Saturday, March 15, 2014

C.M.B. volume 25 review

This brings us up to date with C.M.B., as well as Q.E.D. No new volumes expected out until June. I may take a break from doing manga reviews for a while because I'm not reading as many books right now.

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

C.M.B., vol. 25, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

----- !!! Spoilers Everywhere !!! -----

(Tatsuhiro shows off his new vacation resort.)

Houridashimono (A Lucky Find, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2013).
Tatsuki's obnoxious, glasses-wearing classmate, Yokoyari, has an uncle named Tatsuhiro. Tatsuhiro had retired early, given some money to Yokoyari's father, and disappeared to open up a resort hotel that he's just bought. Fearing that Tatsuhiro is a bit too carefree, Yokoyari is tasked by his father to go out to the resort with his classmates to return the money. The group takes a train to the countryside, and initially they're hoping that Tatsuhiro has the resort right next to the beach to benefit from the summer vacation crowd. Instead, the guy shows up with a bus and drives them into the mountains to a beat up cabin in the middle of nowhere. The group's fears that the guy is being unrealistic in his hopes for a successful business are confirmed as he points out that he is not done repairing the baths, has no running water to the building, and no gas for the kitchen stove. They have to rough it, preparing dinner for their host and helping with the work. Tatsuhiro keeps claiming that the previous owner told him that there's a hidden treasure somewhere on the grounds, and eventually the kids try to find out exactly what it is, for Yokoyari's sake. They do find a cave with an underground waterfall feeding into a pool, so Tatsuki rents some diving gear from a place at the beach and explores the bottom of the pool only to locate a gigantic boulder blocking the original drain channel. A couple of the others visit the real estate agent, who tells them that the previous owner is using the money to fly out of the country and is in fact scheduled to leave in a couple hours. The kids rush to the airport, where they catch the guy just before he's about to head for the departures lounge. He tells them that there is indeed a treasure somewhere. Back at the cabin, the search turns up nothing and the kids are ready to believe that the other owner is scamming them. Shinra offers to solve the mystery in return for another shaved ice desert. Questions: What's the treasure and where is it hiding?

(Look at the pretty lights.)

The key lies in the fact that there is a stream feeding the waterfall in the cave, but no running water at the cabin. By looking at the top of the hill near the waterfall, they find some wooden boards being used to divert the stream towards the falls. When they remove the boards, the water pours out of the drain pipe at the cabin. Going into the cave, they can see the water level in the pool dropping. Shinra mentions that the previous owner probably liked the waterfall better than having water service to the resort building. Pretty soon, the water is low enough to reveal a walking path that skirts the giant boulder and leads to a back chamber lit up with phosphorescent lichen and tree roots. The glowing chamber is the "treasure", and is so impressive as to guarantee enough tourist traffic to keep Tatsuhiro out of bankruptcy. Tatsuhiro has a crush on a local woman, who happens to be a former co-worker who had quit the company to care for her aged mother. He runs out to tell the woman about what he's found.

No science or history.

(Noboru's boss is a jerk.)

Baggu Suto-ri (The Bag Story, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2013).
Shinra is in Firenze, Italy, to try to talk Elio Biaaj, a leather worker specializing in handbags, into giving him a specific leather purse. Also in Firenze are Noboru Chikayama and his (unnamed?) boss. The boss is a boorish bully, and Noboru is a weak-willed new hire. The two of them belong to an import company and have come to Italy to find products to import to Japan. On the flight in, a woman sitting next to the boss asks Noboru to try to get the other guy to stop snoring. When Noboru wakes him up, the boss yells that he doesn't snore, and throws a tantrum that causes a glass of wine to spill on the woman. The boss blames Noboru for everything. In the city, Noboru sees Shinra being thanked for some work he's done to aid a local museum director, and follows the boy into Elio's shop. The bag Shinra wants was made by Elio as a present for a former girlfriend from England. The woman broke up with Elio and refused to accept the bag, so he's been keeping it on a shelf in the shop as a memento. What makes it special is that the leather was soften the old-style way - by chewing it. Noboru suddenly demands to have the purse too, turning this into a duel. Elio agrees to hand the bag over to whoever can tell him what "the thinker" is thinking about. Noboru now follows Shinra around the city, begging for help in winning the contest. The boy refuses, but Tatsuki talks him into it anyway. Shinra says that Dante had lived in the area, and the people of Firenze consider him a native son. In 1880, Rodin was commissioned to make a portal for a museum of decorative arts planned in Paris, and although the plan fell through, Rodin created The Gates of Hell based on Dante's Divine Comedy, and inspired by Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gate's of Heaven in the Florence Baptistry. At the top of the Gates of Hell is a figure sitting in a thinking position, known as The Poet. This was the first version of Rodin's The Thinker. The question is, who is "The Poet" and what is he thinking about from his perch over the Gates?

(Shinra talks about Rodin, the Gates and The Thinker.)

According to Shinra, Dante had been in love with Beatrice Portinari, but she'd died from the plague. She was also included as one of the characters in the Divine Comedy. Eventually, Shinra refuses to help Noboru any further and he's forced to figure things out on his own. He gets back to the hotel, where his boss threatens to fire him if he doesn't find something for the company to import. In despair, he thinks about his own lost love, when suddenly he gets a text mail from her announcing that she's pregnant and due to have the baby soon. The next day, Elio asks "What is the Thinker thinking about?" Shinra says that the Thinker is Dante himself, pondering what he should do when standing in front of the doors to Hell. Noboru tells him that he's wrong. Noboru himself has no idea what the right answer is, but if Dante was really human, the only thing on his mind would be the loss of Beatrice. Noboru cries in frustration, and Elio joins him, promising him the purse. Later, Shinra is furious for having lost the challenge, while Tatsuki finds it all funny and romantic. Then, a happy Noboru runs up to introduce himself, saying that because of the purse he can keep his job, and invites the boy to visit the import company anytime.

The history revolves around Dante, Rodin, the Divine Comedy and various historic sites in Firenze.

(Tsuneo sees the cleaning woman, who tells him "no unauthorized people allowed in here" and suspects she's hiding something.)

Sono Asa, 8-ji 13-pun (In The Morning, 8:13, Monthly Shonen Magajin Plus 07, 2013).
Tsuneo Hibino is a regular salaryman, waking up in the morning for another routine day. While eating breakfast, he sees a news story on TV about a woman, Sakura Tozaki, who had gone missing. The police refuse to investigate the case, so her family has gone to the media to ask for help. Tsuneo himself had recently had an argument with his girlfriend, Cheri, and had been drinking a bit too heavily last night as a result. Before the argument, he and Cheri had gone to Shinra's museum, and he still has the museum flier on his table, but he throws it away as being a waste of his time. Tsuneo goes to work like normal, but this time he notices a woman standing at the end of the train platform talking to some guy about her boyfriend seeing a text message on her phone that came from another guy. Tsuneo recognizes her as Sakura Tozaki from the news broadcast. He tries getting close to her, but she walks away, goes downstairs to an employee entrance and passes through the door. Tsuneo follows her into a hallway where a cleaning woman is mopping the floor. The door at the other end of the hallway is locked and the cleaning woman tells him that this is an "employees only" area. Tsuneo leaves, misses his train, gets to work late and is chewed out by his boss. That evening, he and a coworker go to a ramen shop for dinner, where Tsuneo tells the other guy about what had happened that morning. The coworker thinks he was just seeing things, then asks if Tsuneo had made up with his girlfriend yet. Tsuneo tries calling Cheri's phone but there's still no answer and she hasn't replied to his previous calls. The next day, Tsuneo is on the train platform and sees Sakura again. The "Missing" woman repeats the exact same speech as before, goes down to the employee-only entrance and slips inside. Tsuneo follows her again, and again she's disappeared. Tsuneo asks the cleaning woman if anyone had just come by, but she keeps her head down, covered with a scarf, and says, "No". Suspecting that Sakura had changed costumes and is playing him, Tsuneo tears off the cleaning woman's scarf, only to reveal an angry middle-aged woman. Again, he misses his train and gets yelled at by his boss. At the ramen shop, his partner suggests that Tsuneo try talking to someone good with puzzles, and he remembers the flier to Shinra's museum. That evening, Tsuneo visits Shinra and explains what has been happening. The boy tells him that because he'd been a customer once before that he'll get a freebie visit to the Wunderkammer. "People don't just disappear. There has to be some kind of trick." The next day, Tsuneo sees Sakura on the platform, and this time he tries getting the attention of the man she'd been talking to. But the guy has headphones on and apparently had been listening to an MP3 player all this time. Tsuneo goes down to the employee hallway, sees the covered utility cart next to the cleaning woman, and rips the cover off, but the cart is empty. Again, he misses his train and now his boss threatens to fire him. His coworker tells the boss that Tsuneo has been acting weird lately, so maybe he's being overworked and needs a rest. The boss agrees and gives Tsuneo the week off. Questions: What's going on? Is Sakura really missing, or is she just playing a joke on her family and the news media? How does she keep disappearing from the employee hallway and why doesn't the cleaning woman see her?

(The coworker tells the boss to give Tsuneo a break.)

Tsuneo drives out to a remote area in the hills, gets out of his car and walks down into the woods where he finds a shallow grave. He pushes back some of the dirt to reveal the hand of a dead woman - Cheri, the girlfriend he'd had the argument with. He hears a noise behind him and turns to see Shinra, Tatsuki, Det. Kujirazaki, the cleaning woman, the guy from the train platform, and some blond girl. Shinra explains that "Cheri's" real name was Sakura, and since "Sakura" means "Cherry" in English, that's the nickname her friends gave her in school. Tsuneo had checked her cell phone and seen a text message from some guy, and had gotten so angry that he'd given her a black eye. Sakura told her younger sister about the fight, and added that if anything happened to her, that Tsuneo would be the culprit. When she did go missing, the family went to the police for help but there was no evidence of foul play. So they came to Shinra and he devised a plan to get Tsuneo to incriminate himself. The younger sister somewhat resembled Sakura, so she was to put on a black wig, and recite a speech reminiscent of what had happened to cause the fight between Tsuneo and Cheri. The guy next to her on the platform, wearing the headphones, was a friend of the family. The first two days, the cleaning woman was played by Sakura's mother and the younger sister had hid under the cart. Unexpectedly, Tsuneo had asked Shinra for help, so he was able to guide the guy into looking under the cart the third time, which is when the younger sister changed clothes and pretended to be the cleaning woman (all of this with Kujirazaki's supervision). The purpose was to get Tsuneo to wondering if Cheri was still alive, and to return to the scene of the crime. As Kujirazaki prepares to arrest him, Tsuneo says that he kept hoping that everything was just a bad dream and that life with his girlfriend would go back to normal again.

No science or history.

(Shinra and Keisuke talk about the use of aromatic woods in the Art of Koudou.)

Kouboku (Aromatic Tree, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2013).
Keisuke Matsuoka (38) is a salaryman, and a frequent customer at the Nanase public baths. He's come to Shinra to ask for help regarding a problem poised by a coworker, Genta Sugikoshi (38). Genta claims to have been visited by a poltergeist. He'd returned to his apartment, where a beautiful woman was waiting. She poured him a beer. A fish appeared in the beer, which then spilled onto the floor and filled the apartment. When he thought he was about to drown, the beer, the fish and the woman disappeared. Genta says it wasn't a dream, and must be related to their newest hobby. Keisuke, Genta and Zenkichi Umezawa (38) have started taking classes on Koudou, or the "Way of Perfume" (Koudou is similar to Sado (The Way of Tea) and Ikebana (Flower arranging) in that it has a long tradition and follows specific rules for how to properly appreciate scented pieces of wood.) The key factor is that the Koudou master is Yoshie Tsubaki, an attractive young woman, and the three men are basically her fan club. On the night in question, the group had sampled a perfume chip from an ancient piece of wood collected by Yoshie's grandfather, and Genta says that it caused him to hallucinate. Shinra arranges to attend the next lesson along with Tatsuki. He mentions that, through China, perfumes have been appreciated in Japan for hundreds of years, and women used to carry little pieces of scented woods in cloth bags hanging from strings around their necks. An example source includes the "King of Perfumed Wood" - Ranjatai. Yoshie brings out the wood her grandfather gave her, shaves off a small piece and places it in a special can for the group to sniff. Shinra comments that the camphor scent is similar to Ryuunou (Borneo Camphor). Suddenly, Genta grabs his head and complains of sharp pains. He can't travel like this, so he begs to stay in Yoshie's house overnight. Keisuke and Zenkichi see right through him, tie him up in a mattress and throw him into the guest room to "get some rest", while Yoshie provides the others with dinner and beer. That night, Genta wriggles free from the mattress and tries exploring the house. Suddenly, he feels water around his feet, and he sees the form of a beautiful woman that turns around to reveal a demon's face. He goes running back into the sleeping room, stepping on Keisuke and Zenchiki, saying that this time he really did see a poltergeist. The lights turn on, Yoshie joins them and they go to the hallway where the floor is bone dry. Genta swears to never come back here again. Meanwhile, Zenkichi thinks he's seen a robed woman standing in the garden, but when he turns back, she's gone. Questions: Is Genta hallucinating? Is there something weird about Yoshie's prized perfume wood? Is the robed woman related to the poltergeist?

(Genta sees a ghost.)

The next day, Keisuke returns to the museum, where Shinra is reminded that they still don't know what the mystery wood is. The group gets together again at Yoshie's house, minus Genta, and the boy promises to answer all the questions in return for the mystery wood. Yoshie agrees. First, Genta was lying about the poltergeist the first time, as a way to get Yoshie to feel jealous. She realized this, and faked the second "hallucination" by putting packets of desiccant on the hallway floor; right after they're removed, the cool air at floor level feels moist and clammy, almost like you're standing in water. Then she put on a traditional Japanese demon mask and stood in the shadows in the hall. Her goal was to get Genta to stop stalking her. As for the mystery wood, Yoshie's grandfather had been part of a university research team that had excavated a royal grave in Nara (site of one of Japan's early capital cities.) The mystery "wood" had been found in with other effects in the grave, and given the camphor scent was identified as a piece of Ryuunou. In fact, though, it's a human bone that picked up the camphor scent from having been packed next to pieces of Ryuunou for roughly 1,300 years. Discovering that she's been using a bone as part of her Koudou, Yoshie is happy to let it go. Afterward, Shinra tells Tatsuki that he's going to take it to a Shinto shrine for burial. At that moment, a woman walks by and whispers "Thank you". Tatsuki spins around but there's no one else there on the street with them. The implication is that the bone originally belonged to Youkihi, a famed Chinese consort rumored to have escaped to Japan in 756. She would have lived in Nara, and was a big fan of perfumed woods.

(Shinra talks about scented woods, Youkihi, and camphor.)

The history revolves around the traditions of Koudou in Japan, and their popularity with ancient royals. Note that all of the last names for the major characters include the words for trees or flowers (Matsu = pine; Sugi = Cedar; Ume = Plum; Tsubaki = Camellia.)

(Back cover.)

Comments: A Lucky Find is interesting, and the artwork of the hidden cave is really nice. I didn't like The Bag Story, though, because I found the protagonist to be too self-absorbed and self-pitying to be at all sympathetic. Since his only goal was to obtain the bag to impress his boss (he didn't even give it to his former girlfriend) I thought the ending was unsatisfying. In The Morning, 8:13 started out strong, but the final reveal felt contrived, and I find it difficult to believe that the killer couldn't recognize the victim's sister or mother during all of this. I did like Aromatic Tree, and learning about Koudou, which I'd never heard of before. Recommended if you want to learn more about Japanese culture and traditions.

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