Inside Mari (Vol.1-5)

Today is my first dive into the work of Shuzo Oshimi. For those out of the know, this is the man responsible for The Flowers of Evil, a manga that got a show that thoroughly divided the anime watching community through its terribly awful first episode rotoscope, which made every character look like runny poop (it did get better, though). Said series was also supposed to be a brilliant, dark examination of modern youth and their poor handling of sexuality and relationships, but you wouldn't know it from all the screaming about the production. Thankfully, Inside Mari doesn't have an anime (yet), so I can just judge this manga on its proper merits and not have to worry about any sort of adaptation. It's a great look into exactly how Shuzo Oshimi functions as a storyteller, though it manages to remind me more of the work of Hideo Yamamoto, most notably his incredibly bizarre Homunculus.

The series follows a loser hikikomori named Isao Komori, a disgusting young man who spends his days doing nothing but playing videogames and masturbating. He's far too frightened to go to his university classes, and far too frustrated with the hole he's made for himself to even be satisfied, though he does have one light in his life. A girl he sees as an angel appears every night at a local quick store at the same time, on the dot, and Isao is always there to watch her. One night while following her, the girl glances back, he blanks out, and he wakes up in the girl's room. Somehow, he has become her and discovers her name is Mari. He decides to protect Mari's life while he tries to find a way back to his body, but things aren't so simple. He still somehow exists as normal, just without memories of Mari, while another stalker named Yori ends up complicating the situation with her own obsession and ideas.

Inside Mari is a series mainly about identity, much like the previously mentioned Homunculus. That series was a Freudian psychological drama about a man who could see the truth of people through bizarre forms that represented some hidden aspect about themselves, learning more about himself through what he observed from others. Inside Mari deals with the same ideas of trying to understand the self through others, but by throwing the main character into a new gender and life completely different from their own, and by having them directly confront and interact with themselves.

Oshimi seems to have a knack for creating complex characters that constantly balance between likable and horrid. Isao is a filthy person with a Madonna/Whore complex, Yori has an incredibly short temper and obsesses to the point of stopping her own personal growth, and Mari is a much more disturbed person that it initially appears. Despite this, none of them ever manage to cross the line into truly unlikable. Their worries and faults are all very human and relatable in some way, at least to me. I'm a little disturbed by how much of myself I see in Isao at times, in particular. Their fears, complexes, and struggles are all perfectly understandable, even if they all deal with their problems poorly. The only time Isao is truly portrayed in a pathetic light is when Isao has to interact with himself, truly seeing just how sad his life had become and how desperate he became for human contact.

The same can't be said for the supporting cast, but that's definitely in the favor of the series. The people in Mari's life, outside her little brother and Yori (surprisingly) are outright toxic towards her (though the dad tries to help when he's around).  They're all selfish users who only want what best benefits them at the cost of Mari's health and sense of self. It gives the series a slight feminist slant, as Mari's problems are all defined by social expectations for women (both by the men in her life and her fellow women), and Isao's many conflicts are born from those same problems. We get to see how someone male deals with distinctly female problems, really shining a light on just how broken modern views on gender still are. Of note, Mari's school friends are truly despicable, with their leader acting as an emotional abuser that neither Mari nor Isao ever manage to overcome alone.

Oshimi's pencils are wonderful to look at, but they also have just enough of a realistic bent to create an unnerving, oppressive atmosphere. This goes especially for character expressions, which can be simple and innocent, yet come off horrific, especially with Mari's mom. There's always this sense of despair and desperation strewn throughout the series, even in the happier moments, as their's always an uncomfortable truth hiding and waiting for its moment to come out. There are also a few surreal scenes mixed in that create truly nightmarish moods, especially Isao's masturbation scene late in the series, a moment that feels as if it was directly ripped from Homunculus, mainly the confrontation with the young doctor's homunculus at the office. The series creates a world much like our own, but with its true horrors more and more visible.

What makes this series truly brilliant is just how much it gets how people function in society today. People are never truly selfless creatures, and they almost always want something or need something from someone else. The series shows what happens when people become too self-centered, and every character shares this quality, even Isao and Mari. It's not just damaging to other people, but to themselves as well. Only the little brother seems to have genuine moments of empathy with no strings attached, even with his little time in the story. More and more characters start to appear as dangerous monsters as we see more of their self-centered side, even if they're lying to themselves about it, and it becomes the force that starts to wear on Isao, just as it did Mari. Nobody is a complete saint here, and the main conflict seems to be avoiding becoming a full on sinner.

Isao's and Yori's arcs so far are brilliantly told. Yori is obviously gay from the first few chapters we see her talking with Isao, and how her issues with her sexuality combine with her family drama and feelings of loneliness really explode in an interesting way. Isao, on the other hand, is forced to see Mari as a real person and realized just how pathetic he truly was in ways he didn't see before. His growing gender confusion is fascinating, especially as it challenges his sense of self and his beliefs. His change throughout the series is drastic, and he's slowly becoming more and more like Mari in completely different ways. Their issues and conflicts are ideas I've never seen explored in any other medium or work, and it's all handled with so much thought and subtly. It's truly masterful writing in every sense of the phrase. I honestly can’t think of a negative criticism.

Inside Mari is truly one of the most brilliant and interesting manga I've ever read. It has strong art, but its ability to build atmosphere and create such layered, relatable characters is impressive, especially with how easily it balances a line between loving and toxic with the entire main cast. It's not one to miss, especially if you enjoy psychological drama or horror. You can find the series on Crunchyroll if you have a premium account, so look into that!


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