The Music of Marie feels special from the opening pages. The sketchy style alone eschews the razor-sharp lines of most modern manga, the work having a unique fingerprint that makes it stand out from the crowd. From the rag-tag fashions to the almost Dali-esque landscapes, there's a real feeling of artistic craft here. Even the mechanical horses show their workings, their clockwork cogs and pistons exposed, giving them an eerie, skeletal look.
Our protagonists are Kai and Pipi, childhood friends who grow up in the factory town of Gil, overseen by their mechanical Goddess, Marie. Kai has superb hearing and is something of a celebrity in his town thanks to his ability to locate natural resources by tapping rocks and listening to the sounds reverberating through the rock. He can also hear the music emanating from his mechanical Goddess, and as such he's enraptured whenever she passes through the sky, much to the consternation of Pipi, who longs for his affection.
Such is the attention to detail in the world, from it's islands, population, rights and rituals, that it's easy to see why Kai is in such a daze. Usamaru Furuya has created a wonderous world full of riches, governed by a mechanical marvel that defies description.
It's hard to say too much about the story without giving away some of the revelations that really deserve to be discovered by the reader, but every time you think you can see where the story is leading, there's a sharp turn down an unseen path that resets your expectations. The cast, from the central pairing to their close friends and eventual encounters outside of their small town, are all instantly memorable and a pleasure to spend time with. There are no wasted scenes or irritating characters, instead every encounter feels genuine. The village rituals feel rooted in tradition, and while it becomes clear around the halfway mark about the setting of this world and Marie's role within it, that doesn't mean you'll anticipate the trajectory of the story.
This is a seminal work, an example of how comics and the raw power of sequential art can truly convey a level of emotion and depth that is so much richer than words on their own. It's a must for any mature reader's library, and a superb starting point for any discussion regarding the nature of humanity and the burden of free will.
Much like Haibane Renmei, there's a feeling of spiritual melancholy throughout the book, hints of experiences that are beyond understanding presented in a world that looks incredibly inviting. Even so, there are some very dark paths trodden here, with some truly affecting imagery that feels particularly pertinent given the situation in Ukraine. The almost prophetic nature of the book makes it even more relevant and disturbing to a modern audience. Indeed, the author's note at the back of the book, written in 2016, states that they feel World War III has already started - one can only imagine how they feel today. It's truly sobering.
In the end, Pipi and Kai's journey is a hopeful one. Just know that whatever you take away from the book will be deeply personal, such is the breadth and depth Usamaru Furuya's masterful fairytale.