Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: Mouryou no Hako, vol. 2

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M0uryou no Hako, vol. 2
Tatsumi Sekiguchi is having a bad morning. He did some heavy drinking and rather than suffering a "2 day drunk" (AKA: a hangover), he's got a "3 day drunk". He dreams of boxes and body parts, and dolls trying to crawl out of a crate. His magazine editor arrives at the house and calls out "sensei" until he finally wakes up and crawls miserably from his bed.

The editor, Morihiku Toriguchi, wants to talk about a current project he's working on - a Shinto priest that scams people by claiming to capture evil spirits in a box he carries on his back. Tatsumi decides that he needs to go visit his friend to help him work on his novel manuscript, and invites Morihiku to go along with. They drive out to Nakano (halfway between Shinjuku station and Mitaka) and hike up a steep hill past some half-buried houses.

At the top is a nice little house with a beautiful woman just getting ready to put her shoes on at the front doorway. Tatsumi greets her as "Chizu-san" and asks if his partner, Yukie had come by earlier. Chizu replies that Yukie went to see a movie (possibly "Gone with the Wind"). Tatsumi introduces Morihiku, and Chizu says that Atsuko had talked to her earlier about him. The woman takes the two to a book-filled study, where the stern-faced man seen at the end of vol. 1 is waiting for them, two extra pillows already prepared on the floor.

Before leaving his house, Tatsumi had described dealing with Akihiko Chuuzenji as like having sumo wrestler Tochinishiki at one end of a tunnel and the ghost of Akutagawa Ryuunosuke at the other, and having to decide which way to go out. Chuuzenji then proceeds to prove this point by claiming to be psychic. Beyond knowing that he was going to have two guests, he then spits out Morihiku's full name, where he works, the name of the magazine he edits, and the fact that as a child he'd played at a mountain temple where he'd fallen and got hurt. Both visitors are stunned at this display, and then confused when Chuuzenji adds that there is nothing in this world that can't be explained.

First, when they'd arrived, Chuuzenji had seen them from around the corner and put the pillows out in advance. Second, Chizu had said that Atsuko had talked to her about Morihiku, and Atsuko is Akihiku's little sister (she's also the writer that Morihiku had met in volume 1 and has become friends with). So, most of the personal information was already known. Finally, because Morihiku had grown up in the area, and Chuuzenji is the person that tends his local Shinto shrine, he's fully aware of what the neighboring other 3 shrines are like, and the probability that the magazine editor would have played at the nearest one as a child. So, the entire "psychic reading" was just an act. Chuuzenji goes on to grill them about psychics, priests, fortunetellers and occultists, saying that if you know their objectives, you can understand the tricks they use for their trade. Primarily how they get your money from you, by playing on your fears or building up your hopes. This goes on for 50 pages until Chuuzenji finally asks Morihiku who his current enemy is.

(Morihiku gets unmasked by the box priest.)

Tatsumi is jolted by this change in conversation. He's still hungover, and the tea Chizu keeps bringing out isn't helping him. He'd forgotten that the reason he came out here was to ask for help on his book. He hopes that Morihiku will stop talking soon, but the editor is fixated on telling his story. There was a jumper incident at the Shimokitazawa train station on the Odakyu line on Aug. 22. Mirohiku and his chief editor had been approached by a strange man related to the jumper that had wanted them to write an article on a specific priest that had approached the jumper's family, but then the body parts incident (which he calls the "bara bara case", meaning "messed up parts") broke and became a higher priority. Tatsumi hadn't been reading the papers, so Morihiku has to recap the case. The first right arm was found on a road, and on Aug. 30th two fisherman found the 2 legs in an iron box in a lake near Mitaka. On Sept. 6 there was a right arm found in Hachioji, followed by a leg in Chofu, a left arm in Noborito, and finally on Sept. 10 in Shouwachou, there were two left arms. Chuuzenji adds that up until Sept. 21, there were more parts found, with both arms and legs for 3 separate victims, plus both arms and the left leg for a 4th. The police have no leads and they can't learn anything from the victims chosen. Morihiku had gotten a list of missing persons from a friend at one police station and pulls them out of his briefcase. One of the missing seems to be related to a famous female singer. Through additional research, it looks like the Shinto box priest had recently visited the houses of various missing women, and there's a chance that several of them are the owners of the found arms and legs. Morihiko argues that the box priest is probably the serial killer in the "bara bara case". But, there's no proof, and no motive, so he's sitting on his speculation.

Chuuzenji brings him back to the earlier conversation about the box priest being a fraud, and Morihiku states that he'd gotten the address for the priest's shrine, and went out during one of the prayer meetings on Aug. 20. He described himself to the woman there as being someone who feels uneasy and needs help, passing on the phone number of his landlord. A little later at home, the phone call comes through saying that the priest will meet with him. Back in the building, while he's supposedly waiting for the previous person to leave, the woman questions him on his problem and he makes up a story. Soon after, he gets to see the priest that had been at Kusumoto's house, but the guy has broken Morihiko's cover as a reporter and demands to know why he's there. Morihiku asks Chuuzenji what could have gone wrong, and the stern one suggests that right after getting the phone number from him, the woman had called it, gotten the landlord, posed as Morihuku's mother saying that a package had arrived for him and asked for his work number. And that the landlord had given it out. Chuuzenji thinks that Morihiku can solve this case on his own if he tries hard enough, but there's not enough information yet known about the priest. He offers to help, and Morihiku pleads with Tatsumi to join in. But, the writer has his hands full with his own novel and wants to beg out. However, he picks up a notebook with the names of people visited by the box priest from the pile of papers, and pages through it before seeing the name Shunkou Kubo - the slant-eyed guy who's fact-checking his manuscript. Chuuzenji also recognizes it as the name of an up-and-coming new novelist.

(Sleeping in a dirt bed.)

There's a connecting scene, where the shadowy figure is writing a diary. He remembers getting sick and throwing out his school lunch rather than eating it. Getting 90 points on a school test out of 100. Graduating, and then his father dying and leaving him alone in a big, empty mansion. Panicking and moving out to a smaller apartment. Putting his belongings in wicker baskets and then filling up the gaps in the baskets with dirt. Climbing into the futon closet and embedding himself in the mattresses as if he were going back to the womb. Not being able to sleep anyway until he filled the closet up with dirt to make himself a kind of grave to sleep on. A few days later, he received a notice that his grandmother had died, and he sets out for a family homecoming visit.


We pick up with the Tokyo police department, where Ishii, the Kanegawa superior who'd berated Kiba before, is demanding that Kiba be fired now, rather than facing just a month suspension. Kiba's boss, Ooshima, reminds Ishii that Kiba had covered for Ishii's error (Ishii was the one in command of the troops guarding Kanoko). In a tiny rural house, Kiba recalls what happened right after Kanoko had disappeared. Everyone tried searching for her, but failed to find anything. The hunchback and Amemiya had left the basement unseen, and Ishii ordered the remaining four (Kiba, the actress, the 14-year-old girl, and the patrol cop) confined to Youko's office. Kiba suggests that Ishii won't be able to find the missing girl, and the little patrol cop tries to interrupt. When Kiba starts wondering if this has turned into a murder case, the patrol cop speaks up again and Kiba decks him out of frustration.

(Fukumoto doesn't know when to stop talking.)

This is when Kusumoto states that Kanoko is still alive, inside her. Kiba is confused by this announcement, and the girl says that Kanoko's disappearance is proof that she's been reincarnated as Kusumoto. Youko seems to take this as reassurance that her little sister is ok. Kiba asks Youko who she sees as her biggest enemy right now, and reflected through a mirror, he sees her mouth the words "you are". When he turns around to verify this, Koushiro Mimasaka, the person in charge of the square building, comes bursting into the room to say that he found the hunchback, dead. At this news, Youko leaped up screaming for Kiba to save Kanoko, and the detective feels that secret locked box in his heart trying to open again. He pushed Youko back to sit in a chair, and saw Kusumoto staring at him coolly, probably because the girl had grabbed him in much the same way before.

After this, Ishii pressed for Kiba's ouster and he was slapped with a lesser 1-month suspension. Back in the cabin, he tries playing through the events one more time, identifying 8 primary actors. Kanoko, the girl that went missing. Youko, her older sister. Kusumoto, Kanoko's friend. Fukumoto, the beat cop from Musashi Koganei (the station where Kanoko had either jumped or been pushed). Kiba himself. Mimasaka, the head of the hospital. The hunchback, later killed. Youda, a hospital guard. Ishii, the Kanegawa department detective. And, Amemiya, an acquaintance of Youko's. Plus, the 30 policemen that had been stationed on guard outside, but who had all entered the building to look for Kanoko. Based on the timing, the regular police suspect Amemiya of both crimes, especially since he hasn't been seen since. The big question, then, is how Amemiya could possibly have hidden Kanoko?

The doorbell rings. It's Aoki, a younger member of Kiba's group, stopping by to visit, and bringing a bunch of bananas with him. While snacking, Aoki fills Kiba in on what's been happening for the last 2 weeks during his suspension. Kiba's acting really despondent, and Aoki says that this isn't like "Oni Kiba". Plus, now Youko, the ex-actress, is also claiming 2 weeks after the fact to have seen a strange man dressed in a black suit with gloves outside the square hospital the evening of Aug. 31st. Aoki shows a photo of a certain letter and asks if this is the one Kiba had found. The big man hesitates, saying he hadn't exactly found it. It was on Aug. 16th, the third time he'd come out to the square building. Everyone still thought that Kanoko had attempted suicide, and Kiba supposed that Youko's paleness came from her worry over the fact. He went up to her office and as he'd entered the room, Youko had turned around, dropping the letter on the floor. Kiba picked it up first and concluded that it may be a threat letter. As the two of them kneeled next to each other, Amemiya walked in on them and ended up looking either embarrassed or upset. The letter was made by cutting out words from a single magazine. Aoki calls Kiba's attention to places in the letter where some of the words appear to have been torn back out as an after thought. The Kanegawa force see Youko as possibly working with Amemiya, but Youko's reaction after the hunchback was killed rules that out. Plus, Amemiya doesn't drive, and the idea that he could carry Kanoko on his back unseen doesn't wash either.

Aoki keeps pushing to get Kiba on the case again, but the suspension is still in effect so he claims his hands are tied. So, Aoki asks why he doesn't enlist his weird friends - the writer Tatsumi, the exorcist Chuuzenji and the detective Reijirou Enokizu. Beyond the aforementioned evidence, all the police have are rumors that the square building was used during the war to manufacture man-eating monsters, so maybe Kanoko was consumed by one of them.

Aoki then switches subjects to the "bara bara case". After the first arm was found, the remaining parts surfaced in some kind of boxes, either wooden or iron, and carefully stored in different places. No torsos, no heads. It recalls the fire car demons (ka sha) that haul off evil doers to hell, leaving scattered parts behind. Three of the victims have been identified as having lived in different parts of Tokyo, and coming from different backgrounds. Nothing on the fourth, though. An interesting tidbit turned up, two of the victims were seen, just prior to disappearing, in the presence of a man in a black suit, and he was wearing gloves in the middle of August. Kiba recalls Yoriko and Youko both mentioning the guy in black also wearing gloves and he demands to know if Aoki is implying that the two cases are related. If they are, then Kanoko may be the fourth set of body parts. Kiba gets fired up at the prospect of proving that Kanoko is still alive, and Aoki is happy that his senior has gotten his head in the game again.


The only one who's seen all the body parts from the bara bara case is the surgeon Satomura. Kiba gives him a visit, and Satomura says that Kanoko's blood type doesn't match that of three of the bara bara victims, and the one that does match had turned up before Kanoko had gone missing. Satomura adds that from what he understands of the human body, the victims were probably alive when the arms were removed, and that cutting off one the legs is most likely the cause of death. The motive may have been to either eat the body parts or use them in experiments. This comment immediately reminds Kiba of the rumors Aoki had mentioned about the WW II human-eating monster in the square building, and it's chief - Mimasaka. Although the cuts were amateurish and not at the level of a skilled doctor, they do seem to get more precise with the fourth victim. Satomura then says that all he's talked about today is this case. Seems that the writer Tatsumi Sekiguchi had also visited earlier in the day, bringing with him a notebook of the names of 10 families that the box priest had visited and whose daughters had gone missing. Kiba looks at the rest of the names in the notebook and sees Yoriko Kusumoto's mother listed. As he's about to leave, he asks if Satomura knows Mimasaka. In fact, the doctor does. Before WW II, Mimasaka was a famous surgeon, but he turned eccentric and started work on looking for the clues to immortality, which connects to Yoriko's resurrection claims in Kiba's mind.

The scene switches to the offices of Bara Juuji (Crossed Roses) Detective agency, where Reijirou Enokizu is dressing up for his next appointment. His father had called him up the day before, saying that someone from a client company needed help and he was sending the representative to his son the next day. That rep turns out to be Masuoka, who is really long-winded. He wants to hire the detective for a missing person case. Enokizu sees a flashing vision and replies, "I saw that movie, the one with the actress, Minami Kinuko, is that the one?" Masuoka acts surprised, saying that it's her 14-year-old daughter who's missing. He claims that Minami was originally named Youko Yuzuki and is actually 31 this year; she had Kanoko at age 17. Masuoka continues, saying that a guy named Hiroya had fallen in love with Youko and his mother didn't approve. They eloped, but Hiroya was captured the next day. Even with just the one night, Youko became pregnant. Her family disowned her, and she was forced into an arranged marriage with Amemiya. During the war, Hiroya was killed. Finally, the head of Hiroya's family fell ill and died, leaving his estate to Kanoko. Masuoka hasn't been able to get into contact with the girl, which is why he wants the detective to find her. Reijirou gets some brief flashes of images; Kanoko in the hospital bed; Youko with Amemiya; and Kiba in the basement of the box building. The problem right now is the timing, since the wording of the will depends on whether Kanoko could possibly have died before the family head had, which changes who's next in line for the fortune (Youko as Kanoko's only relative, or someone else). The police are doing nothing, so Masuoka is taking matters in his own hands.

Masuoka gives the detective the case file and his retainer fee. Getting ready to leave, the lawyer swears Reijirou to not tell outsiders about the assignment. On the next page, Reijirou repeats "don't tell anyone", while lounging at the table in Chuuzenji's house, with Tatsumi and Morihiku sitting next to him. Chuuzenji asks if he has no manners as a detective, and Reijirou says "nope".

Summary: Natsuhiko Kyogoku is well known for writing plodding, dense mysteries with long blocks of exposition, and this volume of the manga is proof of that. 50-some pages debunking mystics, psychics and religious characters. Yet, as a police procedural, Mouryou no Hako is detailed and cleanly presented. The facts slowly get uncovered, and the reader is still left guessing as to what's going on until the very end. There are 3 more volumes left for this title, and if they show up at Book Off, I'll buy them. Recommended.

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