Based on the manga of the same name by Nobuyuki Anzai (Flame of Recca), MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance) follows the adventures of Ginta Toramizu and his friends as they explore the world of MÄR Heaven. Ginta is your regular underachiever in school: he sleeps in class, gets picked on by bigger students, and the only person who will listen to his tales of a fantasy world he dreams about is his friend Koyuki. Of course, it’s hard to take the idea of a fantasy world seriously, the way Ginta always talks about it, until a Gatekeeper Clown appears before him in class and offers a chance to see a new world. From Viz Media comes the first in a long journey through the magical world of MÄR Heaven, MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance): 1 – Gateway to MÄR.
Audio: English 2.0 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Extras: Production Art, ÄRM dictionary, Foldout Poster
Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.
The first two episodes set up Ginta Toramizu’s crossing into MÄR Heaven and finding a new friend/weapon to keep him company. Ginta sleeps in class on a regular basis, and his biggest recurring dream is about a fantasy world where Ginta slays monsters and saves the princess while aided by a cute fairy. Of course, no one takes Ginta seriously when he recounts his dreams. Well, no one but his friend Koyuki, who sometimes ends up being the princess needing saving. Despite being bullied in class, yelled at by his teacher, and having a mother who is tired of the tales, Ginta still holds on to the dream of visiting this fantasy world. Well, someone on the other side must have heard him, because in the middle of the classroom a Gatekeeper Clown appears. The students run away, but Ginta is intrigued by the offer of a trip to the world he has been dreaming about. Koyuki wants to accompany Ginta, but it’s only safe for Ginta to travel through this particular gate. Leaving his friends and family behind, Ginta crosses over to the new world of rolling hills, forests, and streams.
A witch flying by happens to notice the spiky-haired blonde kid and decides to test him. Using one of her weaker ÄRMs, a knight appears before Ginta and is easily defeated. Despite being a weakling in his own world, Ginta has gained incredible strength and agility here. The witch introduces herself as Dorothy and offers Ginta a Dagger ÄRM if he’ll come with her for a small trip to get something. Of course, Ginta finds all of this way awesome and tags along. At a cave, Dorothy explains that a rare ÄRM is kept deep inside and she’ll give Ginta the Dagger ÄRM if he can help her get it. Dorothy is a collector of rare ÄRMs, which are generally fashioned into bracelets, rings, and arm bands when they’re not needed as weapons. The sight of so many ÄRMs gets Ginta excited about what a fun world this will be.
In the heart of the cave is a treasure chest, but there is a guardian waiting for any who dares enter the main chamber. Dorothy unleashes her powerful Flying Leo in an attempt to slay the guardian while Ginta goes to see the rare ÄRM in the chest. Naturally, Dorothy gets angry because she wants the ÄRM, but she’s also too busy keeping the guardian at bay to do anything about it. Ginta opens the chest and finds a hammer with a ball-and-chain attachment sleeping inside. Yes, sleeping. The steel ball of this kendama (cup-and-ball) weapon is alive. Babbo is the first-known speaking ÄRM, and everyone in the world is going to want it.
Episode three introduces the first of several companions to join Ginta. Finding a field of food, the starving Ginta and Babbo decide to eat the crops. However, a boy named Jack comes running out, ready to fight the would-be thieves. Inside the home, Jack and his mother offer the pair a proper meal since they are so hungry. The farm has been terrorized by a pair of werewolves named the Rogelu brothers for the past year, and Jack wants to stand up to them once and for all. Ginta and Babbo thank Jack and his mother for the hospitality and decide to stay in case Jack needs help. This moment will define Jack as maturing into manhood, but having friends to assist against dangerous werewolves doesn’t hurt, either.
The final episode for this volume has Jack officially joining Ginta on his journey to explore the world of MÄR Heaven and find a Dimension ÄRM that will be able to open a gate back to Earth. With his expansive knowledge of plants, Jack will be an asset in obtaining food and medicine as they journey across the land. Meanwhile, an order to all members of the Thieves Guild has been sent out. A reward of one-million pewter will be given to the person who retrieves the ultra-rare Babbo ÄRM. They are also free to kill Ginta and his friends if needed. As Ginta, Babbo, and Jack arrive in the town of Pezu to find a Dimension ÄRM, a trio of thieves jump the group. Only with the help of a mysterious fairy can Ginta and Jack track down the men who stole Babbo.
MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance) has lots of possiblities, but it’s going to take some more episodes to decide if the show’s storyline will be worth following. Fantasy shows are fun, but they often have too many filler episodes between the plot-related episodes, and viewers can find themselves too bored to continue. The character designs are a little mixed. Koyuki is cute, as is the fairy. However, Jack and some of the thieves are very monkey-like in design. Ginta is a fair mixture, though the spiky hair is about as useful here as it is for Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud Strife. I’m already worried about how this next generation of spiky-haired cosplay will turn out. The original opening and closing for the show—both the animation and the music—have been replaced with new American rock music and clips from the series. The original opening and closing are not included as an Extra on the DVD, unlike The Prince of Tennis release. There are also some overlays in the first episode; Japanese signs describing Ginta’s height, intellegence, and other stats are changed into English. The Japanese cast is fair, but there aren’t many standouts in just four episodes. Motoko Kumai is workable as Ginta Toramizu and will be more suited with the characters given a few more episodes. Banjou Ginga fits Babbo’s mixed personality perfectly. Ai Shimizu is adorable as Koyuki, despite only getting one episode. In comparison, Saki Nakajima plays a more brash and sexy Dorothy, making for a great contrast when Ginta crosses over from Earth to MÄR Heaven. Daisuke Sakaguchi is a dull Jack, but some more episodes may help fix this issue. The English production from PCB Productions is a mixed bag to sit through. The personalities are often closer to caricatures commonly found in TV-only shows—like Digimon—and poorly dubbed-into-English video games. Not everyone gives a poor performance or is a caricature, but exaggerated and occasionally-ludicrous voices are the norm for the characters. The script also takes a hit, leaving in things like an order to “kill” someone, but altering smaller details—like referring to MÄR Heaven simply as “MÄR”—and toning down sexual jokes—like Babbo’s comment that he and Ginta made a batch of babies together. Spike Spencer swaps between well played and poor as Ginta moves along in the first four episodes. Bryce Papenbrook’s Jack, on the other hand, starts to brush the caricature-style delivery. Wendee Lee is a decent Dorothy, but sometimes her voice is a little too rough. And most of the minor evil characters have been groan-worthy so far.
MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance): 1 – Gateway to MÄR is a decent start, but it still needs more time to mature and develop the main plot if it’s going to keep viewers hooked. The altering of the opening/closing video and music, addition of some overlays, and lackluster English dub all hamper the series’ first DVD, despite having a good price for four episodes. Some more polish and at least the addition of the original opening and closing would make it far easier to recommend checking this title out. The video is clean other than the first episode’s overlays, and the subtitles are accurate. The DVD extras included are some production art, an ÄRM dictionary to explain the ÄRM weapons shown, and a foldout poster. MÄR (Märchen Awakens Romance): 1 – Gateway to MÄR is a strong rental and a possible buy if you love fantasy and have already caught some of the episodes on Cartoon Network’s Toonami. While there are issues on this DVD, there is still has plenty of time to make some easy fixes and produce a solid series in the next volume or two.