Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Four Color Fairy Tales: MAR.

In this great, big beautiful blogosphere of ours, it’s not always easy to get a second chance.  This can especially be the case when it comes to reviewing things.  Books, DVDs and comics can all go out of print and be very hard to find again.  This was the case for me with a manga series entitled MAR (Note, the original manga actually has an umlaut over the A, which means it’s pronounced like “mare”).  MAR is a shonen manga that was written and drawn by manga artist Nobuyuki Anzai.  The letters in MAR are actually an abbreviation of the words “Marchen Awakens Romance” as well as just a reference to the word “marchen” (and I’m sure we all know that marchen is German for fairy tale).  When this series was first published in the US, I picked up the first issue because I knew it was fairy tale related.  I read the first volume, thought it was nothing remarkable and then moved on to a different series.  However, years later, having now started a fairy tale blog, I got the sudden urge to give it another chance.  Just my luck, it was out of print and none of the local libraries had it.  However, one day I happen upon a fantasy book and game store that I had passed by a million times and never been into (Flights of Fantasy in Albany, New York) and decided to check it out.  What do I find there, but a number of volumes of MAR just waiting for me to review them.  So, I can finally get that second chance.
The story of MAR focuses on a 14-year old boy named Ginta Toramizu.  Ginta seems to have all sorts of first world problems (which I’m sure seem like a big deal to a 14-year old from Tokyo).  He’s nearsighted, bad at sports, a poor student and he’s short (honestly, the only real problem I see there is that he’s a poor student).  However, Ginta’s a dreamer.  He’s had the same dream 102 times.  In this dream, he’s the hero of a fantasy land with all sorts of qualities he lacks in the real world.  Then, one day a strange figure appears at his school.  He opens a gate to the other world and charges in headfirst.  In this world, he’s fast and strong and can see without his glasses.  The first person he meets other than some talking rocks is a witch named Dorothy (as you can see, this manga takes a liberal approach to what it terms a fairy tale, like much of pop culture).  He gets involved with Dorothy’s attempt to gain a powerful weapon called an ARM (again, there’s that umlaut, so I guess it’s pronounced air-m).  The weapon turns out to be a living, talking iron ball type thing that looks like a kendama.

Anyway, the kedama ARM is named Babbo and sees himself as quite a gentleman.  Also, it seems Ginta is the only person who’s actually strong enough to wield Babbo.  From there, we have the start of Ginta and Babbo’s adventures.  There are other fairy tale-ish things that pop up.  He gains a companion in a farm boy named Jack.  He defeats some Big, Bad Werewolves.  He rescues Princess Snow.  He finds out there are some enemies called the Chess Pieces (I’m guessing that one’s a Through the Looking Glass reference).  However, the truth is that much of the fairy tale stuff is pretty much just window dressing.  I feel like they could have omitted or changed a lot of that stuff and it wouldn’t have affected the story much.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad as far as shonen battle manga goes.  It actually gets much better after the first volume.  However, the familiar tropes, themes and stock characters of the fairy tale are much less prevalent than the familiar tropes, themes and stock characters of shonen action manga.  There’s the villainous organization (Chess Pieces), the overly enthusiastic hero (Ginta), the sweet girl (Princess Snow), the comical side character (Jack), the big end goal (find the ARMs), the dark secret (Babbo may have once belonged to the villain) as well as a mentor character, training scenes, lots of fighting and fury as well as the general desire by the protagonists to “get stronger”.  None of this is really bad.  It just makes it a lot more like a general shonen manga in a fairy tale skin.  If that interests you, than give MAR a try providing you can find it.

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