Creator: Fuyumi Soryo
Publisher: TokyoPop
Age Rating: All Ages
Genre: Action
RRP: $9.99
Mars: Horse With No Name
Reviewed by Del Keyes

I’ve always had a weak spot toward Fuyumi Soryo’s brilliant romantic manga series, “MARS.” I love the characters, the story, and the tension that lies within the situations; it’s the Japanese comic equivalent of “The O.C.”, without a David Gallagher figure and his fuzzy eyebrows. However, “MARS: Horse With No Name” neither follows the original story, nor is it brilliant. The one-shot manga is really a short series of stories that neither really live up to the title’s pedigree. Even MARS fans might find that there isn’t much in this book to stand up for itself.

The first of the three short stories is named after the same title as this book, which is also the title of the song by 70s band America as the book mentioned. Romance is not the theme of this MARS-prequel story, as it plots the developing friendship between Tatsuya and Rei. It was a year before the original began, and this time, the main character is Tatsuya who goes to high school on his first day all somber and without direction. When a new student named Rei, all blonde and bad-ass, appears in class and starts showing off while swooning over the ladies like he’s Luke Perry, Tatsuya is not letting this slide. The jealousy and rage led to Tat’s hateful fit against Rei, but later in typical character developing fashion, Rei’s inner past and ferocity has Tatsuya think differently of him.

This was a disappointing story in the way that it doesn’t feel like a “MARS” story, even though the chance to see how Tatsuya and Rei met was interesting. I liked how there were few parts of the story were connected from the original, but in Tatsuya’s perspective, like how Rei and his future girlfriend Kira met. Nonetheless, it was nice to revisit the old characters from their slightly-younger side, although it didn’t kept my attention for long.

“Sleeping Lion” is probably Soryo’s earlier works, as this is one of two stories that didn’t follow the MARS franchise. It’s about a guy named Isamu who would’ve looked like the frontman for Green Day if he had darker hair and uses mascara. He’s a typical bad boy (boy, does Soryo loves bad boys) with nothing to gain or lose, but when a free-spirited girl named Ayame is stalking him, he confronts her in a fearsome manner, but nothing scared her. She continues to follow him, and eventually, he succumbs to her positive whim. Little does he know that as he develops feelings for Ayame, a shocking revelation will changed his life forever.

The story is such a tongue-in-cheek, yet sad romantic affair. There were some depth into the character, Isamu, and by the end of the story, I end up caring for him as he grew up to learn about forgiveness of his tragic memories. The fact that there was a twist in this story also made the revelation so much stronger for him and Ayame, not to mention having a deeper meaning behind the title, “Sleeping Lion.” This is the type of context in the story that got me to love “MARS” in the first place. If anyone wants to spend ten dollars on this book for any reason, it’s “Sleeping Lion.”

What’s not worth anyone’s ten dollars is “A One-Carat Fruit”, which is similar to “Sleeping Lion” in the vein of a romantic “gender-meets-gender-in-uncomfortable-circumstances”, but not as engaging. Another non-MARS story, it deals with a short-haired girl named Nina with an interest in birthstones. Her parents might get a divorce, so her social life is down in the dumps. Her friend dates a guy named Rui, but Rui wasn’t interested in her friend but Nina herself, so she and her friend argue to the point that they got into a catfight. Nina wasn’t interested in Rui, but both began their friendship when they share the same deal of parental divorce, but things become too common when she realize that he and her parents might have an affair with one another. I just couldn’t get into it. The story was conventional, and I didn’t feel any sense of connection between the couple.

Soryo did create some incredible looking characters, and even if the last two stories were old, they still look impressive. Art-wise, there’s nothing unique about the style, and there are manga readers that complain about the ladies’ eyes being too big and creepy-looking, but otherwise, it was solid and she did a great job making certain expressions of the characters feel convincing.

For those who are not familiar with MARS, I don’t think this book is going to help you get into the series. What I just read is a weak, arbitrary anthology with one great story, and the rest being so-so. The fact that there is only three stories in this anthology doesn’t alleviate the problem of it being too limited. Thus, as a stand-alone title, there is little reading value in this manga, but at least the moments here are good enough for it to be read once.

Browse the manga, but don’t buy it.

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