Saturday, February 28, 2015

C.M.B. volume 28 review

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C.M.B., vol. 28, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B
Three stories this time. The first two are puff pieces, while the third is a return to a bloody war-torn region. The third story is relatively graphic and isn't recommended for the squeamish.

Note that I'm giving spoilers for all three chapters. You have been warned.

(Shougo remembers seeing the Kijimuna kill and eat a bad man.)

Kijimuna- (Kijimuna)
Shougo Oonaka is an auditor and CPA. His current job is to report on accounting irregularities at a company that appears to be run by the mob. He balks at fudging the books, so the company boss threatens him with violence and to shut down the small auditing agency he works for. After the unsuccessful meeting, he decides to return to Okinawa for Obon Yasumi (the summer Bon vacation period in August when most people return to their family homes for a week). His parents had gone to Tokyo, then gotten divorced when he was about 3. He was sent to Okinawa to live with a relative until he got old enough to move back to Tokyo to get a job. While he was in Okinawa, he saw a monster, called the Kijimuna. Generally, kijimuna are small, red woodland sprites that live in trees and cause mischief. Shougo's version, though, was a big gray straw creature that lived in a hut. He'd seen it kill someone then eat them, and ever since it shows up occasionally to make his life miserable, such as with his current work. He goes into the forest to try to locate his kijimuna, and instead encounters Shinra, who is attempting to capture a rare nokogirikuwagata (stag beetle). Shougo shows the boy which tree to use, and where to put old bananas to attract the insect. That night, Shougo's old friends have a dinner party, and Shinra hears enough of the conversation to help the guy out.

--- Spoilers ---

Shougo was very young when he lived near the forest, and his memory of the events at that time is very jumbled. He'd seen a black and white picture of a kijimuna in a book, and it kind of resembled a man that had been living in a hut in the woods. The guy had stolen money from his office in Tokyo and run from the law to live off the grid. One day, Shougo got bit by a pit viper and the man had killed the snake before carrying him into a hospital. The man later died from food poisoning, probably brought on by eating something tainted in the forest. The combined images of killing the snake, the picture in the book of monsters, the guy from Tokyo and the remote hut all worked together to create Shougo's kijimuna. The vacation comes to an end, and Shougo prepares to return to work and fudge the books in order to protect his company. But, his path is blocked by the kijimuna, which refuses to let him into the client's building. He gives up, visits his main office and tells his boss about the problems with the client. His boss thanks him for the information and reveals that this particular client is about to be raided by the police, and he would have been caught up in the investigation if he hadn't come forward now. Shougo thanks his kijimuna for saving him.

Natural science: We get the story about the Okinawan kijimuna, and pictures of pit vipers and stag beetles.
Payment: Shinra gets a stag beetle and a free dinner.

(Uchida trying to sell his katana collection to Shinra before being unmasked.)

Akiya (Vacant House)
Shinra is at the house of Kou Uchida, inspecting Uchida's collection of katanas. The older man selling the collection tells Shinra he has no one to share it with, and wants to use the money to go on a vacation trip. As the boy notices something unusual about one specific sword, the sound of sirens outside attracts their attention. A construction crew was preparing to tear down a nearby abandoned house when some of the workers went inside to do a final check before starting work. They found the body of an old man, and called the police. The neighbors standing around gawking immediately start spreading rumors and sharing gossip about the homeless guy that had been sleeping in the place lately. Kou recognizes the dead man, and remembers tall tales they used to tell each other over games of shogi in the old building. Finally, he breaks down and tells the police that he knows the body, and that his name was Kijima. Shinra seems shocked at this. Then, Kou says that he's going to need the money to take care of Kijima's funeral costs, so he really needs to sell the collection now. The boy thinks for a while, so Tatsuki prods him into helping out. Shinra finally replies that he can't do this by himself, he's going to need some specialists.

--- Spoilers ---

A few days later, Shinra and Tatsuki return in the company of two guys in suits. The abandoned building has been quickly cleared away and is now an empty lot. Before he can start, Shinra asks for ID, because some of the swords are registered historical items. Kou hands over a driver's license, and the boy says, "This is a fake". He then proceeds to tear Kou apart. The old man has no idea what is in the collection, having packed real katana together with toys, cheap replicas and outright fakes. In fact, the body that was found was Kou Ichida's, and the person inhabiting the house here is Kijima. What had happened was that Kou had died of a heart attack, and Kijima had found him dead on the floor of this house. Kijima dragged Kou to the place he'd been sleeping at and then changed buildings. None of the neighbors even noticed. Kijima acknowledges the situation and then turns to the two guys in suits, assumes that they are police, and volunteers to turn himself in. The suits are surprised and quickly answer back that they're lawyers. Shinra explains that one of the "swords" was used in the Edo period as a kind of wallet for people that didn't have pockets. The scabbard holds a sliding box with a hollow space just large enough to store some coins (see the back cover below). When Shinra had been looking at the collection the first time, he found a piece of paper in the scabbard that turned out to be Kou's will, bequeathing everything to his friend, and had been put in the sword on the assumption that Kijima would find it in case Kou died first. The two lawyers are there to finalize the will and transfer Kou's belongings to Kijima. In the end, Shinra gets to keep the scabbard wallet as payment. Tatsuki is puzzled over why none of the neighbors recognized Kou's body. Shinra points to the mass of masked and faceless people marching around them on the street and asks why that would be so unusual.

Natural science: The only real history or craft is the description of the Edo-era scabbard wallet.
Payment: The scabbard wallet.

(Dr. Emiko shows the cave painting to Shinra and Tatsuki. The boy immediately realizes what the crystals in the pot represent.)

Horide- (Holiday)
The fictional Commonwealth of Janga is in the middle of a genocide war conducted by the military of the neighboring fictional country of Saadan (this is probably a reference to Sudan and Darfur). Saadanian forces sweep in and massacre women and children, laughing as the "coward" civilians try to run and hide from machine gun fire. Switch to a refugee camp. NPO doctor Emiko Shintani has been tasked to take Shinra and Tatsuki to a nearby cave within the sandstone rock spires. In the cave is an ancient wall painting that had been discovered by Jil Simon, Assistant Director of Janga Foreign Affairs. Emiko tells them that Jil wants to identify the painting as a cultural treasure, which might lead to the end of the fighting. Shinra looks at the details, which include a silvery rock that neither melts nor breaks when pounded, and concludes that Jil is playing a more dangerous game. He and Tatsuki go to New York and meet up with Jil at the U.N. They talk in his car to avoid wiretaps.

The problem is that a military leader, Elme, seized power in a coup in Saadan and has ordered the attacks against the Jangans. The only way to counter him is to get a U.N.-ordered cease fire against Saadan, but to do this requires a unanimous "yes" vote by the five permanent members of the Security Council - England, the U.S., France, Russia and China. Since most of those countries disagree with each other on principle, there's no way of getting the "yes" vote in less than a year. Jil is seeking the vote by Christmas, three weeks away. He offers a couple pieces of metal in a small pouch to get Shinra's backing, and the boy agrees. Shinra then tells Tatsuki what Jil is trying to do. The cave painting shows that the Jangans had discovered a vein of platinum thousands of years ago. While that rare metal is valuable today and used in a wide variety of modern machines, at the time it was considered too hard to work and was discarded as worthless in favor of gold. Jil wants to manipulate each country into aiding Janga. First, he offers the cave painting to France, which may want it for the Louvre. This attracts the attentions of America and England, who figure out that Janga had platinum and they want to negotiate the mineral rights. China may side with Janga because while they have trade contracts with Saadan, Elme is reneging on them or demanding larger bribes. They could switch to support Janga just because it's good business. This leaves Russia, which will probably vote no regardless of every other argument.

--- Spoilers ---

(Shinra shows off his trick for getting the Saadans to think they're on a different floor.)

Jil and Shinra set up a trap for the Saadan foreign envoy, John Musebe. Musebe and his men know that if Jil succeeds in getting this ceasefire that Elme will put them in front of a firing squad. This means that they have to stop the Janga foreign envoy, and they plan on doing this by kidnapping or killing his assistant - Shinra. The boy goes into a hotel and apparently enters a room on one of the higher floors. The men following him look down the stairwell and count the flights of stairs up to determine which floor he's on. They take the elevator to what they think is the correct floor and burst into the room with guns drawn, only to find themselves face to face with the Russian envoy and his army of bodyguards. At first, it looks like Russia has just entered into a war with Saadan, but Musebe plants a bomb in Jil's car for revenge and puts the Jangan into the hospital in a coma for 5 days. It now seems that all of his plans have fallen through because Russia is still voting against everyone else. However, Shinra draws up a script that Jil is to read to the U.N. from his wheelchair. He gives an impassioned speech about the value of the lives being lost every day in the genocide campaign and the crowd cheers when he's done. Then, in Janda, the fighting ends and the survivors emerge from their shelters to celebrate a "happy holiday".

Natural history: Shinra gives a detailed description of how the U.S. security council permanent members (don't) work together in making ceasefire decisions. And, there's a bit of history on how platinum went from being considered worthless "white gold" to being identified as a precious metal.
Payment: Shinra receives a small pouch with a couple pieces of raw platinum ore.

(Back cover showing the scabbard wallet.)

Comments: Motohiro is reusing ideas again, this time the bit about how children's recollections get corrupted over time. I like the information on kijimuna, but the unraveling of Shougo's memories is dragged out too long. I started losing interest by the time the original hut dweller was finally identified. And, he's used the "someone else taking over the dead guy's house" trick before, too, although having the intruder as a good guy was a nice touch. And I was interested in learning about the use of scabbard wallets, which I'd never heard of before. The Holiday story was ok, although it always bugs me when the Japanese hero succeeds in negotiating a peace agreement in what's supposed to be a true-life situation, because this is just pure wish fulfillment. It's nice that Shinra got the fighting to stop, but in the face of the Japanese hostage situation with ISIL, this story rings false. Overall, though, I recommend this volume to anyone that likes this series.

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