「弱きもの、汝の名は」 (Yowaki Mono, Nanji no Na wa)
“Frailty, Thy Name Is…”
Mars Red begins and ends with Misaki-the star before and after death. For Maeda, Misaki is the “Little Girl Lost” in William Blake’s poem quoted by Deffrot. Blake’s poem beautifully mirrors Maeda’s personal battle. The Misaki in Maeda’s mind is central to coming to terms with his “age of gold” and their love bathed in light and innocence before Nakajima ruined it. It was breathtaking how the snow-fall during the battle paralleled the “winter’s cold” that remains in the poem after the speaker’s love, like Misaki, disappears.
We glimpse Misaki through Maeda’s red eyes-the way he was so preoccupied with her that he missed a shogi move, the way he imagined seeing her on stage, the way he remembered their last meeting. His softer demeanor in the flashbacks and the way these scenes play in his head indicate they didn’t actually happen- they were what he wished happened versus what actually occurred. It highlights an internal shift in his character- of growing to treasure his love, allowing his thoughts and actions (his fixation on revenge) to be motivated by that, allowing him to smile at the very end. At the end of his life, he became more human, finding something he could have lived for, if he and Misaki had lived. his image of their relationship uncovers a softer side of Maeda- bringing to the forefront the pain of losing Misaki that he held inside. Misaki allowed me to like Maeda a lot better than I did in the beginning, after seeing more to him than just a stoic soldier in his fondness for her.
After Maeda’s defeat, the exchange between Kurusu and Shirase is powerful-coming to understand that humanity is not the blood in one’s veins, but something to live for and the will to compassionately fight for it. Without something worth living for, one becomes weary. Without compassion, one becomes a monster like Nakajima or Glenn-pursuing visions at the cost of others.
It illustrates powerfully Kurusu’s character that the first time he drinks blood from a human, he chooses Shirase with her consent-turning this into a beautiful metaphor for one’s first intimate encounter in romance. By drinking from Shirase, he chooses sustenance sourced in his love, rather than the blind blood-lust he despised that reduced blood-givers to animals.
Like the rest of Mars Red, the finale ended on a subtle note-implying the characters lived happily ever after through snapshots. Leaving loose ends of what specifically they did with their lives leaves room for the viewer’s imagination and intelligence to piece the ending together from what we know of each character.
The biggest unknown is Kurusu. In the post-credit scenes, Shirase lays flowers down with no Kurusu in sight (granted, it was daylight). There are five different colors of flowers. If each color is for a different casualty-there would be one for Moriyama (one of the first Code Zero deaths), Yamagami, Maeda, and Misaki. That leaves one more-for Kurusu? The sun was rising while he was facing the Vampire Unit and he could have burned.
With the strength from his power-up, Kurusu could have finished the unit off in enough time to escape. His fight with Maeda did an excellent job portraying Kurusu as the hero of a play-devoting oneself to love and overcoming opposition in the duty to protect. It would be fitting if Kurusu survived and spent his time travelling around to fight off threats, returning periodically to reunite with Shirase.
I would consider Mars Red a masterpiece. The storytelling is subtle, like the gentle aroma of spring flowers-letting you know the flower is there without being overpowering. For example, with Maeda’s arm and his relationship with Nakajima. They drop hints throughout that he was the one Nakajima rescued in the same battle that took Maeda’s arm. After leading to those conclusions without resorting to obvious statements, they confirm it through flashbacks.
Kurusu and Shirase are another product of exceptional writing. Through offhand remarks and flashbacks, we are led to believe that Kurusu is Shirase’s missing friend. They imply their feelings for each other- not through spoken confession- but through Kurusu’s rescue, Shirase’s pursuit, and Kurusu drinking her blood. It takes skill to lead viewers to a conclusion without using explicit statements and to include details, like Maeda’s hand, that add to a character while coming full circle in the end.
Mars Red perfectly balanced all of its elements. Although it dealt with heavy topics, Mars Red balanced it with light-hearted moments through teasing Yamagami or Takeuchi using his technology smarts to create a video game. The series balanced the characters’ supernatural strengths with weaknesses-whether it was ability levels, hesitancy to kill, etc. The dark tone in the early episodes with the realities of life, death, and immortality was balanced with the happier ending. The ending didn’t culminate in sugary-sweet happiness- balanced out by a sense of loss in the death of Maeda’s body and dreams of a life with Misaki. This expert balancing act made the characters more real, more engaging and lent more color to the story.
One of my favorite aspects was the philosophical treatment of vampires- exploring the question of humanity and struggles with immortality. Long discussions become boring- for discussion, you could pick up a book or find a philosopher’s club. Mars Red doesn’t resort to this. It uses art to portray struggles with humanity through character interactions and development. A strong example is how Suwa’s interactions with others caused him to question himself, leading to the compassion he shows to Ayame that is part of what comprises his humanity.
The references to literature, plays, and poetry- like with the theme of Salome and closing out this play-based series with Shakespeare’s quote on the world’s stage were superb. It lent an aura of genuine refinement and gave a poetic touch.
I loved the detailed portrayal of the era-centering the climax around the earthquake, the scenery shots before and after destruction, and even details like eating Siberia cake which was popular then. The writers did a phenomenal job couching the quest for vampire domination in the aftermath of the Siberian conflict and before Japan’s quest for domination in the 1930’s. This made Nakajima’s plan for using vampires for greater military might believable and implied the threat this would pose.
The historical setting would not be complete without out the beautiful artwork that conveyed moods and atmosphere wordlessly, poetically. The darker color palettes used perfectly reflected the darker moments of the show and gave the feel of a painting rather than the typical candy-colored anime. Even the backdrops were graceful, depicting the slow dawning of light or softly falling snow.
The voice acting was fantastic-genuinely conveying the depth of emotions without becoming exaggerated. They made the characters believable and likeable.
The maturity with which this series gracefully and poetically explored the characters and themes produced a work so beautiful, it made the heart ache and time stand still. I am honored to have covered this as my first show on Random C!