Many Yuri fans are already familiar with Maka-Maka, the two-volume full-color manga by Kishi Torajirou. (Here are my reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2 for thems as are interested.) The synopsis of Mars no Kiss (マルスのキス), Kishi’s newest manga, didn’t fill me with glee; it’s basically a “Story A” type story – that is, girl falls for girl, nothing happens. But, Mars no Kiss is well constructed, nicely drawn and surprisingly sweet, so the execution more than makes up for the fact that the plot is the same old thing all over again. The fact that the obi advertises this as a “Girl’s Love Comic” was kind of interesting, but what really pleased me was that synopsis on the obi described this as a first “real” love story.
Yukari is a “bad girl.” She rebels against her controlling mother by dyeing her hair, polishing her nails and having an older boyfriend, with whom she has an intimate relationship. In fact, as she notes, that’s kind of all they have right now. He never takes her anywhere; they just go to a karaoke box, sing a bit, and have sex.
Miki is a “good girl.” She’s tall, and has classic Japanese beauty. She’s quiet and bookish and smart. And a bit aloof.
The two are forced to share a double desk at the beginning of the term which annoys Yukari no end. Like most bad girls, her initial reaction is disdain and derision for the good girl’s behavior. But, one day, after school, she sees Miki in the Art Room, gently kissing a statue of Mars and her heart starts to race. When someone comes up from behind, both Miki and Yukari know that they’ve been seen, and everything changes between them.
Yukari and Miki talk in the library, and Yukari promises to never tell anyone what she saw – and she means it. She’s more worried about her own reaction – why did her heart start to pound at the sight? Miki admits that her reason for doing it was to see if her glasses would get in the way when she kissed someone. Yukari thinks this is hysterical. ^_^
A friendship quickly develops between the two. Miki also has controlling parents – being bookish is her way of escaping. The two start to walk home together, and meet in the library for heart to heart talks. More and more, Miki is in Yukari’s mind…even when she’s with her boyfriend.
When Miki excitedly tells Yukari that she’s got herself a boyfriend, Yukari has to stop herself from being unkind. The boy is a nerdy-looking kid Miki knew in middle school, so Yukari unkindly jokes that if they both are wearing glasses when they kiss, the glasses might get tangled up. She leaves Miki, not wanting to be spiteful, but totally unhappy about her friend’s good fortune. Eventually, she realizes that her feelings for Miki are well past that of “friend” and she recognizes that she’s jealous, plain and simple. In a moment of shock she realizes that what’s she’s feeling, is love.
Here’s what makes this story work. In most cases, we’d expect that the bad girl would tease the good girl at this point, trying to seduce her – or worse, toying with her. Instead, Yukari finds that her feelings for, and friendship with, Miki start to rekindle her own sense of youthful innocence. She cuts her nails, takes off the polish, dumps her boyfriend and softens the hard, cynical edge of her personality. Even Yukari’s expression changes, as she looks on Miki with a whole new perspective.
One day, Yukari brings Miki to the library again, where they talk about Miki’s kiss with Mars. Yukari reminds Miki of their earlier conversation about glasses getting tangled. She shyly pulls out a pair of glasses that she bought, she says, the day before, special for this purpose. She offers to kiss Miki to see if it’s really a problem. The next few panels are especially great, as we see Yukari’s view of Miki through the frames of the glasses, which sit unevenly on her face.
They kiss. The glasses don’t get tangled. Accidentally, Yukari confesses that she likes Miki. Miki’s reaction is to reply that she likes Yukari too, but it’s clearly a different use of “like.” As she removes the glasses from her face, Yukari confesses to herself that she loves Miki.
The story ends there, with the two of them moving to new desk partners the next semester. But they see each other in class and wave. On the last page, Yukari thinks that this love will always be her precious memory. It has a decidedly sweet, rather than bitter, flavor and it leaves one with a good feeling.
In a lot of ways, this story reminded me of the main plot of Hen. It has the same set up – girl in relationship with a guy falls for another girl. But where Hen played everything for high over-the-top-ness, Mars no Kiss is a more realistic look at a similar situation. The lack of seductive pervyness and/or emotional manipulation that we’ve come to expect from “girl loves girl” stories is very refreshing.
The splash art between the chapters is also quite sweet, as it tells a shortened version of the story. In the first chapter, Yukari and Miki sit, openly sulking, next to one another, not looking at one another. By the end, they walk hand in hand.
For fans who want a little more, the novelization of this story appears in the short story anthology Confession, along with, presumably, other stories of love confessions. ^_^
Art – 8 (particularly those last few pages)
Characters – 7
Story – 7
Yuri – 4
Series – 4
Overall – 8
Yukari likes Miki. The End.