan, June 2010 from Viz
Genre: Shonen, fantasy, action,
The story so far: In the land of Amawakuni, every 30 years a ceremony is held to change the princess that rules the land. It has been 60 years since the last ceremony. Only a maiden of the Hime family can become the princess. Unfortunately there have been no recent daughters born. There is only Arata, a rambunctious teenage boy, with the Hime blood flowing through him. In this land, gods inhabit swords called Hayagami, wielded by Sho, and the princess keeps them all under control. With the next ceremony about to begin, it’s up to Arata to disguise himself as a girl to fool the people and the gods. When he arrives, Princess Kikuri is murdered before his eyes by the Hayagami wielder Kannagi. Kannagi, who has a position of power, blames the murder on Arata, who manages to escape into the nearby forest…only to be magically transported to the modern world.
Meanwhile, in the modern world, a boy named Arata Hinohara is starting high school. This Arata has a kind heart and strong sense of justice, but is frequently bullied by classmates, and eventually betrayed by a boy he thought was his friend. Wishing to disappear, he wanders down an alley and winds up in Amawakuni. When he arrives, he is immediately mistaken for the real Arata by Arata’s close friend and servant to the Hime family, Kotoha. Hinohara finds himself able to wield the Hime’s Hayagami, but he is still captured as the murderer of the princess, and sent to the prison island Gatoya.
Volume 2 finds Hinohara transported to Gatoya along with Kotoha, who has managed to invite herself along. Gatoya is a vast, warped tower, with maze-like corridors filled with people sentenced to a cruel fate. For Gatoya is ruled by the Hayagami wielder Tsutsuga, a sadistic man who randomly abducts two people each day for punishment. These people are never heard from again, and the citizens of the prison live daily with the fear and stress that anyone could be next. They are attacked by two young boys, Kanate and Ginchi, who eventually capture Kotoha. Hinohara must find his way out of Gatoya and back to the dying princess to save her with his Hayagami, but the only way out is to defeat Tsutsuga, and he has to rescue Kotoha as well. Along the way he finds the strength to rescue many more than just himself and Kotoha, though in very unexpected ways.
It’s nice to see Watase write a male protagonist. Usually her casts are led by weak female characters. But Hinohara isn’t perfect. Arata Hinohara whines quite a bit. First he loses hope because he’s betrayed by one person he thought was his friend. Then, when overwhelmed by his situation, he runs out on everyone. His strength of heart wins out fairly quickly, though. In the end, he does his best to protect his friends. Though it takes quite a bit of “It’s hopeless, I can’t do this!” to get there. Unfortunately it comes more from a desire to prove himself to others than himself.
Initially, watching Hinohara prance around Amawakuni looking very much like Arata Hinohara with his brown hair and modern day clothing confused me, because no one seemed bothered that he didn’t look like the real Arata. However, looking at the new chapters up on Viz’s ShonenSunday.com website, it seems that their physical bodies remained in their worlds, and they only switched…spirits, I guess would be the appropriate term. Would be nice if this was spelled out more clearly earlier, or illustrated differently in the art (even if only for a panel or two).
The story is alright, and the mythology has depth, though the premise is a little over used. Even Watase has written another story where the main character is transported into another world. Arata is at least her third, if you count both Fushigi Yugi series separately (the main story, and a prequel she wrote later). There’s nothing wrong with Arata, but it doesn’t exactly stand out. The main themes center around believing in oneself, trusting others even when you’ve been betrayed, having faith in others and forgiving them, very simple pure things of that nature. I feel confident saying that it’s a good title for young teens, and is a comfortable blend of shonen and shojo elements without being on either extreme, but personally I’d rather read The Twelve Kingdoms. Also, a short glossary of terms somewhere would be immensely helpful in keeping the mythology straight. You can preview Arata the Legend at ShonenSunday.com.
And an extra quick note here:
The manga blogger community does a lovely group review each month, of a specific title. Everyone reads the same manga and writes their own take. This is called the Manga Moveable Feast. June’s topic was the manhwa Color Trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa – The Color of Earth, The Color of Water, and The Color of Heaven, published by First Second. Check out the excellent collection of reviews, essays, and podcasts at the host site, Manga Bookshelf. July’s title has already been chosen as well – Ai Yazawa’s wonderful Paradise Kiss.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.