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Great Balls of Fire

Now I’m a historian so I like to believe that everything has a precedent, that things follow an order and that new trends evolve from older trends. So while some people out there scratch their heads over the surge of yaoi popularity and those insane and rapidness Fujoshi with their Tiger and Bunny Mouse-pads I just remember that manservice has been a part of the fandom for a long time now and shake my head at this all. How did we get all these Naruto fans (and I’m not talking about the ones who read for the battles) well I suppose it all started at the beginning with the earliest manga made by some of the most famous mangakas out there. And today we’ll look at the first volume of one of these manga, yes sir this particular manga had all’ em ladies itching with excitement, it’s Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s Mars.

If you don’t know who Mitsuteru Yokoyama is I am both disappointed with you yet totally understand. Yokoyama was one of the earliest superstars of manga, his influence can still be seen today in the works of other mangaka as well as the use of some tropes that he help to sculpt all the way back in the 50’s and continued to do so throughout his career. He was never quite as well known in the west but in Japan he would stand alongside the Osamu Tezuka as one of the forefathers of manga. His most well known works in the west would have to be his giant robot tales such as Gigantor (Tetsujin 28-go) and you guessed it Giant Robo. Yokoyama also worked on other classic literature based manga as well such as his famous Three Kingdoms retelling Sangokushi and his Outlaws in the Marsh retelling Suiko-den. But it doesn’t stop there, Yokoyama just didn’t work on boy’s stuff he also dabbled with the shojo side of things and created Sally the Witch (Mahō tsukai Sari) which is often viewed as one of the first magical girl series. Suffice to say Yokoyama was a talented man with many different venues of work. But at his core Yokoyama was a Sci-Fi fan and that’s what I love about his works.

With all the background information out of the way let’s get back on topic and talk about the manga at hand. Mars is a very unique treat that I stumbled on lately and have not regret reading. If I had to compare the first volume of Mars to anything then without a second thought I would compare it to The Day the Earth Stood Still. Oh but the original 1951 movie directed by Robert Wise not the 2008 remake, my stuck-up hipster senses tells me to just ignore that flick’s existence.

A-hem Where was I; oh yes talking about Mars and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Well both seem eerily similar yet different; The Day the Earth Stood still is about an alien visitor Klaatu and his robot pal Gort who come to Earth to warn humans to stop all this violence. In Mars we learn that the Earth was visited by six aliens a long time ago in the ancient past. These six, who are later dubbed as The New York Six are distrusted by the constant violent acts that the humans display and calculate that in only a few millennia that humans will be able to achieve space travel and take their violence all across the vacuums of space. They put in motion a plan to stop all this that cumulates in their greatest inventions: Mars, the giant robots Titan and Gaia, and the Six Gods whom when awaken will judge the Earth and destroy it.

The six’s plan backfires as Mars awakens prematurely in modern day or at least what was modern day back when this manga was first printed in the 70’s, now I suppose it’s all pretty retro though. Anyways Mars awakens prematurely on the mysterious island of Akinoshima that has only appeared a mere three months before the story proper due to volcanic activity. Mars is spotted on this island by a news helicopter and brought to the Japanese mainland where it is revealed that Mars cannot remember anything, he doesn’t know who or what he is nor does he remember his mission, in fact at first he can’t even remember how to talk! One of the members of six spends the majority of the first volume showing Mars his super human strengths and trying to convince him that humankind is evil. At first Mars is confused and wishes to study the human race more before he issues final judgment upon them. The six issue him a ten day period to do just that.

During these ten days Mars reads through as many history books as he possibly can; finding endless amounts of war and the cruelty. This point is very potent in the story as Yokoyama was a boy who lived through World War II and he holds no punches when it comes to showing this cruelty, even directly talking about and drawing pictures of the holocaust of the Jewish people and the Japanese massacre of the Chinese people. It is very chilling to see this depicted and can make even the reader feel distraught just like Mars is.

But Yokoyama isn’t trying to paint a gloom and doom picture and soon Mars is reminded something that personally I find very important, although humans have committed such cruel and unforgivable acts in the past we have went out of our way to record all of it and even criticize it so that future generations will not make the same mistakes. This proves that there is still hope for humanity to Mars and he decides who is he to judge them and thus after the ten day period does not answer the six. The first volume ends with the six enraged by Mars’ silence begins their plot to kill him, by doing so they will initiate a failsafe that that will cause the end of days whether or not Mars wants it.

The first volume of Mars pretty much serves as an origin story. While origins stories may be a common thing in western comics you really don’t see it all too often in manga which makes this volume actually feel pretty refreshing. Its purpose is to introduce us to our main character and give us the reason why he is fighting which Yokoyama does quite well. The action takes a back seat as we watch the character interaction unfold and get the necessary modi operandi out of the way. That said while Mars does not actively fight we do see quite a battle break out in the background of this volume as the giant machine Titian awakens and stumbles off towards the coast of Japan while Mars is meeting with one of the six.

Naturally the Japanese defense force and United States military has a heyday and an all out battle between this giant robot and the military forces escalates. Mars tries to interfere and orders Titan to back down and go back from whence it came, to everyone’s amazement it does. But this does not last long as the humans are fearful of this giant and soon the military begins to give chase and it all ends with an atomic missile being fired at Titan out in the middle of the sea. The human’s victory was short lived though as this was actually part of the six’s plan. Titan was merely a surveyor and when destroyed awakens Gaia whom then destroys the world at the behest of Mars. Of course this all backfires as Mars cannot bring himself to judge the humans. But the six do not give up as there is the failsafe that causes Gaia to destroy Earth if Mars is killed. Once more when Titan was destroyed the Six Gods were also awakened who will try to destroy the World. Future chapters outside of the first volume become battles between these Six Gods and Mars.

The art in Mars is pretty retro with more cartoonish character designs and I swear I can never tell what Yokoyama is going for with Mars’ hair, it looks different each time I see it. Outside the characters the paneling is pretty simplistic and the backgrounds aren’t anything that will blow you away. Yokoyama is not a bad artist by any means though but like most of the manga from this time it’s pretty much ether you hate it or you love it and I’m on the love it side of the fence. But art aside the story is pretty unique, it may not be all too original but really I dare you to list me five other manga that have aliens trying to pass final judgment on man because they’re afraid of our violent tendencies off the top of your head. Yokoyama handles the pacing well and choose to focus on character development over battles which pay off quite nicely. It makes the first volume of Mars feel much more compelling as the reader is actively thinking and trying to unravel the mystery behind Mars and the six.

Mars unlike many of Yokyama’s other series didn’t transition into an animated medium directly until a very long time after the manga was finished. The manga ended in 1977 but it wasn’t until June of 1994 that Soft Garage distributed a two episode OVA based on the manga. Besides that OVA there was no Mars releases until almost a decade later in the year 2002 when we got the television series Mars: The Terminator (Shinseikiden Mars) that aired on AT-X. Now why did Mars royally get shafted like this while other Yokoyama manga were able to enjoy the limelight of the anime world? It’s actually simple instead of straight up adapting the Mars manga the animation studio TMS decided to instead use Yokoyama’s manga as a base for their own series Six God Combination God Mars (Rokushin Gattai God Mars). That’s right that God Mars mecha you SRW fans love is actually a loose (very much so) take on the Mars manga I have been discussing thus far, life is funny like that.

God Mars would serve to be a pretty popular series and thus made a more accurate rendition of the manga kind of moot. And I’m sure some of you are scratching your heads and are saying “But I never even heard of this ‘God Mars’ that you speak of” well let me tell you buster for its time God Mars was pretty successful. If you don’t believe me then go do some digging in some databanks, you’ll see that God Mars ended up getting 64 episodes, an OVA, and a movie. So yes God Mars got around, it was even advertised for in a little blip from the tankōbon of the Mars manga itself. I find this a revelation as fitting a place as any to end the review, so in closing I hope you all remember that everything happens in a certain order and that even back in the youth of manga we had sexy young men in questionable poses. But more importantly then my dumb joke I made in the opening paragraph I hope that I was able to at least shine some light on a very influential but low key mangaka and got at least someone interested in reading Mars.

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About ZeroDestinyone of us since 1:44 AM on 12.27.2011

I've been a gamer ever since I was a kid and I still suck at it. Outta all the gaming franchises Dragon Quest is my favorite. I'm quite a big Dragon Quest fan, to be honest. I used to watch anime growing up without ever really knowing it was anime, it was just all cartoons to me back then. As I got older I stopped watching TV for the most part and was "too old" to watch cartoons anyways but there were a few exceptions like Gundam and Rurouni Kenshin. Somehow I missed an episode of one of the few shows I still watched and found out you could watch anime on the internet and got back into anime, becoming a full time fan of it in fact. This happened probably around five or six years ago, have been addicted to it ever since and I've been playing catch-up ever since too. I have always been a big fan of anything robotic and Yoshiyuki Tomino is my all time favorite writer/director for anime and I always look forward to his works. Over the years I realized my love for the the older shows, which I mostly watch now but I still try to keep up with each new season.