Friday, February 28, 2014

C.M.B. volume 21 review

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C.M.B., vol. 21, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Aki attends her father's funeral.)

--- Here there be much spoilers. Warned, you have been. ---

Fuyuki-san no 1-nichi (A Day of Mr. Fuyuki, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
14 years ago, Aki Fuyuki is arguing with her father, Ichirou, over her decision to find a job in the U.S. Her claims are that the work environment is much harsher than it had been in his day. For the most part, Ichirou isn't disagreeing with her. Instead, he just asks her to pick some cards from a deck, and then tells her what cards those were. Present-day Tokyo - some of Ichirou's friends have noticed that he hasn't been following his regular routine during the last couple of days, and they get concerned enough to visit his house, where they discover his body in the backyard. The verdict is that he'd died of a heart attack while watering his garden. Aki shows up for the funeral, where the other mourners gossip about her having found a husband in the U.S. and starting a family there. Aki then goes to the Nanase sento (public baths) where her father had been a regular patron. She tells Tatsuki that a couple of years earlier, after her father had had his first heart attack, she'd been on the phone with him, trying to talk him into coming to the States and living with her there. He'd turned her down, saying that he had a secret here in Tokyo, and if she ever wanted to learn about it, she should visit the Nanase sento. Ichirou's friends overhear the conversation and volunteer to help her out by reconstructing her father's daily routine.

(In the garden.)

The group starts by discussing his breakfast at home, watering the garden, going to a shogi club (Japanese checkers, Ichirou was a lousy player), eating dinner at a ramen shop, taking a bath at the sento and then going home to sleep. They fail to uncover any kind of "mystery" and Aki is disgusted at wasting their time over someone that would lie to her and live such a hollow life. However, Tatsuki spots Shinra going in to the sento for a bath and asks Aki to buy him a bottle of fruit milk in order to get the boy's assistance. The next day, Shinra has Aki repeat Ichirou's routine, but this time Tatsuki actually serves her the breakfast her father normally ate (toasted fresh bread with margarine and marmalade). They go to the backyard, and when Aki waters the flowers, the leaves part to reveal several miniature figures that no one had known about before. For dinner, they stop at the ramen shop and Aki takes Ichirou's regular seat at a table facing the TV. In the middle of the meal, the broadcast switches to "QNN" news, and Aki realizes that he'd been following the events in the country she'd run off to. Shinra comments that sometimes, people are like butterflies. If all you see is the butterfly, you'd never suspect that it had come from a caterpillar. That is, you have to walk in someone's footsteps to really understand them. Satisfied, Aki, thanks Tatsuki before returning to America.

No science, just an explanation of the card trick at the beginning of the story.

(The Ashihara's want Shinra to assess their art collection.)

Kotei (The Bottom of a Lake, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
"Ashi" refers to reeds growning by the side of a lake. "Ashihara" is "reed field". The Ashihara family has a long and storied past, and the reeds in the area around their ancestral home were used for making window blinds, among other things. Now, the family controls a huge conglomerate, but the only direct descendents are two sisters, Saki and Ai. Being the eldest, Saki requires that Ai behave like proper gentry and marry someone from an equally powerful family. Initially, Ai had rebelled, insisting on dating a university folklore researcher named Enoki. But, Enoki had died in a boating accident a year before, and because Ai now is willing to accept Saki's choice of husbands, the family needs to compile a list of all their assets as part of the legal requirements for the marriage. Further, Saki wants Shinra to assess their art collection to put a price on it. Ai then brings out a small box with a carved stone, called a "kougyoku no magatama" (a comma-shaped piece of jadeite) as payment for "finding out the truth". She suggests that if they need to take a break, they seek out the talkative guy that gives boat rides nearby. After some hours of hard cataloging work, Shinra and Tatsuki do indeed need a rest. The boatman talks a lot, about the surrounding mountains, the reeds, and the drowning incident that claimed Enoki's life. The Ashihara estate is on the shores of Japan's biggest inland lake, Lake Biwa. Over the centuries, due to earthquakes, flooding, mudslides and the like, there are at least 100 known village ruins at the bottom of the lake. Recently, barrier walls have been constructed around some of the sites and the water pumped out, to allow for excavations of the remains. Statues and pottery dating from the Jomon to the Edo eras have been recovered so far. Ai met Enoki while she was at university and fell in love with him. As a gift, he gave her the magatama that he'd received from his professor. Unfortunately, Saki disapproved of Enoki as being unsufficently royal, so she dragged Ai to Tokyo to introduce her to "better husband material".

(Holes in the water.)

While they were away, Enoki was returning from his research when his boat suddenly sunk. Since he'd grown up in Tokyo, he'd never learned to swim, and his drowned body was found the next day. Ai claimed he was murdered, but the police ruled it an accident. When Saki learns that Shinra is investigating the drowning, she insists that the boy leave the estate immediately. However, he has one question that he wants answered first. On the day the two sisters had gone to Tokyo, if Saki really wanted Ai to find the "right husband", why didn't she force Ai to stay there, rather than the two of them coming back to Biwa on the same train? If Ai couldn't leave Tokyo, her engagement to Enoki would have been annulled and there'd be no problem from him anymore. The only answer is that Saki already knew that Enoki was dead, so it didn't matter where Ai went. When the boat had been found, there was a nail sticking out of the prow. In the lake, there still is a concrete block attached to a chain and some pieces of sheet rubber. Shinra speculates that a weather balloon had been inflated in the river and submerged just below the surface. When the nail punctured the balloon, the resulting hole in the water caused the boat to sink, and Enoki (who never wore a lifejacket) to drown. Shinra and Tatsuki return to Tokyo, and a story breaks saying that the Ashihara estate is being investigated for tax evasion. Shinra says this is all part of Ai's plan: She'd agreed to Saki's engagement proposal in order to gain access to the family's financial records prior to writing the prenup contract. Once she'd confirmed that her boyfriend had been murdered, she took the records to the authorities to get her revenge against her family.

No science, but some history on the ruins around Lake Biwa, and a discussion of how the shape of the lake has changed over time.

(Mao is so cute when she's angry. Inside the Cloud family mansion study.)

Erufu no Tobira (Elf Door, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
The story starts out 11 years ago, when Mao was celebrating her birthday with a big party with her parents. They tell her that since she always rejects the things they buy her, her mother had designed her latest present and her father had built it himself. It's an elf door. Mau puts it in front of the opening of a hollow tree and uses it to pretend that her dolls can return to fairy land when she's not playing with them. Things then flip back and forth between the present, where the adult blackmarket broker Mao is asking Shinra to appraise a Mesopotamian pottery representing a character from the Gilgamesh myth. Shinra refuses to help her, believing that the artifact is stolen. Mao kicks him and Tatsuki out of her office, so they decide to follow her in a taxi as she visits various cake shops, and takes a ferry cruise of Tokyo bay. Eventually, Shinra realizes that Mao has been staring at the warehouses on the other side of the bay, and he figures that given the phonecall she'd taken when he first arrived, that she's preparing for a big shipment of stolen goods to arrive soon. That night, a cargo ship does make a port of call, and a bunch of suspicious guys surround the ship prior to quietly unloading the cargo. The police, accompanied by Shinra, raid the docks and round up all the smugglers.

(Mao, Queen of Elfland.)

In the flashbacks, we learn that Mao's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cloud, were very well-to-do, and loved to collect ancient and modern art. The broker they used was a guy named Mon Batta (Butter?) Mon would bring various items to parties being held at the Cloud estate and auction them off to the guests. At one point, one of the items was a white jaguar statue that Mon claimed had been made by the Olmec. Mao had pushed it off the table, shattering it, saying that it's a fake. Mon does some fast talking and the Clouds send their daughter to her room. She goes to their library, where she's surrounded by books on history and art. She tells one of her dolls that the adults are all stupid. The Olmec worshiped jaguars as being sacred, and would only use green stone, like jade, for the statues, never white limestone. The doll suggests that she study really hard and when she becomes an adult, she can get her revenge. So, when the police identify the leader of the smugglers, it turns out to be Mon Batta, a dealer in fake antiques with a history of defrauding wealthy families. At the end, Mao's assistant asks if it was really wise to manipulate Shinra this way, since he may refuse to work with them again. She says that sending him some free cake will smooth over any ruffled feathers. She's then reminded that her mother's birthday is today. She arranges to have a present sent out, but decides against meeting her parents this time. The chapter wraps up with one of her dolls inviting her to enter through the elf door and become the queen of the elves.

No science, just a look at how rich people get talked out of their money by con artists.

(Shinra talks about the history of the Knights of Malta.)

Baretta no Shokudai (Vallette's Candlestick, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
Marte is a big, older guy that likes to practice with a wooden sword, living in Malta. He hits a neighborhood kid in the head with the weapon and ends up getting arrested. While in custody, he tells the lawyer that he's one of the Knights of Malta, and not subject to local law. In investigating his claim authorities realize that his land is part of a historical grant dating back to the original knights, and that he may possess a solid gold candlestick holder rumored to have belonged to the famed leader of the Knights, Jean Parisot de Vallette. This opens up a huge can of diplomatic worms, if the candlestick is authentic. Spain, France, Germany, England and Malta all lay claim to it, and this could turn into a war if Shinra refuses to step in and mediate. The government of Malta makes the request and Shinra agrees. There is a complication, though. Marte is living with his granddaughter, Cynthia, now. Cynthia's parents live in Germany, but it was learned that Marte has cancer, and Cynthia rushed to be by his side in case he becomes ill. On the day of the incident, she says that the neighborhood kid had tried attacking Marte from behind, and then complained to the police after getting his butt kicked. Cynthia is afraid that if Shinra rules that the candlestick belongs to Malta that they'll seize the family's land and her grandfather will become homeless.

(Marte faces a real Knight Hospitaller.)

In the proceedings, Shinra announces that neither Spain nor Germany have a claim to the candlestick since Malta never belonged to either country. France has something of a claim, but since Malta belonged to France for only about 6 months, and to England for about 150 years, that the candlestick goes to the English ambassador. Now, during all of this, Shinra has been telling Tatsuki about how Malta was founded, and the history of the Knights Hospitaller. One of the beliefs held by the Knights is that if they fall in battle, they'll join God for eternity. Shinra suddenly realizes that the reason Marte had revealed the existence of the candlestick is that he's looking for a worthwhile foe to best him before he succumbs to cancer. Shinra and Cynthia take a boat to the mouth of a cave, where they arrive just in time to see the English diplomat trying to obtain the gold candlestick, but instead is getting attacked by Marte wielding a heavy sword. Then, a figure steps forward wearing the armor of the Knights, and it manages to shatter Marte's blade. As the figure picks up the broken sword, everyone hears a deep voice, presumably that of Vallette, telling the old man that he has conducted his service admirably and that he can now live out his years without worry about getting to the afterlife. The next day, Shinra and Tatsuki are at the airport to return to Tokyo. He asks her if she'd been the one giving the speech, and she answers that if she'd opened her mouth everyone would have figured out that a girl was inside the armor. Shinra shrugs, saying he must have been imagining things. Then he looks at the silver coin that Cynthia gave him as thanks for saving her grandfather, adding that by Malta law, only citizens of Malta are normally allowed to possess this particular type of coinage.

Lots of history about Malta, Vallette and the Knights.

Comments: Ok, this is going to be an easy call. If you like C.M.B., then you're going to want this volume specifically to watch Mao playing in the garden with her dolls. Everything else is secondary. However, I had no idea that there were so many ruins in and around Lake Biwa. I'm hoping that on some upcoming long holiday that I can manage to go visit the area for a few days. Recommended.

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