Shoujo – Romance, slice-of-life, drama, psychological
15 Volumes (original release), 8 volumes (bunko) (complete)
Out of print
Kira is rather shy girl who is good at drawing. One day, she runs into the school’s most popular guy, Rei, at a park. She helps him out by giving him a map and tries desperately to avoid any further interaction. When he compliments her drawing, however, the two form a rather unusual friendship which becomes something much deeper.
Note: this review has been updated and can be found here.
This is perhaps my favorite slice-of-life shoujo manga. So many modern shoujo romances star a genki girl who dreams of falling in love and a popular, tsundere guy. We then go on a long journey of following the girl’s antics to make the male lead turn her way while dealing with suitors.
In MARS, despite the slightly different setup (Rei is the friendly one and Kira is standoffish one) the early volumes go through many of the usual shoujo tropes to help set up the story and main couple (love triangles, sexual harassment, enemies become friends). The focus, however, quickly switches both Rei and Kira facing their pasts in order to stay together. It seems almost unheard of in many modern shoujo romances to go 15 volumes where the drama never relies on a Christmas date or Valentine’s chocolate. This isn’t a manga where the 13+ or 16+ rating comes from the “are we going to do it or not?” arc. The leads and many secondary characters have psychological issues, and some are severe. Kira and Rei also some make choices that we as readers should not condone, but the author does an excellent job of using both the art and dialogue to explain their (sometimes misguided) reasoning.
The art is relatively simple but effective. The art becomes more crisp as the series goes on, a reflection of the 90s style. Panels are clearly laid out and do not get lost in overcrowded backgrounds. Souryo’s art when drawing race scenes is exceptional and shows that she does her research. As for the character designs, Souryo’s biggest strength is showcasing emotion. When the characters are upset, I feel it. Eyes are the window to the soul, and I love the way Souryo combines her art style with the use of screentones to represent emotions. In volume 4, for instance, Kira asks to spend time with Rei, which he rejects. He means it as a joke, but to Kira, it isn’t. Rei’s eyes are speckled to represent his shock and guilt, while Kira’s plaid pattern reflect her emotional shut down.
While this manga is primarily a drama, the author does not overload on the angst. Panels of comedy are inserted strategically, and even the characters feel they can’t just mope around for too long. “The world goes on,” Kira says. By the end of the series, both Kira and Rei have a healthier psychological view of the world. It’s a distinction I wish more shoujo manga would make: the leads do not fall in love because the other changed them; they had to change to keep love. It’s this type of character development that make this a worthwhile journey.
As this was one of Tokyopop’s earlier endeavors, much of the dialogue is punched up to be more American. Some of the dialogue was tweaked from few chapters in the old Smile magazine version. One of the more significant changes from the Japanese edition was the way characters addressed each other. Kira, for instance, does not call Rei by name until volume 10. Kira’s best friend Harumi insists that Kira calls her Rumi in Tokyopop’s translation but is never used again. (Harumi requests being called by her name in the Japanese version.) Rei’s last name is romanized in the translations as “Kashino” although the art in the manga uses “Cashino”. More significantly, another character’s name is wrong. It’s supposed to be “Makio”, not “Masao”. I don’t know why they made this change. I don’t even think it’s a wrong reading. Weird.
Why this needs a re-release: It’s excellent. Released as one of the first in Tokyopop’s 100% Authentic Manga line, the series has been out of print (OOP) for years. It has been rereleased into an 8 volume bunko edition, which would be nice for a rerelease here in the States. The series ES by this author was released by Del Rey/Kodansha. Although there is a prequel volume, it is rather lackluster. Average cost for the complete series will run about $80+ on ebay, which isn’t too bad for an older, OOP title.
MARS was adopted into a Taiwanese drama which is quite faithful and worth checking out.
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