Yuu Watase's Arata the Legend debuted last year in Japan, which makes the fact that we already have an English language release all the more impressive. Typically manga takes a little longer to make its way to our shores, but VIZ Media obviously wanted to get its hands on this license as soon as possible. With that in mind we dig into the first volume. Was it worth getting this manga to the masses as quickly as it did?
Arata the Legend takes place in another world where things are a little different than they are here. Some of the women can use magic known as Amatsuriki, while the men are powerless and can only use abilities from ancient weapons known as Hayagami. Their world is in turmoil and some things are set in motion before the book even begins, so readers may be a little fuzzy on the details because the book simply doesn't delve into the story's history.
Basically all one needs to know is the people of this world worship a princess who is only supposed to rule for a certain amount of time. Unfortunately, her replacement can only come from a particular clan, and they simply haven't produced a girl for quite a while. That's where Arata from the Hime Clan comes in, but he doesn't have the right "equipment" to take over for the current princess. His grandmother lied about his gender when he was born and has told him it is his destiny to portray a girl and take over the throne. Naturally he doesn't want that.
One thing leads to another, and there's some political upheaval as Arata is falsely accused of murdering the princess. Soon he's chased into a mysterious forest, and we're told that the only way he'll emerge is if he becomes a different person. From there, the book changes gears to current day Japan where a high school student, also named Arata (let's call him Arata-B), is trying to get through his every day life. He's picked on at school and in general finds that he doesn't have any trustworthy friends. Through a set of circumstances he and the other world Arata switch places and visit each other's worlds.
To say that Arata-B is lost from the get-go would be an understatement. He's being hunted for murdering the princess; Arata-A's grandmother is trying to shove destiny crap down his throat; and some of Arata-A's servants are clamoring over him. To make matters even more challenging for Arata-B, he is chosen by a magical Hayagami blade and bestowed with the power of wind. From this point on he takes steps towards fulfilling his destiny in this strange new world, and there's even a meeting with Arata-A where they talk about these things.
If you're reading this and you're confused by all the "Arata-A and B" nonsense, I apologize. In all honesty the shift in setting and the fact that the characters have the first name is a little jarring at first from the perspective of a reader. The story is also rather perplexing as it leaves many details that have to do with the plot out of the picture. With the pacing and the way things unfold I'm sure more information will emerge down the road, but for now this first volume leaves readers in the dust a little.
As always, Watase's creativity and art designs speak for themselves; after all she was the creator of Fushigi Yuugi. The characters are wildly expressive; the backgrounds are richly detailed; and throughout this book there's just an overall sense of wonder in the artwork. It's whimsical and engaging, and because of that it really stands out as one of the book's strongest suits. The translation and writing is solid as well and there isn't a flaw to be found in this volume.
Arata the Legend's first volume is a success overall, but I do have some reservations about it. As is the case with any new book the introductory volume makes or breaks whether or not a reader will come back to it. I appreciate what I've seen of the story, and the characters are developed well, but the lack of details as far as what's going on leaves one with a bag full of questions and not a single answer. I'm certain those answers will come in future installments, however. If Arata proves to be even half as entertaining as Fushigi Yuugi did then the trip will be worth it. Consider this installment strongly recommended.