Title: Mao Vol. 1
Author: Rumiko Takahashi
Release Date: September 14, 2021
Publisher: Viz Media
Though in Japan, it’s been running since 2019, we’re just getting the English version of Rumiko Takahashi’s Mao now. If Takahashi’s name strikes you as familiar, it’s likely because of her past work, Inuyasha. Mao is Takahashi-san’s latest manga, following Rin-ne, and it stood out to me because of its yokai-oriented premise. It turned out to be a fun read, though the art is a bit basic, and the story is fairly formulaic.
Mao is about Kiba Nanoka, a young woman who was in a mysterious accident as a child. When her car fell into a sinkhole, Nanoka’s parents died, and she encountered some form of demon. Years later, Nanoka accidentally stumbles through a portal into 20th century Japan, where she meets Mao, the titular exorcist, and his sidekick Otoya. The three of them team up to fight various ayakashi (demons) as they search for Byoki, the cat demon who cursed Mao and possibly gave powers to Nanoka.
The story gets off to a running start, as it rapidly establishes Nanoka’s background and the world in which Mao takes place. I appreciate the brisk pace, as it allows the narrative to expand into its more interesting ideas within the first couple of chapters. The core concept of a girl leading two lives and battling demons is strong and can easily set up future volumes to have plenty more battles and deadlier demons. At the same time, most of volume one is fairly predictable, and in line with the Shonen genre, so you won’t find any surprises here if that’s what you’re looking for.
The characters are likable enough and well-designed, with Mao standing out as the most intriguing. The mystery behind Byoki and Nanoka’s growing powers has me intrigued, and I hope to see these points expanded upon in future volumes. We see a hint of Nanoka becoming stronger in the battle against the spider yokai, and I hope she continues to grow into a capable fighter for later demon battles.
The battles are quick and to-the-point, with clear and easy-to-follow attack panels. There’s some creativity in how the protagonists win, with acidic blood playing a major part in two of the major battles in volume one. I’d like to see further volumes find ways to weaponize the blood, as this could lead to some really unique battles.
The art style is simple but very charming, and the action is laid out well. I do wish the main characters were a bit more expressive, as their faces are quite similar. The various demons that appear throughout volume one are well-designed, though the simplicity of the art style makes the yokai feel a bit less intimidating than if they were more detailed. There are some great scenes of tension, though, especially with the spider yokai towards the end of the volume.
Mao isn’t revolutionary, but it’s a fun and straightforward manga with a concept that is ripe for future volumes. It’s easy to pick up whether or not you’re a fan of Takahashi-san’s previous works, so I’d recommend Mao if you’re looking for a light read. Otherwise, I’d wait to see if future volumes shake up the formula a bit.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.