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.

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.



Gazing into the Abyss – Aku no Hana

aku no hana

“The things we loathed become the things we love.” – Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs Du Mal

Manga Title: Aku no Hana (The Flowers of Evil)
Mangaka: Shuzo Oshimi
Genres: Psychological thriller, drama, bildungsroman
Demographic: Shounen

Living in a small town where all the metal seems to be rusting and nothing much ever happens, the teenager Takao Kasuga trudges to  school each day. Kasuga considers himself different from others; being a reader of less known books (to his classmates anyway) such as Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs Du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) and not taking much interest in his friends’ mundane activities, he’s in a delusional world of his own – one that is crushed by just one decision.

aku no hana

Sawa Nakamura and Takao Kasuga

Forgetting his copy of  The Flowers of Evil in his desk, Kasuga returns to an empty classroom to get it and spots a bag of worn gym clothes that have been left behind. The bag belongs to Kasuga’s crush, Nanako Saeki, and against his own better judgment he grabs them, pulling them out. Hearing a sound behind him, he quickly conceals the fact that he is holding them and makes a getaway, still hanging onto the gym clothes.

aku no hana

I shouldn’t be doing this

Unknown to him, he was seen with the gym bag by Sawa Nakamura, a girl who sits directly behind him in class. At the start of the volume Nakamura swears at her teacher when he questions her about her low grades, and she’s considered to be strange by her classmates, who avoid her. Later that day she comes across Kasuga when he’s riding his bike and tells him she saw him take the clothes. Already guilt-stricken after running off with a girl’s sportswear, Kasuga falls into a panic at hearing this. Nakamura threatens that if he doesn’t take her on a ride over a nearby hill she’ll rat him out. Kasuga runs away, his mind sinking further into despair.

aku no hana

Falling into despair

The following day the teacher announces that Saeki’s clothes have gone missing, which sparks off instant rumors of a pervert lurking around the school- possibly one of their own classmates. To top it off, Nakamura insists this time that Kasuga form a ‘contract’ with her in return for her silence. They start meeting daily and Nakamura slowly begins to reveal her less than wholesome motivations for threatening Kasuga.

She’s in no way trying to pull off a prank; Nakamura expresses that she feels a deep sadness within her and wants to release it on the world. Calling herself a deviant, she states that she wants to ‘peel Kasuga’s skin off’ and reveal the deviant lurking within him too.

A while after Kasuga comes across Saeki in the hall, and out of the blue he asks her out on a date, which she accepts.

aku no hana

A date with Saeki

Nakamura overhears and decides to use this as an opportunity for Kasuga to reveal his inner self. Caught between the fear of being told on with its subsequent shame, and the consequences of following Nakamura’s directions, Kasuga reluctantly adheres to her wishes. And so the three main characters find themselves entangled in a triangle that involves their deepest inhibitions, fears and desires, whilst all about them – the flowers of evil are blossoming.

aku no hanaPencil Sketch:
Most of the first half of Aku no Hana focuses on the three characters introduced above. Kasuga seems idealistic at first, being somewhat more knowledgeable than his peers; he looks down on them and believes no one in the backwater town he lives could ever understand him. We later find that he’s quite weak-willed, filled with angst and easily coerced by the domineering and often cruel Nakamura.

Nakamura is forceful and controlling, literally pushing Kasuga into difficult situations. She confides in him that she hopes he is a true deviant who will ‘set the town on fire’. Though considering herself to be a deviant, instead of putting her thoughts into action, she by extension wants Kasuga to do it. She finds pleasure in seeing Kasuga doing perverted things, giving her a feeling that there is someone else in the world like her.

She presents herself as being the opposite of Kasuga – who mainly has delusions of grandeur from reading – and is only interested in action, in the release that can be found in expressing her inner turmoil outwardly.

At first it seems that Saeki is the victim of Nakamura and Kasuga’s perverted intentions (though Kasuga is mostly being manipulated a little too easily by Nakamura). Herself a beautiful honors student, talented and showing great promise, it’s obvious that’s she’s being unwillingly groomed by her parents into a role she doesn’t truly want. Her own frustration with this is subtle at first, however it’s revealed more fully as the plot develops.

Aku no Hana is a brooding tale about the angst of not just growing up, but of existence itself. Kasuga, Nakamura and Saeki all represent relevant examples of individuals whose bottled-up feelings finally come to the surface, and what happens as a result. The manga isn’t philosophical about these issues either; no in-depth theories are presented to explain the characters’ actions – Aku no Hana merely chronicles them powerfully, and the rest is left up to the reader.

I initially watched Aku no Hana when it was released as a 13 episode anime series and started reading the manga afterwards. Whilst attaining an even darker feel than the manga it’s pretty true to the source material. The anime was directed by Hiroshi Nagahama (director of both seasons of Mushishi) and uses rotoscoping techniques that give it a unique feel.

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