Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mars, vol. 2

The story: Kira and Rei become closer emotionally when they begin to learn of each other's tragic pasts. When a classmate takes credit for Kira's artwork, Rei's history starts to unravel and his family situation is simultaneously clarified and convoluted. While naive and innocent Kira is just learning of love and physical attraction, so, too, is Rei beginning to understand love. And even though Rei seems to be emotionally unbalanced in comparison to Kira, Kira is just as prone to emotional swings of her own, oftentimes in reaction to Rei.

Reaction: You know how there's always that criticism about shojo being too heavy when it comes to drama? This volume shows why. While this second volume of Mars doesn't necessarily veer into unnecessary melodrama, it does skate along its edges. Both Kira and Rei have hard pasts to push through, but their ways of dealing with it are completely different. Where Rei comes unbound in violence, Kira retreats into herself and her art. It's an interesting contrast, especially since this seems to only draw them closer together in their complementary ways of comforting one another.

Deep thoughts: Much of this volume revolves around suicide attempts by unseen and bit characters, one of whom is a young man. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide in the U.S. disproportionately skews male and, while young adults aged 20 to 24 are most likely to commit suicide, the demographic to most likely to commit suicide are older adults, aged 65 and older. The strange thing about the suicides depicted in the book was that they're all carried out by people jumping from buildings. While this may be particular to Japanese culture, it proves to be an unpopular method here.

Artwork: The artwork here is fairly typical for shojo, with an obvious use of screentone and "beautiful people." But, the use of inappropriately patterned screentone really threw me off. Just what are little kitties doing in the background of a panel? There's no reason for it and it really throws off the overall serious tone of this manga. I also noticed an increased reliance on what I like to call "the two faces of Kira." If she's not crying with her eyes downcast, she's blushing demurely. Thankfully, Rei has a wider range of emotional reactions.

The verdict: If only... There were many touching moments in this volume, but there weren't enough to overshadow the downsides. I just hope that the inconsistencies between this volume and the first are just that and will be remedied with richer storytelling and less reliance on easy visual cues in the future. Mars is available in the U.S. from Tokyopop.

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