Friday, December 20, 2013

C.M.B. volume 1 review

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It's time to tackle Motohiro Katou's second series, C.M.B - Shinra Hakubutsukan no Jikenmokuroku (C.M.B. - The Incident Catalog of The Shinra Museum). Technically, we could say this is a museum of natural history, since the word "museum" in Japan is more often applied to art galleries dedicated to a specific artist. The primary character is Shinra Sakaki, a young boy that was raised as an orphan by the curators of England's Royal Museum. Each of the three curators possessed a ring that identified them as belonging to the museum. The rings are embossed with different single letters, the initials for the words Christus Mansionem Benedicat. The origin of the rings figures into a few of the early stories, but they're given to Shinra to show that he's the next heir to the Royal Museum. In the meantime, he's been sent out to make his way in the world, and he chooses to open his own museum in an old building in Tokyo, where the only way in is to climb a tree to reach the door on the second floor. To Shinra, the world is one large natural history museum, and he's willing to explain its mysteries in return for an admission fee, usually in the form of a priceless artifact, or the promise to visit his museum the next day.

C.M.B., vol. 1, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Tatsuki meets the curator of the Shinra Museum.)

Gitai (Mimicry, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2005).
This is where things start out. The first few pages discuss the era of European exploration, from the late 1400's to about the mid-1800's. Cultured landowners in Europe would collect artifacts brought in from the New World, and display them in rooms in their houses, called Wunderkammer, or "the cabinet of curiousities". Over time, the collections got quite big and work started on building the British Royal Museum, which was established in 1753. To protect the knowledge in the museum, Queen Charlotte knighted three men, established them as curators, and gave them each a royal ring. Together, the rings contain the letters "C", "M" and "B". The meaning of the letters can be thought of as either the initials of the words Christus Mansionem Benedicat (May Christ Bless This House), or the generally accepted names of the Three Wise Men (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar). From here, the story switches to the viewpoint of Tatsuki Nanase, 2nd year student at the famed Meiyuu private high school. She puts on an act of being well-raised, gentle and polite to avoid getting kicked out of the school, but in reality, she's a trained aikido practitioner willing to beat up thugs to protect weaker students. Her friend, Tazaki, is on her way to the biology lab, where her older brother is the teacher. When they arrive, another group of students discover a half-charred corpse lying on the floor of the classroom. Tatsuki notices a strange boy sitting in a tree outside, watching the room with binoculars. She runs outside and gets her bike to chase the boy as he rides the bus out to a Tokyo suburb. She loses him at a bus stop, and guesses that he went through the woods and climbed a tree to get into a house from the second floor. She follows after and discovers that the building is the Shinra Museum.

(Insects get displayed at a collector's meeting.)

Inside, she meets the boy, who introduces himself as Shinra Sakaki, curator. He's excited to have a visitor, and shows off things like a mummified poisonous frog, and an 18th century Italian flintlock sword rifle (which is still loaded; he blows the head off a nearby dinosaur statue). He assures Tatsuki that he's not involved in the crime and she leaves. The police establish that the fingerprints of the arms next to the corpse aren't from Mamoru Tazaki, so the biology teacher isn't dead, but he is now wanted by the police for questioning for a possible homicide. Tatsuki starts reading up on spontaneous human combustion while working at her family's sento (public bath), as the press mercilessly harasses her friend. To track down Mamoru, the police are questioning the 3 people scheduled to visit him that day, although all of them claim that he was a no-show for their appointments, and Tatsuki follows in the police's footsteps. Mamoru was a bug collector, and wanted to show off a very rare insect that he'd just collected. Realizing that she's already met someone that likes bugs, Tatsuki returns to the museum to get Shinra's help. He does agree, but because he's running a museum, he has to charge an "admission fee". He doesn't want money, instead he asks for Mamoru's bug when it's found. Turns out that the "human candle" corpse is just the result of a trick and the killer took the bug. He can't resist showing it off in front of an audience, so Shinra stages an insect society meeting with the help of someone who put up ads for it at Nanase's sento.

As one of the clues to the solution, Shinra talks about mimicry, and how the Walking Stick can protect itself by looking like a plant stalk. First, it has to look the part, and second it has to move such that birds won't notice it. That's the key to finding the murderer, who is indeed one of the three people Mamoru was supposed to meet that one day. Questions: Why was the corpse half-cremated, with the hands and lower torso remaining? Who did it and why? After the case is solved, Tatsuki's friend agrees to let Shinra keep the bug, which is a rare Bhutan Swallowtail.

The science consists of the history of the Royal Museum, a brief discussion of mimicry, and a look at past reports of human combustion. We also get to see all three of Shinra's C.M.B. rings, which he keeps on a necklace around his neck. Additionally, we find out that Shinra is very naive about certain aspects of modern day life, such as what vending machines are and how to open push-tab soda cans (which he wants to open with a blowtorch).

(Yoshiko gets introduced to Shinra.)

Yuurei Hakubutsukan (Ghost in the Museum, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2005).
Yoshiko Tachibana is a security guard at Y Museum, working the night shift to support herself and young son. The museum is in a former bank that had been used as an air raid shelter during WW II, and a shelter during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1925. It also was rumored to have a bank safe that disappeared with all the money of the local familes. The pain and regret of everyone involved has led to the rise of rumors that the basement of the building, which now houses exhibits of rocks and crystals, is haunted. Suddenly, the lights go out and Yoshiko can hear the sounds of people crying. She spooks. Later, she goes to the aikido dojo for practice, where she is friends with Tatsuki Nanase. She tells Tatsuki her problems, and she goes to get Shinra to help at the Y museum. There, they run afoul of a very strict curator, who is dumbfounded to see that Shinra owns the C.M.B. rings. Things go a little smoother then, with Yoshiko being around to bring in drinks and snacks from the new cafe across the street (it's not open yet, but the museum staff goes there sometimes because the owner is friendly and the coffee is good.

(Shinra gives Tatsuki a hint towards solving the ghost mystery; not all "rocks" are just plain lumps of rock.)

A few days pass and Yoshiko is about to lose her job. One of the office staff had locked the weekly admissions money in a desk drawer over the weekend before taking it to the bank on Monday, and when the drawer is opened the envelop is gone. Yoshiko is the main suspect because she was the only one in the building over the weekend. The bank is temporarily closed, and Yoshiko is panicking over how to get money to care for her baby. Tatsuki tells Shinra, and he wants whatever is pulled out of the building as payment when this is done. As clues to the mystery, Shinra talks about how archeologists need to look at the things found along with broken shards and bits of rock, and how "a chunk of rock" is more than "just rock". He gives Tatsuki a sledgehammer and they enter the Y museum in the middle of the night. Questions: Is the museum haunted? If not, what is going on that causes the lights to go out and voices to start crying? Why is Yoshiko's losing her job central to the mystery? Is there a connection to the unopened cafe? Does Shinra get his payment?

The science consists of a discussion of crystals, crystal radios and the importance of proper procedure when excavating stone-age carved rock tools. During the story, Shinra tries building a platform next to a second-floor window so that the delivery company can bring in a washing machine (he's been doing all of his laundry at the dry cleaners until now). The platform collapses and the dinosaur statue inside the museum loses its head again. As payment for solving the mystery, Tatsuki gets her craftsman father to build a new, more stable 2nd floor loading dock, and her father suggests that Shinra should try attending Meiyuu high school.

(Back cover.)

Comments: The first chapter very clearly establishes the pattern that the later chapters will follow, with the development of the mystery, Shinra's demanding payment to solve the problem, his use of "contract for payment accepted, Welcome to the Wunderkammer", and the final receipt of some kind of payment, which may or may not be what he'd asked for. In the second chapter, we learn that Tatsuki's father likes to test her aikido skills, and that the family owns and operates a public sento. Her mother comes from a very wealthy family, and to get her family's blessing for the wedding, Tatsuki's grandfather made the couple promise that their child would attend the high school that he runs.  Recommended if you like natural science, birds and bugs.

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