Recently I started going to my not-so-local library again and, since I'll only be able to use it until mid-August or so, I'm checking out just about any and every manga series I can get my hands on that doesn't look absolutely terrible. I actually remember reading the first volume of this series years and years ago (I think my local library had it, I also recall thinking that the characters were college aged which is quite incorrect) and liked it and I've seen some good things about it around the internet so I grabbed the first few volumes that were in order (I know they have some of the later volumes but I don't know if they have all of them, both times I've been recently they've been missing random chunks) and three volumes is more than enough to get the feel for a series and see if I want to continue it!
Mars (volumes 1-3) by Fuyumi Soryo
Summary: Kira is a shy student who loves art and is rather terrified when the class playboy and wildboy finally shows up to school and ends up seated next to her. But she quickly learns that while rough around the edges and reckless he's not a bad guy and they slowly strike a friendship and then a romance as they learn more and more about each other.
The Good: I'm rather picky about the kind of romance I like and this one fits my requirements nicely. The main plot isn't about the characters pining over each other, or other romantic interests, and as a bonus there's no love triangle either, excellent. Instead the story, at least so far, is about two teens, one very broken and the other simply shy who reach out to each other and in the process grow and start to become more comfortable with life as a whole (and considering my manga "roots" are with Fruits Basket the fact that I like this kind of story should be no surprise). While she starts out as shy Kira has already started to grow more outspoken and determined, plus if I read everything correctly the story plays around with the "oh the girl is being bullied because she talked to the guy therefore it's her/his fault" trope and (correctly) says that it's neither of their faults (not that this makes it any easier to deal with or resolve sadly). And I especially love how the story has characterized Rei in some ways, while Rei is acknowledged in the story (and most likely by the reader) as attractive the story never sexualizes him and uses it as an excuse for any of the situations. What I mean is that I've come across a number of shojo stories which have a bit of female gaze (which is exactly what it sounds like, a gender-flipped, still straight, version of the male gaze) which is meant to titillate the reader more than the character and to excuse (again, more to the reader than the character) the character's bad-boy actions towards both the girl and other characters. This never happens with Rei, partially since it seems that it never occurs to him to use his looks to get his way with anything other than hooking up for casual sex and when he does get mad it's portrayed as a very scary, not okay event, something that doesn't exactly make his character more likable but rather makes the manga as a whole more likable for me.
The Bad: I am a little worried about what this series will do next which is what I worry about all longer, character driven series, there's just a limit to how much character development high school aged characters can have and still remain realistic. I had to check a few things on the wikipedia page and glancing through I think I can see now how it plans to fill up another dozen volumes. I'm still a little cautious but, given that even with the character development that's already happened Kira has a bit of a ways to go, and Rei has literal miles, I'm more than willing to take a chance and see what the manga can do. Other than that, after having read so much manga I can't tell if the bullying scenes are actually cliched, if I'm just jaded, or if the manga is old enough that these scenes wouldn't have been cliched in the mid to late 90s but regardless I hope there aren't too many more of them because at that point they will certainly be more of a pain to read than contribute anything else, new, or meaningful to the characters or the plot.
The Art: Yup we're in the 90s folks, bring on the long limbed and high cheekboned male characters! (although at lease these look slightly more realistic than the characters in other series, say Red River who appeared to be all cheekbones). So far the cast is fairly small but all the key players look distinct and the motorcycle scenes also look great, I wonder if Soryo was already a fan of motorcycle racing (and created the manga partially as an excuse to draw it) or if she simply studied and watched a lot of races. Either way those scenes look great and I'm also enjoying the change of pace by looking at a manga whose art clearly screams 90s.
So as soon as I can get the library's catalog to work again I plan on seeing what other volumes they have and, provided that they have all of them, plan on requesting all of them to try and finish up this series. If that does happen then expect a review of the full series later this summer, crossing my fingers that this works out!