So lately I’ve been ordering a lot of manga. I’m in the mood to discover my next big manga love story. I’ve also not been reading as many webcomics. At least not family-friendly ones. As such, I figured I would switch my webtoon recommendations for manga first impressions until I build up a nice stock of webtoons to recommend once again. That way, maybe you can discover your next big manga love.
I’m a big fan of classic science fiction so the premise of Inside Mari really drew me in. Here are my first impressions.
Why I Picked up Inside Mari
Like I mentioned, it’s the summary that really drew me in on this one. The cover is not bad but a little boring. I think I might have been more intrigued by the title if it wasn’t such a common North American standard. Now that I think of it, it is rather unusual for a manga title.
I only found out after reading it that it’s written by Shuzo Oshimi who is also behind Flowers of Evil and Happiness.
“Inside Mariis currently the standard for the body-swap genre.” —Makoto Shinkai, Director ofYour Name
College dropout Isao Komori wakes up one morning to find himself in the body of a high school girl, Mari Yoshizaki. How did this happen? Where is his body? And who exactly is this girl and what of the soul who previously inhabited the body he is possessing?
My First Impression
I almost immediately got sucked into it and wanted to know what happens next and just what’s going on in general. It really only takes the first few chapters to clearly lay out all the main conflict and stakes so it’s very easy to get involved with the story right from the start.
I actually had trouble putting it down, and I ended up finishing it despite wanting to go to bed.
What I liked
The first volume is full of mystery and intrigue. It keeps you guessing and the question of what exactly happened to Mari is compelling. It’s been a while since I was this invested in the outcome of a narrative so early on.
Despite numerous hints of it, the manga didn’t use the excuse of a sex-starved 21-year-old man in a teenage girl’s body as an excuse for gratuitous fanservice. In fact, it was almost unbelievably respectful of Mari and her body. Isao’s inner monologue is a bit too on the nose with it but it was still a welcome surprise. It really allowed the first volume to concentrate on building up the intrigue and developing the characters. These are solid foundations that are absolutely necessary for this type of story.
Mini-spoiler for volume 1. In the middle of the volume, Isao inside Mari goes to find his own body assuming they had swapped and that Mari was now inside him. Except that when he does, he discovers it’s really not the case. The Isao body still seems to have Isao in it. This is a fantastic twist of what is apparently the body-swap genre (I didn’t know it had a genre to itself). It throws a wrench in all the usual expectations readers have and adds a whole new fascinating and terrifying set of questions.
Instead of the usual what happened and how do they switch back story, the first and most pressing issue is where is Mari now. It’s heartbreaking to think about and it fills Isao with unexplained guilt but it also adds this entire sense of urgency to the story. We have to find Mari before we can even start to think about the rest. It’s a good twist, I like it!
I noticed a weird preachiness in the first volume. At one point when Isao first goes out in public in Mari’s body, there’s a very heavy-handed sequence of guys checking her out and Isao musing about how girls notice when they are being leered at and he should be more conscious of it. It’s a sort of really obvious statement presented as a deep thought that pops up now and again throughout the volume. That could just be there to show how shallow and immature Isao is but that doesn’t really mesh with the rest of his character in volume 1, so it could also be for the benefit of the audience and I found it a little grating. Yes, women are people…
Also, throughout volume 1, Mari is actually Isao, so she is meant to act and think like a 21-year-old man. However, the actual girl characters in the volume are either the really intense bespectacled Yori who seems to have some emotional/mental issues and Mari’s friends who I think are supposed to be normal girls but are all written as vapid and hollow. They have about 3 conversations throughout the volume and all of them are about shopping. It’s tough to tell just from volume 1 if this is a commentary of how superficial Japanese culture is or if the author isn’t completely comfortable writing teenage girls. There’s a little sketch from the author at the end that makes me think it’s the latter.
This last drawback is a cheat. It’s not something I noticed exactly. When I was looking for images for this post I saw a whole bunch from future volumes and they sort of gave me pause. I’m not a big fan of either Flowers of Evil or Happiness and I’m afraid inside Mari may go the same way despite the strong start. There’s a tendency towards depression and discomfort that is really difficult to do well and I don’t have the patience for when it’s done badly.
Inside Mari isn’t a perfect manga. Even in volume 1 there are some cracks and I have reservations about the rest. But it’s one heck of an intriguing premise and so far Isao (who is really the only character of note in the first volume) is a pretty good lead. He’s easy to relate to and seems properly fleshed out. I wouldn’t mind finding out more of this guy’s story.
What I’m saying is despite and fears that I may have, I am going to buy another volume or 2 of Inside Mari and see where it goes. If you are a fan of Shuzo Oshimi’s works, I would say this is probably the best first volume of his I have read. It’s pretty great.