Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Maoh: Juvenile Remix
Nekota City is caught up in a war between its everyday residents and opportunistic businessmen. A real estate developer has started several construction projects in the city, only to be halted when a vigilante group called Grasshopper begins committing retaliatory acts of violence. One of the few would-be peacemakers is a high school boy named Ando, and with his supernatural ability to make people speak his thoughts, he tries to turn the tide. However, a direct confrontation with Grasshopper's leader leaves Ando shaken. It will take the help of his brother Junya, as well as a life-threatening crisis, to restore Ando's faith in his convictions. Meanwhile, the mayor of the city finds himself being targeted by vigilantes as well—and his last line of defense is a scruffy hired assassin. But what happens when that assassin meets an even tougher killer?
Throughout its run, Maoh: Juvenile Remix has never really felt like a manga. It's more like a rant on social theory and psychological control, packaged in manga form. The reason for this lies with the original scenario being written by Kotaro Isaka, a novelist by trade who deals with words and ideas more than images and action. Isaka's approach is evident in the way the characters do battle: sure, there are mad assassins getting into knife fights and all, but the most memorable confrontations are the ones fought with words, ideas, and emotions. A threatened teenage boy must sway a belligerent crowd with only the power of speech. Then he and his brother have to convince each other they're doing the right thing. Meanwhile, an unstable hoodlum must talk himself into not committing suicide. With that kind of suspense, who even needs knife fights?
While Isaka brings plenty of provocative ideas to the table, manga-ka Megumi Osuga isn't always the most adept at bringing them to life. Volume 5 of the series sees two independent storylines in action—Ando confronts an angry mob, while the mayor tries to outrun his would-be killers—and the back-and-forth switching the two is often poorly timed. Scene changes always seem to arrive right at the most suspenseful moments, deflating any excitement that might have been building up at the time. The subject matter itself also suffers from the characters arguing in circles: once again it's a debate over violence versus negotiation, free will versus control, the common folk versus the landed gentry ... which is exactly what they were arguing about last volume. And the one before that. And all the way back to the start of the series.
But there's more to the series' message than just being a repetitive screed with rebellious adolescent overtones. When Osuga allows a storyline to go on uninterrupted, blossoming into a fully formed plot point, wondrous things result: the raw emotion of Ando loudly putting his ventriloquism to work, the sheer terror of the mayor and his hired gun meeting a killer whose methods are purely psychological, and near the end of this volume, a meeting of minds as the separate storylines finally collide. One guy is on his way up, the other's hit rock bottom, yet both are simply trying to live their lives and keep this city from falling to pieces. That fight for survival, and the accompanying sense of uncertainty, is what keeps the series going even after the end of an arc.
When words and ideas reach their limits, that's when the artwork comes into play, with strong close-ups and busy panels creating just as much intensity in one-on-one conversations as in pure battle. In fact, if anything, the fight scenes are too pumped up, becoming so packed with speedlines and blood splatter that at the end, one simply has to assume that the last guy standing obviously beat everyone else. The violent imagery takes a more interesting turn later on, though, when the assassin brought in to protect the mayor falls under psychological control and starts imagining pools of blood and the corpses of his victims trying to talk to him. That isn't the only area where Osuga's imagination shines, either—a major death scene midway through the book is framed in one unforgettable panel, and Ando's act of ventriloquism proves that even a guy spouting words can strike a powerful image. However, some of the artistic fundamentals are overlooked: character poses look stiff at times, and the constant action provides little room for the eye to rest.
Remember the comment about this series not feeling like a manga? That notion really becomes evident in the dialogue, which in most other action-thriller manga is just a vehicle to advance the story or provide flavor during battle. By comparison, the script of Maoh: Juvenile Remix is an artistic statement in itself—the lines spoken by the characters often carry such dramatic weight that they're even fun to read out loud. This isn't simply cheap believe-in-yourself banter, but a thought-provoking series of arguments about morality, society, and the individual. And these arguments come across quite clearly (and passionately) even when translated into English.
Maoh: Juvenile Remix is something of a rarity in its genre: behind all the over-the-top violence and hot-headed guys screaming at each other, there actually is some intellectual activity going on. It's not "I've got to fight because I want to be the best at fighting," but "I've got to fight because I'm standing up for my strongly held beliefs, which disagree with your strongly held beliefs." And it is the collision of those beliefs, rather than fists or blades, that propels the story of Maoh. In Volume 5, the drama doesn't always come across smoothly—the simultaneous storylines constantly interfere with each other, the fight scenes can be a mess, and it does feel like they keep arguing about the same things—but the raw emotion still shines through in this ideological showdown. Luckily, that kind of creative energy is just enough to help overlook the imperfections.
Overall : C+
Story : B-
Art : C
+ Brings up a number of thought-provoking ideas while still delivering the expected quota of suspense, action, and intense character conflict.