Saturday, December 21, 2013

C.M.B. volume 2 review

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C.M.B., vol. 2, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Tatsuki, her grandfather, and Det. Kujirazaki. "The caretaker has sworn that"...)

Aoi Biru (Blue Building, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2005).
We get the introduction of the primary police detective that reappears in a few later chapters - Takeshi Kujirazaki. He apparently works in the same building as Q.E.D. Det. Mizuhara, but they don't seem to know each other. Takeshi is a big, gruff guy that doesn't tolerate mistakes from his coworkers, but it's demonstrated pretty quickly that he's more like a bull with its head lowered down when it comes to crime solving. That is, he's not very imaginative, and will lock on to the first viable suspect. In this story, he receives an anonymous letter saying that the culprit in the "blue building assault case" lives in the right-hand apartment of the first floor of the building. The problem is that there is no "blue building" - there's an old 4-building apartment complex, where each of the buildings are painted red on one side, blue on the other, and white on the remaining 2 sides. Plus, the bottom right apartment in the victim's building is unoccupied. In trying to track down the sender of the letter, Takeshi goes to Tatsuki's school, where he encounters the suspicious 2nd-year student Sugihiko Ide. Since Tatsuki's grandfather runs the school, she and Shinra get pulled into the case. Shinra figures things out pretty quickly, and his "price" for giving an explanation is that both Takeshi and Ide visit his museum the next day.

(Shinra likes anything related to the natural world.)

At the same time, Shinra figures that it might be fun to go to school as a student for the first time, so he applies to Meiyuu Private High School. He does poorly on the social studies part of the test, but is at university level for math and science, and he's passable in over 5 languages. The only reason he doesn't try getting into college is that he's got no graduation papers from any other schools. And thus he transfers into Tatsuki's class, where she's afraid he'll give away her secret - that she's a violent tomboy who beats up miscreants as a kind of vigilante. In the case, Ide turns out to be a birdlover, and the only place where the anonymous witness could have seen the assault was from the mountainside home of Ide's mentor, the birdwatching Shinsuke Tatsumi. A couple days later, someone breaks into Tatsumi's house, assaults him with a bat and threatens him to not talk to the police anymore. Questions: Why did the witness refer to a "blue building" and why did they get the room wrong? Who actually witnessed the crime and why won't they come forward to the police? How does Ide's hobby figure into the confusion, and why does Shinra tell Tatsuki about crows that use tools (twigs) to get ants from holes in branches?

There is some science this time, specifically optics, and Shinra spends some time talking about different kinds of birds.

(Awa tells Shinra that he'd made his Noh mask studio to resemble a Noh stage to inspire him as he's working.)

Noroi no Men (The Cursed Mask, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2006). Shinra finishes doing Tatsuki's homework for her and demands his price in return - a black-bellied fish. Tatsuki pulls a trick and gives him a taiyaki (a bean paste-filled pastry in the shape of a fish) instead. It tastes good, so he accepts the payment. Then, a young woman, Keiko Yamagishi, stops by the museum to ask Shinra for help. Seems that a Noh theater mask had been sold to an old man who soon died of natural causes. The seller bought the mask back, and is trying to resell it at a higher price. Det. Kujirazaki had shown a photo of the mask to Keiko, who is a folklore specialist, to get her opinion on it. Turns out that Keiko has been on the lookout for this specific mask for 15 years, and Kujirazaki suggested that she talk to Shinra. Keiko claims that the mask is cursed, and Shinra agrees to help if he can get the mask for his museum. The three go out to an estate in the mountains owned by renowned mask maker Saemon Awa. Awa is the one that had made the cursed mask and he wants it back. Shigekazu Iida is the antiques dealer trying to sell the mask for 3,000,000 yen ($30,000) to be able to pay off some debts that have come due. Other prospective buyers are Seimei Enomoto, a professional Noh actor, and Keiko, who says that the mask holds the secret to her father's death. Her father was an arts critic (Kabuki, Noh, etc.), and 15 years earlier he'd committed suicide, leaving a note behind saying that the mask was cursed.

(Awa works in his studio as the mask watches on.)

Initially, the bidding on the mask stalls at 2,500,000 yen, and Iida wants the group to take an extra day to think over how much they want to spend, so everyone stays in Awa's house for the night. The next morning, Awa is found dead in his workshop, with the mask on a table in front of him and a chisel stuck in his chest. Det. Kujirazaki is called out to investigate the case, and all three suspects think it's clearly suicide - the door was locked from the inside, there's no spare key, and the one window was frozen shut (it snowed during the night). Shinra again says that he'll explain the murder if he gets the mask as payment. When it is supplied to the museum at the end, Tatsuki is outraged that the boy would insist on keeping such a horrible thing that was responsible for 2 deaths. Shinra answers back that things have as much value as people, but what he runs is a museum, which contains skeletons, poisonous reptiles and the tools of war. If people want to look at beautiful things, they can go to an art gallery. So, questions: Is the mask really cursed? What is its real secret? Why does Shinra tell the artist that the mask was poorly made? How could someone get into the locked studio without leaving traces behind, and what would their motive be?

No science. The focus is on the kinds of masks used in Noh theater, and the purpose of the "cursed" one (called deigan ("mud eye"), it's used to represent a jealous wife). There's also a brief discussion of what happens when wooden slats in a wall become dry during the winter.

(Back cover.)

Comments: The artwork starts out pretty strong in the first few chapters of the series. Motohiro already has a fair amount of practice with manga by the time he tackles C.M.B. The tricks aren't all that difficult, and they take a backseat to the natural history lessons regarding birds and Noh masks. The real weakness is still with motive. There's virtually no motive at all in "Blue Building", although it is a bit more reasonable in "The Cursed Mask". Recommended if you like natural history and conventional detective stories.

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