Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 19th 2011
Maoh: Juvenile Remix
Nekota City has become a hotbed of civil unrest, with disgruntled citizens trying to drive out an association of money-hungry real estate developers. Leading the charge is charismatic but sinister Inukai, who has already used his devious methods to take out certain public officials. Only one person dares to stand up to Inukai's violence: high school student Ando, whose psychic ability of "ventriloquism" allows him to put his own words in other people's mouths. Having just defeated Inukai's right-hand man, Ando must now hunt down Inukai himself and confront him. But is Ando too late, and too weak, to stop the mastermind? At worst, Ando's younger brother Junya will have to continue the fight, but he knows too little about the situation. In order to get up to speed, Junya must first extract information from the very enemies that Ando faced.
Over the course of its storyline, Maoh: Juvenile Remix has taught us the usual lessons about making the world a better place: Stand up for what you believe in. Make use of the talents you're given. Beware the dangers of mob mentality. Never back down from a fight. But Volume 7, which closes out "Act One" with a much-anticipated showdown between young, idealistic Ando and rebel instigator Inukai, has one more shocking lesson to teach:
You don't always get what you want.
After all the struggle, after all the displays of bravery, the final stage of Ando's saga turns out to be the ultimate punch in the gut. Then again, with all the twists so far and the moral ambiguity of the story, is the outcome really that much of a surprise? The idea that Ando could just charge in, declare the power of goodness and friendship, and kick Inukai around would be a betrayal of the series' grim take on social issues—and it would've been too predictable a finish.
So to anyone who hoped to see a climactic, hot-blooded slugfest in this volume: sorry, that was already taken care of in Volume 6. A couple of earlier characters drop by to provide some requisite violence, but otherwise, these chapters simply deliver the inevitable finale: of course Inukai is going to summon his angry mob, of course Ando is going to try to stop him. Still, just because we see these plot points coming doesn't make the suspense and theatrics any less effective. (Besides, who can get tired of an orator as riveting as Inukai?) Then comes the final blow—exactly at the book's halfway point—slamming the door shut on Ando's quest.
Act Two of the series begins immediately afterward, with little brother Junya picking up the storyline where Ando left off. Naturally, it'd be too much to expect this arc to be as dramatic as everything that just happened, but that doesn't stop writer Kotaro Isaka from trying—and sure enough, a couple of suspenseful new plot threads emerge. The most pressing question for Junya is to find out what happened to his brother, and a tension-packed confrontation with hired killer Semi proves once again that harsh words and a gun with only one bullet in it can generate just as much excitement as an all-screaming, all-exploding massacre. Some points in the story still remain up in the air—what exactly is the point of Junya being extremely good at rock-paper-scissors? What's Inukai up to now?—but most likely these questions will be answered once the storyline has more room to explain itself.
Even with no large-scale battles planned, artist Megumi Osuga still finds ways to make the events of this volume visually arresting, from dramatic city lighting and crowd scenes at Inukai's gathering to the skewed, claustrophobic angles when Junya and Semi face off. Earlier problems like inconsistent character designs and stiff poses have been all but eliminated now that Osuga has gotten dozens of chapters of practice; in fact, Ando's final blaze of glory is almost poetic to look at as he strikes a defiant pose against Inukai. Osuga also makes good use of page layout as a expressive tool—an everyday conversation on the street might be featured in small to medium-sized panels, while a life-or-death argument will take up the entire page and be impossible to miss. Also a part of the artist's arsenal are the strong contrasts of black, white and grey in each scene; these harsh lighting effects are an ideal fit for the mood of the story.
If there's one major flaw with Maoh's visual presentation, it's the issue of having to dance around big blocks of text. Not that there's anything wrong with Isaka's writing style—the eloquence of Inukai's speech is something that other comic writers should aspire too—but trying to fit some of those big, paragraph-long bubbles alongside fairly detailed artwork can be a clumsy effort at times. Of course, one possible solution is to use the text as a visual element itself: slap some Kenji Miyazawa poetry out there in big, 96-point font, and let that be the dramatic finale! Fortunately, Isaka still has enough self-restraint to let other scenes speak for themselves, or at least keep the characters' lines short, like when Junya starts asking around for information. No matter what the word count, the English translation keeps things running smoothly, showing no fear of big words or complex sentence structure when the dialogue calls for it. However, the editing of sound effects (mostly during Ando's big showdown) isn't quite as masterful, and the English text sometimes clashes against the artwork where the Japanese text would have been.
The end of one saga and the beginning of the next marks a major milestone for Maoh: Juvenile Remix, and the good news is, it's been worth the trip so far. The final result of Ando's face-off with Inukai may not have been the ending everyone wanted—a little bit more fighting, maybe?—yet it still feels logical and inevitable. After all, the series has always tried to be surprising and thought-provoking, taking unexpected turns that will make readers question what it means to stand up for a cause. The new story arc that comes right after, with another protagonist leading the way, allows the series to continue tackling those questions from a fresh viewpoint. If the characters sometimes talk too much, if the momentum sags on occasion, those flaws are worth it for a story that continues to surprise and satisfy. Amidst the harsh black-and-white shadows, the sharp lines and corners, in the grit and grime of Nekota City, some heroes still search for truth. The truth of how to make the world a better place.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Tense confrontations, gritty artwork, and a shocking climax bring the series' first act to a satisfying close, while the second act gets off to a running start.
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