Friday, March 7, 2014

C.M.B. volume 23 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

C.M.B., vol. 23, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Discussing Chouhachi Irie, master of Kote-e.)

4-maime no Kote-e (The Fourth Plaster Relief, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2013).
Art book publishing company president, Mitsuru Morishige, has run into problems. With the current economy, he's had to shut down his company. His remaining hope is to complete a book on plaster reliefs (Kote-e) that he's writing. He asks Shinra for help in tracking down the fabled "Fourth Wall Relief by Kyoujirou", an artist that the boy has never heard of before. Plaster relief art was perfected by Chouhachi Irie in the mid to late-1800's. A supposedly equally talented artist, Kyoujirou, had specialized in erotic drawings of topless women. He'd been approached by a wealthy merchant who wanted to commission 4 kote-e for a small guest house he'd had built. Morishige doesn't know the full story, but he does have a fragment of plaster from the building, which he gives to Shinra, and he tells the boy to track down Heikichi Koba, an historian. Heikichi really doesn't want to show Shinra and Tatsuki the pictures he has of Kyoujirou's works, because there's a curse on them; everyone involved in researching Kyoujirou has been injured in some way. Shinra doesn't care, so Heikichi reluctantly shows him his notes. Kyoujirou had been a regular artist working in sumi-e, when the merchant offered him 50 gold coins (a LOT of money at the time) for the commission. Kyoujirou spent weeks drawing one specific model, and had completed the plaster reliefs of three of the walls. Then he started stalling. The merchant was getting impatient, and one day, Kyoujirou told a servant that the fourth wall was finished and would be ready for viewing in one week. On the appointed day, the merchant visited the guest house only to see it going up in flames, with Kyoujirou inside. After the fire had burned itself out, Kyoujirou's corpse couldn't be found.

(Kyoujirou at work, and the 3 finished walls.)

Shinra starts investigating Kyoujirou, with the goal of determining what the 4th wall would have looked like, or for any indication that it had been completed. After a couple days, Heikichi falls down a flight of stairs and is hospitalized with an injured leg, proving that the curse is real - Heikichi was punished by Kyoujirou's spirit for talking about the reliefs. Afterward, Shinra tells Mitsuru that when the merchant was getting impatient, he sent his photographer to the guest house to secretly snap a photo if possible. The photographer had succeeded, and a single negative had been found in a bank safety deposit box, which the boy was going to open the next day. The day comes, and as Shinra is walking out of the bank with the negative in a shoulder bag, somebody zips by on a scooter and snatches the bag. Questions: Who would steal the bag? Why? Without the negative, can Mitsuru still finish his book? Is there really a curse, or is Heikichi faking his injuries?

----- Spoilers -----

Shinra had expected something like this would happen, so he'd stationed Tatsuki in an alley down the street. When the scooter driver reaches her, she grags him and flips him to the ground. The thief's helmet is removed, revealing him to be the guy that had asked Shinra for help in the first place - Mitsuru. Shinra explains that Kyoujirou had gotten so obsessed with turning the final relief into a masterpiece that would last forever that he'd finally snapped and strangled his model. He put plaster on her body and posed it in front of the wall, claiming that he'd finished the consignment. However, after a few days, the bruising of the skin had started to become visible through the plaster, so the artist set the guest house on fire to die with his masterpiece. The merchant had found the remains of both bodies in the rubble, and worked to suppress any reports of the truth. Mitsuru had learned these details during his own research, and had created the rumor of the curse in order to scare off anyone else that got too close to it. His motive is that if word got out that Kyoujirou was a killer that it would hurt the sales of the artbook on him. Mitsuru pleads to see the negative, and Shinra warns him that he has the same crazed look that Kyoujirou probably had.

No science, just a brief history of Chouhachi Irie. Kyoujirou seems to be a fictional character created for this story. No idea if he's based on someone real.

(Noburo, Heikichi and Mami waiting to buy tamago.)

Ashizuri Atsuyaki Tamago-ten (Ashizuri Thick Omelet Shop, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2013).
It's the end of the year and the Nanase family is busy cleaning up the sento and house in prepapration for the New Year. Everyone has stuff they want bought (mops, fluorescent lamps, etc.), so Tatsuki and Shinra are sent out on a shopping trip. One of the things Mrs. Nanase wants is an order of Atsuyaki Tamago (a thick-style Japanese omelet cut into pieces) from a shop run by the Ashizuri husband-and-wife couple. When the two of them get to the tamago shop, they find 3 other people waiting there, Noburo Noboribetsu, Heikichi Kushiro and Mami Asahikawa. Noburo is a friend of the shop owners, and is drinking a one-cup sake while talking to Kushiro. Mami is a young girl who spends all of her time listening to music on her MP3 player. It's getting late and the shop still isn't open, so the semi-drunk Noburo throws the doors open to find out what's taking so long. Inside, the group discovers the kitchen empty, the stoves cold and the lights turned off. They go into the attached house, where there's broken glass on the floor, drawers ransacked and the place looking like a mess. A notepad sitting on a table has some imprinting on the top sheet and Noburo uses a pencil to bring out the letters that had been written on the missing top page - "ta, su, ke, te," -- "h,e,l,p".

(Noburo steals Tatsuki's suspicion and announces that there must have been a burglary.)

Noburo starts imaging all sorts of horrible things that may have happened that morning, from a thief breaking into the house and killing both occupants, to the wife getting into an argument with her husband and killing him. Questions: What is the truth behind the couple's disappearance? Can there be another explanation for the "h,e,l,p," message?

No science or history.

(The one thing Shinra can't abide is poaching and illegal parts smuggling.)

Nobody (Nobody, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2013).
Suspect A is at Tokyo harbor, preparing to dump a heavy bag into the bay. The police sweep down on him and arrest him. However, while there was an anonymous report of a murder, the bag just contains a big metal-and-spring mannequin. The suspect was involved in illegal animal parts smuggling (elephant tusks, tiger skins), so Det. Kujirazaki asks Shinra for help in exchange for one of the elephant tusks. Unfortunately, to keep employees from talking, the smugglers are very brutal and complete when it comes to killing entire families of informants. Suspect A keeps demanding a lawyer, so his interrogator says "Sure. At the same time, we'll imply that you want to cut a deal, so everyone will know that you're going to talk." Suspect A changes his mind and discloses what he knows - a traitor, Carlo, had stolen all their money and was caught trying to run away. He was locked up in a freezer room in a warehouse and two thugs spent days beating him up. But, he kept claiming he didn't know where the money went.

("See what this bat can do? Want to tell me where the money is, now?")

Eventually, the boss of the operations had called in a killer (suspect B) and a cleaner (suspect C). These two guys had also been arrested, but they both claim that Carlo had been dead when they saw him, thinking that the other guy had done the job already. Regardless, the body was put in a bag and given to suspect A to dispose of. Since the police don't actually have the corpse, there's no murder and none of the suspects can be charged with anything. The police locate the warehouse, and the inside of the walk-in freezer looks like a swimming pool with all of Carlo's blood splashed around in it. But, again, there's no body, although it's pretty obvious that the traitor could never have survived losing all that blood at one time. Questions: Who killed Carlos? Why can't anyone find his body? Can Shinra stop the smuggling gang?

----- Spoilers -----

Shinra's explanation is that Carlo had expected to get caught, and had come up with a plan where he chewed holes in his knees and slowly sucked his own blood out and spat it into plastic bags. The mannequin was a boxing dummy brought in as a warning of what would happen to him by the thug with a baseball bat if he didn't talk. He still didn't talk so he got roughed up further. Then, when the cleaner and killer were brought in, Carlo dragged the mannequin into the bodybag left in the room for him. He pulled the plastic bags out and sprayed the walls and floor with his own blood, then crawled into the bag, on top of the mannequin to fake being dead. The cleaner entered the room, thought that the killer had already done his job, and tied the bag shut with some rope. Because the bag was ratty, it had holes large enough to reach through, so Carlo untied the rope, got out of the bag, and retied it with the mannequin inside. After suspect A dragged the bag out, Carlo escaped the unlocked room and ran away. Shinra tells Kujirazaki to put police at all of the major airports and train stations to try to catch Carlo before he can smuggle the briefcase of money out of the country.

No science or history.

(Someone flooded the school grounds.)

Guraundo (Sports Ground, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2013).
Tatsuki and her classmates are on their way to school one morning when they stop in their tracks - the sports ground they wanted to cut through has been completely flooded. A little ways away, they see the school's baseball team getting on a bus to go play somewhere else. The hours fly by and at the end of the day, the class sees the players return by the same bus. Since the field has been destroyed by the water, the team apparently has arranged for a different practice area. Tatsuki and friends walk home, passing by a train bridge next to one of the rivers in Tokyo. Under the bridge, they spot two of the baseball members, out of uniform, playing catchball. The two see them and run away. Tatsuki catches them, and they're forced to explain what happened. Turns out that they're victims of something called the "21 seiki-waku" ("21st Century Frame"). In the year 2000, the national high school baseball tournament rules were reformed, with the new rule being called 21 seiki-waku. The final games of the nationals are held at the Koshien stadium in Tokyo. The winning team becomes the national champs. The rule change was to allow three wildcards - weak or model teams - into the final playoffs that otherwise would never make it to Koshien. The requirements are that the nominees for the wildcard positions make it to round 16 of the prefecture tournaments, but not past their quarter finals. Shinra's school's coach wants to get to Koshien before he retires next year, and he's decided to try to slip in as a "21st Century Team". To do this, he's cut his best players, but they can't exit the team's rosters or the team's chances of winning after getting through the wildcard selection stage would drop. The ones cut protest, so the coach punishes them by having them flood their own field.

(The coach hates people that don't do what he says.)

Tatsuki is outraged that this would happen under the nose of the school's principle, her grandfather, but any actions she takes would turn this into a he-said, she-said argument that the coach could wiggle out of. Instead, Shinra gets Tatsuki's father to pose as a pro scout for the Saitama Dolphins. Nanase shows up at the next team training and implies that one of the cut players could be pro material. The coach gets so wrapped up in the idea of possibly managing said player that he spends his own money to have the field repaired, and gets the cut players to re-sign contracts to play for the school again. Unfortunately, the coach sees his boys talking to Nanase and the guy's cover is blown. The coach calls in the team and rants at them for pulling this prank on him. At the top of his rage, he announces that they're all expelled. Questions: What happens next?

No science, and the only history is a description of how the 21st Century rule came about.

(Back cover.)

Comments: Ok, there's fluff, and there's Fluff. Ashizuri Thick Omelet and Sports Ground are both ignorable puff pieces with little motive and no real tricks (although the drawing of the flooded school field is really nicely done). Nobody had a possibility of being decent, except that it's completely unbelievable (sucking blood out through the knees over the course of 10 days, and then still expecting to be able to run away afterward) as well as having a major plot hole (Carlo's pants magically repair themselves when he escapes; the artist having forgotten to draw the holes in both legs). On the other hand, this is one of the only stories where bruising or injuries to the face last more than a couple of minutes. But, Fourth Plaster Relief was interesting. I've never heard of kote-e before, and the artwork throughout the entire chapter is excellent. I just think the ending is weak. Overall, this isn't a particularly strong volume. Recommended only if you want to learn more about kote-e, and don't mind a little topless nudity.

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