Born January 6, 1959 (Beppu, Oita, Japan)
Japanese author, illustrator
Fuyumi Soryo's manga series Mars is one of several series that introduced English-speaking readers to the innovative work being done in the shojo manga genre, a type of manga that is marketed especially to girls and focuses on romance and relationships. In fifteen volumes, this beautifully drawn series explores an unlikely romance between the dashing and rebellious Rei Kashino, a six-teen-year-old motorcycle racer who shows no fear of death, and his shy and studious classmate Kira Aso, whose beauty blossoms because of Rei's attentions. The fifteen volumes of Mars, as well as a prequel volume, Mars: Horse with No Name, offer English-speaking readers a taste of the intense emotions and sometimes raw language and sexuality that are so common and popular among Japanese shojo manga fans—yet the overriding message of the series is that a healthy, loving relationship has immense power to heal and bring true happiness.
"Going into high school is like the start of a new journey."
In Mars, the hopes, dreams, and personal histories of the major characters are revealed in great detail, but English-speaking fans of the author must content themselves with very limited information about the creator. Fuyumi Soryo was born on January 6, 1959, and raised in the city of Beppu, in the Oita Prefecture on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. Little is known about her education, but by the early 1980s she began to publish some shojo manga stories in the manga magazines that are so popular in Japan. Several of Soryo's early, shorter manga stories were published in Japan, including Youdamari no Houmonsha, Love Styles, Taiyo no Ijiwaru, and Sole Maledetto. By the mid-1980s, she had begun to create a longer series, titled Boyfriend, that was eventually collected into ten tankōbon (the Japanese equivalent of the graphic novel). The series won the 1988 Shogakukan Manga Award, awarded to the best shojo manga of the year. As of 2005, it had not been translated into English.
In the mid-1990s, Soryo created a new series, Doll, that was published in the magazine Betsu Friend KC. The series was also translated into Italian and published in the Italian manga magazine Amici. Doll was short-lived, however. In 1996, Soryo turned her attention to creating a new series, titled Mars. Mars was first published in Bessatsu Friend, a monthly manga magazine offering positive stories to high school girls that is published by Kodansha, one of the biggest manga publishers in Japan. (Bessatsu Friend also published another popular shojo manga title with which Mars is often compared: Peach Girl by Miwa Ueda.) Mars became a huge success in Japan, where it was published continuously from 1996 to 2000. The magazine series was collected into fifteen volumes of tankoubon, or graphic novels, and the popularity of Mars made Soryo one of the leading shojo manga creators in Japan.
Graphic Novels (in English translation)
Mars 15 vols. (2002–04).
Mars: Horse with No Name (2004).
ES 8 vols. (2006–).
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of Japanese manga began to spread around the world, both to the English-speaking markets in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, but also to European countries like France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany, all of which experienced manga "crazes" as young readers sought out works that were decidedly different than the comic books and graphic novels with which they had grown up. In the United States, publishers began to introduce readers to new titles through magazines such as those read in Japan. Smile magazine, for example, was the first English-language magazine containing manga for girls, and it introduced the titles Peach Girl and Mars to American readers. But American readers were not inclined to purchase magazines, and Smile magazine folded in 2003. American girls did buy graphic novels, however, and in 2002 Tokyopop began to release the Mars series in this form, finishing the fifteen-volume run in 2004.
American and other English-speaking manga fans are accustomed to the difficulties of getting to know more about their favorite manga authors, or manga-ka. American and British authors—who are frequently interviewed, reviewed, and profiled on various comics Web sites or who create their own Web sites and interact with fans—allow their readers to gain insight into their lives and their motivations for creating popular works. Readers feel that they form a relationship with these authors, and they develop loyalty to them. With Japanese authors, however, there are real barriers to understanding. Japanese culture prizes privacy, so authors typically release only very limited information about their lives. Even those authors who do disclose personal details often do so only on Japanese language Web sites, and these are very rarely translated into English. Often, the only clues a reader has to an author's life are the brief and sometimes cryptic or confusing notes that some authors include in the text of the manga. Fuyumi Soryo is an extreme example of a mysterious manga-ka. No personal information about her has been translated into English, she maintains no Web site, and she has written no notes to readers in the margins of her work.
In the mid-2000s, the popularity of Japanese manga in the United States is still a relatively new phenomenon, as concerted efforts to publish Japanese manga in the United States were only a few years old. Publishers have not made a great effort to introduce readers to their favorite authors. If the popularity of manga continues, however, it is likely that such publishers as TokyoPop, Viz, Del Rey, and others who publish translated versions of Japanese titles will do more to help fans connect with—and keep buying books by—their favorite authors.
Mars takes a very simple idea and develops it into an extremely complex and involving story. At the simple center of the series is the romance between two sixteen-year-old high school students, Rei Kashino and Kira Aso. What makes the series so complex is the way that Soryo slowly unfolds the complexities of her two main characters. Rei Kashino is introduced as a rough-edged playboy, hugely popular among the girls because of his good looks. He races motorcycles, plays basketball only to win money from his opponents, and brags that he is not afraid of death. Kira Aso is in many ways his exact opposite: intense and quiet, she devotes all attention to her artwork and prefers not to interact with her fellow students, who consider her weird anyway. When sparks fly between these two after a chance encounter, they begin a love affair that evolves throughout the series and pulls in a variety of interesting characters, including Tatsuya Kida, Rei's best friend, who puts aside his crush on Kira and gives the couple support through their troubles; Harumi, a female rival for Rei's attention who later becomes a friend to Kira; Akitaka, Rei's motorcycle racing coach and adult confidante; and several family members of the main characters, including Kira's cruel stepfather, who once raped her.
One of the elements of Mars that is especially noteworthy is Soryo's careful character development. Early in the series, Rei and Kira present themselves to the reader as mysteries or puzzles: in volume one, a character marvels at Rei's reckless lack of fear on a motorcycle and thinks, "He's only 16. How'd he get like that anyway?" Similarly, Kira is mute in the face of conflict and direct questioning, and characters wonder what secrets she has to hide. Over the course of the series, these questions and many others are revealed through the slowly growing relationship of trust between Rei and Kira—and through the way the supporting characters modify their own actions in response to the dignity that they see in Rei and Kira. For example, early in the series Harumi bullies Kira, trying to scare her away from Rei. Kira's reaction, though, convinces Harumi to change her ways. Perhaps most convincing and touching is the gradual development of a deep love relationship between Rei and Kira; by volume ten, they both show keen insight into understanding what is bothering each other and display a real sense of wholeness when they are in each other's company.
Initially, American readers may be somewhat surprised to read the frankness with which Soryo deals with sexuality; sex is common among her characters and discussed frequently. Readers also may be set back by the frequent use of expletives and occasional violence. Yet Soryo doesn't focus on sex, swearing, or violence. Instead, she explores how these things are not as important as the bonds of trust and friendship that develop between characters and that help the characters deal with the challenges in their lives. And those challenges are substantial: Kira doesn't trust men after she was raped by her stepfather, and Rei has been estranged from his father since the death of his twin brother. Through positive and supportive relationships, however, the characters help each other surmount their issues.
Soryo is more than a writer; she also provided the illustrations for this graphic novel series. Rei and Kira are both visually appealing people, especially the long-haired Adonis-like Rei. Their large eyes (in distinctive manga style) are used to express emotion when words are simply not adequate. Throughout the story Soryo experiments with techniques that break up the visual elements of the story: sometimes the frames of the story are neat and orderly, but during action-packed or emotionally intense moments the frames break down and Soryo becomes quite imaginative, breaking up the page both vertically and horizontally and layering images in engaging ways. Two other techniques are worthy of mention: for scenes depicting motorcycle races, homes, and cityscapes, Soryo brings in highly realistic, almost photolike backgrounds to add a sense of realism; and for scenes involving intense feelings of love—especially kissing scenes—Soryo splashes the page with dazzling starbursts to accentuate the powerful emotions felt by the characters.
English publication of Mars ended in 2004. By the series end, Rei and Kira are married, they have largely resolved the family troubles that plagued them throughout the book, and Rei is about to begin his career as a professional motorcycle racer. To round out the storyline, Soryo helped flesh out some of the holes in the series with a single-volume prequel called Mars: Horse with No Name, published in the United States in 2004. In all, the completed series remains a favorite among fans.
Soryo had finished work on Mars in Japan in 2000. In 2002, she began work on a new series, called ES (Eternal Sabbath). ES tells the story of a young female biomedical researcher, Kujo Mine, who develops a relationship with ES00, a human who has been genetically modified to live for up to 200 years or more. Part romance, part science fiction mystery, the series was published in the manga magazine Morning and in eight volumes of tankoubon. In Japan, ES was marketed to a slightly older audience, men and women in their twenties and thirties, and published between 2002 and 2004. As of late 2005, manga publisher Del Rey had announced plans to translate the series into English and introduce it in 2006. Thus, fans of Soryo's work with Mars looked forward to another interesting tale from this popular and talented manga author.
For More Information
"Fuyumi Soryo." Anime News Network. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/people.php?id=12764 accessed on May 3, 2006).
Humphries, Sam. "Book Review: Mars." Artbomb. http://www.artbomb.net/detail.jsp?idx=5&cid=363&tid=439 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Kirei: A Mars Fan Site. http://www.tokyojupiter.com/manga/kirei/ (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Kodan Club. http://www.kodanclub.com/ (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Mars." TOKYOPOP. http://www.tokyopop.com/dbpage.php?propertycode=MAR&categorycode=BMG (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Upatkoon, Ivevei. "Mars." Ex: The Official World of Anime & Manga. http://www.ex.org/4.2/26-manga_mars.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).