MÄR: Märchen Awakens Romance
Shounen – Action, adventure, comedy, fantasy, isekai
15 Volumes (complete)
Ginta is a rather unremarkable young man — not much of a student and a poor athlete. The only talent he has is dreaming of the same fantasy world over and over again. While only Ginta and his friend Koyuki believe that place exists, one day, the portal to the realm opens! Ginta is ecstatic to finally visit this fantasy land, and plus he’s gotten stronger! But will that be enough in a land full of magical tools and a group intent on controlling the world?
MÄR: Märchen Awakens Romance is essentially shounen manga stripped to its traditional parts and then dressed in a fairy tale theme.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “shounen manga”? In recent years, magazines targeting this demographic have been taking more chances on different genres and themes, but the bread-and-butter is still the group action story. You know the drill — a bunch of plucky young youths go around and try to prevent crises. See My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Naruto, etc. While they may have various other subplots and incorporate different genres (romance, comedy, etc.), the battles are likely always going to remain the highlight for these titles.
So what’s one way to have a lot of battles? Why, have a tournament, of course!
Yes, MÄR (aka MAR) spends a few volumes setting up its setup and cast, but it doesn’t take long before turning into a tournament manga, and it’s a completely expected shift. If you’d rather see your manga heroes suddenly be forced to fight, slugging it out in the wild, and be forced to work together in the heat of the moment, well, this series is not for you. Ginta, together with his new friends he meets in this other world, enter a stage where they must defeat teams of the evil organization known as the Chess Pieces to stop them from terrorizing the citizens in the world known as Mär Heaven.
Unlike some other similar series, though, this one is an isekai. To be more accurate, an isekai from before the genre was really established. In MÄR, Ginta dreams of another world and is finally given a chance to go to Mär Heaven. There, this stereotypical loser gains great strength and stamina, but he also acknowledges he probably hurt his mother by disappearing rather and wants to return to Japan. Well, to see his mom and his friend Koyuki, the only person who believed in his crazy dreams. So while he may not know exactly how to get back, unlike a lot of isekai protagonists, Ginta isn’t shrugging off his old life. Sill, he doesn’t mind exploring — and helping — this world first.
In Mär Heaven, there are things called Ärms. Ärms are basically magical tools, but the three main categories are ones that can be used as weapons, ones that can summon a creature, and ones for teleporting/movement (which are generally not used in battles). For instance, Ring Dagger is just as its name suggests: a ring that can turn into a dagger. Another can call forth a flying lion, one casts lightning spells, etc. There are a variety of these tools, and of course, in a tournament manga, Ginta and company face off against a variety of Ärms and their often-eccentric users.
But Ginta ends up with the rarest Ärm of all — one that can talk! Babbo is a kendama (cup-and-ball) toy who fancies himself a gentleman. Beyond that, Babbo has no clue who or what he is. But plenty of people are interested in obtaining this sentient Ärm, so that puts Ginta in many people’s crosshairs. When they learn he’s from another world and wants to help the people of Mär Heaven, well, all the more reason the Chess Pieces want to take him down.
MÄR‘s subtitle, Märchen Awakens Romance, comes from the fact the series has a fairy tale theme. Most characters are references to popular myths and children’s stories. The most obvious example is the princess Ginta meets. Her name is Snow. She is kind, has a cruel stepmother, was in stasis when found, and has a mission to find seven heroes. I know you didn’t need to know the fact these heroes were called “Dwarves” to make the Snow White connection. However, not all inspirations are that obvious. Some are references to Japanese fairy tales, which readers may or may not know. Others are more loosely connected (Halloween). Some I still haven’t figured out, but I assume they do follow the theme somehow. It is fun to see fairy tales incorporated into an action story, especially since this isn’t a case where these are the actual story characters. Jack dreams of climbing a beanstalk, but he isn’t from Jack and the Beanstalk. And this Jack uses a shovel to attack!
Anyway, after some various skirmishes, Ginta and others enter a rather unique tournament. Instead of a traditional bracket, Ginta’s team participates in every battle with the weight of the world on their shoulders. If Mär, as their team is called, loses, the Chess Pieces will finish taking over Mär Heaven. A pair of dice is rolled each round to determine the number of fighters and the location, but most of the time, it’s five or six. So Team MÄR doesn’t have to do a lot of deciding on who’s fighting — it’s basically everyone who’s available. In addition, both the Chess Pieces and Mär select a captain (for Mär, it’s Ginta), and if that person loses their fight, their team automatically loses. But any Chess Pieces who won their individual match can return, although only a couple elect or are able to do so.
The Chess Pieces, as their name might suggest, have different rankings based on the classic game, so generally a Bishop is stronger than a Rook, and so forth, all the way up to Knight, the strongest of the fighting force. Figuring out the King and Queen, the group’s leaders, is a goal of the heroes so that the organization can be brought down for good.
Battles generally last a couple of chapters, and the War Games do have breaks. But generally, the manga keeps moving. So much so that training arcs, which could take whole volumes in other manga, are generally done off-screen. This whole series is essentially a junior version of longer, more popular shounen hits. The author admits his target audience was elementary and middle schoolers, and it did well with that demographic. But a lot of manga fans will want something with a little more substance or edge. And while I can’t fault the manga itself for this, for younger Western fans, the series didn’t have the tie-ins (read: anime) that bolstered its Japanese fanbase and would give it a lot of attention like the contemporary hit My Hero Academia.
That’s not to say MÄR is kiddish even with its children’s fairy tale theme; the big bad and his goonies do conquer much of the world, some enemies have tragic backstories, and even some of the heroes take lives. In addition, there’s some fanservice, most of which feel shoehorned in (a certain scantily clad guardian, for instance). But even putting aside the relatively short length for an action-adventure series, the overall tone just feels lighter than you’d might expect from a save-the-world tale. For example, unlike a lot of other similar manga, all the spectators are rooting for the heroes, so that adds to the cheery tone.
So in these 15 volumes, you meet the characters, seem them grow their powers and face a wide variety of opponents, and then have a clear ending. Although the short length can be a drawback, getting that whole shounen adventure feeling for a fraction of the length of others can be a benefit, just like how you don’t always want to start a long multi-season show to stream but just want something to marathon in a day.
But again, it’s hard to be as moved as you would be in a manga where it took its time to introduce the characters and have a real reason for a tournament outside of a weird “win and save the world” excuse. I mean, having a tournament when most of the world has already fallen into the enemy’s hands seems really odd. Maybe not as odd as some of the Chess Pieces, but still pretty strange. Ginta joins the battle because it’s the right thing to do, but most of the other characters already have a clearer motive to join the War Games, including the Chess Pieces who range from insane to friendly albeit misguided. It isn’t until later Ginta finds more personal reasons to fight rather than be a noble warrior.
Speaking of the heroes, you’ll probably recognize most of the major types. Ginta is the optimistic main character with special powers. Babbo considers himself the leader (his visage is the team’s logo after all), and his bossy nature leads to a lot of squabbles with the impulsive, cheerful Ginta. But this leads to a fine partnership, and the fact they can communicate during fights leads to the type of teamwork often missing in this 1v1-heavy manga. Moving on, Jack is the buttmonkey with his lack of looks and his status as the weakest member of the team. Snow is the determined princess who is also very much a teenage girl, etc. For me, though, the best character is Dorothy: haughty, confident, powerful, mysterious, and sweet on Ginta (annoyingly so, her biggest flaw). Oh, and a witch! But even if you don’t share my affection for Dorothy, all the others have their own good points. I don’t think any of them will be the make-it-or-break-it point for the manga, but MÄR definitely isn’t brought down by them. Each character has their own weapon or elemental specialty, like Snow tending to use ice-elemental attacks.
Villains also tend to follow popular animanga tropes, including striking up friendships with the heroes, seemingly weak-willed ones, narcissistic sadists, etc. Personally, I never really cared for many of them, as a lot of them have really weak reasons for wanting to be a part of the team launching a world war. Even the strongest Knight could have finished the Games long beforehand, but he gives the oh-so-typical “I’m not entertained” yet and other such excuses. The backstory for the top Knight as well as the King and Queen’s identities were certainly planned out early, but the ending seems a bit crammed together. But at least there’s still the aforementioned fairy tale themes, and you never know when you are going to spot a reference in battle.
Each time I start MÄR, I am reminded of Mahoujin Guru Guru. I don’t know exactly why, but they both have a youthfulness that jumps out at me. Spiky hair and chains/zippers also give the manga a video game feel, so that also probably plays a part. The art is a bit more heavily inked with the characters at the beginning, but the visuals get lighter and brighter once Anzai becomes more comfortable with everyone. The main villain sometimes suppresses his dark side, but his kind facade can be hard to recognize as the same character. Anzai’s style also tends to draw the characters as more like bishounen/bishoujo with lipstick in serious moments, which is a unique look. The action in the battles are easy to follow, and guardians summoned in battle help fulfill the monster quota which is otherwise lacking. Characters also narrate what’s happening from the sidelines, so that also makes what’s going on in fights rather clear. As I said before, there is some bloodshed, particularly early on, most of Ginta’s team tries to avoid bloodshed. Some Chess Pieces share their past, and there are some sad stories. Some Chess Pieces dress in costume or masks for a surprise reveal, but the main heroes are basically locked in their outfits for the whole time. The art really does well to make this a low-stress read and/or to reach its target demographic.
No honorifics are used. “Monban Pierrot” is “Gatekeeper Clown”. Bell likes to speak in third-person. Edward likes to use -dono (“Ginta-dono”) and other polite speech since he’s a servant, and he uses phrases like “Master” in the English version. Loco is upset because Ian calls her -chan, and in English, this is changed to “cutie”. Snow’s guardian is called both “Yuki-chan”, her nickname for it, and “Snowman/Snowmen” depending on the volume.
The manga is rated T for teen, but because the manga has more of a younger shounen feel to it, the dialogue is written to match. Like “Haritsuke no Halloween” (“Halloween the Crucified”) is just called “Halloween”. And speaking of Halloween, he’s censored. In the original, he’s attached to a cross, but in the English version, he’s attached to a stick; the horizontal part of the “t” is erased. Generally, chapter titles (or parts) written in all caps were in English in the original Japanese, but they are often adjusted. For example, “GO TO THE TOWN” is “GOING TO TOWN”, and “SLEEPIN’ DOG” is “SLEEPING DOG” in English. There are some mistakes, like a certain character not using the correct gender (or at least a gender-neutral term) when referring to two significant people in her life.
Overall, MÄR is a likable enough series, but it does very little beyond playing shounen manga tropes straight and in a relatively short amount of time. You could hypothetically start at volume 5 when the tournament begins to make the series even shorter, and the beginning-of-volume introductions can catch you up to speed with little issue.
VIZ Media also released Anzai’s Flame of Recca. The MÄR anime was released in part by them as well.