Sitting at number two on my list of favorite romance mangas, is Mars, a story about modern star-crossed lovers, as the manga itself puts it. To make it onto my top list, a manga has to have depth in it’s characters, a varying story line that shows true progression, and an art style that adds something both to the characters and the tone of the manga. Mars does a great job at all of these, and it’s a shame that I only started reading this now after it went out of print.
Mars was written by Fuyumi Soryo and first published in Japan in 1996, but was brought over to the US in 2002 by Tokyopop. It is a story centered around two highschool students Kira and Rei who seem to be from different worlds, but are strangely drawn to each other after a random meeting at a park. Kira is a shy girl who has a phobia of men and can be seen drawing all the time. Rei is a rebellious motorcycle racer with no shortage of girls to talk to. After seeing one of Kira’s drawings, Rei becomes fascinated with her and does everything he can to force himself into her closed-off world.
The art style was one of the first things that grabbed me when I started reading. Fuyumi Soryo did a great job at capturing moods and emotions in her work without adding tons of effects and shading. Her characters are drawn with thin, wispy lines, especially in the hair, that adds a certain feeling of delicacy, while the eyes are large and detailed, allowing for a shock of expressiveness at key moments. The backgrounds themselves are also minimalist, sometimes being straight black when a sense of harsh contrast is needed for a scene or just plain white, allowing you to focus more on the characters. Her faces will almost fade into the background at points as the black lining disappears, allowing her to draw attention to the eyes or a certain expression more powerfully. Even when showing the traditional art Kira created, Fuyumi’s talent shows through, producing intricate and detailed pieces that contrast harshly with the stylistic character design. The only time I really see a lot of detail and shading is with the motorcycle scenes, and I think that adds another sense of contrast that shocks you into paying more attention to what is going on in that scene.
The story itself is based off of the “good girl” falls in love with a “bad boy” trope, though it expands on it to create a suspense ridden romance that builds off of so many other themes. That sense of suspense starts in the first couple pages as we meet Akitaka who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident while racing, and then we find out that Rei is a racer as well. With comments about his recklessness on the track, it implants a sense of anxiety for the future of the story, especially as you come to know the characters better and see Kira and Rei’s relationship progress. The suspense kicks up again right away when we learn more about Kira’s phobia of men and the sexual harassment that happens in the art studio. After these two moments I feel like you get the sense that this manga isn’t going to be very light-hearted and fun. Not to mention both main characters display pretty negative views of the world, talking about how it will end, that the world is full of selfish people, and that makes you wonder what kind of past they had that made them this way.
The action ramps up pretty quickly in the first volume. All of the events providing moments for characterization, such as showing Kira’s strength, Rei’s violent tendencies, and Harumi and Tatsuya’s jealousy. Though the story moves pretty quickly into their relationship, it’s characterization and background is presented one piece of the puzzle at a time while focusing heavily on how they deal with their histories in the present or how they have affected them as a person. What I like about Mars is that while many mangas and stories tend to focus on the events themselves (showing the violence, tragedy, and so on), it focuses on the aftermath of tragedies, catching your attention with small bits of action interspersed in the overall narrative. Sometimes, by focusing too much on the action itself, the story loses its sense of drama, becoming less serious.
The first volume sets the stage up pretty nicely, showing the beginning of Kira and Rei’s relationships, their personalities, the side characters that influence their actions, and foreshadowing for future volumes around Rei’s motorcycle racing and Kira’s phobia. The art, panel layout, pacing, and story all come together to present a great first volume that left me thinking long after I finished reading it. The darkness of the character’s past, shown through small snippets of information, drew me in and provided a sense of suspense for the future of the story. Mars is great when it comes to drama, packing it in page after page, letting you feel the tension between characters even in light-hearted moments. Rei’s dark personality and negative way of thinking permeates his actions and can be seen even in moments where they are supposed to be happy. However, I never really laughed that much while I was reading it, and you’ll see that stories that can balance both comedy and drama well to provide a mix of emotions make it to my top spot. The reason this one is so high is because the art is captivating and I don’t think I’ve thought about a manga as much as this one over the years. This is definitely not your fluff piece manga, but it’s great if you want a powerful story that will drag you in and leave you thinking.
Volume 2’s review is coming soon!