Arata: The Legend, Vols. 1-6

By Yuu Watase | Published by VIZ Media

As a fan of Yuu Watase’s shoujo classic, Fushigi Yûgi, I expected that I would like Arata: The Legend, her first shounen series. Turns out, I had underestimated my enjoyment: I really like it!

The story begins in a world known as Amawakuni, where the child-like princess is preparing to yield the thrown to her successor after reigning for 60 years. There are no suitable females in the royal (Hime) clan to take her place, however, and so a fifteen-year-old boy named Arata is coerced into passing himself off as a girl until another suitable candidate can be found. During the ceremony, the twelve retainers of the princess—known as the shinsho, because they are masters of powerful sword-gods known as hayagami—revolt and the princess is cut down before Arata’s eyes. The shinsho pin the deed on him and his flight to evade capture takes him to the mysterious Kando Forest, where he is swallowed up and exchanged with his counterpart from another world: Arata Hinohara.

Hinohara has been having a tough time lately. In middle school, he was bullied so much that he eventually stopped going altogether. Now it’s his first year of high school, and at first everything seems to be going okay. He purposefully chose a school far away, where no one would know his old self, and is able to make friends quickly, thanks to his quick actions in capturing a train groper. After a month, however, his former nemesis Kadowaki arrives and the torment starts anew, capped off by the betrayal of Arata’s closest new friend, Suguru.

When he arrives in Amawakuni—and is taken for Arata by everyone he meets—Hinohara is thrust into Arata’s role as a wanted criminal. When his touch awakens a slumbering family artifact—what turns out to be a legendary hayagami known as Tsukuyo—he is suddenly recognized as a sho, which means he’s part of the battle for the the throne. The shinsho overthrew the princess because they were tired of the control she exerted over their powers, but now they must battle and dominate each other until one stands supreme. Like it or not, as a sho, Arata is swept up in the conflict and has two choices: submit himself (this essentially means death) or force others to submit. (Meanwhile, Arata contends with life in modern Japan, including going to school and eventually beating up Kadowaki.)

I really love how Watase fleshes out Hinohara’s complex character here, because everything he does makes sense based on what he’s been through. When he first arrives, he refuses to trust anyone, but when Arata’s childhood friend, Kotoha, makes good on her promises to stick by him no matter what, it has a profound effect on him. Too, the prospect of forcing others to submit reminds him too much of the domination he suffered.

Because of his experiences—and because of the unique property that allows Tsukuyo to safeguard the souls of other sho without actually causing their death—he is gradually able to win over a few sho by sympathizing with their own suffering, whether it be betrayal, isolation, or loneliness. In a conversation with the princess—courtesy of the special necklace that also occasionally allows him to converse with Arata—he promises to unite the hayagami under Tsukuyo and return to her before she dies completely. He’s got a long road ahead, and it’s one that can only be won by changing the hearts of others.

It is this mission of Hinohara’s—not unlike those usually assigned to magical girls—that makes me want to apply the demographic label “jounen” to this series. It’s definitely shounen in scope and feel, but it’s also attuned to its shoujo side. The slowly developing romance between Hinohara and Kotoha is very well done, for example, with Hinohara cognizant of Kotoha’s love for the real Arata and Kotoha confused because “Arata” is responding to her in a way he never did before. I also like that Kadowaki eventually arrives in Amawakuni because a) that is so very Yuu Watase, for two outsiders to come into a fantasy world and immediately assume powerful destinies and b) the ultimate test of Hinohara’s newfound bravery and purpose is for him to be able to sustain it in the face of Kadowaki’s unrelenting hostility.

The pacing of the series is also outstanding. There’s just enough foreshadowing of significant things—the gravestone that connects one of the shinsho, Kannagi, with his reasons for rebelling against the princess—to make the eventual reveal more significant, but one never has to wait too long for the answer to a question. Similarly, Hinohara frequently actually comes out and says what he’s thinking, so misunderstandings are not allowed to perpetuate for long. In fact, revealing the truth behind things—like when Hinohara finally convinces Kotoha that he is not her beloved Arata—gives the story more places to go rather than reducing all dramatic options.

My one complaint about the series is largely rectified by Kadowaki’s entrance into Amawakuni, and that’s that Arata is given very little to do. At first, there’s only a chapter or two from his point of view every once in a while, but once he meets an intriguing girl named Oribe—who can tell he’s an entirely different person than Hinohara—things begin looking up, especially when one of the shinsho is transplanted to Japan in Kadowaki’s place. Suddenly, Arata is in genuine peril, which is bad for him but good for the story!

In the end, while there’s a lot going on in Arata, it never feels like too much, always makes sense, and yet always leaves one wondering what is going to happen next. Not only am I genuinely excited about continuing the series, it has also rekindled my determination to read Fushigi Yûgi: Genbu Kaiden, of which I have heard good things.

Arata: The Legend is still in serialization in Japan; the twelfth collected volume was released there in August 2011.

Review copies for volumes one, two, four, and five provided by the publisher.

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Comments

  1. I’m so glad you liked this series. It is one of my favorites as well. The scene where Kadowaki shows up at Hinohara’s school is just heartbreaking. I picked up the first volumes when the Borders near me went out of business in the first round of closings-so glad I did.

  2. I love Arata: The Legend. It is one of my favorite shounen series and one that I always anticipate and want more of. Yuu Watase did a great job on her first shounen series that I find it even more enjoyable than her shoujo series.

    Each volume introduces new, interesting characters and I cannot help but find myself feel moved and engrossed in each of these volumes. Great character development there.

    Kannagi is my favorite so far. I like how his character is being handled and developed by Watase. Kadowaki’s appearance before Hinohara in the other world was epic! Have a feeling something might happen between Kadowaki and the clumsy maid? Well, maybe I am reading way too much into it.

    Can’t wait to get my hands on volume 7 this week.

    • I agree that Watase did a great job with shounen. It might just be her calling, in fact, even though I do dearly love Fushigi Yûgi (even with its flaws) and look forward to reading Genbu Kaiden.

      I like Kannagi, too. Watase’s explanation of his motives was pretty subtle, too. What I got from it was that his sole goal was to remove the restraints on his hayagami so that the fire he saw as his lost love would burn that much more strongly. Is that what you take from it, as well? And I totally thought that re: Kadowaki and the clumsy maid. :)

      I am going to be reading volume seven for this week’s Off the Shelf, incidentally. It’ll be a Shonen Sunday column for me. :)

      • I think Watase had always wanted to do shounen manga and I am glad she got the chance to do it. She definitely is good.

        I did like the original Fushigi Yuugi but I love Genbu Kaiden more. Miaka and Tamahome get on my nerves. I hate their lovey dovey scenes. :P

        I am sure you will enjoy Genbu Kaiden. The Genbu Celestial Warriors are unique and so interesting. This series is a bit darker and more serious than the original but I still love it more.

        Looking forward to this week’s Off the Shelf. :D

        • I mostly love FY for Nuriko and Hotohori, though honorable mention goes to Chichiri and Tasuki. :)

          I’ve heard good things about Genbu—like that it’s a more mature work—so I’m really looking forward to it. I hope VIZ releases the tenth volume soon. It came out in Japan this summer, but doesn’t seem to be part of VIZ’s release schedule yet, which has been updated through May 2012. (I also want High School Debut 14!)

          • I have always loved Hotohori. He and Nakago are my favorites. I never really liked Tamahome much. I also like Yui more than Miaka. Miaka is so annoying for my taste.

            Genbu Kaiden is definitely more mature than the original. I like Takiko as a priestess and the Celestial Warriors are awesome as well. Yeah, I cannot wait for a release date to be set for volume 10! It has been ages since I read volume 9, so I might reread the 9 volumes when 10 comes out.

            Hopefully Yuu Watase decides to do the story of Byakko once she is done with Genbu.


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