Reviewby Lissa Pattillo, Jul 17th 2010
Maoh: Juvenile Remix
For as long as he can remember, Ando has had a strange gift. By focusing on something in his mind, he is able to make another individual speak out loud the things he thinks. Fearful of being found out as an oddity, something already difficult enough for any teenager, Ando continues his efforts to stay out of people's business and draw no attention. This all changes when Ando and Junya, his young brother whom Ando lives alone with after their parents' death, become targets for a group of hooligans. To their rescue comes a group growing in popularity in their city – a team of vigilantes called Grasshopper. At their helm is Inukai – a man who takes a baseball bat to the head and returns the blow with a smile. “It is my dream to make this city beautiful.” With his words he inspires individuals into action, including the introverted Ando, while in the shadows he dispatches his own brand of justice.
For reasons Ando doesn't understand he is able to make others speak out loud the thoughts in his head – a seemingly silly power that none the less has plagued him for years. In this introductory volume Ando struggles with accepting the truth of his power's existence and the effects he could have on those around him by utilizing them. The do-or-do-not power-debate parallels to Ando's own personal questioning as a whole – how much effect can a person's words have and what is someone's personal responsibility to stop being a bystander to injustice?
It's just another day for Ando before he bears witness to a confrontation between a local group of thugs and the recently formed vigilante team called Grasshopper. This is where he firsts sees the man destined (or doomed) to change his life – the enigmatic, Inukai. Reminiscent of Griffith from Kentaro Miura's Berserk, Inukai is a distractingly beautiful man with big dreams and grey-area morals to support them. With a stare that could crack stone and an eerily calm disposition, Inukai has banded together an ever-growing entourage of individuals who work under him to dispense their own self-proclaimed justice on those ‘plaguing’ the city. To the public, Grasshopper's goals are that of a peaceful tomorrow and a violence-free method in getting there. To those on the wrong side of Inukai's vision however - or wrong-place, wrong-time spectators such as Ando - it becomes evident very quickly that pretty words are but a very small part of Inukai's repertoire. When the public's eyes are gone, the gloves come off and it isn't pretty.
The opposite can be said for the art that tells the tale however, pretty perhaps not being the best word to describe it but functional and appealing definitely come to mind. The layout of the panels are easy to follow, sticking to predominantly boxed in panels while utilizing some great full-page spreads for those extra-dramatic moments. Scenes like these really make an impact, bolstered by the occasional standout character design – most notably Inukai's. Though perhaps a little too feminine in appearance for some, his ambiguity offers another level of intrigue to the character. Other designs stand out less positively however, such as some needlessly busty girls near the book's back that just feel entirely out of place in an otherwise fairly reality-grounded book.
This first volume of Maoh has already taken the plot in some interesting different directions. On one hand you have Ando whose own personal struggle with his own odd ability offers both supernatural-power foreshadowing and your classically emphatic scenes of him just trying to fit in at school. Then you have Inukai who initially comes off like a potential protagonist and someone who Ando finds himself in awe of. This first impression is then swiftly thrashed by subsequent events that leave a bloody mess of bodies behind him and his masked associates. Ando's own internal debates take a backseat to his mounting mistrust of Inukai and what once began as admiration quickly turns to disbelief.
But what does an enterprising vigilante have to do with Ando? While directly not much so far, indirectly Ando has come across Inukai in more than a few situations and has connected the dots in each following, such as the untimely demise of a certain official. Things take a more at-home turn when a student in Ando's class, one constantly at the mercy of a gang of bullies, takes it upon himself to exact revenge after being inspired by a well-timed meeting with Inukai. He's just one of the many in the book who are spellbound by Inukai to an extent that emphasizes the cult-like nature of Grasshopper and the true power of a charismatic leader. Whether it really is just a commanding presence or something else remains to be seen but suffice to say Inukai is a force to be reckoned with. With so many ignorant to his methods, Ando is finding himself more and more inclined to do something about it himself. What that is however, and whether it stems from morality or morbid curiousity, is anyone's guess at this point.
The story is interesting to follow from Ando's outside-looking-in perspective while his own ability implies he'll have more to offer than the role of whistle-blower. At times it feels like the book dwells too much on Ando feeling sorry for himself but his conscious efforts to keep it to himself and deal with it is both sympatheziable and a relief, saving the story from becoming a fest of woe-is-me moments. It then proves extra enjoyable seeing Ando having some fun with his powers eventually, a promising end-note that implies he won't be angsting about it forever.
Secondary characters of apparent relevance in the story include Ando's optimistic slang-heavy brother, Junya, and Junya's spacey girlfriend who apparently has issues dressing herself in the morning. The two go between being obnoxious in one panel to entertaining in another, predominantly proving comic relief or momentary springboards into action, such as when Junya tries to step in to help a young girl being groped on a subway car while he and Ando look on. Later in the volume there is some foreshadowing of strange abilities Junya himself may possess but their true significance remains forth coming.
Published under Viz Media's Shonen Sunday line-up – a collection of series that are shonen in nature but with a plot-centric edge that lifts them up from the more genre-standard series such as Bleach and Naruto - Maoh fits well into the intent of the imprint. It's a fairly streamlined plot with varying levels of complexity that are engaging while never straying into hard to follow territory. It also sports an art style that should appeal to a fairly wide manga-audience, keeping fans of any genre looking at least past first glance. The character of Inukai has already proven himself a character worth fearing and Ando is the underdog protagonist whose good intentions, fly or fail, will be worth sticking around to watch develop. While it's direction remains up the air, Maoh Juvenile Remix opens with a compelling first volume full of questions worth trying to answer.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ A believably unnerving modern-day villain; glimpses of strange abilities an interesting added quirk to a story that remains grounded in thought-provoking questions of an individual's responsibilities to themselves and others
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