Friday, June 21, 2013

Q.E.D. volume 20 review

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Q.E.D., vol. 20, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

Mugen no Tsuki (Infinite Moon). Fuu Jia Hoi was a high school classmate of Touma's and initially had been part of a 3-man gang that had bullied the boy just to see why Touma never got angry with them. Since Fuu would have continued to bully him anyway, Touma simply put up with it. Eventually, Fuu realized that he was dealing with a kindred spirit and they became more-or-less friends. However, while Touma focused on math, which Fuu said made him a romantic, the taller boy was more of a cynic, which is why he wanted to become a doctor. One of Fuu's obsessions was with the concept of infinity, as embodied in Georg Cantor's idea of aleph-null, which allows theorists to assign sizes to infinite sets within set theory (that is, if the set of all natural numbers is called S0, then S1 = 2 * S0 will be twice as large. Even though both sets are infinite, S1 grows faster than S0.) Phi, which represents an empty set, for a doctor, would have the meaning of "death".

The story jumps between Touma's time with Fuu, and the present. In the present, a Chinese police detective arrives in Japan to enlist Touma's help in solving the murder of one of the 4 big Chinese crime lords. He, Kana and Kana's father are flown to Shanghai, where the Chinese detective fills them in on the results of various investigations. Over the course of a few days, all 4 crime lords turn up dead. Three of them were shot and dumped in the ocean a month earlier, and the fourth is found in an apartment building, the body burned to a crisp. From the questioning of various informants, it seems that crime lord #1 was killed by #2, #2 by #3, #3 by #4 and #4 by #1, in an infinite loop. The reason Touma was contacted is that one common factor is Fuu, and he had sent an email to the boy saying "meet me at phi". So, where is "phi", how could a dead man kill someone else to create the infinite loop, why doesn't Touma help the police, and why would a medical student desperate to save lives be involved in Chinese crime?

Tabouna Enari-san (The Busy Ms. Enari). In many ways, this story is a departure from the regular format. First, it's broken up into two parts, the puzzle, and the solution. Second, it's told from the point of view of Himeko Enari, the arrogant female president of the high school's detective club. It starts out with Himeko, self-nicknamed Ellery Queen ("Himeko" can translate to "princess", so Princess Enari = Enari Queen) becoming offended at "that person's" (i.e. - Touma) telling her to rethink her conclusion. We then get a flashback to a family dinner, where her grandmother, Hinae, a former club singer, is hosting her 70th birthday party at her home. It seems that Hinae, a widow, has been dating a new man, and several of her adult children are afraid that they'll lose out on the inheritance if she remarries. Himeko, an aspiring detective, figures that the person most likely to turn violent and hurt someone to prevent the marriage is a cousin, Shinichi. Himeko forces the other two members of her club, who are both inept, to help her prevent a crime. Since this gets her nowhere, she latches onto the gorilla-strong Kana, and her "weird little friend", Touma as well.

During the course of her investigations, there's a second-floor window that becomes mysteriously unlocked and thrown open, Hinae's boyfriend is attacked after a dinner date, three identical dolls are found in a cabinet, a gift box of Chinese snacks is sitting on a shelf even though the date to Yokohama's Chinatown is called off, a shadowy figure is spotted outside the house, and the team succeeds in thwarting Shinichi's attack on Hinae's life. Obviously, Shinichi is the villian, so why does Touma say her reasoning is off?

Normally, I don't give away any spoilers because I'm assuming that someone may want to search out these volumes themselves and read them cover to cover. But I want to illustrate the nature of the crimes in Q.E.D., and this is a good example, without being all that important to the series as a whole.

As the story progresses, we see Hinae walking through the city, or living at home. When she passes a fish vendor, he asks if she's going to buy something else today. During the birthday party, she talks to her boyfriend on a cell phone, then later gets an email canceling the Yokohama trip. When an incoming call causes the main landline phone to ring, she complains that she stopped answering it because it's always advertising calls. When Himeko visits to act as a bodyguard, there's a banging sound on the second floor, and Hinae says she never goes up there because she has bad knees. Himeko rushes upstairs and finds someone lurking outside, but the stranger disappears before he can be caught. That night, Hinae goes on her date, and Himeko follows. Himeko confronts the boyfriend after the meal, and the next morning he calls from the hospital because he was assaulted. Himeko visits her grandmother again, and finds her collapsed on the floor. She's helped to a taxi for an appointment, and Himeko returns to the house to discover the landline phone answering machine has a threatening message demanding money right away. Finally, the group spies on Hinae as she happily gets into a taxi the next day, and Touma grabs a second taxi to follow the first. They see Shinichi on a motorcycle weaving past them through traffic, so Touma, realizing that both cabs are from the same company, has his driver radio dispatch to find out where the other car is heading to. They get to a river, and find Shinichi demanding more money to cover his gambling debts. Hinae refuses to cave in so the man attempts to kill her with a bat. Touma intervenes, and Kana rushes in to use a judo throw on the guy. End of story, right?

Ok, ignoring the fact that Touma was smashed in the face with the club and still shows up at Hinae's house for the big reveal having no bruising or cuts... Everything revolves around motive. Why did the fish seller say "here again?" and why was the second floor window open? - Hinae can't cook. She'd burned the fish earlier that day, and opened the window to let the smoke out. She didn't say anything because it was embarrassing and she then called her boyfriend to have him take her out to eat instead.

Next clues - why would Hinae write down the details of her conversations in a notebook, and why did she have three ways of conversing with people - the land phone, the cell phone and text messaging? Answer, she is dating three men simultaneously. Each of the three discovered the others, which is why one was assaulted, and another was looking through the window. The three dolls indicate that she always asked for the same presents from each boyfriend to make it easier to remember what she got. The Chinatown gift came from boyfriend 1 while it was boyfriend 2 that cancelled out. She collapsed the one time because boyfriend 2 learned about #3 and broke up with her. She went to the river to meet boyfriend 3, who also broke up with her. So, due to Himeko's meddling, Hinae survived Shinichi's attack, but none of her dates want to see her again. When Himeko asks why her grandmother did this, Hinae answers that to Himeko, she's "grandmother", to her son she's "mother" and to her dead husband she was "wife". But to herself, she's still "me". The story ends with a close-up of a photo from when she was a beautiful young club singer, with 10 guys all trying to fit into the shot.

Comments: Q.E.D. isn't perfect. As a mystery series, what's really missing in most cases is an early explanation of the motive. While Touma can piece that together from the clues, it generally seems to be an afterthought to the reader. Often, too, the story ends with a focus on the feelings of some incidental character, while leaving several loose ends flapping in the breeze. And, there's no call back to the story's opening scene. As an example, in The Busy Ms. Enari, we're never told if Himeko learns from this experience, or if she disbands her detective club. But still, any manga that can talk about Georg Cantor and Ellery Queen between the same covers is still interesting to me. Recommended if you like bits of science with your corpses.

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