Review Vol.1 Mars Red – Manga

Since its great revival a few years ago, coinciding with the revival with great fanfare of Demon Slayer, Panini editions have developed on two main optics. On the one hand, the reissue of missing or formerly abandoned series, and on the other new proposals, especially through short series. Launched in the catalog of the house of Italian origin last October, Mars Red therefore belongs to this second category.

The work is a rather interesting case as it is an adaptation of a project that has since become cross-media. Originally, Mars Red is a theatrical and musical reading in three parts, performed from 2013 to 2017 in Japan, all written and directed by Bun-O Fujisawa.
From November 2019, the magazine Comic Garden of the publisher Mag Garden welcomes a manga adaptation signed Kemuri Karakara, artist whose talents we had already had the opportunity to see with the short series:REverSAL, published by Doki Doki but today discontinued. The manga ends in July 2021 with its third volume, shortly before the launch of the French publication, suggesting that Panini quickly set his sights on the vampiric work.
In the process, in April 2021, the manga serves as the basis for an animated adaptation in 13 episodes produced by Kôhei Hatano within the Signal MD studio. Interestingly enough, the music is composed by Toshiyuki Muranaka, who is already in charge of the musical side of the theatrical version. On our side, the anime is available via Wakanim and Crunchyroll, which is a good opportunity to discover the manga and its adaptation in parallel.
Finally, among the Japan-exclusive projects, Mars Red spawned a mobile game as well as another theatrical adaptation in the form of a rock opera. It remains to be seen now if the license will extend to new projects, or if it will stop there.

Mars Red is the combination of historical narrative and vampire story. In the 20th century, during the Taisho Democracy, the Japanese army sought a certain prestige, in competition with other nations since the opening of the borders. It is with this in mind that the Code Zero Unit was created, a small squadron whose four members have the particularity of having been transformed into vampires. Among them is Shûtarô, a soldier vampirized by an S-class monster, making him a more than formidable fighter. Officially fallen to the front, the fate of the man is not to the taste of Aoi Shirase, the woman he left behind and who, as a journalist, will be led to meet these exceptional beings.
For its part, the Code Zero Unit must honor its main mission: to put out of harm’s way the vampires and monsters hidden among ordinary mortals, in order to avoid any potential victim.

If the genre of the vampire story (including in manga) has been widely used, the theatrical work of Bun-O Fujisawa offers a slightly new reading of it, the content of which can only be appreciated after reading this first volume. Here, a few vampires form a secret Japanese army battalion and operate in the shadows against other potentially out-of-control vampires. Only, it is after more than a good half of reading that all this intrigue is proposed to us, this primer taking the time to plant its context and the issues that revolve around the young journalist Aoi, about to rub shoulders with this faction unique. The volume also opens with a scene certainly belonging to the climax of the story, proof that there is a way to go, that destinies will intersect, and that the extent of the story will be theatrical. , necessarily referring to the original format of Mars Red.

Vampires are therefore soldiers here, an optic already seen elsewhere (let us mention Seraph of the End). However, it is more in its humanity that this beginning of the plot stands out, so much it is as much at heart to develop the first missions of the Code Zero Unit as the torments of some of its members to have left a life. behind them. This is the case of Shûtarô, a true hero destined to stand out, but not only. By focusing on this aspect, this first volume gives consistency to these two characters, while their companions are not outdone but shine above all with their more eccentric temperaments.

And at the same time, especially in its last chapter, the series dares to venture down a more political path, dealing with the situation of the Japanese army at the time, its relations with the international community, and the role that our some vampires in this very particular climate. It’s pretty daring, and there’s something to be piqued by this track while the main plot seems to focus on an important enemy, perhaps the main antagonist of this story.

Visually, everything is served by the charming touch of Kemuri Karakara, who turns out to be a good choice of artist. By the delicacy of his line, the latter translates both the Gothic aura of the work and the aesthetic elegance of the period, of the clothing in particular, while the few action scenes prove to be honestly narrated.

In the end, the first volume of Mars Red is an intriguing proposal, classic in its first pages before offering a beautiful density, both in the writing of its characters and in its subtext. We then wait to see if, in a short series format, the work will develop and conclude as it should.

On the publishing side, let’s highlight the good work of Panini. It’s hard not to mention the cover, stylized by its metallic effect on a mixture of black and scarlet. Besides, Fabien Nabhan offers a convincing translation, in phase with the atmosphere of the title as well as with the era of its screenplay, while Miriam Esteban Rossi and Massimo Stella offer well-calibrated lettering, guaranteeing reading comfort.