Reviewby Carlo Santos, Aug 25th 2008
Muhyo & Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation
Muhyo and his assistant Roji are practitioners of Magic Law, dishing out justice when ghosts and spirits run amok. Their latest assignment—a haunted apartment building—brings them into direct competition with high-strung executor Goryo and his scheming minion Ebisu. But this is more than just a friendly competition of magical skill: whoever drives out the ghost will claim ownership of Muhyo's current office! After the deed is done, Muhyo has some harsh words for Roji, who finds himself thinking back on how they met and where his career is headed next. Roji decides that his next step is to take the Magic Law Exams and discover just what he's capable of, but when the examiner pulls Roji aside for some "re-testing," could it be that his skills don't meet the expected standard?
There is a strange duality in the way Muhyo and Roji presents itself. Many of its basic elements are painfully generic ... yet the series comes with enough twists and oddities to stay interesting. The first half of Volume 6 finishes off the apartment exorcism plotline, which is about as monster-of-the-week as you can possibly get—and then launches into a surprisingly important flashback right after Muhyo makes a shocking decision. It's as if the series purposely lulls itself into a false sense of mediocrity, just so it can defy expectations in the very next chapter. The next turn of events could be Roji's transformation from loser to hero ... or it might be another pack of clichés. With the story forever straddling that delicate line between tired old formula and intriguing development, who can say?
The first few chapters are definitely tired old formula, though, with the usual "let's throw magical attacks around until someone wins" business, only with the attacks being thrown at ghosts instead of each other. Even the story behind the haunting—a sorrowful mother-and-daughter tale—had already been revealed in the previous volume, leaving little else except for Muhyo and Goryo to duke it out and finish the job. The competition aspect does lend some tension to the fight, as the rivals end up racing against time and against each other, and occasional sidekick Nana also gets a chance to star in this adventure. But those minor bright spots can't erase the fact that this is basically Muhyo and friends doing what they do best when the author runs out of ideas.
Thank goodness, then, that an unexpected idea strikes at the halfway point—one that sends Muhyo and Roji on separate paths. It also paves the way for a flashback on how the two met, which interestingly enough reminds us that there never was an origin story in the first volume—it just kind of dropped in on one of their missions. As far as character development goes, this flashback also explains just why Muhyo has stuck by his bumbling assistant for so long. More character development awaits in the present day, where Roji finally resolves to do something about his life and takes on the Magic Law Exams. On one hand, this could be the start of yet another cliché—the dreaded Training Arc—but on the other, it does provide a nice break from the usual ghost-hunting adventures and even introduces a couple of colorful new characters.
The artwork of Muhyo and Roji is another aspect that seems to constantly waver between just plain lousy and surprisingly decent: Yoshiyuki Nishi's style of character design will never be known for its stylishness, but the monsters that they fight are some of the most convincing in the business. And it's not just the bad guys, either: even the creatures that Muhyo and Goryo summon for heavy-duty exorcism, as well as the various methods of Magic Law punishment, show a strong flair for fanastical, supernatural designs. There are also continuing improvements in areas like backgrounds—the architecture and environments in Roji's flashback, as well the Magic Law academy in the present day, show a good level of detail—and the layouts are only confusing one or two times, as opposed to the early volumes where they could spend entire fights without ever once clearly showing what was going on. Some artistic rough spots remain (so, uh, when did Roji pick up that staff?) but the visuals are competent enough to enjoy the action.
Not surprisingly, most conversations in this volume consist of typical shounen adventure dialogue, where characters yell at each other in battle, declare complex strategies aloud, and—in Roji's case—announce one's intentions to get stronger. For anyone vaguely familiar with the genre, this makes for very easy reading, and the only tricky language to be found is in discussions of spiritual/magical theory. Fortunately, the author's own footnotes help to explain matters of Ecto-this and Magic Law that. Also, the series' focus on fantasy and the supernatural makes it fairly light on references to Japanese culture; this probably makes it less jarring to see all the sound effects converted into English. In fact, with its simple dialogue and culture-neutral subject matter (apart from the occasional reference to Hades), this translation makes itself highly accessible to newcomers.
So it looks like Muhyo and Roji has, for at least one more volume, dodged the bullet of being deemed "too mediocre to bother with." This installment manages to keep one's interest with a sudden turn of events halfway through, and it looks like there may be a whole new world of adventure in store for Roji. A couple of flashback chapters also help to add to the depth of the overall series, showing that the characters are worth caring about and that there's more to them than vanquishing troublesome ghosts every several chapters. The gruesome creature designs add some visual flair, although from most of the other pages it's clear that this will never win any awards for outstanding art. But then again, that's pretty much how Muhyo and Roji work: remaining barely above adequate most of the time, but occasionally throwing in something interesting enough to keep people from dropping the series. Best of luck to Roji on his exams.
Overall : C
Story : C+
Art : C
+ Flashback chapters and Roji's new career path keep the story from getting stale, along with eye-catchingly freakish monsters to fight.
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