Sunday, April 7, 2013

Monju, Vol. 2 Review

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Seigi Keikan Monju, vol. 2, by Hiroki Miyashita. Grade A
Things get serious around here pretty fast. Actually, there were two new characters introduced in volume 1 - Gen, an old man that kind of acts like the village elder who Junpei enlists to help get the other older villagers to accept Monju; and Mana Kashiwagi, Gen's rebellious young granddaughter. Initially, Mana refuses to be friends with anyone, in part because her parents are too busy to take care of her and had sent her to the village to be babysat by Gen, but also because she's angry at being prone to something like asthma attacks if she pushes herself too hard. Monju saves her during one such attack and Mana bonds with him immediately. Which is why things are so grim now. A strange robot arrives at the village to meet with Monju, and it tries to befriend Shino Kamiya by giving her flowers, which she accepts grudgingly. Turns out that the robot, named Robot Peoples, was the first prototype that predates Monju, and was created more for swaying the general population's opinions as a publicity stunt. Further, Peoples is a runaway. Kamiya reports his presence to Tokyo HQ, which Peoples had expected, and one of the SWAT snipers mistakenly blows Peoples' head away while the robot is still standing in front of witnesses (Junpei, Shino and Monju) (the sniper had orders to wait until Peoples was out of the village). Both Junpei and Monju go insane and are violently suppressed (Junpei by the SWAT clean-up team, Monju by Shino herself). After the clean-up team leaves, Shino notices that the inert Monju is holding Peoples' "black box".

Shino tells Monju that Peoples had sacrificed himself to save him, so the robot now has survivor's guilt. Over the next couple days, Monju is getting increasingly depressed. Mana and a couple of the neighborhood kids try to cheer him up by inviting him to play with water pistols and setting off fireworks. When the first bottle rocket explodes, Monju releases a sword blade from his arm and slices the water pistol in half while then trying to kill Mana. Junpei leaps in, rushing Mana away on a bike with Monju in pursuit. All the while, Monju is crying and begging Junpei to stop him. It takes the combined efforts of Shino with her personal attack robots, Junpei on his bike, and Gen in a truck to finally lay Monju low. Later, Shino determines that Monju's rampage was caused by a "bug" in its programming, but she doesn't understand it at all. Gen pulls her out of the office to get fresh air, and they accidentally bump the table that has the vase of flowers Peoples had given Shino. She notices that one of the flowers is artificial, and discovers a "memory cord" (like a memory stick, but shaped like a short piece of string) inside the stem. Seems that Peoples' knew exactly what was going to happen, and had snuck a clue to her. Monju's "bug" is identical to the one in Peoples' black box. Gen mentions that this is the work of Souichiro Yanagi, but the conversation ends there.

The next couple chapters are gag setups involving Junpei and Shino waking up naked in a love hotel, and Monju being stalked by a camera-freak shut-in high school student. The bug program makes Monju turn violent if he fails to remain balanced, so Junpei and Shino try to act like a happy couple in front of him, but Monju tells them that he'd read in a porno mag that couples are happiest when they have sex, which is why, when they were blind drunk, he left them in the hotel. They beat the crap out of him and tell him to not do that again. Monju ends the chapter saying that he doesn't understand the relationships between men and women. Eventually, Shino decides to confront Gen to ask who Souichiro Yanagi is. She knows Gen's secret - he used to be the head of the Tokyo PD R&D department that produced Peoples and Monju. Gen explains that Yanagi was a brilliant cybernetic scientist who had approached the Tokyo PD with a special robot design. The silly facial features and social skills of Robot Peoples were intended to reduce the chances that people would turn into terrorists or violent criminals. The program worked at first, but Yanagi's wife and child were killed in a traffic accident by a young driver hopped up on pills. This was something that Yanagi never expected when he made Peoples and his mind snapped. He then buried himself in his work on Monju, adding the "Justice Execution bug program" that turns Monju into a killing machine when he becomes emotionally unbalanced.

(Monju weighs over a quarter ton, so how can he sit at his desk without crushing his chair? Shino explains that he actually locks his legs in place to just make it look like he's sitting down...)

At the end of the volume, the superior at Tokyo PD R&D that Shino reports to is approached by an underling dissatisfied with Shino's handling of the "Monju situation". The underling wants Monju terminated outright. The superior understands this, which is why he wants the underling to stay away from the village. However, the superior adds that he has a "minor event" coming up that will bring him to the village - he's going to meet his daughter for some bonding. On his desk is a family photo, which includes the smiling face of Mana Kashiwagi.

Summary: Monju's "older brother", Robot Peoples, visits the village and is killed by the Tokyo police for being a runaway. Monju becomes unbalanced and tries to kill Gen's granddaughter, Mana. In trying to repair Monju, Tokyo PD researcher and spy Shino Kamiya discovers the "justice execution bug" in his programming. And we learn that Gen, who had headed the development of Peoples and Monju, has apparently been replaced by his son, Mana's father and Shino's boss. Tricky stuff. Highly recommended.

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