Manga Review: Mao Volume One

Mao is the most recent manga series by mangaka Rumiko Takahashi.

Mao Volume One
Written by: Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Shogakukan
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: September 14, 2021

The story opens by focusing on a middle school girl named Nanoka Kiba, who was saved from the wreckage of a freak accident eight years earlier at the Gogyo Town Shopping Center. Her parents died in the accident, but she was found outside the car, covered in blood, and not breathing. It’s been a bit of a mystery why she survived and her parents didn’t.

Rumors begin to swirl that odd noises can be heard at the location where the accident happened. When Nanoka and her classmates go to check it out, only Nanoka can hear anything. As she goes through the alley, she finds herself transported to another world; in a later scene, it’s revealed that she goes to 1920’s Japan when she’s in this other world. What Nanoka notices at first is that she can see through the people that are there, almost as if they’re ghosts. She is attacked by a yokai and ends up being saved by a man wielding a longsword and his companion… and it should be noted that the man and his companion are solid, just like Nanoka.

The man with the sword is named Mao, and he is an onmyoji searching for the byoki that placed a curse on him. His assistant is a shikigami named Otoya. Mao starts asking Nanoka is she’s an ayakashi, and of course, Nanoka has no idea what’s going on. She makes it back to her own world, and hardly any time has passed. However, he friends ask her why she’s suddenly so muddy. When Nanoka makes another trip to this different world, we learn that the amount of the passage of time in our world changes when she returns. At first, it’s only a few seconds… but later, after only spending two days in the other world, a week has passed in our world. When she returns to school after that excursion, we get the classic Kagome excuse from Inuyasha: she was in the hospital all that time.

When it comes to Mao, it turns out that he isn’t from the 1920’s world, either. In flashbacks, we see him in what appears to be feudal Japan, wearing a robe that looks awfully similar to Inuyasha’s robe of the fire rat. At one point in this volume, Mao figures he has to be around 900 years old. Nanoka, who didn’t really have much memory of the accident from her childhood, starts remembering events from that day, and it appears that both she and Mao have been affected by the byoki. Near the end of the volume, Nanoka joins Mao on an investigation of who has been killing young men in 1920’s Japan and taking their heads.

Later in the volume, we get to meet Nanoka’s classmate Shiraha, who has researched the accident that Nanoka had been in. When she asks him why he already knows so much about the accident, Shiraha says it’s because he’s impressed by how tough she is because of all she’s gone through and can still remain upbeat. But as her friends later point out, they think he’s learned all of this because he has a crush on Nanoka.

It appears that the series is being set up to have an overarching story of trying to find the byoki, as well as supernatural investigations that Mao and Nanoka will participate in. This series has a strong hook to keep the reader wanting to come back, and it shows a lot of promise. Hopefully the series can continue to be as strong as this initial showing.

Having said that, though, it feels like Takahashi has gotten stuck in a bit of a thematical rut since Inuyasha‘s success. The two series she has launched since Inuyasha have featured a female protagonist who has some kind of supernatural ability or is able to travel between worlds. The main male protagonist is supernatural in some sense (Rinne is a shinigami while Mao is an onmyoji). In both RIN-NE and Mao, the female protagonist helps the male protagonist with the duty or goal they have. When comparing the start of RIN-NE and the start of Mao, I have to say that Mao has the stronger start. But I do hope that in future volumes, Mao can find a way to differentiate itself more from both RIN-NE and Inuyasha.

The art style is what readers familiar with Rumiko Takahashi’s work have come to expect from her. At least with Mao, her protagonists don’t resemble the main characters from her other works much as much as the protagonist from RIN-NE did.

If you’re a fan of Rumiko Takahashi’s work, then I think you will likely enjoy the first volume of Mao.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media

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