Inside Mari (Boku wa Mari no Naka)
by Shuzo Oshimi
Chapters 1-26 (available on Crunchyroll Manga)
Summary (from Crunchyroll)
A young man is a shut-in, with nothing to do but kill time. The sole pleasure in his life is following home an angelic high school girl he sees every day in a convenience store. Today, like any other day, he follows her, but… Shuzo Oshimi, the creator of Drifting Net Café and Flowers of Evil, continues to open hidden doors of the heart in this monthly serialized story!
Review (so far)
The Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana), one of the most uncompromising stories to be committed to both manga and anime in recent memory, enthralled me because it took teenage melodrama so seriously: that is, in all its ridiculousness and self-dramatization to the point of serious cringe. There was nothing noble or romantic about Kasuga’s self-loathing or repressed sexuality, or Nakamura’s sadistic nonconformity: it was what it was, ugly and fascinating at once.
Inside Mari, a more recent title by Flower’s manga artist Shuzo Oshimi, continues the tradition, and not from a completely unrelated angle. Inside Mari tells the story of a hikkikomori named Isao Komori, who has been stalking a local high school student named Mari at a nearby convenience store. One day, he finds himself awake in a strange bed, and in a strange body, of the opposite sex…Mari’s body. Now Isao/Mari has to navigate school life, as a girl, all the while pretending to everyone that Mari is still Mari even though Isao has no idea how to be a woman.
This is not a new concept, of course, as it’s been treated both comedically and semi-seriously in other anime and manga stories, and often with dollops of melodrama on top. (cough*Kokoro Connect*cough) What is different, and refreshing, about this take is how it is introduced, and how Oshimi dramatically complicates the situation over time. The first volume and half makes it appear that Isao is experiencing a bit of a morality play: you have objectified and lusted after this high school girl, now you get to see what it feels like to be one, and it’s not so fun! For example: one of the very first things Isao/Mari becomes aware of is how men check her out all the time, a glance here and a glance there. This is on top of now possessing those body parts that he had previously so lusted after and not knowing quite what to do with them…and that’s before the period begins. (Quite graphically, too: the reader is not spared the pain and messiness of the experience.) An explicit critique of the “male gaze” is very much in operation here, much like Kasuga’s actions served as a critique of the standard manga/anime “nice guy” who thinks he’s pure and romantic. Instead of an external catalyst like Nakamura to prod him into another mindset, though, he literally must walk in another person’s shoes, to see an experience foreign to his insulated ways.
The story would be worthy enough, though simplistic, if it had been left at that. But Oshimi goes further, in an apparent (not, as of this writing, 100% confirmed) twist that turns the tables on what the apparent “moral” of the story is and how we understand the characters of both Isao and Mari. Mari is not completely all together, in the tradition not so much of Oshimi’s Nakamura, but of Saeki, whose twistedness was explored much more in the manga than the anime was able to show. Like Saeki, Mari has a near-perfect exterior that masks much pain and possibly instability. That facade, due to Isao living inside of her, is painfully and ruthlessly torn down, and the poignance of watching her social relations unravel is hard to watch sometimes. At that point, the boundaries begin to blur and the reader wonders just who these people are, and how much of what we call friendship and civility is really held together by pretense and hiding. If my theory about what is going is correct, what we have is a challenge to the whole notion of identity itself, whether it’s based on gender, social standing, or otherwise. Who is Mari? Who is Isao?
Identity crises are classically adolescent, and Oshimi is a rare talent that explores just how dark and confusing they can be. Inside Mari, barring a disappointing finale or revelation, furthers his oeuvre of hurting and desperate youth who can’t seem to stop wondering who they are, who they belong with, and what life means when you can’t seem to feel at home anywhere.
Inside Mari is available on Crunchyroll Manga. It is recommended for mature readers as it contains some explicit nudity, though it is necessary for the storytelling.