Mao, Volume 1 is the first of four volumes in Rumiko Takahashi’s time-spanning fantasy series. It was first published in Japan in 2019. The English translation came out in 2021.
Schoolgirl Nanoka survived the road accident that killed her parents. Her doting grandparents see her as frail and coddle her. Nanoka has never had any reason to doubt their assessment. After all, she is without a doubt the worst athlete in school.
Although she dislikes passing by the spot where her parents died, it’s on the shortest way home from school. One day she takes a route she has never taken before. She steps almost a century into the past.
On one side of the gate: 21st century Japan. On the other: 20thcentury Japan. To Nanoka, the town she finds herself in is not just archaic: for some reason, the town’s inhabitants are translucent. Then Nanoka notices something else that’s odd: the kaiju-sized supernatural grasshopper that immediately tries to kill her.
Mao and his helper Otoya observe Nanoka’s flight from the Ayakashi. Sensing that Nanoka is far more powerful than the Ayakashi, he declines to help her. The Ayakashi severs Nanoka’s hand, at which point her blood begins to dissolve the creature. The Ayakashi tries to flee, at which point Mao kills it.
Cursed by a demon centuries before, Mao is a powerful, immortal exorcist. Conveniently for Nanoka, Mao is also a talented physician who is able to reattach severed hands. Working on the assumption that beings understand their own nature, it takes Mao some time to realize that Nanoka, clearly an Ayakashi of some sort, thinks she is a normal human. She has no idea that she has supernatural powers.
In fact, Nanoka was a normal schoolgirl until the accident. Which was no accident! She appears to have been cursed by the very same cat demon that cursed Mao. The evidence suggests  that Nanoka’s powers were until now deliberately suppressed by someone close to Nanoka. As her powers begin to manifest, Nanoka becomes determined to learn what happened to her years earlier. This will, of course, require working closely with the taciturn Mao.
Takahashi’s art in this is surprisingly crude compared to the art in her previous works. Author falling prey to entropy? I hope not. Perhaps some of my reaction may be due to the large, distracting anti-piracy watermarks on the review PDF.
Although Mao seems to have accepted his condition, no longer closely counting the years , the impression given is that as with Mermaid’s Saga , immortality is not a gift. Nanoka seems somewhat open to the idea that immortality could be beneficial … but of course she has not yet outlived her contemporaries.
This being volume one of four, one might expect it to be all set-up. In fact, a fair chunk of the volume recounts a few of Mao’s more interesting cases. One case involves the least subtle serial killer ever. For her part, Nanoka begins investigating what precisely happened the day her parents died, albeit with mixed success. Mundane accident records neglect to note the presence or absence of demonic figures.
Volume One is …. OK. Mao seems a mélange of elements from Fire Tripper , Inuyasha , Mermaid Saga combined with a case of the week format and the overarching mystery of what exactly happened to Nanoka the day her parents died. How the author will develop the story remains to be seen…
1: In fact, it’s pretty clear the culprit is someone in Nanoka’s grandparents’ household.
2: Granted, in a setting where someone can step from 20xx to 1923 and back, establishing age can be tricky.