First Look: MARS RED

MarsRedTitle

Play Adaptation by Signal.MD
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

It’s 1923, and Major Yoshinobu Maeda has been sent to Tokyo after reports of an actress being severely injured on stage. The wounds were near-fatal, yet she had completely recovered after only four hours.

Euri’s verdict: Keep Out Of Direct Sunlight

When it comes to watching new shows each season, I very rarely look up a show ahead of time. There’s something about not knowing what to expect before going in, and I prefer to form an opinion on something based on what I’ve seen, not what I’ve read. I mention this of course because this show is called Mars Red, and I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who went into this expecting a science-fiction show set in space.

Still, as much as 1920s Japan featuring vampires was not even remotely where I thought it was going, I find myself pleasantly surprised by the show so far. This isn’t the first story out there to do vampires plus military, but the setting, the mood and the vampire itself do well to demonstrate that there could be something special here.

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The vampire in this episode, Misaki, is really intriguing. She’s stuck in her actress persona due to being infected following the accident on-stage, yet she does seem somewhat capable of understanding the world around her. She holds her nose when the Major starts smoking and says goodbye when he leaves the facility, despite otherwise being locked into reciting the play she was starring in. Even when she escapes she appears to be in recital mode, despite handling the military and their gunfire while doing so.

It’s mentioned during the episode that she did in fact die, and this is backed up by her black-ish blood we see from one of her wounds at the end of the episode. This being brought up seems to indicate that she could have been alive, which makes me wonder what the in-universe significance will be, and what that means for the personality of whoever is infected. There’s also why and how Misaki became a vampire, which I’m sure we’ll learn more about in future episodes.

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As for the production itself, what stands out immediately is that this show is presented entirely in widescreen. Signal.MD are no strangers to feature length anime, with titles like Napping Princess and Birthday Wonderland receiving cinema showings even outside of Japan. While those are two films I didn’t exactly fall in love with, there was never any doubting the production quality behind them, and this seemingly extends to Mars Red too. The visuals are crisp, more so than you would expect from an episode one that’s trying to leave an impression.

The show is off to a great start, though I’m not completely sold on it just yet. Character work really took a backseat in favour of worldbuilding, so we’ll have to wait and see what this means for the main cast once everything settles down. Also, at the end of the episode, the Major is promoted and given control of a special force known as Code Zero, and I’m mildly concerned that this could change the pacing and even genre of the show going forward. Nonetheless, Mars Red has done more than enough to sign me up for another episode.

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Artemis’ verdict: Cautiously Intrigued

There’s a lot going on with Mars Red that immediately makes it stand out from the rest of the season – which might sound like a strange comment, given that most season premieres haven’t actually aired yet, but the presentation of this title is such that I feel very confident in saying it’ll be one a kind. This anime is extremely atmospheric, in large part because of its wide-screen format and obvious measured care it takes with the visual aspects of its production, although that’s not to say the story itself doesn’t stand out in at least some respects either – chiefly, in its interesting blend of the paranormal (vampires) with an otherwise relatively down-to-earth portrayal of 1923 Japan.

I wasn’t in the least surprised to find that Mars Red is based not on a manga or novel/light novel, but rather on a stage play, because that’s exactly the type of feeling the anime evokes (especially since the first episode centers around a stage actress who seems more or less trapped in the last role she played before tragedy struck). This makes for a pretty unique tone and ambiance, but on the downside, I very much felt like I was being held at arm’s length in terms of my own viewing experience. I was watching things play out as though on a stage in front of me, but was unable to empathize with any of the characters or the events taking place; as a result, I felt curious about what was happening, but found I didn’t actually care much what went down on a more personal level. Whether or not I’m supposed to relate to or even especially like the characters in any way is still something of a mystery to me.

At the moment, I do plan on watching at least one more episode of Mars Red, but while I’m definitely impressed by many of its characteristics, I’m not yet sold on the anime as a truly engaging overall story, and am hoping episode 2 will give me a bit more context to latch onto.

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