Books (Manga): MAO by Rumiko Takahashi

Cover of MAO Volume 1 by Rumiko Takahashi
Cover of MAO Volume 1 by Rumiko Takahashi

by Rumiko Takahashi
published in English by Viz (ongoing)
2021 – present

Rumiko Takahashi is a famous and prolific manga author, who I have been a fan of since our various California anime fans brought the animated comedy Ranma 1/2 to club meetings (back in the 80s/90s). I especially love her Mermaid Saga, which is dark and ambiguous. I’ve written previously about the anime based on Takahashi’s Inuyasha series, and have mentioned RIN-NE in passing; she structured these manga ingeniously to be easily serialized as anime.

Nanoka is a contemporary girl in Japan, being raised by her kindly grandfather and strange housekeeper after surviving a gruesome freak accident which killed her parents during her childhood. One day, near the scene of the accident, she takes a turn, travels back in time, and is almost immediately attacked… by monsters.

In this past, she meets the exorcist, monster-killer, and part time doctor to nice spirits, Mao. Distinctive-looking Mao, who bears a facial scar and fears he may be immortal, has been through some traumas he doesn’t recall clearly. A day of tragedy hundreds of years ago led to his friends trying to kill him, the destruction of a temple/school, and the death of the girl he loved – and he worries that he may have killed her himself.

Nanoka isn’t sure why she is in this past with Mao, but when trouble strikes and she picks up Mao’s cursed sword, she isn’t struck dead. What gives her this power to resist the curse, and what is her connection to Mao?

I’m 200 chapters in (!!!), and while Takahashi’s serialized-for-television structure persists, there is a sense of tangible progress on solving the mysteries that worry Mao. Yes, there are side quests, and a very large number of characters, but most connect to the mysteries Mao is attempting to solve. As a Takahashi fan, I’d say that MAO has more focused story-telling than Inuyasha (which had more side quests than goal resolution), and is more serious than RIN-NE (which is a school comedy about death and regrets – no, really). The tragedies that strike, and the cruelties that the characters experienced are serious, and they are marked by them – in many cases literally scarred, but also emotionally harmed. Answers to the mysteries that haunt them bring some relief.

This is an interesting story, and Takahashi keeps it progressing with more intensity than some of her other popular works. I am enjoying it.

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