REVIEW: ‘Mao,’ Volume 1

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Mao Volume 1 - But Why Tho

It is quite the opportunity to be able to read three different Rumiko Takahashi works in the same year. Mao Volume 1 is her latest manga series, currently ongoing in Japan. The first volume introduces young Nanoka, who accidentally passes through a portal into the Taisho era where she meets an exorcist, Dr. Mao. The series is published in English by VIZ Media under their Shonen Sunday imprint. It is translated by Junko Goda, adapted to English by Shaenon Garrity, and features touch-up art and lettering by Susan Daigle-Leach. Yukiko Whitely is behind the cover and interior design, and the volume is edited by Annette Roman.

Mao Volume 1 is a great blend of a lot of the Rumic World—a combo of Inuyasha and RIN-NE with a dash of that good horror from Mermaid Saga. Takahashi manages to take what fans of those series love and still mix things up enough to make the story feel different. Readers still don’t know what is going to happen, and will likely latch on to Mao and Nanoka quickly to see what fate befalls them.

When Nanoka was in first grade, a mysterious sinkhole opened up in the street beneath her family’s car. Her parents died, but Nanoka was found lying nearby outside the car, covered in blood and not breathing. She has no memories of her apparent death, but has lived with a weak body ever since. Now in junior high, Nanoka ventures to the street of the accident after school, and accidentally walks through a portal into the Taisho era. When she runs into Dr. Mao, he calls her an ayakashi and her world is thrown upside down as she discovers powers that have been mysteriously suppressed inside of her.

A majority of Mao Volume 1 is set up, but it is still compelling. A great example is the question of just how much Nanoka’s grandparents know about her. Mao made it apparent that she had been taking something to suppress her ayakashi powers, but the only thing consistently referenced is the medicine she has to drink every morning for her “weak body.” Nanoka’s powers also allow her to start contributing right away in battle, and the surprise on other characters’ faces is satisfying. For non-shonen fans, however, it might feel a bit formulaic.

Additionally, this is not just the story of Nanoka. Per the series’ title, it is also the story of Mao. He was cursed by a cat demon named Byoki and seeks to undo said curse. Takahashi smartly sets Mao’s adventure in the Taisho era, so the story doesn’t feel too similar to Inuyasha (which was set in the Feudal era). Mao works as a doctor and solves cases involving ayakashi amidst developing cities with cars on the road. This backdrop adds an additional layer of intrigue, as it was such a transitional time, and hopefully, Takahashi utilizes the time period during the episodic chapters.

Takahashi’s artwork is just as great as always. It isn’t quite as intense as the body horror of Mermaid Saga, but demons still morph out of human bodies, hands get chopped off, and eyes change when someone’s power is unleashed. Also, specifically, the artwork for Byoki is great. Takahashi truly took “cat demon” and went with it.

Mao Volume 1 is a great start to another Rumic World manga. Takahashi is back in form, blending the best parts of some of her beloved series to create a story that both feels familiar and still new. It will be fun to follow Nanoka and Mao into the future.

Mao Volume 1 is available now wherever books are sold.

Mao Volume 1
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TL;DR

Mao Volume 1 is a great start to another Rumic World manga. Takahashi is back in form, blending the best parts of some of her beloved series to create a story that both feels familiar and still new. It will be fun to follow Nanoka and Mao into the future.