"Mao" Vol. 1 Review

Creative Staff 
Story/Art: Rumiko Takahashi 
Translation/Adaptation: Junko Goda, Shaenon Garrity 

What They Say 

Exorcise your destiny in an era-spanning supernatural adventure from manga legend Rumiko Takahashi! 
 When Nanoka travels back in time to a supernatural early 20th century, she gets recruited by aloof exorcist Mao. What is the thread of fate that connects them? Together, they seek answers...and kick some demon butt along the way! Nanoka passes through a portal into the Taisho era, where exorcist Mao reluctantly rescues her from the jaws of a grotesque yokai. 

When Nanoka gets back to the present, she discovers she has some new, incredible abilities. She returns to the past looking for answers, only to get caught up in Mao’s investigation of a series of gruesome murders. As her questions about herself multiply, Nanoka learns that Mao is cursed by a cat demon named Byoki—and so is his sword. If anyone but Mao attempts to wield it, they are doomed. But when Mao’s life is in jeopardy, Nanoka picks up his blade and swings! 


For me it’s always a good day when a new Rumiko Takahashi series debuts! I grab the first book off the shelf of my local Barnes & Noble, make some hot chocolate, and sit down to see what blend of humor and romance my favorite manga author has to deliver! Having written some of the all-time classics like “Ranma ½” and “Maison Ikkoku” (which may very well be my favorite anime of all time), Takahashi has a blend of comedic timing and human drama that is incredibly rare to find in the manga industry. Some authors can do one or the other very well, but few can pull off the balancing act she has been doing for more than three decades now. Her latest series is “Mao” and is brought to us once again by Viz Media (who has brought over all her previous series if memory serves me). 

The story revolves around Nanoka, a typical high school girl who doesn’t have anything notable about her what-so-ever. She lives with her adoptive aunt and uncle, goes to school, and wakes up every morning to a special blended “medicine” her aunt makes that she drinks every morning (which is gross to drink but, hey, it helps her with…something)! The only thing even remotely different about Nanoka is that she was the victim of a freak accident years ago that was too unusual to describe. She was with her parents in a car when she was in the first grade when suddenly a sink hole appeared without warning under their car. Her parents died but she miraculously survived, and has been haunted by that day ever since. Though there is nothing to suggest this was anything but a freak accident, questions start arising to the origin of that day when Nanoka discovers a portal to the Taisho era of Japan in an alley right in front of the accident site. 

She walks through the portal and finds herself in said time period with priests, ancient spells, and monsters who are attacking her for a mysterious power she might have… 


Wait a minute…this is starting to sound an awful lot like “InuYasha!” 

Remember that show? Where a young girl named Kagome was pulled into a well into the Feudal Japan era? I seem to recall she had a mysterious power there as well. I remember there being a lot of demon slaying from the title character. Wait a minute, isn’t this series called “Mao?!” Does that mean there is a title character with a big sword who is skilled at killing…YES!!! There he is! There’s Mao! Once Nanoka enters the Taisho era of Japan and is attacked by a demon that wants a power she supposedly has, she is saved by an exorcist named Mao, who comes into the series with a big sword and the skills to take down big scary demons and monsters! Although he doesn’t have the attitude of a particularly famous half-demon from a former hit series that has been referenced too many times already, Mao is at the very least a bit aloof to the problems of a teenage girl. 

Unlike said half-demon though, despite his short temper, he does at the very least seem to like people. He helps them out with their demon problems, provides exorcist medicine, and is generally well liked all around by people. His biggest problem is his sword. While a great weapon in and of itself, a curse was placed on it and him, which is why he has now lived for over 900 years! Of course, since the sword is cursed that means it will be a VERY bad idea if someone else uses it and…I’m sorry, I’m going to stop right here because I think you all know where this is going: “Mao” – as of the first volume – is a watered-down version of “InuYasha.” Heck, it may even be borrowing elements from Takahashi’s previous work “Rin-ne,” a series that went on for a staggering 40 volumes despite absolutely no one I knew actually reading it. “InuYasha” began serialization in 1996. We’re now basically 25 years removed from that date and Takahashi is STILL writing stories about demons, curses, and ancient Japanese time periods?! 

Look, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I have any authority over what a creator does with her work. I’m not here to act like I know better than her what makes a good series. Shoot, Takahashi’s books take up more than one book shelf in my house, so clearly she’s doing SOMETHING right in her career! All that said…I think I’m getting burned out with feudal fairy tales. I’m old enough to remember when I went from reading “Ranma ½,” to “Maison Ikkoku,” to “One Pound Gospel,” to “Mermaid Saga,” to “InuYasha,” and how fresh each series felt compared to last. Sure, certain series were better than others, however there was a variety there that few other authors had, and the vast majority of it was great (for those curious, I just started “Urusei Yatsura” about a year ago, so I was late to the party there)! Despite not being a particularly good manga, I even plowed through “Rin-ne,” putting up with that series also InuYasha-like premise and getting through the very average story all the way to the mediocre ending.  After it was over, I was looking forward to her next series, hoping that she would have gotten all this out of her system. Yet here I am reviewing “Mao” – a series I wasn’t even assigned to write about on this site – utterly bored and feeling like Takahashi is just going through the motions again. Even down to the artwork. 

Granted, Takahashi’s artwork has never been stellar. As creative as she may be, many of her characters tend to look the same if you cover up their hair. Where they shined was with their personalities and character traits. While it’s still too early to say where this is going, Nanoka is indistinguishable from Sakura Mamiya and far less memorable than Akane Tendo! Like Kagome was at the beginning of “InuYasha,” she is more of a prop than she is an actual character right now. She does not understand why she has the powers she has and is dependent on her male rescuer to save her. Granted, I’m sure that will change as the series progresses, but why should I go on that journey when I just spent the last 25 years going on TWO similar journeys from this same author?! If I hadn’t read her previous series maybe this would be a great start to “Mao,” I don’t know…but I have read those series and I don’t need to read them again and again. 

“Mao” is Rumiko Takahashi on autopilot. Though the series will almost certainly get better (I have that much faith it will) I’m not sure I have the strength to care. Her previous series “Rin-ne” did improve over time, but not to the extent that it got out of “InuYasha’s” shadow. “Mao” seems to be positioning itself as even MORE of an “InuYasha” clone, to the point where I’m wondering why she didn’t just continue with that series this whole time?! The real tragic thing though is that feel Takahashi could be doing better. I may be wrong, but considering how cookie cutter this whole book felt, I sense she’s bored with this material, and I would hope that she has the clout (as well as financial stability) to write something she REALLY wants to write! She’s too creative of a person to keep remaking “InuYasha” at this point, and “Mao” made me cry inside more than anything. Being the super fan that I am I WILL continue “Mao” for a bit longer, but this is one of the rare instances where I must instigate a ‘Three Strike’ rule. 

For those unaware, my personal ‘Three Strike’ policy came into play years ago when I was a cash strapped teen. If a series seemed like it had potential but wasn’t grabbing me, I gave it three volumes to convince me that it was worth continuing the journey. Series like “Zatch Bell” and “Shaman King” proved their worth after lackluster starts (while series like “Hunter x Hunter” were dropped under this method). “Mao” made such a lousy impression I would normally drop it now. That said, I’m older now, I have more money to burn, and Takahashi is a great enough author that I think I owe “Mao” a ‘Three Strike’ experiment to see if it gets to the point where the series is something that I look forward to reading and finishing. All that said, we are truly off to a LOUSY start...! 

Content Grade: D 
Art Grade: B 
Packaging Grade: B+ 
Text/Translation Grade: A 
Age Rating: Older Teen 16+ 
Released By: Viz Media 
Release Date: September 14th, 2021 
MSRP: $9.99

Your Comic Book Guy - Kevin

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