Mao, Volume 2 collects issues 9 through 18 of Rumiko Takahashi’s supernatural time-hopping fantasy. Originally serialized in Shogakukan’s Weekly Shōnen Sunday magazine, Volume 2 was first published in 2019. The English language translation was published in 2021.
Third-year student Nanoka Kiba continues her adventures with the taciturn demon hunter Mao as he searches for the cat demon Byōki. Nanoka brings to their investigation resources and information new to Mao. Nanoka comes from the modern era, a century after the time in which Mao lives. She can reach Mao’s rustic town through a torii gate which serves as a time portal through an obscure mechanism, moving easily between times. She consults modern libraries to see what is in store for Mao’s town.
The volume begins with a straightforward mystery: how is it wealthy people whose wills leave everything to easily swayed members of a cult are suddenly dying? Stumbling across a cursed doll near one unfortunate’s home, Mao could well believe dark magic is at work here. However, the deceased was poisoned, not struck down by magical means invisible to standard forensics. Was the victim murdered by cult priestess Shoko? by the victim’s gullible heir? or could Shoko’s clearly evil second-in-command Master Sogen somehow be at fault?
Many cults are led by charlatans. Shoko’s gifts are genuine, although quite specific. She can see shadows of the future. Thus, if she announces someone is going to die, she is not demonstrating her talent for death curses. She is warning of the future she sees bearing down. Alas, of late her prognostication has been dominated by visions of an apocalypse. Unable to focus on anything else, she overlooks matters closer to hand.
A trip to a 21st century library identifies the likely apocalypse: the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Is it possible that the cat demon Byōki might have helped cause the disaster? There’s evidence that some demon might have done so, if not necessarily Byōki. Can Mao strike down the demon before the earthquake? Or before the ancient demon hunter (nine centuries old) dies of long-delayed old age? Or perhaps Mao will himself be killed by the swarms of demons who might have worked together to cause Great Kanto Earthquake.
Nanoka stumbles across an unexpected mystery in her own era. Each day her doting servant forces her to take a supposed medicine that makes Nanoka feel ill. Time spent in the past is time without the concoction. Memories long forgotten return. Foremost among them: that her grandfather, the man who has cared for her ever since her parents died, was on the brink of death almost a decade ago. How then can he be healthy enough to care for her years later?
The art in this is if anything even worse than volume one.
There is another mystery of which Nanoka is unaware. She’s never looked at a mirror at just the right time. Under stress she develops immense strength and agility, as well as cat’s eyes. This is a sign of having been touched by the cat demon Byōki. In her defense, it is clear someone has gone to a lot of effort to keep her permanently befuddled.
The first mystery (the cause of the earthquake) is not entirely mysterious. Master Sogen is an unsubtle villain whose idea of a cunning cover-up produces heaps of damning evidence. The only real question is whether or not Shoko is part of the scheme or just an unsuspecting accomplice.
The later mysteries, in particular the revelation that her grandfather is either not who he claims to be or has had his lifespan artificially extended, is of more interest. It’s not resolved in this volume, almost as though the story were designed to keep readers picking up each new installment in search of answers to questions raised in previous volumes. I am curious as you are to see if this tactic works on me.