Friday, January 3, 2014

C.M.B. volume 05 review

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C.M.B., vol. 05, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B


(Shinra talks about Gutenberg, his press and the bibles he printed up.)

Gu-tenberugu Seisho (Gutenberg Bible, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2007).
A young woman, dressed as a goth-loli, carrying a big square suitcase on her back, stumbles in to the Shinra Museum and introduces herself as Mau Sugaaru (Mao Sugal?) She says that her grandfather, an antiques dealer, was asked to appraise something by someone that wishes to remain anonymous, but the old man collapsed and was taken to the hospital. The deadline for making the appraisal is approaching, and she's been told that the only person that can help her is the "owner of the 3 rings". She pulls out a clear file containing a sheet of paper that Shinra immediately identifies as being from one of the original Gutenberg Bibles. About 160 were printed in the 1450's and only 49 still exist today, marked as "cultural treasures". Only 21 are fully intact, and if someone stole a page from one book to put it into another, the resale value of a complete volume would be astronomical. Shinra refuses to get involved unless Mao tells him who the client is, and she can't do that.


(Mao discovers that taking things is wrong.)

Tatsuki follows Mao and they talk in a coffee shop. When she returns to the museum, she sees 3 guys from Interpol asking Shinra about anyone that may have shown him pages from a stolen, newly discovered "50th Bible". Tatsuki grabs Shinra and they go to Mao's hotel, arriving just as she's being attacked by a gun man. The attacker escapes, and Mao insists on sleeping in Shinra's museum until he helps her. The Interpol agents had stated that when investigating a different blackmarket broker, they found evidence that the stolen bible is in a bank vault in Tokyo, and Shinra added that because Japan had never signed the cultural heritage pact, it's the hub for stolen property that goes through the hands of 3rd-party brokers. The broker never asks where the property came from, so they have plausible deniability when approached by the police regarding the theft, and the buyers are further insulated by the brokers. Although, if the property is stolen, the buyer has to give it up, he'll probably get recompensed by some government or Interpol agency. Tatsuki keeps pressuring Shinra into helping Mao and he finally gives in, calling the Interpol agents (who are shown to be working together with the gun man) to set up a meeting at the bank. The key element is that the C.M.B. rings give Shinra the legal power to get the bank to turn over the contents of safety deposit boxes. At the bank, Shinra gets the 50th Bible, matches it to the page that Mao is carrying, and the agents leave with both the box and Mao's page.


(Cross-section of Shinra's museum building.)

-------- Spoilers ---------

Shinra had obtained a forged copy of the Gutenberg Bible and arranged to put it in the safety deposit box the day before. He even tells the fake agents that the book they have is fake. That night, all 4 men gather in front of the museum to kill the witnesses, but their boss has been forced out of the shadows. The boss dismisses them and enters the museum. Turns out that the mysterious 3rd-party blackmarket broker chasing after the 50th Bible is Mao herself, and she's unhappy to have lost her prize. She does state that she refuses to steal anything herself, then swipes a small wicker box as "payment" from Shinra and runs away. Shinra pouts - he'd been wanting to open that box. As Mao escapes on a plane out of Japan, she lifts the cover of the box only to have a party popper go off in her face and confetti strewn all over the neighboring passengers.

Lots of discussion about blackmarket brokers, Gutenberg's press and the Gutenberg Bible.



(John's body is found, minus his head. The guide thinks he's seen a ghost.)

Mori no Seirei (Spirit of Forest, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2007).
Lloyd Schwartz and John Bates are two explorers currently living in the jungles of Borneo. One night, their local guide sees Bates crossing a rope bridge. Bates has contracted malaria and should still be in bed. When the guide runs up to catch him, he and Schwartz find Bates' body propped against a tree with his head chopped off. The guide thinks that it was Bates' ghost on the bridge, and Lloyd runs off yelling that Sadaman is out to kill him. A few days later, Mao shows up at Shinra's museum, asking for his help. Shinra refuses, until she starts talking about all the rare animals and plants he could see in Borneo. The two of them get on the next plane out. In Borneo, they are intercepted by Mao's client, Levi Nobel. Levi is the CEO of a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, and she wants to track down the famed Sadaman to ask him about the various medicinal properties of the plants in this part of the rain forest. Sadaman is a local living in the jungle and has amassed a deep understanding of the botanicals there. John and Lloyd worked for her, but both of them contracted malaria. Supposedly, Sadaman had given them an herbal remedy that worked on Lloyd, but John developed some kind of a reaction. He disappeared, and when he was found, his head had been chopped off, maybe by headhunters. About this time, a local police detective stops by Levi's home and announces that John's actual cause of death was by poison, implying that Sadaman is a killer who is also after Lloyd.


(Levi confronts Shinra. Lloyd is bound and gagged on the porch.)

Shinra agrees to go look for Sadaman, but through flashbacks we learn that one of Shinra's "fathers" (possibly Stan) had brought the boy to Borneo 5 years ago. Sadaman had agreed to train Shinra regarding botanicals, but only with the understanding that "the weak are the food for the strong". If Shinra dies, it's because the jungle is stronger than Shinra's will to live. Shinra misses the old man, and just wants to see him again. The same guide that had been with John and Lloyd is the one that takes Mao and Shinra down the river to the encampment. Shinra drags Mao along with as they investigate the cabin, then suddenly Lloyd jumps out of the jungle, still yelling about Sadaman being after him, and shoots Shinra in the leg with a shotgun. Mao races back to the boat and tells the guide that Shinra is dead. They leave. In a haze, Shinra sees Sadaman approaching him on an elephant, saying that if he doesn't get up the jungle will claim him. When he does recover, he's in a different cabin, being tended by Tatsuki. Turns out that Shinra had left a note on the museum door saying that he was going to see some tengu monkeys, and Tatsuki's grandfather used this as an excuse to take a vacation trip to Borneo, where all the tengu monkeys are. Tatsuki learns where Shinra went to and she goes down the river just as Mao is returning back up (Mao didn't see her). Some old guy led her to the cabin, telling her to pick some plants to fight against infection and how to prepare them. The old guy disappeared, but Shinra knows that it was Sadaman. Shinra is bandaged up and ready to leave, but as the two of them step out of the cabin, they're accosted by the real killers.

Questions: Who killed John and why? Is Sadaman a murderer? How can anyone be sure he isn't? Why is Lloyd so afraid? How do the heroes get out of this scrape?

No real history this time, except that we are told that Borneo no longer has head hunters. The main emphasis is on the medicinal properties of rain forest plants and how desperate big pharma companies are to unlock their secrets. We do get to see one of Shinra's adoptive fathers, but we're not told which one (we just see a thin white guy with shaggy light-colored hair and glasses, at least 40, maybe 50 years old). On a related note, because of all the construction going on in the country, trees have been torn up on the hillsides, resulting in massive mudslides. Spoiler: Shinra can't meet Sadaman because he was killed in one such mudslide some time ago.


(Back cover.)

Comments: Admittedly, C.M.B. is a fantasy. Shinra is too young and too smart, able to immediately assemble the clues to each mystery within a few seconds. And his understanding of natural science is just too broad and comprehensive. But, the introduction of Mao, an equally young girl in a goth-loli dress, as a globe-trotting black market broker is really pushing the limits of credibility. Yes, we get Moriarty to Shinra's "Holmes", but she's not believable. Katou Motohiro's other title, Q.E.D., doesn't contain a recurring villain, which may be putting a strain on his storytelling abilities. In any event, Mao reappears sporadically in C.M.B. from this point on. This volume is recommended mainly if you want to see Mao's first appearance in the series.

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