The pen is mightier than the sword, but are batons mightier than guns?
Writer/Artist: Ken Akamatsu
Translation: Kathleen Westlake
Adaptation: Kathleen Westlake
What They Say
Japan has been invaded by aliens - but this is no ordinary assault. These extraterrestrials are cute and extremely dangerous. Their mind-blowing powers are way too much for the military. Enter Mao-chan, the daughter of a great general, and her charming best friends: Japan's only hope against this massive attack of the adorables!
This release is the first two volumes of the series bundled together into one double thick book. It feels pretty well made; I never got the impression I needed to hold the book any less open than normal, for fear of putting too much pressure on the spine. The table of contents for the second volume is in the middle of the book, which I wouldn't mind so much if the front of the book had included both tables of contents, just so you'd know where to look for the stories in the second half. Considering that there are a whopping fifteen chapters in here, that would have made things easier to find. As usual with Del Rey translation notes are included (all in the back of the book). Other extras include a design gallery for each of the three heroines, some four panel gag strips, a three page bonus manga featuring a look at the Special Defense Corps in ten year's time, and profiles of the alien animals. A page about the creators of the manga and a brief message from Ken Akamatsu round things out.
Considering the subject matter of this manga, we're lucky to get an artist who can draw cute till the cows come home. He can put a pretty good amount of feeling into round, glassy-eyed, noseless faces; and at the same time he can draw a decent military vehicle. The timing is good in comedy scenes, and the level of detail is a lot higher than I would have expected most of the time. From what little I've seen of the anime through trailers and cover artwork, everything and everybody looks just about spot-on. The only real drawback is that crowded pages are pretty frequent, but I only noticed this when I reviewed the artwork after reading. There's no doubt that this is a good-looking series. I never would have guessed this was the work of a rookie fresh out of art school.
Text is clear and easy to read. I can't recall any instances of the font getting too small or too close to the spine to make out. Sound effects are untouched but translated, as expected. The translation reads just fine and gives the characters the personality they need. Some readers may not care for the catch-phrases that two of the girls are given, but they didn't bother me all that much.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Stop me if you've heard this one.
Japan is under attack by aliens. Okay, so you stopped me right there. Japan has been under attack from aliens, giant moths, flying turtles, and many-headed dragons for decades. You'd think the Japanese people would be able to handle themselves against anything mutated nature or hostile intergalactic monsters can throw at them. And you'd be right. But this time a greater threat lurks in the shadows. What if Japan had to turn its efforts from fighting terrors from beyond the stars and guys in big rubber suits, to fighting aliens that are in the shape of huge but irresistibly cute baby animals? Goodbye Godzilla - Hello Kitty.
Such is the premise of Mao-chan. It's a premise so good that it would be probably nigh impossible to mess it up. And not even the lesser stories of the volume come close to doing that. We begin with the present crisis: aliens too cute to shoot. The heads of the army, navy and air force each recruit a eight-year-old granddaughter and form a special defense unit to resist the adorable assault. And so we follow the girls through their various missions, watching them protect Japan from bunny rabbits, chibi pteradactyls, and wooly baa-lambs. And seeing them fall on their faces, or cry over bumps and bruises sustained in the line of duty. I don't know what it is, but there's just something about seeing Japan's last hope huddled together sobbing when things get too scary.
So quite a lot of the book consists of the expected baby animal of the week formula, but the supporting characters help tweak the plots in different directions. Almost all of them have their little quirks, either individually or in conjunction with other characters. The grandfathers, like their respective military branches, don't always get along and there's plenty of head-butting at the higher levels of command. The good news is that this rarely gets any further than arguments about whose granddaughter is cutest. Two half human, half alien spies, who are older students in the same school as the defense girls, are constantly trying to interfere in the missions. Or rather, one interferes and one gets carried away by how cute the girls are and roots for them. Last but not least, each girl has an AI military vehicle to help out when needed: a tank for ground defender Mao, a plane for airspace protecter Misora, and a submarine for the water-based Sylvia.
All of this is pretty good fun, and I like the way the story throws missions into the middle of the typical manga situations like an athletic meet or a Christmas party. One of the better chapters takes a break from the aliens and shows the spies trying to take out the Special Defense Corps indirectly, by getting them involved in a petty scandal to zap their funding. I was delighted when a more involved three chapter story came along, not only because it was done well but because it was full of monkeys. The series even makes a pretty successful attempt at pathos in the final two part episode. All in all, this series had a longer reach than I expected.
Mao-chan is a very sweet series, and like all sweet things, should not be taken in large quantities at a time. But in small portions, and in the right mood, it provides enjoyable light entertainment. Read it if you're looking for something to make you smile...and then giggle and shake your head at the sheer outlandishness of it all. This is a book that could probably succeed on sheer premise but doesn't have to. The only thing that can be said against it is that it is too slight. But people who would be put off by that couldn't get past that cover, now could they?
Note on the rating: This series is rated 16+ for...well, not much I can think of. There is one scene of implied nudity where the nudity isn't nearly as implied as it ought to be (and feels like it's from a different series, really). There are also fleeting glimpses of panties as the girls fall down, have things explode around them, etc. But slapping a Hellsing rating on it for stuff like that seems really harsh to me. I'd peg this as a thirteener at most.