Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #178 by Drew Barth

The Rumiko World

I remember watching the first episode of Rumiko Takahashi’s Inuyasha when I was eleven years old and being smitten with the world she had created. The blending of myth and history layered just below the modern world made my imagination spark. But I got older and the reruns of the series got tiresome as I waited for the new ones to finally make it to Adult Swim. Waiting to see where the story progressed was my first exposure to the work of Rumiko Takahashi—a woman who’s manga is so revered that it’s still odd that so many people my age had only discovered her work through those Inuyasha reruns years ago. But just last year, the first volume of her most recent series, Mao, released and it is a showcase of everything great about Takahashi’s work.

Mao is a the story of Nanoka, an orphaned junior high student living with her grandparents who miraculously survived a sinkhole accident that claimed the life of her parents. When a group of her classmates start talking about ghostly voices at a shopping center close to the site of the accident, Nanoka walks through the gate of the shops and finds herself in 1923 where strange demons roam. An exorcist, the titular Mao, defeats one of these demons after it is nearly burned alive by Nanoka’s blood. Mao’s blood does the same to these demons and the two begin investigating their potential link and the curse they carry that may have killed Nanoka’s parents.

From the first page, there is a cleanliness to Takahashi’s lines and action. The panel to panel composition feels almost intuitive to read, but is the kind of thing only the most experienced mangaka can accomplish this consistently. Even the page turn reveals are given the incredible weight throughout this first volume as the story beats have an almost mathematical precision. As exposition is given its space to breathe, we come into action-focused moments that burst with movement even in the splash pages. The incredible precision of the lines and storytelling make some pages almost feel like they’re being animated before the reader’s eyes. But this is one of Takahashi’s strengths—creating motion where there’s only the static image. It’s one of the ways that great mangaka like her can make these comics feel almost like magic when reading them.

I’m never going to be the only one to sing Takahashi’s praises—it’s why she is one of the few women to receive the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême—but Mao is the kind of series that deserves as much praise as you can give it. As comics, it is that perfect synthesis between narrative and visuals with neither aspect detracting from the other. There is a balance in Takahashi’s storytelling that has remained consistent in her work for years and Mao continues that tradition.

Get excited. Get exorcised.

Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.