MANGA REVIEW: A walk on the wild side

ARATA: THE LEGEND VOL. 1

By Yuu Watase  (San Francisco: Viz Media, 2010, 208 pp., $9.99 paperback)

Yuu Watase, the acclaimed author of other manga series such as “Fushigi Yuugi” and “Ayashi no Ceres,” is no stranger to fantasy settings, but “Arata: The Legend” serves as her first foray into comics for boys. In “Arata,” Watase brings forth a story set in a fantasyland where gods live amongst humans in the form of enchanted swords that can only be wielded by chosen warriors.

Arata of the Hime clan flees after becoming the sole witness to a coup of the ruling princess by her protectorates, the twelve shinsho. He runs into an enchanted forest, which switches him out with Arata Hinohara from Earth. The two boys, in a case of mistaken identity are thought to be the other Arata from their respective worlds. Hinohara must escape from the clutches of the shinsho, and rescue the princess. Arata, on the other hand, is dropped into a world where Hinohara had just left with his social life in shambles; his friends had deserted him, and he became the subject of school bullying.

The story is simple, yet captivating. While it mostly concentrates on Hinohara’s journey in a fantasy land, the Arata trapped in modern Japan also serves as a good reflection to who Hinohara was in his old life.

Watase also escapes the typical trap found in many shonen series. The story does not stagnate, which keeps Hinohara and Arata on their toes. Battles don’t go on for endless chapters and characters develop quickly, but fully. This keeps the story from going stale, and does not entrap itself in Dragon-Ball like cycles of training and endless battles.

The story, however, does take some translation liberties. While American audiences may be left wondering where the term “shinsho” originates, the translation from the Japanese denotes that they are “sheaths” to the gods. This is mentioned in passing, but the connection of the name is looser in translation. Also the system of government in Arata is closely tied to that of the later Heian court. The sho may also be a nod to the shoen land system instated by nobles of that time.

Also, all the political names found in the first volume bare political significance. Himeou is written with the letters for “princess” and “king” denoting “the ruling princess.” The translators took liberties and used both the title and the rough translation. While explaining all of this may be tedious and better left overlooked in a translation, ignoring its origins would arguably make the reading experience in English incomplete.

In this inaugural volume, the two protagonists change places and set forth on a journey that is strangely similar yet set so far apart from each other. It is only natural to be sucked into the story, leaving readers wanting for more.

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