Manga-ka: Yuu Watase
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: March 2009
Synopsis: “In a world where humans and gods coexist, Arata is the unfortunate successor to the matriarchal Hime Clan–unfortunate because if he’s not cross-dressing to hide his gender one minute, he’s fleeing for his life the next! When Arata winds up in the modern world and switches places with a boy named Arata Hinohara, it’s a wonder which Arata’s actually better off… Hinohara is the spitting image of Arata, so he suddenly finds himself fighting people after his life! As he navigates through this foreign world filled with power-hungry warriors, who will come to his aid? One thing’s for sure–it’s not easy being Arata!”
Arata opens on a strong note, introducing readers to the story’s first Arata – a confident young man living within a fantasy-world where gods live in swords and a Princess governs over their twelve wielders. Unfortunately Arata finds himself next in line for the royal position, registered as a female at birth to avoid death amidst a clan where females are in low supply but high demand to fulfil tradition. Chaos ensues however when a betrayal leaves the Princess on death’s door and Arata fleeing for his own life as the suspected culprit. His only hope now may rest in the hands of another Arata, one who may share the same face but certainly not the same life.
It’s now the story takes a near flawless cinematically executed transition to the familiar streets of modern-day Japan. Here another young man named Arata Hinohara is preparing for an initiation of his own. Starting the story like many a shoujo-character, Hinohara is beginning his first day at a new school, eager for a fresh start to leave the dark days of junior high behind. Though things seem to be going good at first, everything quickly goes horribly wrong. The bullying this Arata suddenly faces is harsh and though it will undoubtedly garner some sympathy, it feels so abruptly intense and unprovoked that it reeks of mere plot-convenience. Yes bullying is not something that’s often ‘provoked’ per say, and it’s a terrible thing for anyone to go through, but when suddenly engaged to this extent it feels hollow over horrifying.
Still, the story does its job and Hinohara is left to despairingly wanders the streets only to find himself carried away to the other Arata’s world. When the two are suddenly swapped, the original Arata whisked to this world off-page, the story takes the majority of its time focused in on the fantasy world just as it did with the opening chapters. The now fantasy-world inhabiting Hinohara is fortunate to find himself in good company at first with the kind-hearted Kotoha and the other Arata’s Grandmother, but soon he becomes prisoner of the world’s ‘government’ for the crime of the Princess’s murder. Toss in a magical weapon that (naturally) only he’s able to wield and a mission passed down from on-high and you have yourself a drama-pool waiting to be wallowed in.
Aside from some plot-devices that feel a little convenient to feel natural, it’s also a little frustrating when no one seems to even give a second of thought to Hinohara’s claim that they’re two different people, despite the differing hair colour and length. Granted both Arata’s are rendered just as annoyed as readers and this awareness of the striking inconvenience does give some comfort that the ignorance is fully intentional.
A lonely lead character offered the chance to save a world and relearn trust for others through the belief others now hold in them is a familiar angle, similar to Yuu Watase’s other currently running series Genbu Kaiden. It’s proven itself a great base in the established creator’s hands – taking characters already easily sympathized with and making them more-so worthy of reader’s respect (and interest) by seeking self-redemption through actual hard work and sacrifice for the benefit of others. A novel concept! While modern-Arata’s angst over his own situation feels like it should earn him a quick slap over the back of the head at times, it’s still too grounded in realism to be completely dismissible and could prove a solid foundation for the growth we hope he has as a character as the story progresses. There isn’t as much to be said about the fantasy-world Arata but it would be really interesting to see how it handles himself in the modern world in volume two.
Now the artwork in Arata is fantastic. Yuu Watase’s strength with detail and character design works wonderfully with the stronger inking and more solid screen toning she utilizes here. It allows the art to balance the line between shoujo and shonen to a near-indistinguishable degree that should allow it to appeal to a broader audience than some of her previous works. Scenes invoking a sense of movement and action are especially well done, as well as easy to follow, which is a good first impression for a series that seems ripe with potential for it.
Overall Yuu Watase does a great job in creating a work that seems apt to defy the boundaries of conventional shoujo and shonen stories. Though some suspended belief is required in moments that shouldn’t necessarily require it, it’s a flaw overlooked in time as the story hightails it away from the angsty hallways of high school and to the fantastical and considerably more deadly fantasy world. While volume one starts on strong footing, there remains a great deal of pressure on volume two to follow it up. What will become of the Arata now trapped in our world? What kind of wild goose chase could the Arata in the fantasy world find himself set upon? Still the curiousity set in place by the first volume actually serves to fuels the satisfying nature of its opening chapters, episodes that will hopefully act as stepping stones to a series just as compelling as a whole.