After a chance meeting at a park, the reckless motorcycle racer Rei becomes drawn to the closed-off artist Kira. He finds out the next day that they’re actually in the same class in high school and makes it a point to get close to her no matter how much she tries to push everyone else away. These star-crossed lovers come together to heal each other’s deep wounds in a story packed full of drama, tragedy, and romance. From the mystery surrounding the death of Rei’s twin brother to the twisted minds of students and adults that they meet, Mars finds away to openly discuss many difficult issues in a captivating fashion.
There’s so much I want to talk about when it comes to this manga. I’m kind of disappointed I never picked this up until after it went out of print as it’s quickly become one of my favorites. Mars obviously isn’t perfect, and there’s many scenes which I consider a product of the time it was written. But there are also a lot of things it does really well like: the discussion of mental illness in Japan (a place well-known to be very low ranking in that area), the meaning of family, youth’s place and power in society, and the sacrifices you sometimes have to make for the people you love. All of this is wrapped up in a dazzling art style and panel layout that gives great emphasis to dramatic moments where it is needed the most.
I think the first thing I noticed about Mars was the art style. It simply captivated me with its wispy lines that added a sense of delicacy to the characters who were themselves delicate in their own ways, and its ability to change style to accommodate those tense and fast-paced moments on the race track with stunning detail and shading. Fuyumi Soryo knows how to balance the level of detail she puts into each panel to provide the best amount of impact for each scene. Her motorcycle racing scenes provide a tense contrast to the character’s everyday moments to the point that you can feel the suspense surrounding the race just from the art. Not to mention that Soryo has a doubly hard time because Kira is an artist, so the look of her drawings had to be in some way different from the rest of the art of the manga itself. I definitely think she pulls this off beautifully. Even the basic composition of the panels lends to this overall aesthetic. There are many instances where the character’s faces will fade into the background, leaving their eyes gazing over a scene. At other moments, full page splashes or double page spreads will draw our eyes and attention to moments of drama for the optimum emphasis. I think Soryo might be one of the few manga artists I’ve seen use full pages and spreads for her scenes almost to excess. Perhaps that is a product of the times with rising publishing costs forcing the cutting back of these moments, but it’s very interesting nonetheless.
The main mystery twisting itself through the story of this manga is the circumstances surrounding the death of Rei’s twin brother Sei. It provides a solid foundation from which Soryo seems to explore the various aspects of mental health: what drives people to suicide, how loved ones are affected by someone’s death, and how you go about healing after a traumatic event. In a country that has looked upon mental illness as shameful even to this day, I found myself wondering if Soryo was writing this in response to a climate that produces one of the highest suicide rates in the world. While many of the characters who do have mental illness can be displayed in an unflattering light at times, they do slowly get humanized over time as the characters explore the reasons behind what prompted the start of their illness, particularly how Rei and Kira can heal over time. However, there is this thread of “you can’t save everyone” running through that often manifests in characters who have what is closely identified as antisocial personality disorder or an inability to see others as human beings. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I don’t necessarily feel it’s a bad thing for the series as Soryo does make an effort to explore these characters deeply.
At it’s most basic, Mars is a story about two troubled teens who come together to heal each other. Rei’s story seems to be the main focus of the series, but later on we see just how Kira’s past plays an important role in the development of their relationship. Soryo manages to tie two tragic pasts together in a way that supports the plot and keeps it moving without relying on too much reflection. The problems Rei and Kira face also gives light to another theme: how a person’s outward appearance can be completely different from who they are inside. Rei’s tough-guy, care-free attitude masks the sadness and pain of a tragic past that people seem to take for granted. Kira’s innocent and quiet demeanor hides her own bit of darkness that she has been trying desperately to forget about. Along with a good-sized cast of secondary characters, Soryo manages to give most of them their time in the spotlight. This means I was pretty satisfied to not see those flat characters that are only used as background decoration.
While the manga can get philosophical at times, the drama hits pretty hard with some action packed scenes. There were definitely multiple times I found myself crying or feeling on-edge with Kira as she watched Rei on the racetrack. All 15 volumes of Mars are definitely something to be experienced as it is written. There’s definitely a lot more I can talk about concerning the themes of mental health it brings up and the various troubles Rei and Kira face as youths in a society that don’t see them as adults yet. However, I don’t really want to spoil too much of the story. I think I might save many of the concepts I’ve seen from this manga for more lengthy articles in the future. If you’re looking for a powerful tragic drama with a healthy dose of romance, I would highly recommend you read Mars.
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