Mars 15

March 21, 2012

Fuyumi Soryo – Tokyopop – 2003 – 15 volumes

I love that the cover features Kira’s original Mars painting, the one that started the whole series. I’m not sure what I think of it as a painting, but I love that it’s on the cover of the last volume. Very appropriate. I do regret that Kira’s art wasn’t more of a theme throughout the story, but it made for a wonderful first impression.

There’s a little happiness and a little sadness mixed into the last volume, which pretty much reflects Mars as a whole. There’s lots of evidence that Rei and Kira have settled down and know what they want to do with their lives, made their peace, et cetera. There’s a lot of talk about registering for marriage, too. But then, there’s also the fact that Masao is now wandering around free. And it just wouldn’t be Mars if something didn’t happen with Masao that spoiled the peace of the first half of the book.

I felt like the series ended in a good place. Even this last volume, with the Masao story, felt like things were coming back around full circle and repeating themselves, and as much as I liked the drama of Mars, it was starting to wear out its welcome. It’s a lot of the same issues over and over again for 15 volumes. It’s extraordinarily well-handled, so it doesn’t really get stale… but that this came up again in the last volume just goes to show that it was probably ready.

Also, again, I read almost the entire thing in one sitting, so I was probably a little more sensitive to repetition than I usually would be. It really is great, and I doubt it’s something that gets old if you do the rational thing and space volumes apart.

I was a little disappointed with this as the final volume. It does feel like it stops, rather than resolving anything. But then again, Mars has always been a bit more well-grounded than most shoujo romance manga, multiple stabbings, ridiculous forgiveness of sexual abuse, and twin suicides aside. There’s been signs that Rei and Kira are becoming less like melodramatic teenagers and more like adults ready to cope with society for the last few volumes, so it is somehow appropriate that the story simply ends without a tidy bow. There’s never anything quite that neat in real life, anyway.

I feel like I’ve already said everything I want to say about Mars. About how great Soryo’s art is, especially her facial expressions. I wish every shoujo manga used facial expressions the way she does. They say so much without one word of dialogue. It has very sensitive characters. It also does manage to stay relatively grounded among all the dark antics that happen, and somehow fudging the realism on the side of drama works better than, say, holding an unrequited crush for three years. Or maybe it’s just more interesting. It’s also wonderfully paced, and you really can see the characters grow and change over the course of 15 volumes. They learn lessons, and they learn how to be adults.

Most of all, it has Rei and Kira. They stay together and support each other, no matter what happens, and everything that goes down in the story only brings the two together. Even though they both have seemingly impossible dreams, Rei encourages Kira to go to art school after high school to develop her talents, and Kira is the only person that seems to think that racing is good for Rei.

It’s a story that stays with you long after you’ve finished, and I couldn’t be more pleased that I finally picked it up after all these years.

Mars 14

March 13, 2012

Fuyumi Soryo – Tokyopop – 2003 – 15 volumes

The penultimate volume! It’s actually a fairly quiet one for Mars. Not a whole lot of drama, just a whole lot of decision-making and, ultimately, happiness. An unsure happiness, but one that feels fairly realistic despite that.

The first part of the book covers Rei’s foray into the corporate world. Kira has second thoughts, and wants him to go back to racing, but despite being needled by unkind rivals in the business world, Rei seems to be able to handle his father’s social crowd. These are strange scenes, and while it’s clear that Rei isn’t exactly comfortable, it’s hard to tell what he really thinks about the people that seem to be having fun at his expense. He side-steps and gives it all back rather elegantly, and without much humor, which is what I like best about these parts.

The second half features more racing, except instead of being a happy, exciting hobby full of adventure, we see it from Kira’s point of view. It’s a very dangerous sport, and those that love the thrill of the race are well aware of the danger and consequences. There’s a mini-plot dealing with this, but all the characters seem to come to terms with it by the end of the volume.

As I said, there’s not a whole lot of drama here. Drama does rear its head in both halves, but unlike what we’ve seen before, the problems are dealt with and settled. I’m taking this as a sign that the characters have matured, and I like that potentially long storylines, very classic shoujo fodder, are being dismissed in favor of the characters settling their problems quickly. There’s one volume left, but honestly, there’s not too much strife for Kira and Rei to deal with, and I like that things are ending very quietly.

Well, sort of quietly. One last exciting round with Kirishima, the psychotic classmate, seems to be in store for the conclusion, but other than that, I think all the character-centric matters will be settled quietly.

Mars 13

March 7, 2012

Fuyumi Soryo – Tokyopop – 2003 – 15 volumes

Oh, the drama! Lots of stuff comes at you in this volume! More about Sei’s suicide note! The truth of just how disturbed Rei’s mother was, and how it affected his life as a young boy! The truth about Rei’s father, and how he died! The reappearance of Masao, the psychopathic classmate from earlier in the series!

This volume is a whole lot of exposition, and most of it is either hidden from the characters, or accepted and everyone moves on with their life. The story of Rei’s mother is interesting, and drama-tastic, but it doesn’t seem to have that big an impact on Rei once he learns the truth. The suicide note and the truth about Rei’s father is a slightly bigger deal, and both those tidbits are secreted away for another day. Masao, similarly, reappears, but it’s likely we won’t see him take action until later.

The meat of the plot this time, though, aside from the flashbacks, is how Rei is adapting to his new lifestyle. He bends over backwards to be a good son to his father and do as he’s told, which includes going to fancy social events, dressing in suits, studying to become heir to the business, and mixing with important people. None of these things interest Rei, and he’s not very good at them. Watching him flub his intro to the bigwigs is especially heartbreaking, since he’s usually so charismatic.

Most of all, he promises to give up racing. The end of the volume suggests he can never really give up on this completely, and his new lifestyle suits him so poorly that it’s obvious a big change is going to happen. Whether that will be because he blows up at his father, his father realizes Rei isn’t happy, or the two come to a mutual understanding… that remains to be seen.

This feels more like a means to an end, as if it’s presenting all the problems that will eventually lead to the climax of the series. Honestly, I could watch Rei and Kira read stock quotes and I would probably still love it, Mars is just that good. So I didn’t mind a little break from the action here, especially since the drama continued.

Mars 12

February 29, 2012

Fuyumi Soryo – Tokyopop – 2003 – 15 volumes

Rei’s family is the 100% focus this time around. There’s a bit of happiness at the beginning of the volume, as we get a taste once again that Rei and Kira are doing what they want with their lives, then Kira’s dad wakes them up and tells them they’re only 18.

Kira’s dad is an interesting character. Normally, a character like him is the bad guy, because he’s stopping the happy couple from living a carefree life. Everything he says is immediately rejected by Rei as self-serving. He only wants them to live with him because he can’t stand his son living in squalor. He’s only paying for Kira’s art school because he wants her to have a degree. He just plain doesn’t want them to be happy.

Except… Rei’s father really doesn’t come off that way. In a twist, Rei is the one that seems like a sulky teen when he throws his father’s goodwill back in his face with comments about how he’s not his real son. There’s no malice in anything Mr. Kashino says, and he really does seem to want what’s best for Rei and Kira. In one sweet scene, he thanks Kira the best way he can for helping Rei move away from a delinquent lifestyle. He’s not very expressive, but everything he does seems to show he genuinely cares.

But the relationship between Rei and his father is far from resolved. There’s also hints later in the volume that there might be some rough water as far as Rei’s mother is concerned, too. There’s also a tragic death in store for Rei’s real father, and if that wasn’t enough, the end of the volume also… *cue dramatic soap opera music* includes a storyline where Kira find’s Sei’s suicide note.

Oh, the drama! I love it, though. It’s all very realistic, other than Rei’s father being a millionaire head of a corporation. And even that isn’t really thrown around. He seems to want Rei to study business, and he has the means to help Kira achieve her dream of going to art school and a large enough home that Rei and Kira can live comfortably with him. No corporate espionage plots, no salarymen hanging around jealous of Rei.

I do also like that the relationship is taking a backseat to other plot elements at the moment. It’s a nice break, even if it is still drama-tastic, and it helps when you’re reading the series all the way through, like I did.

Mars 11

February 25, 2012

Fuyumi Soryo – Tokyopop – 2003 – 15 volumes

While this volume does begin to touch on the roots of Rei’s family problems, it’s actually Kira’s family that makes trouble once again. There’s some bittersweet moments as Rei continues to face reality and realizes the road ahead is harder than he thought, but it’s nothing that would put an end to their current lifestyle.

Good thing Kira’s stepfather is always good for shaking things up! He calls around to all of Kira’s friends until he finds out where Rei lives. He shows up. You can imagine how badly this goes for everyone. Dark sides of both Rei and Kira come forward, and it’s a sad thing. This time, their attack towards him isn’t entirely justified. Granted, that man should never be allowed anywhere near Kira, but he is her legal guardian, and wasn’t doing anything to harm Kira, he was merely worried when she disappeared from home without a word and wanted to come bring her back. It’s understandable that Kira would react as she did, but Rei’s attack… that’s harder to deal with. It makes both he and Kira a little more ugly, and that’s not entirely a bad thing.

There’s some aftermath to this issue, and that fills up the rest of the volume. It also drives Rei into the arms of his family, something that was only a matter of time at this point. There are some surprising revelations on that front, and Rei’s father is still a mystery, but after all that drama, and after Rei and Kira both give in to the fact they aren’t adults… the volume ends in a surprisingly good place.

Granted, as sweet as the last page is, it’s still a little unrealistic. But for emotional impact, it’s aces.

So, 11 volumes in, this is still a horribly addictive and relatively realistic soap opera. One of the best I’ve ever read. Track it down if you can!

Mars 10

February 22, 2012

Fuyumi Soryo – Tokyopop – 2003 – 15 volumes

This is probably my favorite volume of the series. It’s just… nice. Not that much drama, and lots of happiness for both of the main characters. Of course, there’s drama obviously hanging over their heads, since it will be impossible for them to maintain their current lifestyle, but the way they go about things is… realistic. Both of them have jobs, they deal with issues as they come up, and they simply live life as it comes at them. It’s a nice volume.

Basically, because Kira can’t go home with her stepfather there, she begins living with Rei. And as I mentioned, this is about as realistic as possible. They tackle issues like what Kira has to wear (since she ran away without any clothes), Kira dealing with being a bored housewife, Kira getting a job and learning to cope with the real world, and, towards the end, they look at what it would take to maintain their current lifestyle, and decide to go through with it for the long haul. Finances, friends, and jobs are all issues here. None of it is dramatic, it is simply real. And it’s a nice, refreshing beak from the drama. Or other shoujo manga, for that matter.

One dark event does come up. When Kira gets a job, she has to deal with getting harassed by customers and getting blamed for freaking out about it. This felt a little out of place, and more like one more thing for Kira to worry about. But it ends well for her, and she grows a little bit because of it. So it’s not all bad.

The next volume promises a return to drama, and more on Rei’s family situation.

Mars 9

February 11, 2012

Fuyumi Soryo – Tokyopop – 2003 – 15 volumes

The House of 1,000 Manga column this week covers Mars, courtesy of Shaenon Garrity. It’s an awesome series, and that article pretty much sums up why better than I ever could. It reminded me I hadn’t written it up here in awhile. I finished it some time ago, but was having trouble tackling the volumes after the fact (one of the reasons I tend to write things up as I read them… but Mars was so good). I figured now was as good a time as any to try and finish it up here.

So, this volume. Parent issues. Kira’s issues figure largely in this volume, though Rei’s stepmother shows up at the end of the volume, promising us his time will come. Which is fairly obvious, considering he lives in a run-down apartment and supports himself. But Kira’s are enough to occupy us for the time being.

Again, I strenuously disagree with the decision made by Kira’s parents last volume. For me, this series is fairly realistic, and does a good job of portraying Rei and Kira’s feelings extremely vividly through well-written, well-considered conversation, facial expressions, actions, and the sensitive artwork in general. It blew my mind when the secondary characters seemed okay with an extraordinary violation of Kira’s well-being. It’s annoying that, by this volume, Kira is trying to be okay with it too, because she really shouldn’t be. It was even more annoying that the justification was that her mother was too sick, and needed the support. She really shouldn’t have to self-sacrifice in that situation. She should be able to get the hell out.

That’s not even really the main issue in this volume, though. The main issue is that Rei can’t deal with not having a physical relationship with Kira. From his perspective, if their relationship can’t progress any further, why bother? As callous as this sounds, the story actually treats it with quite a bit of respect. Rei is genuinely hurt by the fact he can’t get close to Kira, and he goes through quite a bit trying to separate himself from her. Kira is worse off, however, since she has put herself in a bad situation that she was relying on emotional support from Rei to get through. Plus, she doesn’t want to break up with Rei. You know.

This volume is actually painful to read, since it goes through quite a bit from Rei’s perspective without offering his thoughts. He goes through the motions of being with women, trying to find a date, et cetera, all without telling anyone how he really feels. Again, while it seems rather harsh to sympathize with Rei in this situation, the volume does a good job of showing his side, and the fact that I did speaks a lot towards the writing. And again, it’s not really belittling Kira at all. Rei’s just doing more while she’s playing a waiting and regretting game.

Basically, this series is still an amazing read, and I’m glad we’re slowly getting through the rather distasteful section of story. That the plot will inevitably shift back to Rei’s family after this is something I’m not really looking forward to, but all the same, it will still be an amazing drama that will be worth the read.