Saturday, February 22, 2014

C.M.B. volume 20 review

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C.M.B., vol. 20, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

----- Spoilers -----

There are four short stories this time, and I may or may not choose to give away the endings. You have been warned. However, in this volume, we get the appearance of Shinra's third, and final, adoptive father, Morris Rand (or Land). So you may want to scroll down to the bottom of the blog entry for that.

(Even dinosaurs like Christmas.)

12-gatsu 27-nichi (December 27, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
It's December 27th, and Shinra's class is having a "Discontinued Christmas" party at the museum. Everyone's having fun and enjoying the stuffed turkey and mountain of Christmas cakes when it comes time to give each other presents. One of the guests, Akihiko Hachigoume, goes to his bag and then complains that his treasure is missing. He demands that whoever took it return it immediately, but none of the other guests know what he's talking about. The story then flashes back 2 weeks, when the class had just finished up a pre-exam study session. Because they'll be busy with tests, they're going to miss Christmas. To make up for it, and take advantage of all the bakeries that will be discounting Christmas cakes after the holiday is over, they decide to have a "discount/discontinued" party on the 27th. Meanwhile, in the Wondervogel Club room, Akihiko is pestering his clubmate, Yuka Nobe about the love letter he'd asked her to deliver to one of the other girls in the school, Risa Fukuyama. Risa's not interested in Akihiko, and she feels imposed upon in having to reply back. Yuka's not happy to be the go-between here, either. As Yuka is trying to explain the situation, she bumps a box, causing a lumpy rock to fall out. Akihiko tells her to be careful with that - it's his treasure, a fusulinida (calcite fossil) that he'd found on a school field trip a long time ago. Akihiko switches between being fixated on the fossil, and talking Yuka into delivering the next letter to Risa, while Yuka unsuccessfully tries to get him to help her prepare for an upcoming trip for a group climb of Mt. Fuji. On getting the latest rejection letter from Risa, Akihiko realizes that it would be better to talk to Risa in person, and when he learns that she'll be at Shinra's party, he decides to go too, and give her the fossil as a present.

(Some people pick up on clues slower than others.)

A little later, Shinra, Tatsuki and a friend are at the Goth+ Burger shop, where Yuka works part-time. She recognizes her customers and asks for help in dealing with Akihiko. Tatsuki notices that she's kind of flustered, and Yuka admits that she likes the guy herself. Shinra agrees to come up with a plan, but it's going to require Yuka's cooperation. Fast-forward to the party. As Akihiko demands to know who took his treasure, Tatsuki points out a shattered rock on the floor near the table. Seems that someone really hates him for some reason, and when Shinra asks who that could be, Akihiro accuses Risa of doing it since she detests him because of the love letters. Then, Shinra, who is dressed as Santa, asks if he'd noticed that Santa has two reindeer - the second reindeer takes off its fake head to reveal Yuka, with the intact fossil. Now that Akihiko can't bother Risa anymore, Shinra takes the fossil, saying that Akihiko is better off finding a new treasure. Later, Akihiko and Yuka are on their group climb, with the boy whining about whether there will be any volcanic rocks at the top of Fuji. Yuka suggests that that's a really good possibility.

No science, outside of a brief mention of the fusulinida.

(Shousuke has a heart-to-heart with Tobio over the company's money problems.)

Tenraku (Downfall, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
Tatsuki's grandfather has accepted an invitation to stay at the onsen (hot spring spa) resort run by an old friend, and he brings Shinra and Tatsuki with. Also at the spa is Shousuke Egashira, president of a company that makes apps for cell phones, and the rest of his staff. There's a big trade show coming up, and Shousuke has been egging his people to come up with products to demonstrate at the show to get the company out of the red. Unfortunately, his accountant, Tobio Tegata, wants to publicly announce that the company is bankrupt, which of course would mean that investors would avoid them and they'd go belly up. Although Shousuke verbally threatens Tobio to remain silent until they can get some contracts signed, the other man remains obstinate. So, at the resort, Shousuke starts acting really abusive and pressures Tobio into drinking more beer than he wants. The two go to the hot spring, which is abandoned now because no one wants to be near Egashira, and the company president then pushes his accountant down a flight of stone steps, killing him. Shousuke then sets up a projector to display Tobio's head on the steam clouds to make it look like he's in the hot spring, while playing back a recording of the two of them talking and laughing.

("To us! And may we make enough money to go somewhere better next year than this here rat hole.")

Shousuke returns to the dining room, and after a few minutes, sends two of his office ladies to check on the missing guy. The women discover the body at the bottom of the stairs and scream. The police arrive, and it looks like Tobio had gotten too intoxicated, spent too much time in the spa, and then blacked out at the top of the stairs before falling backward. Shousuke comments that because this resort is so old and run down, it was inevitable that someone would slip on the crumbling steps. Since, Shinra, Tatsuki and her grandfather like the resort's owner, they're getting very angry at the abuse she's receiving. Shinra decides to unmask the killer in Columbo style. Questions: What clues did Egashira overlook, and how do they give him away?

No science or history.

(Spooky stuff happens as Shinra sleeps at a haunted shrine.)

Mokuhen (A Piece of Wood, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
In the museum, Tatsuki has noticed a partly-carved hunk of wood in an unmarked glass case and she asks about it. Shinra replies that he'd been helping a folklore teacher clean out a storeroom, and as payment he'd been allowed to take any carving that he liked. This hunk of wood seemed out of place with all of the other dolls and masks, and he grabbed it without thinking. A few minutes later, a high school girl, Airi Kino (her last name means "wood field") walks into the museum and puts a log on the table, challenging Shinra to unravel the puzzle it represents. It's supposed to be haunted, and the reward would be a "treasure" from her grandfather. Confused, but tempted, Shinra accompanies Airi out to a shrine in the countryside. To observe the mystery for himself, he's supposed to sleep in the main shrine room where the log had been stored for many years. A few minutes seem to go by, when Airi returns and tells him to come outside with her. They walk several yards, past a white line of rocks. Airi picks this moment to "remember" to give the boy her warning - by crossing the rocks he's become trapped in a dream world. His body is still in the shrine, and his spirit has to solve the puzzle before he shrivels away and dies. Then Shinra is transported to a small village in the old Edo era, where a talented woodcarver, Mokuhen ("Woodblock") is putting the finishing touches on a wood statue of Buddha. While the villagers can only afford to give him a raddish or rice ball in return, when a group of Samurai arrive to commission their own statue, he charges them 50 gold pieces. While most of the group is offended, the leader agrees to these terms and promises to come back later.

(Mokuhen working on a statue in the street.)

Mokuhen claims to be able to do 2 or 3 statues a day, bringing out the main features of the wood in each abandoned log that he finds lying on the ground outside the village. Then, a monk comes by and asks if Mokuhen is familiar with Ryuukei, a famed sculptor living in Edo (Tokyo). The monk suggests that Mokuhen travel to Edo to study Ryuukei's technique. That night, in an inn, Mokuhen is drinking with the other villagers and talking about going on a little trip soon. The craftsman that makes carving tools says that Mokuhen should reconsider. He's heard rumors and he doesn't like what he's heard. Mainly, Ryuukei has a school where he teaches his students to visualize the Buddha dwelling within a piece of wood before starting to bring it out in statue form. After completing his masterpiece, Ryuukei's top student suddenly threw away his tools and refused to ever carve again. At this point, Shinra leaves the inn and goes out to the street where a giant image of Airi asks him if he's solved the puzzle yet. Shinra answers that the solution doesn't exist here, so the girl pulls out a dagger and cuts the air to take the boy to her grandfather. In a different building, Shinra meets someone who he surmises is Ryuukei. The old man says that he'd learned about Mokuhen from a traveler and had gone on the road with his granddaughter to visit the village. But, along the way they discovered that Mokuhen had fallen off a cliff and died on the ground below, while still holding a log in his hands. Ryuukei took the log and had it placed in the shrine out of respect, but he can't shake the feeling that there's something special about it, and he's obsessed over what might have happened if Mokuhen had lived long enough to work on it.

Shinra answers that the real puzzle is in why Ryuukei's top student suddenly gave up on carving, something that the old man himself never figured out. The problem is that by visualizing the perfect Buddha within the piece of wood, the student artist discovered that what he made never turned out as well as what he wanted to achieve. No one else could see anything wrong with the finished statues, but the student knew, and that sense of failure finally did him in. Satisfied with this solution, Ryuukei lets Shinra return to his body. The next day, Tatsuki tries to get him to explain why they're taking the partly-carved log out to a cemetery to be dedicated to Mokuhen no Haka ("Mokuhen's Grave"). As Shinra prays, he says "Take this and do what you want with it." In the final panel, Mokuhen is preparing to do another carving, using that log.

No science, just a story featuring the historical figure Shimizu Ryukei.

(Morris notices Durer's woodblock print.)

Sai no Zu (Durer's Rhinoceros, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).

The story starts out with three men in Utrecht, Holland. Dek Green is the current president of Green Pharmaceuticals. His father, the founder of the company, had amassed a huge personal collection of natural history artifacts during his life. Dek has no interest in the stuff himself and wants all this "trash" assessed so that he can sell it off to use the money to prop up the failing business. At this point, someone throws a sword at Dek, embedding it in a stone pillar. Dek demands to know why the guy did this, and the current head of the National Museum, Morris Rand, says that he was asked to. Dek says,"Who would do that?" and Morris replies, "Your father". Then, when Dek runs away, Morris and his assistant, Jeeno White, start looking at the collection. Morris immediately gravitates to a woodblock of a rhinoceros by the famed German artist, Albrecht Durer. One week goes by, and Shinra receives a request to come to Holland. He and Tatsuki meet with Jeeno, and are taken to the prison cell where Morris is being held. In the cell, Shinra's third adoptive father is doing yoga on a chair. The boy asks what's going on and Morris says, "That's what you're here to figure out". Tatsuki jumps in, demanding an answer to her friend's question, and when Morris learns who she is, he apologizes for his rudeness, thanks her for taking care of the boy for him, and wraps up with "that's all". Knowing that they won't get any further this way, Shinra leaves to do some thinking. Jeeno explains that his boss only says as little as he believes is necessary and it's up to everyone else to connect the dots. Once, when he had just started in his job, he and Morris had been in the woods on a study trip. Jeeno had touched a leaf and asked what tree it was from. The other man just replied "Steroids". Later, Jeeno learned that the plant was used for making laquer, was toxic, and having already come into contact with the oils, the only treatment for the resulting rash was to receive steroid shots. Shinra adds that once, his mother had been working on restoring an Italian fresco and she'd asked Morris to join him. The guy requested a hammer and proceeded to destroy the fresco. Thus revealing an authentic Michelangelo masterpiece underneath. But, because he'd started smashing away without explaining himself, Shinra's mother punched him in the face.

(Shinra figures out the puzzle.)

The boy starts investigating. It seems that one night, Morris had put the Durer print in a locked cabinet, and he and the other staff had left the storeroom for the evening. The next day, the print was missing. The police couldn't find it, and then Morris suddenly confessed to the crime before asking for Shinra to come rescue him. Other than Morris Rand himself, there are three suspects with opportunity: Jeeno, Bren Keating, and Linus Bernar (or Berner, or Bernard). Bren is the lead researcher at the Dutch National Museum and would be the head there if Morris hadn't taken the job away from him. Linus is a part-timer with a bad gambling habit. Jeeno doesn't have motive, but he was in the room that had the cabinet with the print locked in it. Bren has motive, but he says he'd never do anything that would tarnish the name of the national museum. Linus has a massive gambling debt and has suddenly come into money, but he claims that Durer made many copies of that rhinoceros woodblock print, and that enough of those still exist to keep the missing print from having much of a resale value on the blackmarket. Shinra tells Tatsuki that Morris has a reason for confessing and then not explaining himself, and it's Shinra's task to figure out what that is. While standing in front of the cabinet, the boy notices a terrarium holding some caterpillars, and he yells out that he knows what happened.

With the main characters gathered in the storeroom office, Shinra points out that the caterpillars, which belong to Bren, are Japanese oak silkmoths. Long ago, fishermen would take the coarse silk threads the caterpillars produced and soak them in vinegar to create fishing lines. Bren has been making these lines as part of his research. The thief had taped the ends of one line to the outside of the cabinet, so when Morris put the folder with the print away for the night, the thief could easily pull it back out through the gap at the top of the drawer with the now-looped thread (which is as strong as nylon line). The reason Morris had confessed and then stayed locked up was that he feared that the thief would burn the evidence if the police got too close to him. And, none of the suspects had acted suspiciously that evening because the thief had slipped the folder back into the cabinet through the gap at the bottom of the wooden drawer. Shinra pulls the drawer out to show the folder sitting on the thin wooden slat the drawer rests on. He asks Bren what possible reason there would be for stealing a print like this (other than for getting revenge on Morris), and the man replies, "the insurance money". This last piece of information indicates that Dek Green had conspired with an accomplice to make it look like the print was stolen to collect on the insurance, and the only one in a position to be that accomplice is Linus. Since his fingerprints are on the folder (and Morris was the only other one to handle it) Linus collapses and confesses. Afterward, as Shinra and Tatsuki are returning to the airport, he mentions that there's one thing he still doesn't understand. While he had been the one asked to solve the crime partly because he's so young and that would put the thief off-balance and reduce the odds of the print being destroyed in a panic, Jeeno could have solved the crime just as easily. So, why did Morris specifically ask for him for help? Tatsuki suddenly yells out, "Of course, Morris just wanted an excuse to see you again".

The history revolves around Durer and the printing of the rhino woodblock picture. Durer was a great artist, but he'd never seen a rhino himself; he just made pictures of it based on third-hand reports.

(Back cover.)

Comments: Lots of fluff stories this time. The one murder mystery is a Columbo-style "we know who did it, how does he get caught" story, but minus all of the tension that Peter Falk brought to the show. December 27 is just silly, while A Piece of Wood is the kind of supernatural tale that Motohiro claims can't happen in real life. Regardless, the artwork is good in all 4 stories, and especially so in Durer's Rhinoceros. I like Durer's prints, and I enjoyed seeing him show up here. But, there's one specific scene where Motohiro copy-pastes the entire panel and just moves the word balloons around to hide the fact that he's recycling himself. He does that occasionally, especially with certain crowd scenes that involve people on juries or in a courtroom audience (such as in The Arrested President Affair). On the other hand, if you like C.M.B., then you'll want this volume for the introduction of Morris Rand. Recommended.

I do want to mention something about Downfall. One of my complaints about certain kinds of mystery stories is that they ignore "collateral damage". The cell phone app company is running out of money, but the development of new apps would save it and return it to the black. The accountant's insistence on announcing their insolvency would cost everyone else their jobs. But, the accountant decides to stick to "principle", which would protect the big banks from possibly losing their investment capital, so the president kills him to protect his own company. Now, we do get one small cut scene where the president offers to buy his young daughter an expensive violin to use at school, implying that the reason the company is running out of money is that the president has spending it all on himself. So, this gives us justification for Shinra unmasking the killer. The problem now is that when the news gets out about the insolvency issues, the current investors will seize the company to carve up the assets, and the workers will lose their jobs and all back-salary that they are due. The thing is that Motohiro just focuses on the president's "villainy" and Shinra's "pure-hearted" pursuit of the truth, with no thought of how this is going to impact everyone else. In part, Shinra is outraged by how the president's comments about the rundown onsen hurts the feelings of the onsen owner, but he's completely oblivious to the greater impact on the 20-30 people he's going to kick out onto the streets. I find this "ignoring the collateral damage" very unsatisfying in these kinds of stories.

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