The manga follows an "angel-like" beautiful high school girl with a certain secret she has been hiding from everyone, and an idle hikikomori (one who adnormally avoids social contact) young man; the highlight of his day is seeing Mari at the convenience store. The story begins as Mari wakes up in her room, but something feel amiss about the room and even her own body.
This is a manga by the Aku no Hana guy. Since it started in 2012, he was writing it concurrently with late-stage Aku no Hana. Because its Shuuzou I can't commentate on the aesthetic front, who is sort of a poor man's Inio Asano, but that does him too much injustice. His drawings are kind of stiff and mostly functional. His faces and characters are more or less same-looking with just slight variation. His plots all deal primary with weird psychosexual Evangelion-esque angst, but with more realism than symbolism or whatever. He probably thoroughly hates society, and hates himself.
The plot, like Aku no Hana, involves
an extremely submissive and good-for-nothing main protagonist, this time a hikikomori, Komori Isao, who finds himself magically transferred into the body of a school-girl. The school-girl in question is the Mari of the title. She's been going to the same convenience store to buy the same things at night, and he keeps seeing her and of course he thinks she's his 'angel'. Each time he'll also stalk her back a bit. But this time when he stalks her back he finds himself in her consciousness.
For a body-swapping plot, the main difference is that this time Mari doesn't go into Isao's body, but rather just vanishes. And now there's two Isaos going about, one which is Mari-Isao, and the other which is his original hikikomori self, completely unaware of the existence of his new counterpart. So of course some can theorize that Mari pulled off a sort of Pierre Menard/Don Quixote thing and decided to 'become' a hikikomori just to experience the type of viewpoint she wouldn't normally have had. Like a bi-personality disorder born from societal pressure. But that's just speculation. In any case its a magical realist thing that doesn't matter, since the how is not exactly the crux of the plot.
The other character is Yuki, who is Mari's 'stalker', and is the first to notice that Mari is not Mari anymore. She's the lowest on the social tier, while Mari is the highest, and the whole story is about how Mari-Isao navigates Mari's past relationships and tries to maintain her social ties, whilst trying to find her original self. Whilst Inio Asano works with high verisimilitude, the difference is Shuuzou, and I don't think this is his failure as a writer but rather his style of getting at the themes he wants to convey, is that his characters are more like archetypes in human bodies. So in Aku no Hana we had the principle of Chaos, Nakamura, and the principle of 'Normalcy', Saeki, and the everyman caught between both, and how all three became amorphous in nature and started to mix into one another. Likewise in here we have Loser-girl Yuki, Loser-guy Isao, the different superficial facets of society represented by Mari's bitchy friends, and the spiritually-hermaphroditic Mari-Isao who serves as the primary explorer navigating these different landscapes. So maybe you could call Shuuzou the 'ecchi-Kafka' (in that case I wouldn't mind calling Asano the ecchi-Dostoyevsky)
In a Synecdoche New York, Charlie Kaufman, kind of way, looking at yourself from an outsider perspective, as in the view of someone else, can lead to interesting revelations. Yuki tells Mari-Isao more about Mari than probably Mari herself acknowledges, and then Mari-Isao in turn overturns the life of Yuki and Isao by forcing them to confront their respective psychoses. Psychosexual and angst filled climactic moments are everywhere. Feels kind of more 'mature' than Aku no Hana, and more focused on meditating upon the themes, but as a result less crazy cathartic.
Probably Shuuzou is also getting outside his comfort zone by writing from a more 'female' perspective, since in this work the amount of female characters are a ton more than the male ones, and thus he spends less time romanticizing male-angst. Especially apparent since Mari-Isao also comes to the conclusion that Isao is a completely horrible useless human being (although also admitting that everyone is sort of like that) and Isao goes through a hell lot more pathetic humiliation and breakdowns than Takao, without the Anarchist breakthrough to go with it. If you go from the perspective that Mari-Isao is a girl rather than a guy in a girl's body, then this manga definitely passes the Bechdel test. Although Shuuzou also has that bleak 'socially active people do stupid useless superficial things' sort of view, and the 'girls enact in brutal social terrorism against each other' sort of view.
So all in all we have a somewhat intense psychological manga about societal farce and why bonding over video-games and getting crazy hyped in karaoke sessions, and Love, is the true path of self-actualization.
I completed this manga around 2 years after I started. In the meantime, I developed a greater skill to analyze art due to my own training in drawing as well as coming in contact with stuff like Sakura no Uta. I take back what I said about Shuuzou's drawings being stiff & mostly functional - because he seriously cross-hatches everything to the point where it all feels like some drifting impressionistic fantasy of a school life. Shuuzou has to be one of the single-best artists working in the world of manga today. You can feel the sheer amount of work emanate from every page. I think he changed his style over time though - because I flipped back to an earlier chapter and it seemed more normal.
Honestly, though, after reading a certain few other works - the psychological aspect isn't as cutting. But there is a caveat. It isn't as cutting if you take it only in terms of the plot elements. On the other hand, the way the art syncs with the psychological states is absurdly ridiculous.
This magisterial cross-hatching Shuuzou pulling off his masterful ziggy-zaggies on the latter sections deepens the narrative a whole lot. I was reading the comments in the later chapters where people were going crazy about how 'silly' it was getting - but on the other hand I think I'd probably return to the later sections more and more just because I want to eat every single page of that cross-hatch goodness that he delivers. How the fuck did Shuuzou get so good? Did he get possessed by the ghost of Van Gogh or something? This will probably remain one of life's greatest mysteries. Now if only he'd stop making those goddamn angst plots and start using his skills for something meatier and more powerful.
Anyway - read this for the psychological angst stuff and stay for the cross-hatching & Yuri.
This series starts out weird and suggests all sorts of strange perversions. The premise is indeed kind of strange:
Komori Isao wakes up one day to find himself in somebody else's room, but it turns out he's actually somehow in the body of Yoshizaki Mari a girl he has been hopelessly following at night. S/he and a classmate try to figure out what happened as Isao tries to maintain Mari's friendships at school.
However, don't let that stop you from reading on. In the beginning Isao is weak-willed and his behavior is cringeworthy at best, but as he sees the troubles surrounding Mari's life, he can't leave
it as is. The mangaka begins to raise questions about identity, gender roles, friendship, and family, which I hope will make the rest of this series a worthy read.
I'm going to be honest: I didn't have that high of an expectation for this manga, the moment I first picked it up, but since I had nothing better to do at the time, I decided to give it a shot, and boy, am I glad I did so! This manga is one of those shiny gems that you find in the middle of others that don't shine, taking a concept that has already been used a couple of times, and cleverly giving it a whole new meaning. Also, don't avoid to notice how this manga is classified as "Psychological". It certainly won't disapoint you
in that department, as the setting is absolutely shiver enducing (specially in [**SPOILER**] chapter 33, where Isao suffers from a psychological trauma). Now, let's jump into the review itself (may contain spoilers, read at your own risk!):
This is perhaps, as I've mentioned before, the most appealing part of the manga to me. Komori Isao has been a hikikomori ever since he's stopped going to University, because of his inability to make friends. His first year was sad and frustrating for him, because of that, but he kept struggling through until the beginning of the second year. If you suffer from any kind of social anxiety, you'll know exactly how he felt, as he was looked down upon by the other students, and (I'm guessing, as it's not mentioned in the manga) made fun of, as he arrived at the entrance of the University. At that moment, his feet locked on: he realized he was unable to step inside, and ran home, where he has been ever since... What is life, may I ask you? Isn't it just a countdown before death? What's the point of living, when there's nothing out there? That's what every hikikomori asks himself, and would like to shout out as loud as they could to every person who's living a "normal life". But this manga assumes something that those who live a "normal life" fail to realize: they are just deceiving themselves, trying to act differently from their usual selves in front of others, in order to keep a social status. Isn't that Hell? Is that even living a "normal life"? That's where people like Yoshizaki Mari come in. People who have realized they are in a living Hell, and have realized their lives are not any different from those of a hikikomori: they are unable to have fun, they are unable to feel any actual happiness, they are unable to extend their wings as far as the wind blows; they are stuck in a hailstorm, being forced to protect themselves with their wings. And thus, Isao became Mari, who thought and felt exactly just like him. They aren't any different from one another. Actually, they were the same person all along.
The art certainly wasn't bad; in fact, it was really good! Even so, it wasn't on the same level of manga like Death Note. ...But they're different genres... I guess I really don't have a lot more to say about it, other than I enjoyed it. I suppose you can say you were able to truly appreciate on chapter 33. You'll see what I mean by then!
Man, I kind of ruined this section of the review with the STORY... Lol. I already explained everything I had to say about Komori Isao and Yoshizaki Mari, so, I guess the remaining main character to review is Kakiguchi Yori. She's much like Isao, in the sense that she was also a stalker, her life was horrible (since she had no friends) and she also viewed Mari as her only beacon of hope, although she somehow had a much darker aura... Perhaps because she wasn't the chosen one to become Mari, since she was her crush? Whatever the cause may be, she's certainly not your average comic relief; in fact, she's the opposite, really!
It took me less than an hour to read all the already published and properly translated chapters, and in the same day, I am writing this review. It's quite clear I REALLY enjoyed this manga. Please, do read it!
Summing up all the points I've rated it so far, my final score for Boku wa Mari no Naka is a 9! Great job, Oshimi-sensei!
If I was to predict a possible ending for the manga, I'd say Isao (in Mari's body) would start dating himself, as weird as that may sound; but hey, this is a Psychological manga, isn't it? Another possible ending, and perhaps the most likely one, would be everything returning to normal, and Isao would date Mari. Although, where would Yori fit in that? Maybe take advantage of the Ecchi genre, if you know what I mean? I'LL SAY NO MORE.
The common's person's reaction to the main character of this Manga is why storytelling is so slow to evolve. There is as much of a expectancy for male characters to be manly as there are female characters to be seductive or lady-like. Now I'm not saying that I want feminine male leads, but does every male lead need to be decisive and masculine? Can we have a weak male lead, such as Komori, without backlash and hate?
This character is so deep, and so real. A nobody in Highschool he moved to Tokyo in the hopes of starting anew. When he finds that he's been
unable to make any connections he shuffles through life until he's taken hold of by a debilitating psycho-social disorder.
And then there's Mari, who has clearly been sexually abused. How did I come to this conclusion? The proof is subtle in some cases, but not so much in others. Probably the best argument for this is Mari's sexual promiscuity. Even for a teenage boy of her age a stash of pornagraphic material that large is a little worrying, and though the story suggests at first that the male lead is a stalker, it is actually Mari who is the stalker and Komori who is being stalked.
Another compelling argument is her family, mainly her Mother. Her Mother is clearly an un-invested parent. Mari stays out late most night, and it seems as though her mother doesn't really know anything about her own daughter's life. She reaches out, but it's hollow and unfeeling. It's the attitude of a mother that has noticed sexual abuse, but wishes to ignore it. Of course, generally this kind of behavior is only present when the father or husband/ boyfriend is the perpetrator. The evidence for this is a short but meaningful encounter when Komori/ Mari and Yori are alone. He clearly shows a lack of person boundaries, and is quickly pulled away from Mari's room by her mother.
Of course even if you don't believe all of this sublevel prediction, it's still a compelling story that has a lot of promise. It's something that I'll be sure to keep my eye on.