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Maoh: Juvenile Remix, Volume 1 by Megumi…

Maoh: Juvenile Remix, Volume 1

by Megumi Osuga

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Maoh is another series I discovered with my Utopian Studies glasses on, something which I am quite pleased about. Of the three manga titles I picked up at MegaCon (Utopia's Avenger and Library Wars are the others), Maoh is the most complex and interesting, delving deep into the dark recesses of citizen-based justice, bullying, and self-identity, all within the first volume.

Maoh takes place in Nekota, a city that is rapidly modernizing, taking with it the world its residents have come to love. Gangs roam the streets, crime is on the rise, and greedy businessmen are trying to take everything they can while the city falls apart around them. But a vigilante group -- known as Grasshopper and led by the charming and beautiful Inukai -- has risen
up to restore "peace" and "prosperity" while opposing the New World's "progress." Caught in the middle is Ando, a high schooler who has done everything he can to conform and hide his real self. But Ando's discovery of the dark side of Grasshopper -- deadly beatings and psychotic murder attempts -- forces him to change, to think about who he is and who he wants to be in a city creeping closer to the edge of sanity...

If one were to focus on the strongest aspect of Osuga's adaptation of Isaka's story, it would have to be characterization. Ando is both a sympathetic character and an intriguing one. Seeing the changing city of Nekota through his eyes provides a unique, almost anti-heroic perspective through which the major developments of the book can be consumed (M.A.O.H., as it turns out, stands for "minor acts of heroism"). It is through that perspective that one begins to understand the intricacies of what is going on and its implications. As Inukai gains more power, Ando grows more weary and concerned, both about his wellbeing and the wellbeing of the city and its citizens, both of which force him to reevaluate his world view and his rules for engagement (i.e. rules that he has written to keep his "weirdness" away from prying eyes).

The development of Ando's character, as such, presents itself in a kind of complex of character interactions. Instead of reducing Maoh to a simple-minded and overly direct narrative of self-discovery (such as one which hinges on increasing a character's power), Osuga has created a narrative which plays out through numerous subplots. Ando's interactions with a fellow classmate (who has become a member of Grasshopper and begun beating or attempting to kill off the bullies in their school), for example, direct him to consider how he has contributed to the conditions of a hierarchical class system in their high school and the morality of vigilante justice. Both weigh heavily on his conscience, but the storyline isn't resolved in the first volume precisely because this is tied into the larger narrative of Inukai's rise to power, which Ando knows is based on a morally ambiguous set of violent actions.

A similar activity is present in Ando's attempts to understand his relatively low-key magic. While Ando does have the ability to make others say what he is thinking, it is not a skill he is particular good at (having just discovered it), nor a skill which he is inclined to let others know about. His ability, then, plays an active role in his development as a character, forcing him to reshape his perspective on his life and consider the ramifications of his attempts to build an unexceptional persona for himself, in much the same way as his murderous classmate has raised similar questions. His use of his ability also escalates as he becomes more confident, acting as a kind of barometer.

Ando's magic and interactions with classmates are only two of the many ways Osuga sets up a multi-volume journey through a dislocated youth's self-discovery. These narrative strands present themselves in Ando's relationship with his brother, his interactions with seemingly random characters in the city (who might make appearances later), and even in his disconnected interactions with Inukai (whom he never meets, but sees in action on a number of occasions, good and bad). I think it is fair to remark that Inukai's increased authority in the story is a little rushed, but pacing in manga is sometimes faster than in other forms of literature, in part because manga is often serialized by chapter. Regardless, the treatment of Ando's character makes for a story that is gripping and challenging.

The only serious flaw in Maoh, however, is in its out-of-place family-based humor. In any other narrative, I might have found the silliness of Ando's brother and his brother's girlfriend amusing; many jokes are had at their expense (the brother because he can't cook and is somewhat lazy, and the girlfriend because she is portrayed as exceptionally dimwitted). But the serious tone of Maoh means that such moments are always sucking something away from a tension that needs to be there for the darker aspects of the narrative to hit their stride. I hope that future volumes either pull back on this kind of humor or find more appropriate ways to insert humor into the story. There is always room for humor in a serious tale, but it always comes down to timing. Here, I think the silliness of the humor detracts from an intense narrative, though only slightly, since such moments were few and far between.

Despite the above flaw, I think the first volume is a fantastic read. Fans of Anthony Burgess might find Osuga's story intriguing, while manga readers may be drawn to the subtlety of the narrative. If you're not a manga fan, you might give this one a shot. If not, then you're missing out. Maoh is complex and a tad sadistic, which all the best manga and anime always are. ( )
2 vote Arconna | May 5, 2011 |
A boy named Ando with the ability to make others speak his thoughts lives by trying to appear normal till his belief in his inability to change anything is shaken by a meeting with Inukai, the young head of a vigilante group trying to protect and improve their deteriorating city. However, Ando discovers that the much-loved and respected Inukai may not be the pure and perfect moral hero that he seems.

With shounen manga's frequent overemphasis on it's main characters' ability to better their opponents by simply overpowering them in battle, the idea of a main character whose "power" is simply to make people say things appealed to me, and made me curious as to what the author might do to make this a truly pivotal power rather than just a random convenience or amusement. So far, unfortunately, the answer is "not much." There times Ando actually use his power are regulated to generic instances involving train groping and bullying, and boil down mostly to Ando making someone say "stop it" and everyone taking the request to heart for some reason.

Instead, the volume focuses more on Ando's change from being a mere "bystander" when bad things happen to doing what he can to help people. Focus on character development would usually be great by me, but Ando's change was hard to swallow considering it was supposedly brought about by his respect for Inukai, a man who I think a jaded person such as Ando would usually find to be too superior, morally rigetious and pedantic for his tastes. Heck, I think *most of the population* would find him to be these things, yet the the city fawns over him, making it take a pretty big suspension of disbelief just to get through the volume.

In a way, the whole manga so far (and I suspect onward) is dependent on Inukai being a compelling character. We need to feel his charm and charisma with the town and understand why they look up to him, why the main looks up to him. Need it too to feel the shock and mixed feelings when Ando discovers his darker side, and to understand what Ando is up against in his likely future attempts to convince others he may not be as good as he seems. But the justice-obsessed-two-wrongs-do-make-a-right-maybe-slightly-crazy guy is so prevalent in manga that it can't be interesting in and of itself, and this manga doesn't do much to make the archetype into a real character of its own or handle it with much maturity. Ando, with his tendency to feel sorry for himself and insistence on reminding us once every few pages or so that he CAN'T MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND WON'T GET INVOLVED, isn't much more compelling. Though the concept has potential and the manga doesn't make any remarkable missteps, I don't see much reason to continue reading. ( )
  narwhaltortellini | Nov 28, 2010 |
Reason for Reading: I was drawn to the urban fantasy angle of the plot.

Ando, a high school student, has the ability to make others say what he is thinking. He used this power as a child, but stopped when he told about it and was ridiculed. Now he is discovering he still has the power and putting it to good use. At the same time a group of vigilantes called the "Grasshoppers" has become very popular as they protect citizens from crime and the greedy businessmen who want to turn the area into a big city metropolis of shopping malls. They have a very charismatic leader who seems to hold a spell over all who meet with him, but Ando has seen him at his worst and starts to follow him to find out what he's really up to and how his group's numbers are increasing so fast. The man may seem angelic to all who follow him but Ando wonders if he might actually be a devil with ulterior motives.

I found this story very intriguing. Ando and his brother are orphans so they are able to come and go as they please. All the art is very detailed with none of the usual manga gimmicks except in the character of the Grasshopper leader who is the stylized man who looks like a woman. This makes his character stand out right away and adds to his charisma. There are also a few s*xually suggestive representations of females which are obviously meant to appeal to the male readers. As Ando tries to help a school mate who is always picked on by bullies he finds the Grasshoppers have got to him at some point too, altering his character, making Ando very leery of this group and the leader in particular. There is quite a bit of violence but not excessive. Then there are some downright creepy scenes which just added to keeping me glued to this story. The ending is quite intense leaving one very anxious for the next volume. A shadowy glimpse is given on the next page with some intriguing phrases and just barely visible illustrations which then placates us with the words "Coming Soon". But a quick search gives me Aug. 10 as the release date for Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 will be out before the year is over. I will certainly be continuing on with this series! ( )
  ElizaJane | Jun 5, 2010 |
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Vol. 1. "What do you do when the city's savior is actually a devil in disguise? Ando is a high schooler who posses the ability to force others to vocalize his thoughts. As a child he was shunned and ridiculed for this ability, and so he quickly learned to suppress it. But now, despite all his effort to act normal and fit in, he's dragged into a situation that forces him to reawaken his gift. The catalyst is the actions of a group called 'Grasshopper,' lead by a charismatic and mysterious young man, Inukai. Grasshopper portrays itself as a civic group, but the events Ando witnesses point at something far more disturbing. As the organization grows in strength and numbers, Ando begins a dangerous shadow game to check Inukai's plans"--Publisher's web site.… (more)

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