From the maker of Flame of Recca, MÄR is very, very formulaic, being in large part based on a one-on-one tournament so typical of shounen manga, but is nonetheless extremely enjoyable. The story begins with a nerdy high-school loser being whisked away from his classroom to a mystical land, where he finds to his astonishment that (owing to, of course, the weaker gravity...) he can run extremely fast, is incredibly strong and has no more problems with stamina. An adventure begins involving a powerful weapon, a young princess uncannily similar to his one true friend at home, and a destructive organisation known as the chess no koma, who rank their fighters by strength, from the menial pawns to the powerful knights - with a great Queen lurking in the shadows.
It is a simple, unchallenging story, but where it truly succeeds is in the exuberant character designs. From the recurring villains to the single-encounter enemies - even the insignificant minor characters (like the wonderful Moku-sama and Chappu), they are sometimes derivative, but almost always bizarre and great fun to see in action. And Halloween the Crucified has to be seen to be believed - a strange little figure with a bound body, big pointed shoes and a tomato that's been carved like a hallowe'en pumpkin for a head, chained to a large cross, I don't think I've ever seen a quirkier character design, and that I genuinely do feel animosity to such an outlandish antagonist speaks volumes.
I'll be delighted when I see this charming, simple shounen animated.
(written 20.2.05 - before either the anime or the sequel, MÄR Omega, was released)