Saturday, May 10, 2014

Time of the Lab Mice, vol. 2

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Hatsuka Nezumi no Jikan, vol. 2, by Kei Toume (2006, Monthly Afternoon).

----- Spoilers -----

The story is pretty straightforward and unfolds at a steady pace. The younger boy in the school, Natsume, has been caught outside a few times, and it seems to be an odd coincidence that his parents suddenly want to pull him from the school. To prevent him from revealing any secrets, the principal orders the lead male doctor to erase the boy's memory before he's released. At the same time, on the outside, the guy that Kiriko had been living with while on the run, Nagi, turns out to be the younger son of the president of Narusawa pharmaceutical, the company running the school. Shortly after WWII, the Japanese government created the school as a way of selecting exceptional children and training them to be future leaders, and the school grounds are on a former military base. When the economy collapsed, the government gave the school to Narusawa and they switched to buying babies from single mothers wanting to be freed from their burdens. In this way, the company established a near-endless supply of test subjects for their experimental drugs. Narusawa himself then put both of his sons, Nagi and Mayumi, through the program, one side effect of which was that both of them now have light brown hair. Nagi escaped from the school around age 13 and has been conducting his own medical experiments on the outside ever since. However, because several weeks have passed since Kiriko disappeared, he and a former school employee (also a former test subject and now a homeless guy living in a park) determine that Kiriko has been taken back to the school. Nagi develops a plan to break her back out.

(Back cover.)

In the school, Maki, Ryou and Mei continue to meet in the secret building in the woods outside the school fence, trying to decide whether to escape or not. Maki is conflicted because he is now remembering incidents where he had talked to Kiriko years ago, and she invited him to run away with her. He's refused twice now, and that bothers him. In part, he was afraid of what would happen to Mei and Ryou if he left without them. But, if they leave as a group, he'd be more certain of himself. Mei, however, is still suffering from headaches and physical weakness caused by the drugs and periodically spends a couple hours in the school infirmary to recover. She has stopped taking the memory eraser pills, and the nurse, Yuuko, notices this. Yuuko tells Mei to empty her pockets to see if she's taking her pills, and the girl bluffs her way out of the room. About this time, the school principle gets a message that his father has collapsed and has been taken to a hospital. Although Nagi left the school at age 13, Mayumi had remained in the program and toughed it out to become the principle, taking orders from the elder Narusawa. Mayumi goes to the hospital, where his father reassures him that he's ok. The old man asks if Nagi has been found yet, and Mayumi takes this as proof that his father thinks that he can't run the hospital by himself to take over the family legacy if the old man kicks the bucket soon. Mayumi returns home and complains to the woman cooking his dinner. It's not clear if the woman is his wife, girlfriend or just a housekeeper. Regardless, she turns out to be Yuuko, the school nurse.

(The doctor that erased Natsume's memories talks to the principle over the video system.)

Nagi has developed a kind of hypnotic drug that he's used on some of his housemates to program them into believing that Kiriko was a regular member of their household. He uses this drug on a guard at the hospital, and programs him to deliver a message to Kiriko to go to a specific building in a security camera dead-spot. She recognizes the dazed look on the guard's face and immediately realizes what is happening. She goes to the meeting point, and screams at Nagi about the risks he's taking if he gets caught there. He tells her that he's busting her out again, but she begs to bring her friends along with. Kiriko goes to the secret building that night and finds Maki, Ryou and Mei there. Those three had been discussing the risks of getting too close to Kiriko and getting her imprisoned somehow. So, they're not exactly trusting of her when she suddenly bursts into the room and says that they're escaping now. The group goes through the tunnel and runs into Nagi. Mei sees his lighter hair and is flooded with doubts. They take the tunnel to the woods and come out at the top of a cliff facing the sea.

(Maki remembers meeting Kiriko when they were younger.)

Natsume had given a map to Maki, showing a second secret at the cliff, but Maki and Ryou had failed to find it before. Nagi scales down a narrow trail along the cliff face to take the group to a second tunnel, this one apparently an air raid shelter left over from the war. Mei keeps balking at going with Nagi, so Ryou carries her on his back. They get to an exit point near the school's loading docks. Nagi had timed the trucks before and he knows that the driver will leave one truck unattended long enough for them to run across the parking lot and hide inside. The trucks are searched by the guards on entering the school but not when they leave, so if they can get to the truck unseen they'll be ok.

(Kiriko greets Nagi on meeting him on the school grounds.)

The problem is that Mei has some kind of feelings for Maki, and she's jealous of the attention he's giving Kiriko. Kiriko, on the other hand has some kind of attachment to Nagi, and his having light-colored hair like her's is making Mei really nervous. When Nagi gives the signal, the others run for the truck. But, Ryou looks back and sees Mei just standing there. He goes back to help her to escape but she fights him off. The driver comes back, so Nagi locks the truck doors, preventing Maki from getting out. Ryou stays with Mei to return her to the school, while Maki is guilt-stricken over the group being split up. The chapter ends with Nagi telling the boy to get a grip on himself and worry about his own skin right now.

Comments: The story is pretty simple and the "good guys" and "bad guys" are clearly identified. All that's left is for us to learn how the tangled web gets unravelled.

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