MAR Vol. 1
There are plenty of series out there featuring a jump from the "real world" to some kind of fantasy realm. Anything can be the cause; from a nasty storm to an enchanted book to a looking-glass, there are almost as many ways to get pulled into a parallel universe as there are stories that feature this plot device.
Most of the tales follow a predicable pattern. First, there's the supernatural event that opens the doorway between the two universes. Whether it's a spell-sourced summons or an earthquake, it tends to be the event that draws in readers to the story, snagging their attention with the fantastic phenomenon.
Then there’s the shock and surprise that the transported protagonists display as they realize that, to paraphrase one of the most famous cross-world fantasy stories of them all, they're not in Kansas anymore. Strange beasts, carnivorous flora, and unintelligible dialects methodically knock down the walls of doubt in the minds of the main characters that they're no longer in the world that they know.
Finally, the world hoppers learn that they have strange powers, that they somehow are connected to the fate of this newfound world, and that they must satisfy some mystical condition in order to return home. There are, of course, variations on the theme, but there’s usually at least one element of the details listed above apparent in a given fantasy of this sort.
Every once in a while, a series comes along that allows its characters to be aware that the events that they are experiencing is like an awful lot of stories, comics and games that have come before them. Series such as CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth and Yuu Watase’s Fushigi Yugi are good examples of this situation. Oftentimes, this enables the author to include a little bit of wry, self-aware humor in what would otherwise be a frightening development in the lives of those affected by the jump from their home world to elsewhere.
Yet it’s not too often that the main character in a story will be conscious of the fact that the transportation to another world is just like what he or she has read in a book or played in a video game. It’s even more unusual for such a character to willingly embrace the new world as a sort of fantastic playground, but then, Ginta Toramizu, the hero in MÄR , is not a typical fourteen year old.
The title of the series is an acronym for Märchen Awakens Romance. If you’re not familiar with German, then it would probably help to know that märchen is the German equivalent of 'fairytale.'
As mentioned above, Ginta couldn’t be more excited about leaving the regular world, a place in which he has poor eyesight, is physically weak and short of stature, and generally, he isn’t exactly the most popular kid in class. His connection to the land of Märchen has been with him throughout most of his life. He dreamt about the realm every night when he was younger, but as the story begins in the first volume, the images of the alternate reality have been coming more frequently -- whether or not he is awake.
Once he actually arrives in the new world (of his own will), he discovers that his eyesight is perfect, his strength is superhuman, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that he can’t do. The story truly starts to get interesting as he begins to realize that the real world might contain some things (in particular, his mom and friends at school) that are worth returning to. It also picks up a bit when he discovers a strange, sentient and powerful weapon. Not only is Babbo (the unassuming name of said weapon) exceedingly and mysteriously powerful, Babbo also happens to be one of the most sought-out treasures in the land, inspiring hoards of would-be plunderers to hunt down Ginta and take his newfound friend away from him.
The book has a lighthearted and action-packed cadence, reminiscent of other young boys’ series such as One Piece and Naruto. It’s often humorous, but there’s a healthy dose of drama every now and again. Much of the book’s charm comes from the excitedly optimistic attitude of Ginta himself. He reminds me of Goku in the original Dragonball series in the best possible way.
The artwork is cartoonish, but it actually helps Anzai to pencil in more personality into his world than what would normally be appropriate in a more realistic series. Character designs are pleasantly exaggerated (typically for comedic effect), considering the tone and themes of the manga.
Sound effects have been replaced with English translations, but this book isn’t exactly for the art purists out there, as quirky as its visuals may be. It boasts a low price point (only USD$7.99), with a standard page count and dimensions. The translation reads well, although the dialogue tends to be a little simple. This is more likely because this is a book for younger readers, as opposed to being an editorial decision to dumb down the text.
Ultimately, this may be something that we’ve seen before, but it’s written well and presents a slightly new spin on a very old theme. MÄR won’t go over too well with the crotchety jaded manga buyers out there (you know who you are!), but it’s a great series for younger kids or mature readers with a strong aversion to growing up.