Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Manga Review: Mars

Long time readers probably recognize this title because it's one where I've been trying to find a complete collection of it to read for years, I seem to recall I first came across it in high school which even for me was quite a few years ago now. Once I finally discovered that one of my library systems had the complete set I carefully set up my request for when I would have a ride (since I 1. wasn't going to request one book at a time again, heck now and 2. was not going to walk over a mile each way in the DC heat with 15 books) and then over the course of many nights spent babysitting worked my way through the series to see once and for all just what actually happened in it.

Mars by Fuyumi Soryo

Rei is a high schooler whose more interested in racing and having fun than academics and he's caught the eye of Kira, a quiet art club member who would love to have him model for a piece. Normally camera-shy Rei agrees, to the surprise of everyone to see two such unlike characters hanging out together, and from there a much deeper and more intimate relationship between them emerges. 

This series didn't turn out the way I expected it would go based on the first three volumes, which I read read a few summers back, and I'm still not sure what to think of it. Based on that I thought there would be a lot more racing in the book (or at least race scenes, I liked how Soryo was able to combine having big spaces with detailed objects to make the scenes come alive) and that the story part would focus mostly on Kira and Rei growing closer and growing up. The two of them have their demons (both figuratively and literally we see later on) but the story introduces other characters who are, to put it plainly, so messed up that it strained my suspension of disbelief. I will admit, I have never personally known someone with a strong psychological/mental disorder but yet the characters here felt more like melodramatic shojo cliches than someone I was supposed to at the very least acknowledge as a real character and not a cut-out. I will also admit that I often have reactions like this to messed up characters, as someone who did see a therapist for many years, and has accepted that I will have to again sometime, it's hard to take characters seriously when I just want to yell "find yourself someone to talk to and do that, your feelings don't make you unique they make you normal!" and even part of that is because I've found myself yelling that in real life as well (and to the series credit I never feel this way about Rei and Kira, they're nicely balanced characters and neither of them are assholes to each other at any point). These particular characters are even more messed up than that however and that just adds to my unhappiness with how Soryo wrote them, you mean to say that you have characters who were so abused and became so twisted that they immedately start manipulating the situation around them and yet no one but Rei and Kira seem to know about it? When something is that obvious to the reader you do have to spend some time explainging why it's not obvious to the cast and that just didn't happen here.

To actually touch on the main characters, both Rei and Kira had rather uneven character arcs as well. Rei's seemed to be dragged out long enough that the rest of the plot could wrap up at the same time and Kira's happened so early on that it was hard to remember that she actually had any. I am glad that they developed and felt like well rounded yet still realistic young adults in the end but to say they were overshadowed by those other characters is an understatement, heck most of the minor cast vanishes at those points as well which was another thing that struck me as odd, they were so important in the earlier volumes that I almost felt like I was reading too different stories and wondered if it would have felt as discrepant if I had been able to read the story in one long go from the beginning. And finally I do wish the story had continued to focus on Kira's art more, in the same way that Rei's racing is cut but still discussed we always know that Kira is continuing her art but never see it and, yet again like Rei, after her big stunning picture in the first few volumes it felt like a shame that we couldn't see the actual evidence of her passion and instead had to make do with commentary instead.

And so you can see how I'm conflicted here, I liked some things, wished others had been done better, and questioned Soryo's writing in yet other places. For those who are curious themselves however, the manga was published in full by the now defunct TokyoPop (who also seemed to put out some accompanying prose novellas on the work that I'm not interested in) so you stand a good chance to also find it in local libraries or you can buy it online, although it looks like Right Stuf's stock is even smaller than when I looked up the volumes for a friend just a few months back.


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