"Long ago, the world wasn't a desert... there were trees, forests, grasslands and lakes. Rivers flowed to the sea which was once as blue as the sky and teeming with life. And for every "man" there was a "woman". We bred like animals and the world was filled with the laughter of children. But that world is lost to us... forgotten..."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because it is the truth"
On the desert world of Marginal there are no women. Children are called forth by "The Mother", an ambiguously female icon who is both worshipped and kept virtual prisoner in a glass dome at the center of the capital. When the current "Mother" is assassinated by radicals the entire system is thrown into turmoil. The puppet government scrambles to create and enstate a new "Mother" as quickly as possible while the assassin, Gringer, escapes into the dessert in the confusion.
In the desert he meets Kira, a lost child with no memory of his home or past. Gringer brings the child to the city where he trades him to the handsome nomad, Ashijin, for an ox. But in the middle of their transaction, Kira is kidnapped by bandits. Gringer and Ashijin join forces to rescue Kira and later, to save his life... Brought together through often comic circumstances, the three form a makeshift family and pass a few uneventful weeks in Ashijin's stone hideout.
But a trip to Ashijin's village turns disasterous when Gringer is identified as Mother's assassin and is caught in bed with Kira, Ashijin's rightful possession. Enraged by the betrayal, Ashijin allows Gringer to be blinded and driven into the desert to die before fitting Kira with an anklet to mark him as a slave...
Though it seems hopeless, Kira believes that Gringer will meet him again in the city and escapes from Ashijin, determined to reach the capital whatever the cost... Ashijin follows.
Meanwhile a group of scientists with mysterious technology at their disposal select the city librarian, Emerada, as the next "Mother" and kidnap him. His lover, a young prince, a prostitute, a rogue scientist and a group of other unlikely companions band together to rescue him from a fate potentially worse than death.
In the city, everyone will meet again and realize that there's more at stake than personal rivalries, romances and politics. For in Kira, there is potential to create balance in the world again: the revival of a world with no "mothers", but one woman for every man.
Marginal is an old-school epic science-fiction fantasy series by Hagio Moto, one of the most influential shoujo writers of our time. Though I've been a fan of Hagio Moto's work with modern settings, this was my first of her science fiction stories. I actually picked it up thanks to a recommendation from the author of Fullmetal Alchemist! Luckily, I wasn't disappointed.
The most interesting action takes place in an Arabian Knights style fantasy landscape. The characters are colorful and are very much a product of their world. A world that is vividly realized with a culture that is both otherworldly and vaguely familiar. In most fantasy series', the setting is a backdrop but in Marginal, characters don't merely pass through the pretty scenery: they interact with it.
While a majority of the early action takes place on the desert planet surface, there is some parallel action involving a group of technologically advanced outsiders who know nearly everything about what is happenening and why. Their presence serves to enlighten us as readers, though it is, unfortunately dreadfully boring in places.
Things do, thankfully, pick up when the two character sets begin to interact and the worlds come together to form a more cohesive vision.
There is a central romance, a love triangle and some hanky panky here and there but the focus is, refreshingly, not on pretty men whispering sweet nothings into each others' ears. There is a great deal of humor, danger and conflict around every corner. And while the society is, at it's core, pedarastic: some older "femenine" characters steal the show both comedically and inspirationally. The most moving scenes belong to Emerada, the single strongest catalyst for both truth and action. And though the "heroine" figure, Kira, is a waifish underage slaveboy, he is also a formidable enemy with a personality of his own. He insults, demands, bites, scratches, and even stabs a few people in the face along the way. If Kira is to represent the comeback of womankind: we could probably have done much worse.
Reguardless of whether you choose to read it as a "Boy's Love" romance, a Science Fiction/Fantasy epic or a shoujo adventure story: Marginal is enjoyable and thought provoking. And while some may intitially be turned off by the all-male romances: if the notion of a single-sex society isn't totally beyond your realm of tolerance, there is a great deal to be said about the value of women in the end.