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.

Fushigi Yûgi 18 by Yuu Watase: B-

From the back cover:
Miaka has been fighting a battle across two different worlds to keep Taka, the human incarnation of her true love Tamahome, from vanishing. But what could it mean when Tamahome himself returns to confront Miaka and Taka? The answer to this riddle leads Miaka and the Seven Celestial Warriors to the stunning finale of the best-selling Fushigi Yûgi series!

This volume was really hit-or-miss. There are a number of good things, like Chiriko being clever, and all of the Taka-Tamahome interaction. I was a bit surprised to realize that I actually like Taka, while Tamahome was barely in my top 5 of the Suzaku Warriors.

So, on an interpersonal level, this volume is okay. Plotwise, however, is a real muddle. When explanations are given, they’re lame. Some things just made no sense at all, including a possible retcon, but I don’t really care enough to think that hard about it.

It seems the whole purpose of Plot 2 was to give Taka confidence in his own existence, and… okay. That goal was successful. I just wish the way to get there were better planned.

Bonus good bit: a blip of the happy Tama-cat family in the future.

Fushigi Yûgi 17 by Yuu Watase: C

From the back cover:
When the demon god Tenkou steals the four stones that Miaka has already collected, is all hope lost for the return of Taka’s memories? And will Tenkou’s manipulation of Taka and Miaka’s friends slowly drive wedges between them and ensure their defeat? Once again, it’s up to Miaka to keep two worlds from falling under the dominion of the ultimate evil!

This just keeps getting crappier. I really am just waiting for it to be over at this point. Here’s a nugget of Miaka wisdom that especially made me want to hurl the volume away in disgust: “Whether it’s because she’s happy or sad… when a woman loves a man, she’s going to cry.”

Tenkou manipulates Tasuki into being a total git, and Watase manipulates Tasuki into suddenly having feelings for Miaka that were never present before some anvillicious hints in “Part 2.” It’s just unpleasant all around. Chichiri does get to be a badass, but all the stuff about his past is pretty lame.

Good points: Tenkou’s comments when baiting Taka that it’s actually Tamahome that Miaka loves, and that Taka is just a shadow of the real thing. Taka’s resulting questioning of why he needs someone else’s memories to be complete. The final few pages.

Fushigi Yûgi 16 by Yuu Watase: C+

From the back cover:
As enigmatic exchange student Ren slowly takes control of the minds of everyone in the school, his agenda becomes clear: he is training an army of assassins to kill Miaka! Even if Miaka is able to escape the attempt on her life, will she be able to thwart a mysterious vixen’s efforts to tear Taka from her arms?

Not even the presence of Nuriko (with correct gender pronouns!) and his cute older brother could reclaim this volume from mediocrity. I can’t even think of any good points to mention, with the possible exception of a couple of Miaka-Taka smooch scenes (at which I routinely yawn) that did a particularly nice job in capturing a sweet/sexay moment.

I could enumerate all the bits of the story that were not very interesting, but since I’m sure that would not be very interesting, I shall refrain.

Fushigi Yûgi 15 by Yuu Watase: B

From the back cover:
Miaka must reenter The Universe of the Four Gods and collect the seven magic stones that contain her soulmate Taka’s lost memories… or else risk losing him forever! Taka has always been the one who protected Miaka, so will she be able to handle this new responsibility? And there’s something unsettling about the new exchange student at Miaka’s high school…

This volume was a little better than its predecessor, but Part 2 as a whole is still strange. I kind of get more of an Alice 19th vibe from it, with the focus on school and freaky incidents abounding. This isn’t bad, precisely, it just feels like a completely different manga in these sections. Hardly any time is spent in the world of the book, but at least there’s a couple of nice chapters with Hotohori, Houki, and Boushin.

I still don’t get why these magic stones are important to Suzaku or the demon god. Okay, so Suzaku needs to stay powerful so he can keep the demon god bound. Got that bit. Apparently the fact that a wall in an ancient shrine bearing his image has been damaged somehow affects his ability to do this. Oookay. Suzaku said his power was based on love. Eh? So… Suzaku can only be powerful if Miaka saves Taka and the two of them live happily ever after? What a lame god!

Good points: Boushin! Yui, being feisty and confident. A student election including creepy new exchange student with neat crowd reactions.

Fushigi Yûgi 14 by Yuu Watase: B-

From the back cover:
The voice of the god Suzaku is invading Miaka’s thoughts, and she is given a new mission: to restore the balance of power between the four gods. To do it, Miaka must defeat a new foe—a rising, monstrous power with ambitions to take over all of the universes!


Here’s a quote from one of Watase’s little sidebars that completely applies to my feelings about this volume: “It seems that since volume 13 ended so satisfyingly, there are some people who find it hard to read Part 2!”

Even though we’re seeing the characters some more, and this should probably make me glad, I really believe it should’ve ended in the last volume. The impact of the story is now lessened by having it continue. Even though the villain makes a lot more sense to me now than it did when I saw the OVA, overall the whole plot is rather weak, and I still don’t understand how finding a bunch of stones helps out Suzaku.

Good points: a few genuinely amusing panels and a wonderful cover image of Miaka.

Fushigi Yûgi 13 by Yuu Watase: A+

From the back cover:
Nakago has entered the real world to collect on Yui’s promise to grant him the third and final Seiryu wish. But his wish may have the greatest consequence of all for Yui! Miaka summons Suzaku, but is it too late to protect her world and the world of the book?

This volume was incredibly sniff-inducing! Starting on page 142, I must’ve teared up at least three separate times. Even Nakago gains some sympathy, but I wish we’d learned who the one person who could fulfill him was (he mentioned this to Soi a volume or so back.)

The real world awesomeness continues, especially the reactions of the regular folk to all the bizarre goings-on. I also really liked the end, and seeing a much more mature-looking Miaka preparing to enter high school. I hope she retains this courageous, non-spazzy personality for the rest of the volumes. I don’t remember the OVA well enough to say for certain.

Fushigi Yûgi 12 by Yuu Watase: A+

From the back cover:
A god is summoned, a wish granted, and all is not right with Miaka Yuuki! The good empire of Konan is overrun with enemies; Celestial Warrior powers are useless; and Miaka finds herself back in the real world unable to help her friends! Can a young woman transform herself from a priestess back into a simple girlfriend?

I really wanted to watch the corresponding anime episodes after reading this page-turner! I’d forgotten a lot of what happened, like Yui’s wishes and all of their consequences.

The conflict between countries has resulted in war, with the Suzaku warriors participating in the battle. Perhaps this should be the most interesting part of the story, but I personally really loved all the stuff going on back in the real world. I’m not normally a particular Tamahome fan, but I quite liked him in this volume.

Fushigi Yûgi 11 by Yuu Watase: A-

From the back cover:
The first shinzahou treasure from the northern country of Hokkan was stolen from Miaka, and the only treasure left is in the western country of Sairou—and both Miaka and her friend-turned-mortal-enemy Yui are intent on getting the treasure for themselves! But Sairou isn’t a frozen wasteland of forgotten dreams and ghosts like Hokkan. It’s a vibrant, living desert country, whose inhabitants are veterans of the last clash between priestesses and gods!

Flaws in this volume are few. Aside from a very annoying response to some breakup angst (wondering if she’d done something that made Tamahome hate her), Miaka isn’t too annoying. Another person is added to the tally of those who’ve glimpsed her rack, however. Oh, and there are panty shots, too.

The good stuff includes dramatic losses on both sides, touching bonding between Tasuki and Chiriko, progress on the summoning front, and the appearance of three celestial warriors of Byakko. The love story of Suzuno and Tatara parallels that of Miaka and Tamahome and actually makes the latest breakup angst between the latter pair have some impact. I totally want Byakko Kaiden now.

Fushigi Yûgi 10 by Yuu Watase: B

From the back cover:
Miaka Yuuki is an ordinary junior-high-school student who is transported into the world of a book, The Universe of the Four Gods. Thinking that her mission has failed, she runs off to the land of Sairou, where a warrior of her arch enemy, the God Seiryu, finds her! And before the adventure is over, Miaka will find out who are allies, who are enemies, and who is determined to see her dead!

This volume was pretty durn silly, but not precisely bad. First of all, I lost track of how many times Miaka wound up with a guy on top of her. That was, like, the recurring theme of the volume. She acted plenty stupid, as well, and I’m going to need to start a tally box of how many times the names Miaka or Tamahome are called out into the void with lots of exclamation points. Lastly, there’s no progress on the shinzahou front—just a lot of trials and tribulations at the hands of the Seiryu folk.

Still, Miaka learns a couple of important things this volume, someone returns and acts unexpectedly, and Tomo’s illusions are cool. I quite liked the one to which he subjects Miaka, particularly seeing Yui and another classmate teasing her about a boy.