Battle not with Monsters
“Maoh: Juvenile Remix” is an interesting comic in that it comes from popular novelist Kotaro Isaka (Golden Slumbers). Kotaro is known in Japan as “Haruki’s child” after novelist Murakami Haruki (Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World). Like Murakami, Kotaro has that ability to bridge the gap between serious and popular literature, between complex social ideas and outlandish genre imagery.
Megumi Osuga has brilliantly adapted Kotaro’s style and story for the manga “Maoh: Juvenile Remix,” bringing together heady concepts of social justice, of corporations and politicians vs the rights of citizens, of the sins of progress, and the nobility of action vs inaction. All of these ideas have been presented in a comic that is also beautifully drawn and highly entertaining.
The story presents 11th grade student Ando, a perpetual bystander in life who harbors a secret. From a young age, he has had the psychic ability to put words in other people’s mouths, to be a ventriloquist as he calls it. The power is innately passive; he cannot influence their thoughts or actions, only their words. Ando himself does not necessarily believe in his own power, and thinks that these instances might be more coincidence than anything else.
Ando lives in the fictional city of Nekota, a small town on the cusp of modernization, where the City Councilor Miyuki Yamamoto is attempting to bring in corporate money with the creation of a new Urban Center. Many residents oppose this, feeling that the corporate money will only drive out local businesses leaving the current residents of Nekota jobless and hopeless. Presenting a shining light to the populace is a charismatic young leader named Inukai who leads a vigilante groups known as the Grasshoppers. Inukai and his Grasshoppers have dedicated themselves to ending crime and corruption at all costs and by any means necessary in Nekota, and while most hail them as local heroes Ando discovers that the group might be hiding a dark secret. Slowly, he is forced to re-evaluate his position of merely “staying out of everyone’s way” and taking a more active role in his life and the lives of others, and possibly taking control of his own mysterious power.
I was impressed with “Maoh: Juvenile Remix.” There is a lot more going on here than I originally suspected from the cover, and this is a heavier series with more depth and character than a typical manga. I am used to unconfident, passive heroes in Japanese comics, but Ando’s particular psychic ability gives him an excuse to be passive, and to stay behind the front line. He is a manipulator, as opposed to Inukai who is a leader and a doer. The two make for a nice opposition.
Stylistically, the book could be compared to Death Note or Deadman Wonderland, with a somewhat dystopian environment that is an alternate Earth more than a future. The masked image of the Grasshoppers also brings to mind Pink Floyd – The Wall, and the frightening nature of Gestapo “liberators.” How much freedom are you willing to sacrifice in order to live in peace?
Megumi Osuga’s art is splendid, realistic at times and cartoony at others. Dirty at times and clean at others. Horrific at times and inspiring at others. Ando has the typical “any man” look about him, while Inukai plays with the “beautiful boy” look that exemplifies a hero. Megumi drops some light fan service here and there, but in interesting ways such as Ando’s brother’s girlfriend Shiori who is so tomboyish she doesn’t even bother to button up her shirt correctly, or the girl Machiko who is almost comically large-breasted and works to shake Ando out of his lethargy.
Clearly, there is a lot going on in “Maoh: Juvenile Remix,” more than this first volume can contain. We are only given glimpses behind the curtain here, but what we are shown is more than enough to hook us for the next. I am very much looking forward to the next volume.