Wisepresident of Wit

[This entry contains spoilers for SNOW, so new readers probably shouldn’t go further.]

Ah man, how long has it been since Arisu’s birthday?
Too long. And here I was talking about wanting to write up a post about her on her birthday weekend….. so much for that. I can’t even blame it on having been busy working, because I can’t say I’ve been writing much as of late…

In any case, it’s never too late to talk about the characters, even if there’s no special occasion calling for it. When looking back at SNOW now, there are so many things I want to change, most of them are very small and have to do with the general way I wrote certain things, or certain scenes I want to change a bit, wording, sentence structures….
I also want to give Maaya and Aki more time, but I guess that’s not happening.
A lot of the time, I’m thinking I want to go back and change things, not drastically, but for the next printing, I definitely want to edit some things I’m not too happy with.

However, I can’t change major things that might mess with the plot, and one of the things that makes me feel bad about that, is my guilt towards Arisu.
Since this is a BL story, there isn’t much weight on female characters. And I don’t mean to sound misogynistic here, because I’m not, but I’m the kind of person who instantly fears when a female
character enters a BL story – because there is such a common trope in this genre that one or both parts of the main couple has at some point been with a woman, and so the female character instantly becomes a threat and basis for a conflict that shouldn’t exist in the first place.
Of course, Arisu plays no such role, but to begin with, she wasn’t intended to play as large a role as she ended up doing in the main story.
And that is why I feel bad for her.
Arisu was originally created somewhat on a whim, because Maaya needed a fellow student council representative, and someone he relied on in class in terms of responsibilities. Because I already focus so much on male characters, I wanted to balance it out a little, and she came into play. However, like many of my characters, Arisu has a really strong personality, and I found that she ended up taking up a lot of space. Not in a bad way either. I’ve come to be very fond of her, and quickly realized that she was one of Maaya’s closest friends. I guess you can say that she stands somewhere between Maaya and Atsushi, personality-wise, as she is definitely smart and dependable, but she is also much less rigid than Maaya, and leans more towards Atsushi’s playful side in that sense.

My lovely friends portraying Arisu and Acchan. Aug.2011

My lovely friends portraying Arisu and Acchan (August 2011)

Ironically, it was after I finished writing the main story, and started doing little drabbles and snippets, that I found how well these characters balance each other out, and what nice dynamic is found between the three of them. I don’t know how well that dynamic comes across in the main story for non-biased readers, and that makes me a little worried…

When writing up these bits and pieces that probably won’t ever see the light of day, I have gotten to know this character in many new ways, and there are things I know about her now, that I didn’t think of when I first wrote her.

One of the things that always made me curious, was that she takes the train towards Shinjuku, central Tokyo after school, which means that she commutes pretty far every day. Now of course, this isn’t uncommon in Japan, and certainly not in the bigger cities. But it was a bit strange to me, the more I thought about it, that someone living in central Tokyo would commute to the sticks to attend school. Maybe it was a complete whim that I wrote her taking that train, but it did create a conundrum in my mind the more I thought of it.
I tried to settle with an explanation like “maybe she chose the school because the uniform was cute?” which is typically suggested in typical shoujo-stories, but then again, Arisu isn’t the type to think in such shallow manners. She’s smart, so she probably didn’t have any difficulty getting in anywhere she wanted, so why Norin?

It struck me sometime last year.
Arisu was bullied in middle school.
So simple, yet so difficult. I don’t know why, or how.
Maybe it was because of her witty comments, and habit of speaking before stopping to consider, and maybe that made it hard for her to fit in. Maybe she was too comfortable with her coeds, and it ignited a jealousy in her shyer female classmates? It’s plausible.
Arisu isn’t the type of person who cares what others think, or hold herself back just to be polite, and that kind of person can easily clash with others in a society that demands you think of others before yourself. She also lacks shyness, and is pretty straight forward.

One thing that I’ve struggled with a lot of mixed feelings about, is the scene in SNOW where Maaya has first confessed to having slept with Keiichi, and Arisu’s response is to jokingly call him a slut. No, it’s not politically correct, but neither is she (or most of my characters for that matter), and of course she doesn’t mean it. But I mean, it’s a horrible thing to say to your friend, even as a joke, and sometimes I worry what my readers think of this, even though I know them well enough to say that he wasn’t offended, or particularly surprised by her outburst. On the other hand, this scene is sort of symbolic for how she acts without thinking, and how open she is, and easily catches on. She knew before he said anything, and since then, I’ve always been pretty certain that she could tell, because she’s not the type to hold back, even in romance. If Maaya is overly paranoid about when the right time is, Arisu figures that any time that feels okay, is the right time. I was left with the impression that “Ah, she’s already done it. She’s confident about herself and sexuality in general.”

Of course, I’m not saying that she had her debut in middle school, that’s rather doubtful. But for a girl to be straightforward with guys in a vulnerable time where most people are afraid of talking to the opposite sex, rumors quickly develop, and can have devastating results.
Although she is open minded and outspoken, I have a feeling she’s not the type to shout it from the roof tops when she is going out with someone (ironic as that is for someone who feigns annoyance at not hearing about her friends’ dates), so it’s plausible she’s been hiding a boyfriend from her buddies.

Although I can’t say for certain why she was bullied, I think that she decided to apply to a school further away to avoid the possibility of going to High School with the same people as before, not because she didn’t think she could handle it, but because she didn’t want to let that color what supposedly were to be the best years of her life.
She chose to renew herself, by leaving the person she had been. I think that by her final year in middle school, despite her instincts, she was beginning to shut herself in, hold back more, so not to provoke anyone further. But she refused to break, and her renewal wasn’t of the drastic kind. What she left behind was the vulnerability. She utilized her weaknesses, and emerged stronger, raised her head and entered a school where she knew nobody, proceeded to be her cheerful, slightly over the top self, and made friends on account of that.

My guess is that nobody knows about her past. Not even Maaya or Atsushi. She keeps it to herself, not out of shame, but because she is over it. Arisu doesn’t hold grudges, and she doesn’t dwell on the past, but looks towards the future, and paints it with the bright colors of her choice.
At Norin, she found the place she belonged, and the best friends she could ever have had.

Arisu, high school version. (Official art by Lanny Suhandy)

Arisu, high school version.
(Official art by Lanny Suhandy)

Since she wasn’t supposed to be that much of a main character, I never contemplated enough of this to put it into the story, but I probably would have, if I’d had the chance. On the other hand, the story was complex and roundabout enough as it was. But I truly admire her for her strength, and for her honesty. If there is anything I’d definitely want to change, or rather add in terms of Arisu’s contribution to the story, it has to be how she fades into the background towards the end, after Maaya’s death. I wish she could have sat with the family during the funeral, and I’ve since written her reaction to hearing the news from Atsushi, as well as scenes where the two of them support each other through it, but none of these have been published. If anything, I want to give her justice as a very important character who was developed a little too late, and as a friend who meant the world to Maaya. He definitely benefited from her wacky ideas, and allowed himself to relax his shoulders when urged by his vice-president.

In many ways, I feel she ends up as a kind of comedic side-kick in many scenes, but she really is dependable. I was never able to write it obviously, but she somehow managed to take on the position of student council president for the rest of term, and took the position of valedictorian at graduation.
In many ways, she was stronger than Atsushi, but also more vulnerable, feeling like she didn’t have the right to grieve as deeply, because she’d only known him for three years, as opposed to half a lifetime.
Of course, this is a ridiculous thought, which Atsushi also assures her, but I think she wanted to keep it together for his sake, to be dependable for his sake, because she felt that he needed that.
And it’s probably these qualities that attracted Maaya to her in the first place as well. She has the ability to make her friends forget, and focus on the silly things, but she’s also a cliff when she needs to be, for herself or others.

As far as Aki goes, he’s actually quite fond of her. I wrote a piece about a year ago, about the two of them meeting by chance, and having a snack together. Even as a young teen, Aki was quite aloof, and not very interested in befriending anyone, let alone girls, but no matter how reticent he acted, he wasn’t able to push her away, or dislike her. Maybe he sensed something in her. And she most likely did pick up the same vibe from him that she herself had projected a few years earlier. She adored him for what he did to Maaya, and she admires him for his individuality. In Jaded, she feels a responsibility for him, not only because of his relationship with Maaya, but because she truly does consider him as a friend, regardless of how he might feel about that.

I realized far too late how much I care for this character, so here I am, writing this long ramble so that maybe she can get more of the appreciation I feel she deserves. I’ve gotten to know her a lot better through the many drabbles I’ve written, and also through her appearance in Jaded, and I have a lot more admiration for her now compared to when she first came into existence. I’m glad she developed into a much less static character, and I hope that you guys somehow ended up caring for her as well.
After all, it’s not easy being a girl in a BL story.

Maaya and Arisu at a station. Cosplay by me and my friend, August 2011.

Maaya and Arisu at a station. Cosplay by me and my friend, August 2011.