Manga-ka: Hinako Ashihara
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: January 2011
Synopsis: “Daigo digs up the time capsule he buried twenty years ago when he was only ten. What message did Daigo leave for his future self? And what does it take to live life fully and without regret?”
There are some manga that continue even after the main plotline has resolved itself, where the series keeps going even after the main conflict is finished. An example of that can be seen here with the final volume of Sand Chronicles. At this point Ann has pretty much worked through her issues and the love triangle between her and her two childhood friends, Daigo and Fuji, has straightened itself out. But while this volume may be superfluous to the main storyline, it still delivers a bittersweet and touching story.
Just as a heads up, with this being a review of the final volume there will spoilers for the series. Though really, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that Ann ends up with Daigo. In this volume they’re married and settled down. Daigo is working as an elementary school teacher and loving every minute of it. One day he decides to get back in touch with the teacher who inspired him, Mrs. Koda. Even though it’s been over twenty years since he last saw her, Mrs. Koda is the same as Daigo remembers, cheerful and outgoing. But Ann isn’t so sure that everything is as it seems. She knows form personal experience that just because someone seems happy it doesn’t mean that everything’s okay. When she discovers a secret about Mrs. Koda’s past, Ann has to choose between keeping quiet or telling Daigo and ruining his image of Mrs. Koda.
This volume works really well as a stand-alone story. There’s enough alluded to here that you don’t need to have read the previous nine volumes to follow what’s going on: even if you don’t know the specifics of Ann’s history, seeing the scars on her wrists are enough to show that she’s had a rough time in the past.
For fans of the series, this volume is a nice way to cap things off. I’ve always had a soft spot for Fuji, and it’s nice to see him get some kind of resolution. The poor guy spent most of the manga being the short end of the love triangle, so I was happy to see him finally getting some happiness of his own. I actually would have liked to have spent more time with him, as Fuji’s story mostly unfolds behind the scenes, but like I said, I’m kind of biased towards him.
One thing that I’ve always liked about this manga is that it never trivializes the characters’ feelings. Their worries and fears are given equal weight no matter where they are in their life. Just as the manga didn’t idealize childhood back in its early volumes, it also doesn’t suggest that everything is easy-peasy once you’re an adult. Ann and Daigo may have worked out most of their own issues, but there’s always going to be trouble and challenges in life. Still, the manga makes it clear that they are now people who can deal with those things as they come. After following Ann through her many ups and downs, it’s hard to ask for a better ending than that.
The art is cute, especially since there are so many little kids in this volume. Ashihara’s layouts are kind of cluttered, with a lot of panels crammed onto one page. They’re usually still easy to follow, but it gives the page an overall crowded look. Her panels usually have just the right of detail in them though, setting a good balance between achieving a certain mood while still grounding the story.
You can read this tenth volume of Sand Chronicles without reading the previous volumes, but since it’s one of the best recent shojo dramas, I highly recommend tracking down the whole series. I’m a little torn about the series ending. On one hand, it’s become one of my favourite shojo manga, right up there with Kare Kano. On the other hand, the ending is true to the characters and story so it’s hard not to be pleased with it. Ann may be a fictional character, but after being so involved with her story for so long it’s a relief to finally see her happy.