Within You and Without You – Inside Mari

mariThe most recent work by Shuzo Oshimi, the mangaka behind The Flowers of Evil, is another psychologically delving title that takes us deep into the thoughts of its main character – Mari.

Manga Title: Inside Mari (Boku wa Mari no Naka)
Mangaka: Shuzo Oshimi
Genres: Psychological, drama, gender bender, mystery
Demographic: Seinen

The Storyboard:
Isao Komori, a college student who’s become a reclusive hikikomori, spends day after day playing away his time with games, erotic manga and visiting a local convenience store every night to get a glimpse of his ‘angel’.

Inside Mari

Isao Komori

His angel is none other than Mari Yoshizaki, a teenage high school girl – someone who looks for all intents and purposes like a model, moral student.

Usually Isao follows her every night for a short while before returning home, however one night she inexplicably turns around, staring him right in the eyes. The next morning Isao wakes up to find that he’s inside Mari – he’s taken over her body.

Inside Mari

Mari Yoshizaki

Spending an embarrassing day at school as Mari, he finds it difficult to keep up the pretense that he is a girl, whilst also trying not to do anything perverse to his angel despite being in her body. After searching for and finding his male self, he discovers that he is completely unaware of any change, going about life as usual.

Left with no other option, Isao temporarily has to be Mari, beginning a life whose social, physical and mental situations are completely unknown to him.

Inside Mari

A day in the life

Pencil Sketch:
Two main characters take up most of the stage, Mari (with Isao inside her) and Mari’s close but undisclosed friend Yori Kakiguchi. Isao is straightforwardly perverted, thus he’s immediately challenged to keep his hands to himself being inside Mari. Aside from that, not being a particularly social person in the first place, he’s constantly embarrassed and at a loss for what to do being surrounded by Mari’s peer group.

After being at school it becomes apparent that Mari truly is a hardworking student who is regarded highly by her peers. Trying to maintain the façade of being her increases in difficultly when going to the restroom, getting close to and even holding hands with other girls – Isao literally has a permanent blush on his face.

Just when he thought it couldn’t get worse, Mari’s clandestine friend Yori enters. It appears they’d maintained a secret friendship as Yori isn’t in with Mari’s current group and she doesn’t want to spoil her social life.

Inside Mari

Yori Kakiguchi

Yori usually observes Mari quite closely, so she notices something is amiss, and confronts her about it. Backed into a corner, Isao reveals that he’s inside Mari – a situation that Yori is both creeped out by and concerned about. She’s desperate to make sure that until they recover the original Mari, Isao not even look at Mari’s (his) body while changing, let alone do anything to disrupt the flow of her daily life.

It’s revealed that Yori’s relationship with Mari, though secret, is extremely close and she is quite fixated with her.

Being the shut-in that he is, Isao blunderingly tries to maintain face, navigating his way through the complex storm that is a high school girl in Japan’s community life. He winds up discovering that the life of a girl is not quite the dream-life he may once have imagined.

Inking:
What I expected from Inside Mari was perhaps another gender bender drawing on the amusing and awkward idea of someone being put into a person of the opposite sex’s body. Inside Mari is that, but so much more. Without singing Shuzo Oshimi’s praises too much, I have to say that he’s done it again; I haven’t read through a manga as fast as this in a while. Shuzo’s skill at portraying the clumsy awkwardness of youth and relationships between the sexes, the mental turmoil of puberty, the purity as well as the darkness of the mind as it grows into maturity – is amazingly done.

Like in The Flowers of Evil, he’s captured a tension and a need-to-know that hooked me right from the start. He’s also very honest in his portrayal, Inside Mari doesn’t gloss over the brooding, angst and pain that goes with coming of age and in peer groups, but displays it honestly. Once again he also shows the inner battle, confusion and occasional elation of his main character with ease.

Inside Mari is a journey into the psyche of sexuality, growing, and coming to terms with oneself and others. Family issues, interrelationship politics, and periods are just some of the difficulties that Isao has to face on his chaffing journey – inside Mari.

 

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Play the Liar Game

liar game cover

Manga Title: Liar Game
Mangaka: Shinobu Kaitani
Genres: Psychological thriller, mystery, drama
Demographic: Seinen

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading Liar Game; the title immediately made me think of survival games and their ilk, so I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t one. Still, the main protagonist Nao Kanzaki finds herself in a situation not very different from a survival game – one where she needs to win by deception.

Nao Kanzaki

Nao Kanzaki

Two elements got my attention after only reading a little of Liar game: the first was its great pacing, introducing one challenge after the next in the mysterious game, and the second was how perfectly opposite the two main characters are and their unlikely team up that’s fun to read.

Nao finds an invitation in a package that comes in the mail, telling her that by breaking the seal she’s already consented to join the ‘Liar Game’. It immediately makes a mess of her life as she’s not used to dealing with complex situations, not to mention scams. Her personality is what could best be described as honest to a fault, and her honesty (though praiseworthy) ends up getting her in all kinds of trouble.

A real dilemma

A real dilemma

There are some loopholes in the logic behind the rules of the Liar Game, so some suspension of disbelief is necessary. The company behind the Liar Game gives the players 100 million yen each, which is collected in a month. During this time they’re given an opponent, who has the exact same amount of money and who they can attempt to steal from. The money they have can be used for any purpose, but the exact sum needs to be given back – therefore if you haven’t taken your opponent’s money you end up with nothing, or in debt to the Liar Game’s personnel if you’ve had your money stolen.

Folks from the Liar Game office

Folks from the Liar Game office

Initially Nao decides to just sit on the money till the month is over and have nothing more to do with it. Problems arise when it turns out that her opponent doesn’t see things the same way and succeeds in swindling her out of her money cunningly. Eventually it dawns on her that this is what the Liar Game is all about: who can lie artfully enough to get the other player’s money.

Nao's opponent

Nao’s opponent

At her wits end, and after receiving a suspicious suggestion from another individual, she seeks help from a con man who was recently released from prison. His name is Shinichi Akiyama, a master of disguise, and literally the polar opposite of Nao – calm, calculating and brimming with confidence. He’s initially unwilling to help Nao, having just been released from prison, but decides to after being impressed by her sincerity (he asks her to not leave the spot as he makes his getaway and she stays right there for nearly a day).

Shinichi Akiyama

Shinichi Akiyama

The unlikely duo team up to try retrieve Nao’s money by doing something she is not so good at – lying and psychological manipulation.

As I mentioned, the unique character team up and fast pacing of Liar Game give it an attention grabbing edge. Also the challenges that face the pair and the innovative and surprising techniques that both of them come up with to deal with them are an enjoyable read.

 

The players

The players

The art’s straightforward, but delivers a good solid impression; particularly some of the characters’ facial expressions are pretty creepy. At each stage of the Liar Game the plot thickens as different ‘games’ emerge. I felt really involved in the process; trying to guess what would happen next and figure out the puzzles the team is faced with. Liar Game initially seems quite simple, but ends up having complex twists and turns – a decent thriller that will keep you on your toes!

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?

Demi-Human – Ajin

ajin cover (2)

Manga Title: Ajin
Author/ Artist:  Tsunina Miura/ Gamon Sakurai
Genres: Horror, supernatural, mystery, action
Demographic: Seinen
Rating: M (mature)

Ajin (demi-human) is a fitting name for this manga. A running theme in the story is human nature, and in the case of the characters that nature is often less than human. The manga follows Kei Nagai, a high school student who discovers one day after an accident that he is one of the feared ‘Ajin’ – a type of being that can’t die and regenerates wounds shortly after receiving them.

kei regenerate (2)

The dark nature of humanity soon shows itself to Kei as he is immediately hunted down for a large reward that has been placed on the head of any Ajin captured. Fortunately, he finds some compassion in his childhood friend Kai who immediately comes to his aid, and who doesn’t see him differently, despite his regenerative abilities.

kei and kai

Kai and Kei

Kei struggles to escape his would be captors, whilst coming to grips with his dilemma and figuring out what his new found powers are. He slowly begins to discover that Ajin aren’t only immortal, they also possess a unique vocal ability that paralyzes others, as well as a powerful kind of puppet called a ‘Black Ghost’ that they can manipulate mentally for attack and presumably other purposes (all that’s seen in volume one are its attack abilities though).

In volume 1 a few characters are introduced and it’s hard to distinguish between the good and bad guys. That’s to be expected though, the overall feel of the manga is pretty dark, and even Kei reveals some of his twisted intentions later on. Apart from having ordinary reward craving civilians on his tail, there’s the police and a mysterious duo from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (aka. Ajin hunters) who are also pursuing him.

Tosaki and Izumi

Tosaki and Izumi

They are Tozaki-san and Shimura Izumi. Tozaki is cold, methodical and has love for mints that he pushes on others. Izumi is his quiet sidekick who just screams that she’s holding a secret. They’re knowledgeable about the Ajin, especially their powers and weaknesses, the latter being very limited.

If things weren’t bad enough for Kei, another group is also searching for him – this time a group of fellow Ajin. Headed by a key figure among this secret sect, they seek to bring Kei to them for unknown purposes. Whatever it is though, their methods aren’t subtle.

Apart from the main plot involving Kei, there are flashbacks to another Ajin’s past – Tanaka – and his torture at the hands of his human detainers. In addition, later in the volume another female Ajin reveals herself in the most unexpected place.

boss and tanaka (2)

Tanaka in Captivity

The storytelling in Ajin is compelling to read; the time -skips that occur are well placed and give you enough tidbits of information to keep you hungry for more. This among other reasons made it a real page-turner for me.

Another enjoyable aspect is the overall brooding feel of the manga. This atmosphere grows with Kei’s gradual descent into accepting his predicament, physically and mentally. The dark past surrounding the Ajin is gradually revealed, including the persecutors who’ve tried to capture them and use them for experimentation and as weapons.

The art is fitting for the mood too, with dark and gory sketches and occasional escapes into wild abandonment by the artist.

abandonment (2)A particularly creepy feature in the artwork is the design of the Black Ghosts – ghoulish, mummy type creatures. They’re without a doubt the most sinister apparition I’ve seen appear in a manga recently.

Black Ghosts

Black Ghosts

Ajin is a title worth keeping an eye on (I’m thinking of anime adaptions in the near future) and is a tense, inwardly chafing journey into the realm of the demi-humans, and simultaneously into the dark recesses of the psyche.

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?