From the stack: Maoh: Juvenile Remix vols. 4 and 5

The good news: there’s nothing wrong with Maoh: Juvenile Remix (Viz) that Kazuya Minekura couldn’t fix. The bad news: Maoh: Juvenile Remix was created by Megumi Osuga.

Maoh, based on a story by Kotaro Isaka, has an interesting plot. A corporation is undertaking a neighborhood revitalization plan that basically involves razing the place and displacing the residents to make room for luxury high-rises. The corporation is opposed by a group of vigilantes led by an enigmatic and ostensibly charismatic figure named Inukai. Caught in the middle of these two forces is a high-school student named Ando who has the minor psychic power of being able to put his words into the mouths of others.

The story is packed with corrupt officials, hired killers, angry mobs, and generally seedy types. There are attempts at moral complexity and the angst of personal choice in a crumbling world. There’s a reasonable sprinkling of homoeroticism.

In other words, it reminds me of Minekura’s Wild Adapter (Tokyopop). Unfortunately, it also makes me wish I was reading Wild Adapter instead.

The main problem with Maoh is its leaden sincerity. Ando makes Hamlet look like a type-A personality, and his use of his “ventriloquism” is generally awkward and hard to follow. (How does forcing people to quote Kamen Rider protect you from mob violence?) The dialogue is almost always overblown, and Ando’s droning internal monologues may make you wish someone else was putting words in his mouth.

The promising plot is generally sacrificed to spectacle. The people of Nekota City seem even more prone to mob mentality than the denizens of Springfield, and it’s supposed to be chilling here instead of goofy and ironic. Inukai and his vigilantes seem to have no credible moral position, and their opponents in the Anderson Group are just greedy, which equates to “bad.” There are interesting arguments to be made in a story like this, but it’s just a frame for bombast in this case.

The quality of the art varies quite a bit. Some chapters have a sleek competence that resembles a combination of Takeshi Obata and Naoki Urasawa. A lot of the time, the pages seem like they’ve been finished in a hurry. I would describe the character design as patchy; I’ve seen many a manga assassin look ridiculous and still be terrifying, but Osuga doesn’t strike that balance. Some of the crowd scenes display too-strenuous attempts to achieve visual variety and end up looking like a community theatre musical chorus that was asked to provide its own costumes. Even the homoeroticism doesn’t help, as it frequently seems inadvertent, unless Osuga is trying to suggest what a cute couple Ando and his younger brother might be.

Maoh badly needs some of Minekura’s polish and slyness, but it has neither. It’s just lumpy and overly serious, with a waffling protagonist who lacks urgency. Hard as it tries to simulate it, Maoh lacks the sex appeal it needs to really be something.

(Based on review copies provided by the publisher.)