Reading manga is an interesting journey.
I don’t know what it is, but every interesting manga I hear about tends to be one that’s psychologically, thematically, and ethically…weird, to say the least. I’ve actually made a list of such strange stories in manga, for the simple reason that they’re so, so common. And, with Boku Wa Mari No Naka, or “Inside Mari,”I can add yet another manga to that list.
1. Story: (8.6/10) – Great
Isao Komori considers himself a pretty worthless human being. Having dropped out of college, lacking a job, all he does every night is jerk off, play video games, buy porn magazines…you get the picture. The one light in his life is a girl he saw at the convenience store–a beautiful, young high school girl, who appears to him, to be perfection. But then, one morning, he finds herself in her body–in Mari Yoshizaki’s body– thrust headlong into a life that isn’t his.
Trying to find a way back to his body proves to be rather complicated, when he discovers that Mari’s mind did not switch with his own–it has simply disappeared. His body is acting with its own–his own– personality, and Komori is left with Mari’s “friend”, Yori, to wonder about his fate, stuck in this girl’s body. What will he do? Who is he? And where is Mari?
The story of “Inside Mari” is undoubtedly its strongest point. With a clear focus on finding where Mari’s personality went, the story remains cohesive, but also provides room for the presentation of its main thematic conflict–the idea of self-identity.
It knows what it is doing, in how it presents the events of the story. By focusing on the personal struggles of Isao Komori, an odd sort of dysfunctional relationship is built, between Komori’s self-perception as worthless, and his perception of Mari as beautiful. The relationship is explored heavily, presented in a way that is…discomforting, to say the least.
Inside Mari takes a much closer look at the stereotypical “Freaky Friday” plot that many stories have used for comedic or romantic purposes. Instead of this, it realizes the far more psychologically, morally ambiguous ways in which a body swap would affect someone, and the people around them. From losing track of one’s own identity, to treating your own sexual pleasure as theirs, Inside Mari is very, very blunt about the potential ramifications of exchanging bodies, and it is downright uncomfortable to watch unfold.
But it was done SO well, I can’t really complain. And considering the ending, which makes so, so, SO much sense, any complaint I would have with the story would simply be invalid.
Because man–once you get to the ending, EVERYTHING changes. And it’s great.
2. Characters: (7.8/10) – Good
Inside Mari’s characters, honestly, are rather hard for me to judge objectively.
The reason, is that they very clearly exist for very specific purposes: to tell a story. This wouldn’t be so odd to me, if it weren’t for the fact that two of our three main characters are so obviously broken.
Both Yori and Komori are rather broken individuals, stuck in rather unique circumstances, and the story doesn’t hold back from describing them as such. Komori is the perverted, socially reclusive loser, while Yori is described as dependent, depressed, and filled with hate. These protagonists are not good people, and, as the story goes on, it shows that they’re not trying to be good people–they’re just trying to get by, driven by their obsession with this incorruptible light, known as Mari.
It’s strange. Normally, in any story, you are presented with rather definitive moments that very clearly give you an idea of how you should think about its characters. You know the protagonist is the determined protagonist, you know the anti-hero is the edgy, dark horse sort of character. But Inside Mari seems to pride itself on its ambiguity, spoon feeding you information bit by bit, piece by piece, as the reader is left to construct their own perception of the characters.
The way I’d describe it is this: in any other story, the characters are presented as good, bad, or somewhere in between. The story itself lets you know about the moral consideration of the characters. But in this one, the conflicts of identity, self-loathing, respect for Mari’s body, and flawed outlooks on the world are so intrinsically entangled, that it’s hard to tell whether or not the protagonists are actually good.
So, overall, the way in which Inside Mari depicts its characters is absolutely unique, but not in a bad way. Because of how it revolves around the theme of self-identity, the presentation of its characters, and the actions they take, are treated as very morally ambiguous, allowing for the reader to come to their own conclusions about them, as a good or bad person.
It’s…interesting, to say the least. And looking back on it, I think I liked how the characters turned out.
3. Art/Style: (7.3/10) – Good
Inside Mari’s artistic, technical expression was pretty good honestly–but something felt missing.
The art style in a manga is very important, because through the pen strokes, the artistic expression, we are presented a whole world. There are no colors, no sounds, no voice acting, and no extra material to provide definition to the world. As such, having an art style, that to some extent, provides depth, a sense of action, perspective, or feeling, is indispensable for a truly great manga.
Sadly, Inside Mari doesn’t quite accomplish that. Or rather, I feel like it should, but for some reason, it just…feels a bit bland.
Inside Mari’s art style is quite good at some points, honestly. All the details are there. Their expressions are well done, and that’s a huge plus, because some manga certainly can’t do that. However, no single panel in the series explicitly stands out as anything more than…static. Scenes are given meaning by their implications on the story and characters, rather than being helped along by the art style, which just seems bland at moments–lacking dynamic.
That said, the story of Inside Mari is, in and of itself, one that is full of darkness. It doesn’t explicitly need a varied artistic style, because the tone of the story is not one that requires it. Because of this, the rather dark, monotone style of the manga is one that works, especially considering the story it is trying to tell.
Of course, I’m not an artistic master myself. Perhaps the dark, static, more character-focused art style was an absolute intention by the author, but for some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to think of it as deliberate and intentional. It did some things right, namely facial expressions, but I can’t help but think that the story would have been just a bit better, if the art did something just a bit more ambitious.
4. Personal Enjoyment: (7.7/10) – Good
As I was reading through the manga, there was a unique feeling that I don’t recall ever experiencing with any other story. It was a sense of being uncomfortable, of feeling…in one sense, morally repulsed, but also inexplicably needing to know how it would all end. In questioning the morals surrounding personal identity, the manga provided, a great, uniquely intimate look into the broken minds of a pathetic girl, and a pathetic guy.
It was simple, it was strange, and it ended up being intensely memorable, as one of my most unique experiences with any manga yet.
Overall, Boku wa Mari no Naka captured my interest, much for the same reason a good mystery novel does. It provided an intriguing mystery, and drip-fed me information that kept me interested, all the way until the end. And of course, the ending was one that I think I’ll be thinking about for a while, because man, it changed EVERYTHING.
Final Rating: (7.85/10) – Good
- You can enjoy a rather dark, psychological, character-driven story.
- You’re comfortable with sexual content (because there’s a decent amount here).
- You enjoy some mystery in your stories.