Aug 14, 2008
Mars (Manga) add (All reviews)
Beatnik (All reviews)
I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the shoujo genre, so for me to give Mars a score of 10, must mean that it transcended the trappings of the genre and connected with me on a universal level. And it did.

This story of a boy on the wrong side of the tracks, and a shy artist girl both falling for each other, captivated me. Its not some innovative blast of originality, there's no genre deconstruction, no super twist that tips the world upside down. It’s just a love story told really well.

Fuyumi Soryo is an intelligent writer. Her use of all the tropes of high school based manga feels refreshing, and her focus on mental, emotional instability and psychological scars is fascinating and compelling. It’s assisted through the use of contemplative dialogue and characters interacting to move the plot forward, rather than the plot conspiring in convoluted or clichéd ways to move the characters.

I think maybe that Mars is so accomplished; feels so fresh and realistic, despite mild helpings of melodrama along the way, because Fuyumi Soryo was in her thirties when she wrote it. This may be a tenuous assumption because a lot of manga authors are in their thirties anyway, but the fact that as a female she'd racked up a decent amount of life experience before putting some of it down on page, must have had some substantial affect on this manga's final form and popularity. You feel that like unlike other authors, especially males, Fuyumi is writing about what she knows, not what she dreams or masturbates about. This isn’t delusional wish-fulfilment like so many romance manga out there focusing on a harem setup, with dozens of girls chasing a nerdy guy to get into his pants.

As for the melodrama aspect, it has to rear its head eventually, because the longer you make your shoujo romance tale the sooner it will appear. At 15 volumes, Mars has to have some melodrama to sustain the story, but it doesn’t bring the manga down, because Fuyumi is a skilled writer with characters you genuinely feel for. You get lost in the story so much you have no idea you're wading through melodrama, and by the time you've waded out, you don’t even care it was there in the first place. The characters never suffer as a result, they are never compromised, they are always the author's top priority.

Mars feels authentic. When we watch lovers meet, when we watch them spar; make love, it all feels sweet and romantic. I don’t think its even josei manga, yet it treats sex in a way that most shoujo probably wouldn’t. Sex isn’t something discussed in a round-about way, or never seen directly, or just hinted at, it’s not something laughed at or demonised. Sex is not a prize. Sex is just sex. Some characters have it all the time, some have never had it; some have hang-ups, some don’t. Sexuality is as much a focus of Fuyumi's pen just as much as psychological issues, an area that she excels at, and explores more with a later manga: Eternal Sabbath.

Despite the cute character of Kira, and the fact that she cries every five minutes which admittedly grates, it doesn’t feel saccharine at all. The character conflicts, the world the story is set in, the way everything pans out, it feels authentic, and when it doesn’t it’s at least in service of the story. Because its 15 volumes, stuff just has to keep happening to our main characters, it wouldn’t be much of a story if only a handful of things happened, but Fuyumi has the skill to make it engaging and flow from one story arc to another seamlessly.

You're willing Kira and Rei to pull through it all, like lovers on the run from the world. The biggest criticism of the manga would be that the last major threat; the last antagonist; that last hurdle that every story must have, in this case began to feel too generic for my liking, but it never becomes boring at least and resolves itself swiftly.

Mars has gorgeous art. It’s clean, soft, and beautiful to look at. Fuyumi makes it look so easy. The beauty is in the simplicity. There's no unnecessary detail, just what is essential. Essential for characters, essential for the story. The scene composition is masterful, and so is the design of the panels. It just flows so well. The best way I can describe it is that it all makes sense. The panels are arranged in a way to make the reading not just efficient, but to lead you along the narrative. Rather than have a page with one image or too many, Fuyumi will make use of all that extra space with smaller consequential panels for key character reactions, but the skill is in her juxtoposition.

It’s hard for me to explain, but hopefully you'll understand what I'm talking about. It’s not something pushed into your face, it’s subtle and affective. Basically I wish more artists utilised page space as efficiently and skillfully as Fuyumi. Mars definitely has the most romantic art I've ever seen in manga. At one point I was actually shocked by what I was reading: Mars has better race scenes than anything I've read in over 400 chapters of racing manga Initial D.

One of the things I love about this manga and Fuyumi Soryo, is that even though she inserts humour here and there, it never feels forced, but more importantly it never feels like she's using it as a crutch like so many other manga do. There are manga out there that have more humour than romance in their love stories; more super deformed faces than normal art. They drown out the narrative and characters with jokes, but Fuyumi doesn’t torture us this way.

When she uses humour, it comes naturally from the story. It provides a break from the angst of the characters and it’s never used as a crutch. It’s used sparingly, so when it comes we don’t expect it and it works all the more better for it. The story doesn’t need humour at all, but she provides it for our benefit, not because she needs it to pad out a chapter.

Mars, the red planet, the warrior of war, the fiery passion in us that love ignites; drives us out of our minds; pushes us forward whether we like it or not, and makes us sacrifice anything and everything to sustain it. You see it all in this manga, and that’s why I gave it 10.