Anime Corner: Mars Red Review

The Whole World is a Stage…

What’s the Story?

The year is 1923 and a sudden swell in the number of vampires has brought panic to the streets of Japan. The government’s response? To deploy their own unit of vampires, known as Code Zero, who are specially trained to hunt down and either apprehend or exterminate any vampires who would threaten the peace. But what is this new drug called Ascra that vampires are suddenly so addicted to, could it be linked to the sudden swell in their numbers? And what about those whispers that someone in the military is trying to build their own vampire army? The stage is set, the actors have all been given their scripts, whether they recognise their roles or not. Before the dawn arrives Japan will be shook down to its very core and none of these people’s lives will ever be the same again. Then again, life is such a frail thing, especially for a vampire.

The Review:

Okay, I’m going to start this review off a little differently than normal and that’s because I have a quick experiment that I want to run. See I tend to go into series as blind as I can, I’ll look at the promo art and maybe read the series description, but that’s it. So what I’m going to do in the next paragraph is post the description for this series that is currently on Funimation’s website (at time of writing this) and I want you to spend a couple of minutes thinking about what kind of series you think this is. I’ll also throw in that it’s got the action/adventure and drama genre tags. Ready? Here we go.

Its 1923, and until recently, vampires kept to the shadows. When the mysterious blood source Ascra appears, their numbers swell, leaving Japan covered in bodies. In response, the government spawns its own coven to infiltrate the dark. With S-rank vampire Defrott and the rookie Kurusu, this kill squad is made for one reason: to hunt the undead. Bloodsuckers beware; the night belongs to Code Zero!

So what did you guys get? Where you picturing bloody action sequences? Some 20s style broken up by team banter and fighting off hordes of vampires? Maybe a bit of espionage or investigations sprinkled in with a dash of political drama? I’ll admit there are elements of all of that, but if you’re after a fast-paced action bonanza then you’d better look elsewhere because that’s not what this series is about in the least (I also love the way it makes out as if Defrott is a member of Code Zero when he’s not even close to that).

While I’m mad at Funimation for it’s blatantly misleading description, I have to admit I had a heck of a hard time writing my own so I know how hard it is to sum up this series’ story in a single paragraph. You see this series is a lot of things, there is action, good action at that, and there are hordes of vampires by the end, but all of that is interspersed with quite, reflective monologues on the nature of life and immortality. Above everything else, this is a play. I mean that literally, this series is based on a stage reading play by Bunoh Fujisawa, who is also the sound director for this series. What’s a stage reading play? Well, it’s basically a play with very little costumes or set and the actors just give dramatic readings of the script (according to Google anyway, I’ll admit I’ve never seen one of these myself).

From the very first episode this series gives off such a different vibe than you’re typical light-novel adaptation that we see so much these days. The focus is squarely on the characters, what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling and the series will let them talk to you at length about this. Some of the monologues and the visuals that accompany them are really beautiful and I could watch them again and again. Yet, for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to really love this series. I appreciate it certainly, and I’m really glad that I watched it, the technical skill and talent put on display is well worth the price admission, but I have to admit that I was rarely invested in what was going on.

Part of me wants to put the blame on that description. It gave me such a different idea for what the series was going to be, that by the time I adjusted to what the series was actually giving me, it was too late. Then again perhaps it’s just the theatrical nature of the performances and directions that always felt like it was keeping me at arms length, even when character’s were baring their souls in front of me. There are also a few odd moments throughout the series, such as the several time jumps that happen without the show giving you any indication. A couple of times I had to stop because I just realised that several weeks, if not months, must have pasted and I’d have to backtrack to find the point we skipped forward and re-contextualise everything. There’s not holding your audience’s hand and then there’s just bewildering them.

There’s also a couple of character arcs I still don’t quite understand, I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but one character goes from an apparently reasonable guy to a full-on antagonist in the space of an episode, and all with only a sentence of explanation as to his motives. He really needed some more exploration. Then there’s another character who completely changes into an entirely different beast, quite literally, just to give us a random end boss. It’s so strange when the rest of the character work was really good and it would only take another episode or two to fix.

The Verdict:

In the end, Mars Red, is more of an experience than an action adventure. There’s plenty of drama and some solid character work (for the most part), but you really should go into this knowing that it’s based on a play. Eloquent monologues and dramatic visuals are were this series excels, but it can sometimes require your full attention to make sure you’re keeping track of everything that’s happening. While I can’t say that I loved this series, I’m glad I saw it and the experience is more than worth it. So what are you waiting for? The curtain’s calling it’s time to step on stage.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

3 comments

  1. ospreyshire · December 26

    Sounds like a bit of a fun series. Looking at the title, I thought it would be a sci-fi romp, but it doesn’t look to be the case.

    Liked by 1 person

    • neverarguewithafish · December 27

      I don’t think anyone knew how to advertise this series, from the title to the synopsis neither gives you a proper idea of what it is you’re getting into.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire · December 27

        That is bizarre and it does seem weird when people don’t know how to pitch this to the average audience.

        Liked by 1 person

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