First Impression: Mars Red

The first episode of Mars Red kicks off with Major Maeda returning to Tokyo, having been called back early from a trip. His expertise is needed: There has been a series of vamp attacks, and one of the victims—a stage actress named Misaki—has been captured. He is led to the bunker where she is being held in order to assess whether she might be recruited to the military’s side in what, we get the impression, is a long-standing struggle against the vampires. What he is confronted with, however, is a woman incapable of human interaction except when played out through the lines of the scene she was rehearsing when she died and was presumably turned by the vamp. Even so, as he observes her, she does seem to be making an effort to communicate with him, and somewhat humorously: holding her nose when she sees him smoking, exclaiming that he has cute handwriting as he notes down what she is saying, and speaking the traditional parting phrase, itterasshai, as he departs. Maeda seems reluctant to pass judgement just yet on her utility, and heads out to investigate the scene of the attack at the theater. There he meets a mysterious foreigner who speaks in riddles, followed by an energetic young journalist who is the spitting image of Misaki. After this, while consulting with his superior officer, Maeda is informed that the actress has broken free of her prison. He promptly directs the reinforcements to go one way, while he himself heads the other, towards the theater. His guess is rewarded as Misaki sways toward him, dressed in white and reciting the lines from her climactic scene in Salome. Earlier, Maeda mentioned that he had a fiancee he had not yet met, and it is clear that Misaki is his betrothed. He is frozen, transfixed at the sight of her. But rather than kill him, the human she once was finally manages to speak to him, telling him of how she longed to meet him. Her one remaining wish—and that of Salome as well—to kiss her lover, will forever be denied, as she knows her kiss would destroy him. With that final regret on her lips, she steps into the sunlight and disintegrates. Maeda is celebrated by his commanding officer and promoted to Colonel. From here on out, he will head up the Japanese military’s top secret vamp fighting force, Code Zero.

Maeda’s shadow overlaps with the head of John the Baptist in the poster for Misaki’s theatrical production of Salome, while the young journalist, Aoi, stands in Misaki’s stead. Maeda lost his fiancee today, but has he perhaps found her replacement?

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this premiere, which Funimation viewers have been given access to a full week in advance of its Japanese release. The art features the kind of ultra fine linework popular on Pixiv these days and on display in Japan Sinks: 2020, with fairly understated flat coloring and watercolor backdrops. It’s moody and a touch old-fashioned in a way that is well-suited to its setting in 1923 Tokyo, and to the story’s theatrical roots. That’s right, rather than originating from a manga or light novel, Mars Red is an adaptation of a theatrical reading. Expect layers of meaning, plays within plays, and metaphor and symbolism galore! It also brings a fresh take on the vampire lore, as far as I can tell, in that the victims are turned by a bite, but are caught in the moment of their turning and most often lose themselves there, living it over and over, as does Misaki. This will make for some interesting characters down the road, since it is clear that some must get unstuck and are willing and able to fight alongside the Code Zero team. But it will also potentially make for some intricate detective work, interpreting the clues preserved in the victims’ final moments of humanity in order to track down the high level vamp who is suddenly attacking people. The series seems more to be geared towards investigation and intrigue than outright battle against the vamps. The mysterious foreigner Deffrot, voiced by one of my favourite seiyuus, Miyuki Sawashiro, is no doubt of greater significance that Maeda yet realizes (and dominates the ED). And did I mention that the opening lines reference Jesus (“the Son of Man”)? I definitely want to see where this one goes! In short, with the art, intrigue, historical setting, and Sawashiro all in its favor, I will be sticking around for this one this season. Now, if only we didn’t have to wait another two weeks for episode 2!


Mars Red can be streamed on Funimation.

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