Reviewby Rebecca Bundy, Mar 9th 2010
Arata: The Legend
Arata has found himself in a rather sticky situation: not only did his grandmother lie on his birth records about being a girl, making him the next in line to become the sacred princess, but when the princess' 12 Shinsho, guardians with the powers of the gods, try to murder her, the blame for the crime falls on Arata! He flees into the Kando Forest, and the magic there switches his soul with present-day Arata Hinohara, who has troubles of his own at school. Stuck in Arata's body, Hinohara must now find a way to keep from being executed for a crime he didn't commit, figure out how to wield the Goshintai, a battered Hayagami (god in the shape of a sword), and return to the body and world he left behind.
A modern-day boy suddenly finds himself whisked away to a fantasy world where certain individuals have been granted extraordinary powers by the gods… does this story sound a bit familiar to you? It may be hard to shake the feeling that Arata: The Legend is just Yuu Watase's way of trying to reinvent the wheel, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing so long as the wheel continues to turn. But does Arata actually pull off the magic that made Fushigi Yûgi such an interesting (albeit sometimes annoying) story?
The series starts out focusing on Arata, a young man in your standard ancient-but-magically-inclined world. Arata isn't a terribly complex character, and in fact seems more like a spirited girl than a guy, but when compared to some of the characters around him – his best girl friend who's about as interesting as a stuffed animal and his “energetic” grandmother (is it really that hard to make a grandmother character behave like a real, lively grandmother instead of a five-year-old boy?) – it's hard not to like him simply for how honest and caring he is. Plus, with this being the beginning of the series, there's still plenty of time for Arata to evolve and grow.
As the series progresses past the first chapter however, one quickly comes to the sad realization that this series isn't about Arata; it's about his counterpart, Arata Hinohara. For a brief few pages, readers are fooled into thinking that Arata H. may be something a little more “western” and unique: a character who's honest and willing to speak up for a stranger instead of blending into the crowd and pretending like nothing is going on around him. Instead, all of that personality magically vanishes in the face of bullying. Why is he being bullied by others at his new school? Because a student at his old school, who got extremely offended when Arata H. ran a bit slower in a practice run in order to encourage said student to keep trying, transferred to his new school and instantly turned everyone against him! Wait, what?
Yes, bullying is a prevalent theme in any series that involves school-aged kids, and sometimes that bullying takes on a strange, monstrous form that goes above and beyond vicious rumors and harmless pranks. But the bullying here isn't something that comes off as meaningful: it's a dull plot device that shoves Arata H. into a corner to force him down a particular path. What happened to the boy who decided to stick out in the crowd and chase down the pervert? It must've been a fluke, because there's no way that this self-destructive, willing victim would do anything to defend himself or stand out in a crowd.
Thankfully, time spent in the modern world is limited to one chapter, but with the loss of Arata in favor of Arata H., the return to the fantasy world is bittersweet. We learn that Arata H. is a Sho, destined to wield the power of a Hayagami, and that he must now deal with the fallout from the attack on the princess, learn how to wield his Hayagami, and come to terms with the world he's now stuck in. What's going on around Arata H. seems interesting, yet it's hard to care when he spends the vast majority of his time whining about how betrayed he feels. He needs to interact more with characters like Akachi, who gives Arata H. a good verbal smack to the back of his head during his trial (the only intense and gripping scene in the entire volume). Here too we see a bit of the “stand up and fight” side of Arata H., but it's hard to get your hopes up about a character that only switches to his admirable personality when that particular plot device is needed to keep Arata H. from being killed.
While the main character still has a lot of room to (hopefully) grow, the artwork is picture-perfect Watase, returning to her old-school roots of younger, more vibrant character designs in favor of the older, “slimmer” look that some of her series (like Sakura-Gari and Ceres) have been marred by. The hairstyles and costumes of the fantasy world characters are overly-elaborate, utilizing a strange mixture of Chinese garb and almost futuristic-looking armor, yet somehow the almost outright laughable outfits work. This is a testament to Yuu Watase's art: a lot of fantasy series try to pull off unique designs, yet very rarely do these series manage to do it without making their characters look like clowns.
Old Fushigi Yûgi fans will probably pick this volume up just to see if she has recaptured some of the old charm and dressed it up in a new-yet-familiar setting, but they'll be shocked to discover that Watase has managed to make a main character that is actually whiner and more pathetic than Miaka. It's hard though to write off Arata's interesting lore and a group of “evil” characters who will, no doubt, have emotional histories and stories to tell over the fact that the main character is completely unlikable and inconsistent. There's some great story potential, a handful of interesting secondary characters, and plenty of Watase's signature art style within these pages, but only time and future volumes will be able to tell if it's enough to outshine its one big flaw.
Overall : B+
Story : B-
Art : A
+ Great art and character designs; plus, Watase's ability to create interesting lore is as sharp as ever.
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