Volume 2 of MÄR was a bit of an improvement on volume 1, with the arrival of the Chess Pieces and a darker storyline really upping the ante.
At the end of the last volume Ginta had met
the former Cross Guard member Alan and stood up to a Rook class Chess Piece
called Ian in order to rescue Princess Snow. But the Chess Pieces are
growing in power and their deadly leader Phantom has returned, Alan knows that
If Ginta and Jack are to be of any use to them they need to get strong, and
quickly. Alan decides the best option is to use the same training methods
as he used on Boss, an otherworlder who helped defeat Phantom if the previous
war. He therefore sends Ginta, Jack, Snow and Dorothy (who happened to be
nearby) to a special training area by using a Dimension ÄRM
and stands guard until their accelerated training is complete. However,
the Chess Pieces aren't about to just lie back and let their enemies muster
against them. Instead they once again launch their campaign of terror
against the world of MÄR Heaven, destroying cities and ransacking entire kingdoms as they once again return the world to
the darkness of war. Ginta isn't safe either, Ian is closing in with
revenge on his mind, and Alan - who must remain awake and stationary for three
days in order to keep the training dimension open - is a sitting duck if Ian
decides to attack. Can Ginta complete his training and can Alan hold out
until he and Jack return?
You can probably guess the answer to both those questions, but predictability is never unexpected in a 'Shonen' manga. As with the previous volume though this one is a big improvement on the first one. Once again the dark tone that started when the Chess Pieces were introduced continues, and this time things take an even darker turn when the Knight class Chess Pieces start their attacks. There's more death and destruction than you would have expected the series would contain if you had read just the first volume, and there's plenty of action too. With things looking bleak in the outside world you'd be forgiven for thinking that is volume would concentrate on the struggles of the scattered Cross Guard against their arch enemies. However, it instead does that age old thing of concentrating on the main character's training to improve his strength and skills.
In fairness the training is entertaining enough, but the problem is that the stuff going on outside of the training dimension is far more interesting. Inside the training dimension there's some cheesy bonding and much self discovery, as well as some burgeoning romance between Ginta and Snow. Jack meanwhile tries his best so as to not get left behind by his companions, whilst Dorothy helps him whilst inappropriately yearning for the pre-teen Ginta. It's all very inspiring but it's also something most manga fans will have seen
done more than once before, and better, by series like Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho and Bleach. The parts that focus on the likes of Alan, Alviss and Chess Pieces Peta and Ian are a lot better than the ones that focus on the over-earnest Ginta.
The story has improved and is actually getting quite interesting, when the series focuses on the Chess Pieces and the takeover plans at least. With the training handled in this volume I get the impression that the plot and action will really kick in next time. This at least gives something to look forward to as this volume touches on a lot of action and drama without really focusing on it. The art continues to vary heavily from pretty good to overly simplistic, and in places there is a noticeable lack of background detail. The characters are clichéd but quite likeable, but all in all MÄR has yet to really elevate itself from average. The whole thing lacks that spark that really draws you in and keeps you hooked, and isn't yet in the same league as the likes of Bleach and Naruto. There are some promising signs for future volumes and the enemies that have shown up are suitably colourful and varied, so I'm sure plenty of action is on the cards, However, at the moment it's just another manga series about a spiky-haired boy tapping into hidden powers to protect to protect his friends. It's entertaining enough but don't expect anything you haven't seen before.
The same as last time, a few adverts, a message from the author, a next volume preview and a short one-page bonus manga.