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Mars
Synopsis | Review

You know how Amazon.com would have those "So you'd like to..." sections that pepper the sides of your window as you shop? It's an illustration of Amazon.com's marketing genius and is definitely a devious ploy to gouge more money out of you (not to mention provides yet another avenue for procrastination). It's surprising just how good the recommendations would get. I was shopping for some manga that I can't remember now when one of those "So you'd like to..." sections recommended Mars. Having nothing better to do (well, I was procrastinating), I checked it out. The reviews were pretty intriguing. Best of all, the entire series was already translated to English by Tokyopop. Well, except for this little sidestory that came out after Mars ended, but I only found out about it after I actually finished the whole thing and went googling to get more Mars. Oh yeah, and it's quite funny how I went to another online bookstore to get Mars instead of Amazon.com. Hey, this is a long series, and there's a number of online bookstores out there that can give great deals on tankoubon.

Mars is by Soryo Fuyumi and spans 15 volumes, plus that special I just mentioned. This bonus volume is called Mars Gaiden, A Horse with No Name. It's about how one of Rei and Kira's closest friends, Tatsuya, met them. Oh yeah, and I must point out that I didn't see a single free talk in any of the tankoubon. So now I'm all intrigued with Soryo.

Synopsis
Aso Kira is known in high school to be quiet. Perhaps too quiet. She hardly speaks to anyone. She's also artistic and is very talented at drawing and painting.

One day, she's sitting in the park close to her house when the school's resident heartthrob/heartbreaker/hunk/bad boy, Kashino Rei, came up to ask for directions to the medical center. Without a word, Kira swiftly draws a map on a page in her sketchpad, tears it out, and hands it to him. Then she goes home. When her mother asked her what was wrong, she mumbled that she saw someone she didn't like at the park. Kira knew Rei goes to her school. She's aware of just how he lives up to his bad boy reputation and didn't want to have anything to do with him.

Rei was wondering why Kira just walked off (he had no idea who she is) but went on to the medical center. He was there to visit his friend, Akitaka, who lost his leg in a motorcycle racing accident. While at the hospital, Akitaka's wife Kyoko noticed that there's something on the other side of the map that Rei has. It's a beautiful drawing of a mother with an infant. Rei was so taken by the drawing that he placed it in a folder and kept it.

When school started, Kira was dismayed to see Rei strutting into her classroom. Worse, he took the seat beside her. He was too busy parrying come-ons from girls and basketball challenges from guys to notice her. Kira hoped that he didn't remember her at all (and assured herself that they only met for a few seconds), but he did as soon as everybody settled down and the teacher started taking roll. He started talking to her. She tried to ignore him, like she ignores everybody else :D Finally, Rei got so pissed that he yanked one of her pigtails and demanded why she's ignoring him. This confrontation, however, was immediately cut short when the teacher bounced a chalkboard eraser off Rei's head and yelled at him to cut it out.

Since then, Rei's been intrigued with Kira. He grilled his best friend, Tatsuya, about her (Kira and Tatsuya went to the same middle school) and talked to her every chance he got. Kira found her defenses breaking down when he told her how he liked her drawing of the mother and child. Later that day, Rei walked into the art studio to find that one of their teachers was sexually harassing Kira. After he threatened the teacher and chased him out, he looked around the studio and found a sculpture of Mars. When Kira explained to Rei who Mars was, he inspected the sculpture closely and, on an impulse, kissed it (yeah, that was a little weird for me, but it's something you get used to the longer you read Mars). Since then, the image of Rei kissing the statue has been burned into Kira's mind (translation: that's when she started having a crush on him).

Unfortunately, the other girls in school resented all the attention Kira's been getting from Rei. The most pissed of them is Harumi, one of their classmates who's close friends with Rei and actually slept with him before. She made it clear that she wanted Rei and planned on getting him because he just broke up with his girlfriend. The prospect of losing Rei to a quiet girl like Kira drove Harumi nuts, and she started bullying Kira, which had a reverse effect. Instead of keeping Rei and Kira away from each other, Harumi's schemes only made them closer.

Mars is basically about Rei and Kira and their romance throughout high school (and beyond). Both of them had to come to terms with their pasts and with their ambitions. Rei grappled with his twin brother's suicide and his rocky relationship with his father, while holding on to his dreams of becoming a top-notch motorcycle racer. Kira struggled with her conflicting desires to take care of her mother and become an artist, as well as get past her harrowing experiences with her stepfather. Along the way, Tatsuya and Harumi looked after them. Yeah, Harumi turned out to be a great person who became protective of Rei and Kira's relationship. And of course, the story wouldn't be complete without antagonists such as Shiori, Rei's psycho ex-girlfriend, and Masao, their psycho classmate.

Review
Mars is definitely one of my favorites. I would say it's sort of like Marmalade Boy because it's sort of a teen soap opera. However, Rei, Kira, and the rest of the Mars people (huh. No pun intended with that) definitely have more realistic personalities than the Marmalade Boy people. It's probably because you can see how Rei and Kira's characters were shaped by their upbringing. It sure gives the cliche review comment "story with depth" a whole new meaning.

First of all, the story itself is just swoonworthy. Gorgeous bad boy with a softie side falls for shy, quiet girl who's beautiful on the inside. Kira could be called cute, but not drop-dead gorgeous. Harumi's definitely more chic than her, and Rei's ex-girlfriends were far more attractive. What? The storyline sounds cliche? Well, it's a formula that obviously works. And I think Mars just reinvented it.

Oh yeah, and Rei's hot. He's probably the sexiest manga character I've encountered so far (if you don't count Hakuron and Kai, who fall under the Not Realistic category). Part of it is because Rei has depth and realism. And part of it is because Soryo's just so damn good at drawing him. He does his heartthrob/heartbreaker/bad boy role really well. Not only is he buff, you can tell from his clothes that he's buff. And what hopeless shoujo manga sap wouldn't sigh at how he's so fiercely protective of Kira, he would beat senseless any person who messes with her?

Kira's great too (if you can tear your eyes away from Rei to take a good look at anybody else). As the story goes on, you realize how and why she became such a shy and quiet person. You can also see how she slowly changed because Rei was there to protect and support her (and how she also changed Rei for the better). She's really adorable and has all these cute moments--but she's definitely not a traditional shoujo heroine, again, because she has so much realism and depth. Now that I think of it, I consider Kira to be adorable and mature at the same time.

It seems the other characters in the story aren't as well-developed as Rei and Kira. They just revolved around the two of them. But that's forgivable. I think. That's certainly a lot better than having well-developed peripheral characters and underdeveloped main characters. Actually, you can probably argue that other Mars characters have considerable depth as well. Tatsuya, Harumi, Sei, and Rei's and Kira's folks certainly have their own tales to tell. And while Mars has considerable realism, it also has some fairy tale moments, like how things always seemed to work out for Rei and Kira. But that's actually not that bad too. There's actually closure in each volume.

Mars is definitely a feel-good manga that you won't be able to put down. I was lucky I got all 15 of them at the same time (yeah, my credit card company's happy too), or else I would be rushing to Borders to complete it. What closure? I'm just one of those rabid people who had to finish a great series ^_^ Period. And this is a great series. Oh yeah, and it has a really good ending too. Guess Soryo's great with closures :D If you're a total shoujo manga fanatic, this is definitely a must-read ^_^

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