I don’t know how I wound up with two volumes of manga from different series by mangaka Shuzo Oshimi in my “To Review” pile. I wasn’t planning on reviewing both of them in one go either. Except some of the manga titles in my “To Review” pile are coming up on a month old and I just got a new batch of volumes to read last week. So in a transparent effort to make my backlog go down quicker, here are my thoughts on the latest volumes of “Inside Mari” and “Happiness.”
After connecting with the Komori who’s still in his old apartment it looked as if Mari and Yoshizaki were going to make some real progress in the story. That appears to have been a false start as Mari and Yoshizaki haven’t really figured out how to develop things further in Inside Mari vol. 4 and the three of them wind up having a lot more fun playing videogames. It’s all good until a teacher from Mari’s school comes by her parents’ home to ask why their daughter hasn’t been coming lately. There’s drama to be had when Mari is confronted by her parents, followed by a sequence that initially comes off as sexy but is instead suuuuuuper creepy, and still more bad times when Mari returns to school.
Oshimi’s talent for character drama and piercing character expressions gets a real workout in the volume’s middle section. That showdown between Mari and her parents? It turns real ugly when it devolves into a shouting match between her mom and dad as they air their grievances towards each other. And the expressions I see on the face of Mari’s mom as this is going on? They break my damn heart. There are some similar fireworks upon Mari’s return to school as her former best friend wants to patch things up as condescendingly as possible. Yoshizaki has her own thoughts about this, yet the most gripping part is seeing what Mari does when her only friend is threatened.
While these parts are good, special mention has to be given to a sequence in the middle of this volume. It’s a sequence where Mari finally gets around to doing what every guy who winds up in a girl’s body would do (a whole heck of a lot sooner I would think). If you were expecting this sequence to be anything resembling salacious, then do yourself a favor and go re-read “The Flowers of Evil” to see how sexy things get when Oshimi puts actual sex on the table. This sequence in “Inside Mari” is a creepy narcissistic nightmare as we see the Komori in her come out as well. Before things can get worse, the plot decides to give Mari’s phone a call. I’m not sure it means the plot will be moving forward in vol. 5, but at least the disparate parts of this volume worked well on their own terms.
Nowhere in Happiness vol. 9 does it specifically say that this is the penultimate volume, but the events that go on here along with the “Next Volume” section give the distinct impression that we’re in the endgame. Before that, we finally get to catch up with Okazaki after he’s been completely MIA for the past three volumes after being captured by that vampire hunting organization. This organization… really only seems to exist in the world of “Happiness” to have taken its former protagonist off the board given their complete and utter lack of development here. We do get to see the surprise return of a character… who seems to have been brought back just to get Okazaki into the real world again. What I’m saying is that the first couple of chapters in this volume are nothing but a series of plot gymnastics to get this character to the place he needs to be.
After that, things pick up considerably. Remember how the previous volume left off with Sakurane and his cultists devouring Yuuki’s body? They’re celebrating now because they feel the act has finally made them gods! Sakurane in particular wants to mark the occasion by having a drink with -- I mean, out of Gosho. There are some very striking scenes among this bloody celebration that really stoke the fear inherent in it as well as the excitement when it looks like the tables have turned. The effect is a climax that continuously builds towards its final page. Where we wind up believing that a certain milquetoast character is going to save us all only to reach that final page and go, “NO OKAZAKI! YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!”
We’re already most of the way to an “Everyone Dies” ending for this series. If it gets all the way there, I blame Okazaki.