Mao-chan is the other, other Akamatsu Ken property that sort of comes after the popularity of Love Hina and Negima. And I think there’s a reason it’s not as popular…
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!
Mao-chan basically consists of one joke: cute aliens are stealing Japanese so cute girls are needed to fight them, cutely. Because if Japan was to use a nuke against a cute alien, it’d be totally uncool. Mao and friends fight against the alien threat and seem to endure mostly on luck. Their super complicated weapons never really do the job; Mao is too clumsy to make the triangle of destruction work. Rather, bonking the aliens on the head (cutely) is the preferred method of neutralizing the threat.
Throughout the manga, there are some fairly cute and sentimental moments. Unfortunately they’re all incredibly cliche by now. Perhaps they weren’t when the manga was originally released in 2003. Stories about girls becoming BFF or klutzy girls running away from the school athletic festival or girls without moms celebrating Christmas feel really manufactured. Maybe it’s just my own familiarity of the source material, but it just doesn’t feel like there’s any substance to the stories. Even when something interesting happens, it’s within the narrow confines of the restrictive “something cute happens, aliens appear, Mao screws up but saves the day anyway” plot.
The last two chapters kinda made up for the rest of the book with an epic Freudian moment of a girl resuscitating her alien pal by blowing air into him. The money line is “Am I seeing things are is he starting to plump up?” You cannot make this stuff up.
Along with the “All grown up” bonus chapter at the end, I guess Mao-chan can be interesting. But for the most part it’s really formulaic.
It also seems as though many of the side characters aren’t getting the exposure they should to make the story actually interesting. The three kids get too much spotlight. Plus they’re kind of boring once you get past their token traits. I kinda got confused when they threw other generic kids into the mix because I couldn’t tell Mao apart from them.
Overall, I guess I’d only recommend Mao-chan if you really liked the anime. I think the stories in the manga are original. Even if you like Akamatsu Ken, it’s his work only in character design.