Friday, October 23, 2015

Sand Chronicles

Title: Sand Chronicles (Sunadokei)
Author: Hinako Ashihara 
Volumes: 10 (completed)
Volumes (English): 10 (completed)

After her parents divorce, Ann Uekusa and her mother move from Tokyo to rural Shimane. Used to the anonymity of city living, Ann can't get used to the almost overbearing kindness of the people in her mother's hometown. But when personal tragedy strikes, Ann discovers how much she needs that kindness.

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As usual there are spoilers. Skip to the final wrap up if you wish to avoid them.

Sand Chronicles, beautiful and poignant at times, explores dark themes such as depression and suicide, while reveling in the innocence of first loves and breakups. This series follows the lives of Ann and Daigo, as well as a few of their friends, over about a twenty year time span. It's unusual for most shojo to make it out of high school, so I'm always interested in a series when half the story takes place after graduation.

In some ways this is a typical shojo, love triangle included, but it manages to break out of the same tired tropes in a few significant ways. To begin with, this series is just as much about Ann's struggle with depression and overcoming her mother's suicide as it is about her romance with Daigo. Like real life, and mental illness, it doesn't have an easy ending. Ann's love for Daigo doesn't cure her and while they do end up together, her struggle with depression is an ongoing issue, a daily one, that will be with her for the rest of her life. I liked that love didn't magically act as a cure all. Just like the scars from her failed suicide attempt, her mental illness isn't going away either. While she has better control over it, it'll always be a part of her.

Another atypical thing about this series isn't that Ann tries to move on after she breaks up from Daigo, but that she actually has sex with someone other than the hero. While she ends up dating Fuji, the love rival (which is right out of your average shojo), something less common happens in that she has sex with him. It doesn't last because it's quite apparent to Fuji that Ann is not over her feelings for Daigo. She essentially uses him for sex to get over said feelings, which again isn't the norm in a shojo. It all felt real, like how an actual human being might try to get over a bad breakup. She's a flawed heroine, something lacking in typical shojo. (Or more accurately, her flaws are different from the usual flaws of shojo heroines.) She's not perfect, but her mistakes and awful life decisions don't make her less. If anything I found myself able to relate to her more fully because of these poor life choices.

Even after Fuji and Ann break up, she doesn't immediately end up with Daigo, again breaking the mold. In fact there's a real sense that they may not actually end up together as the story progresses. (Something I worried endlessly about.) She almost settles and marries another man, a complete jackass, but after she confronts him for being a jackass he breaks off their engagement.

Ann sees this broken engagement as just another failure in a long series of failures that add up to her life. In the last couple of volumes she sort of takes stock of all she's lost in her life and tries to pinpoint where everything went wrong. Her introspection at first leads her towards suicide that only as she lay dying does she realize death isn't what she wants. (Of course at this point she's bleeding to death.) Luckily for her, Daigo finds her and gets her the medical attention she needs. This moment is sort of the catalyst that brings the young lovers back into each others lives. I'm not sure if Ann hadn't hit rock bottom if they would have been able to get back together.

I will say that I felt Daigo and Ann getting back together seemed a bit rushed. I would have preferred to have another volume delving more into the time between Ann's failed suicide attempt and their marriage. I would have liked to see how they were able to work through the events of the past together to get to their future. It also would have been nice to see Daigo and Ann dealing with her depression as a couple.

I liked both Daigo and Fuji. I wanted her to end up with Daigo, but I also hurt for Fuji. It's like when your best friend is dating a really great guy, but he's more into the relationship than she is. You know that he's not her one, and while she's trying to force it because she's tired of loving an ex, he has no idea. You can't help but hurt for the guy because you know that once your friend stops forcing feelings that aren't there, he's going to be crushed. That's how I felt about Fuji. I liked him, but I knew he wasn't for Ann. And of course you hurt for your friend because they're not only causing another person pain, and beating themselves up about it, they're also hurting themselves. This basically sums up how I felt about the Fuji/Ann relationship.They were destined for pain.

I have mixed feelings about Shiika, Ann's best friend and later love rival. I felt for her home situation, but the way she chose to act angered me. It didn't bother me that she fell in love with Daigo. It's her manipulating and sabotaging Ann and Daigo's relationship that pissed me off. Ann was her best friend. It's one thing to fall in love with your best friends guy and maybe years after said friend and guy break up (and your friend has moved on) you end up with him. (Love and timing can be weird.) It's another thing to go out of your way to break them up and undermine your friend's confidence and sense of self worth. Especially when you know your friend is fragile to begin with. I place more value in friendship than any other kind of "ship" so it's hard for me to like a character who betrays a friend. They have to earn my trust back, something Shiika was never able to do.

I loved every volume in this series except for the one that acted as a sort of prequel. It focused on Ann's mother as a teenager. Something I really wasn't interested in. I couldn't find it in me to really care about her. I know it's because she essentially bails on her daughter and while I know her suicide was due to her own mental illness, it still irked me. (I actually thought that maybe Ann's suicide attempt and her feelings at the time of her attempt probably mirrored her mother's experience, only there was no one to come to her mother's aid, but I digress.) It was hard for me to care about Ann's mother as a teenager when I knew the devastation her future act was going to cause for characters I came to love.

One of my favorite episodes in the series is in the last (or second to last?) volume when Daigo meets up with his old elementary class to open a time capsule that was buried when he was a child. I liked the idea that you could sort of meet your younger self again. That who you were never completely dies. The scene is further made perfect when Daigo reenacts the time capsule with his elementary students. It's a sort of bittersweet moment. I absolutely loved this little episode and wanted more like this.

Final Thoughts

Sand Chronicles is one of the more realistic shojo series I've read. It distinguishes itself from other shojo, by the complex themes it explores like suicide, depression, and self hate, as well as the realistic portrayals of its characters, There are no perfect characters in this series and the way they act to certain situations felt authentic. While I feel like there are some rushed aspects to the story, overall it has good pacing. People who like We Were There, Say I Love You, or Strobe Edge would probably enjoy this series.

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