Here we go:
If you know me, it's no secret that I've been back into manga big-time the last year or so. I was a big manga reader in the 90s, but in the early aughts, around the time reversing art stopped being a thing (for the most part), I drifted away from it and back to western comics, the same way I'd drifted away from western comics and towards manga. Well, looks like it's about a fifteen-year-cycle, so here we are again, same as before.
But I digress...
There's tons and tons and tons of manga out there, but ever the contrarian, I tend to shy away from the super-mainstream stuff and in doing so, I've discovered lots of works that are sort of off the beaten trail. Some of it's good, some of it's bad, some of it I'd like to share as they deserve a wider audience.
Let's start with the work of Shūzō Oshimi. He's done about a dozen series over the last decade and a half of his professional career, almost exclusively for Kodansha (the largest publishing company in Japan; not just of manga, but of everything). While his work is critically-acclaimed he's mostly unknown in the west, aside from his series Flowers of Evil, supposedly very loosely inspired by the Baudelaire work of the same name - and that probably only because it was adapted to an anime series which you may have heard of or even seen.
My introduction to Oshimi's work, however was Boku wa Mari no Naka; roughly translated to English, I'm in Mari.
Inside Mari is a very dark, psychological, seemingly-supernatural drama about two high school girls--the titular Mari, who is seemingly perfect in every way, and a girl named Yori, who has watched Mari from afar for some time, unsure of her own feelings or what to do about them--and a college-age hikikkomori named Komori, who has also been watching Mari from a distance and thinks himself deeply in love with her.
Without going into too much detail, when Mari and Komori finally encounter one another face to face... well, something happens and Komori wakes up the next day with no memories of the previous night... and actually inside Mari's body rather than his own, while Mari's personality seems to have simply vanished.
How? Who knows?
Why? Only God could say.
What now? Well, that's the rub isn't it?
What follows is a story of mystery, deep emotional turmoil and a strange, but touching friendship's development as Yori and Komori-inside-Mari try to figure out what has happened and how to fix it, all the while trying not to disrupt the "real Mari's" life anymore than necessary and, surprisingly, becoming quite close to one another in the process as first understanding then true friendship springs from their shared stress and trauma.
This isn't just a body-swap manga, though. It's far more than that, as Oshimi skillfully weaves both surprisingly in-depth social commentary (such as Komori learning how difficult it really is to be a young female in a notoriously sexist society and coming to terms with, then overcoming, his own latent, benign misogyny that he'd never even realized he held - the kind that many Japanese men have been raised with believing is completely normal) and psychological commentary, as well as a truly interesting mystery complete with some very realistic, grounded evil (the kind so banal that it's the sheer mundanity of it which makes it so cruel). around these events to create a true page-turner. It's a book I'm genuinely eager to read as each new chapter becomes available - and that's very rare.
Beyond the writing, Oshimi's art is stunningly gorgeous - crisp when it's appropriate, murky when it needs to be and always a sheer joy to look at.
Inside Mari is only officially available in English through CrunchyRoll, which requires a subscription to read their manga I believe, but this series alone is well worth the subscription cost (and there's plenty of other great stuff on there, but that's another post).
I strongly recommend the series for anyone who is looking for something out of the ordinary and more mature than typical comics fare.