Since October in 2018, I have been reading a manga called A Trail of Blood by Shuzo Oshimi, ever since Super Eyepatch Wolf gave it the number one spot on his or instead Mega Diepatch Wolf’s top 10 Halloween recommendations. And it has been a sobering, addictive, chilling, thriller and with twists and turns that honestly make your stomach drop.
In the past, my only exposure to Oshimi’s work was the first two volumes of Happiness, which I enjoyed quite a bit and will have to get back into again sometime. I was also aware of The Flowers of Evil but only from a few cringy clips of the anime adaptation.
Most recently, Super EyePatch Wolf released a video on some of Oshimi’s work, mostly focusing on A Trail of Blood, and at some point, he mentions the manga Inside Mari, which I had not heard of before. I found his short description of the series intriguing. The video also convinced me that Oshimi had done a lot of work that should be consumed in full. And since I am always catching up to A Trail of Blood’s chapters, I decided that I should start binge-reading all of his work. So I started with Inside Mari.
Last night I completed the series, and it was incredible. It is about a young man who can be described as a hikikomori, and interestingly his name is Isao Komori (not sure if this was intentional). A depressed, pathetic, jobless, college-dropout, video-gaming incel, Isao habitually stalks a teenage girl, and then one day, his mind is now in that girl’s body. It was both fascinating and satisfying seeing how a male perspective could react to being objectified as a woman and how an extremely isolated person could so profoundly respond to human contact.
The series covers things like identity, and how everyone always projects what they want onto this girl supposedly named Mari Yoshizaki. And eventually, the female body-trapped man teams up with the righteously posturing but equally feeble highschool girl Yori Kakiguchi. Together they try to uncover what happened to the ‘real Mari,’ but what they end up finding is that for her entire life, she has been projected onto by others preventing her from truly being understood by her family and peers and that in reality, nobody knows the real her.
To make matters more baffling, one would think that perhaps Mari’s consciousness was transferred to Isao’s body, but this is not the case. Instead, the original Isao still goes about as usual, and the Isao in Mari is just a copy of his mind.
From this, a lot of ethical issues come up. Such as if this copy is a valid person, which might remind some of the existential crisis of being a digital copy in Black Mirror. I should also probably warn that this manga does not shy away from depictions of masturbation in as much uncomfortable detail as possible, the purpose of which then brings up whether or not Isao’s actions inside Mari is masturbation or rape. Either way, the scenario is not natural.
In entertainment fandoms, there is a term called “mindfuck,” which is when a story is so disturbingly complicated and psychologically deep that depending on the viewer, it will either frustratingly confuse or intellectually arouse them. Or both. Examples that this term applies to in anime would be Serial Experiments Lain, Akira, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Paranoia Agent, and Revolutionary Girl Utena. Some may also use it to describe Perfect Blue, Monster, and Shin Sekai Yori.
As the manga made its way toward the end, the more the mindfuck term became appropriate for it. I was getting a bit nervous that perhaps the series would not directly reveal how Isao’s mind ended up in Mari’s body. Of course, I am not going to spoil how it happened, but the how is exposed, which is excellent for those who might have been bothered if it had not. As far as I could tell, pretty much everything gets resolved by the end, but I did come across some readers that said they were disappointed because they were not sure what the point of it all was.
To me, in real life, a lot of things happen without a point. I have no clue what the point of committing most crimes are. But in the case of this manga, I do think there is a point. But before I talk about that, I believe that when reading manga or any fiction, there usually is a point. Still, that point often does not get spoon-fed to you; a lot of the times, it is just something the reader comes up with, and depending on what you have read, that point may come quickly to you or sometimes you have to put a bit of thought into it. Granted, this argument does not apply to everything; some fiction can just have bad writing, of course.
Saying that I do not think the existence of a “point” is what should make or break a story; in this case, this was a superbly told story with themes, and those themes were the point. This was a story about self-actualization, gender, breaking free of expectations, assumptions, and projections, sexual awakening, identity, school bullying, agency, peer-pressure, abuse, conditional-love, coming of age, forging your path, taking back control of your life, etc.
In some respects, the manga kind of reminds me of an Australian horror mockumentary called Lake Mungo, if anyone is interested in something similar. I would also recommend checking out Ryan Hollinger’s review of it The Saddest Horror Movie You’ve Never Seen.
Inside Mari did have a live-action TV show, but from what I have seen of it, it just does not hit the same spine-chiller beats that the manga has that Oshimi is a master of.
And if you are interested in reading this, it has an English release by Denpa Books.
Edit: It has come to my attention that Inside Mari is also available to read on Crunchyroll if you have a subscription.