Manga-ka: Hinako Ashihara
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: January 2009
Synopsis: “Ann’s junior high school reunion is coming up, and she hasn’t seen Daigo in two years. How will their reunion go? Then, finally, the story behind Ann’s engagement. Who is her fiancé…?”
One thing that impresses me about Sand Chronicles, especially in this volume, is how consistent that tone has been throughout. Ann might grow older and her life change, but the series always maintains its bittersweet atmosphere. It really is a slice-of-life drama – the characters go through good times and bad, and a happy ending isn’t guaranteed.
Volume seven starts in the winter of Ann’s twentieth year. She’s living with her father and stepmother in Tokyo, looking after her little sister until she starts a new job. It’s a big time for Ann. Not only does she have her coming of age ceremony (a traditional event for twenty year-olds in Japan), she’s also been invited to a junior high school reunion back in her hometown of Shimane. Ann’s nervous about going in case she runs into her first love, Daigo.
Ann’s on again, off again relationship with Daigo has been the main thrust of the series. Hinako Ashihara has created a deep and complicated relationship between the two of them, managing to do in seven volumes what it takes some romance titles twenty volumes. Throughout the series Ann has been told from various other characters that just because someone’s your first love, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be together forever. There are some prime examples of that in this volume as Ann’s friends break-up and find new love. Even Ann’s own parents are an example of how love isn’t always enough. It’s an interesting stance for a shojo romance manga to take. Most shojo rom-coms seem to push first love as equalling true love (one of my favourite mangas ever, Kare Kano, is the worst offender for this), but in reality very few people end-up with their high school or childhood sweet hearts. Yet at the same time, there are people who do. Maybe Ann will manage to get together with Daigo, or maybe she will swallow the bitter advice everyone (including Daigo) is pushing on her and move on.
After the reunion in Shimane the story skips ahead to Ann at age 26. She still lives with her folks but now works in an office. In a typical meet-cute fashion she meets a blunt but kind businessman. They’re barely even friends before he drops two bombshells on her: he’s going to America and he wants her to marry him. This brings the series full circle round to volume one, which showed Ann getting ready to move with her fiancée. From the start it’s obvious that Ann’s whirlwind romance is going to be a train wreck, but it’s still painful to watch.
It’s after things fall apart that the volume gets especially interesting. Ann’s broken-hearted, but more so she’s depressed and just tired. There’s a great part where we see that Ann is surrounded by friends and family who love her. Ann knows they love her, but at the same time it isn’t enough. The manga-ka devotes one whole page just to Ann turning off her alarm clock and slowly getting out of bed. It’s staggeringly sad and speaks more about Ann’s depression than any bit of dialogue could.
When a doctor tells Ann to take it easy, she snaps. It’s the same advice her mother received shortly before killing herself. It’s easy to relate to Ann’s fear of turning into her mother, especially in regards to inheriting her mental illness. The manga ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, making the reader wonder just how far Ann will follow in her mother’s footsteps.
I mentioned before how great Sand Chronicles is at keeping a consistent atmosphere. This is especially impressive considering that the story starts off when Ann is only 11 and has followed her all the way to her late twenties. It helps that Ann is pretty consistent herself. She might grow older and learn things along the way, but she’s still the same person at her core. In one of the author’s sidebars, the manga-ka worries about how young readers will react to the comic now that Ann is so much older. Personally I love it. While I could feel sympathy for the things Ann went through as a child and later as a teenager, it’s only now that she’s an adult that I find I can really relate to her. It’s neat to think that once I’m a few years older myself, I could re-read Sand Chronicles and see even more things in it that I can recognise in my own life.
I have a weakness for well-done romances, and Sand Chronicles is a perfect example. The characters don’t wallow in angst, but at the same time there’s a bittersweet undercurrent to even the cutest of scenes. This volume is especially heavy on the drama, and while it’s gripping, I also hope things start to look up for Ann in the next volume. I like her and even though she’s fictional, it’s hard watching her go through such tough times.