Friday, February 24, 2017

C.M.B. volume 34 review

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C.M.B., vol. 34, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Shinra, Tatsuki and the writer encounter the chasm in the cave, but no plane.)

Disappeared Flight (Monthly Shonen Magazine, Aug. 2016)
It's the 1920's, right after the end of WW I. The company Unkai Unyu (Sea of Clouds Transport) has started up as a small prop airplane parcel transport service, between Tokyo and Dalian, China, using British De Havilland Airbuses. After talking to one of the engineers, one of the pilots takes off on a delivery trip, but some time later the wings detach from the plane and it crashes. The company sends out its staff to the wooded hills where the plane was last seen, and they work with the local police to search the trees. They find a cave, where all the gear and parcels are stacked up neatly in front of the cave mouth. In a nearby shrine, they discover the neatly wrapped body of the pilot, but the plane itself is never found. Some of the villagers claim that they had located the wreckage a few days earlier, put the parcels in front of the cave, and wrapped the plane body in sheets and put it inside the cave. But, a search of the cave turns up empty.

Jump to now. An earthquake causes a boulder to drop from a hill and land on a small building at the same shrine, finally revealing the cave entrance again. A freelance writer, Youichi Kagami, visits the site, is repelled by the current priest, Ryoupaku Kaizan, and heads to Tokyo to ask Shinra for help. Youichi's grandfather was the engineer at Unkai. When he died, Youichi went through his papers and found maps and bits of metal left over from his searches of the crash site. The company had given up on looking for the plane, but the old man persisted for years afterward. Youichi wants Shinra to use the CMB rings to force the priest to talk. So, Shinra, the writer and Tatsuki fly down to the village, where the priest remains unhelpful. The trio investigate the cave on their own, along the way passing by a villager working at a small kiln to process charcoal. In the cave, the main path is blocked by a deep chasm. The group takes a side branch that leads out to a waterfall at the side of the hill. Finding nothing useful in the cave, they start asking around in the village, and locate an old woman that had been a little girl at the time of the accident. She recounts what she remembers of the events, which makes the priest angry that they're bothering people, so he gives his version of the story: His father was the priest at the time, and his father, the Unkai workers and the police all banded together to find the plane. The Unkai engineers were determined to rescue their pilot, and after getting the body, they went back home. The disappearance of the plane was put down as sabotage and theft because of growing tensions between Japan and China leading up to the second Japan-Sino war of the 1930's. After giving his testimony, the priest tells them to leave.

Questions: Why is Ryoupaku Kaizan so hostile to outsiders? Why did the plane crash? Why were the body, packages and plane treated so well by the villagers, going so far as to store the wrapped plane in the cave? What happened to the plane?

Science and History: A discussion of the early start of aviation in Japan in the 20's, optics and aerodynamics.
Payment: None mentioned.

--- Spoilers ---

The trio return to the cave, with Shinra holding a bag of white sand. The boy throws the sand on the "chasm" and it appears to float in mid-air. Actually, the priest had the one worker cover the main cave path with charcoal powder, which absorbs light and made it look like a big hole in the ground. At the end of the dust path is the airplane, with its wings lying next to it on the ground. Shinra points out the twisted metal at the top of the plane, and the writer realizes that the plane crashed because of "flutter." That is, the wings started vibrating during the flight, and the resonance caused them to rip off. What really happened after that was that the company management paid Kaizan's father to hide the plane in the cave to prevent word from getting out that the plane's design was flawed, which would have cost the company a lot of money to fix. They also floated the story of sabotage to explain the crash. Kaizan shows up in the cave and asks what gave him away. Shinra answers that the old man had said that the engineers only wanted to find the pilot's body, but if you really knew engineers, their sole goal was to find the plane to see why it had crashed. Kaizan responds with "how boring." But he does concede that Youichi's father was an amazing man, never giving up his quest for answers.

(Denny the doctor talks to Mariana, and asks if she knows that everyone else calls her a witch.)

Mariana's Illusion (Monthly Shonen Magazine, Oct. 2016)
It's 1946, Ecuador. The Ecuadoran native girl, Mariana, is in love with a Japanese immigrant named Morio Kanbe. But, Morio has heard that Japan has won the big war, and he wants to return home to help the country rebuild. Mariana is crushed at the prospect of being left behind. Jump to 2014. Mariana is an old woman with a reputation as a witch, living in a small village in the mountains that she helped build. Her reputation is due to her upbringing as a shaman, and her knowledge of medicinal plants. Some people from another town visit her to ask for help falling asleep and getting rid of a tooth cavity, and she just tells them to go back home and talk to their doctors. An old man living in the village, Denny Jeremy Falcon, is the local doctor, and he ribs her about being called a witch by everyone. At about this time, a German tourist is in the village, searching for "Mariana's treasure." He's climbed to the top of the watch tower on Mariana's house, and he's spotted looking in the nooks and crannies of the belfry. Suddenly, he appears horrified by something, takes a step backwards, and falls down the tower to his death. Mariana is unfazed.

Jump to the present. Shun Kanbe, Morio's grandson, is checking up at Morio's house, where all he finds is a small wood carving on a table and a note saying "I've gone to Ecuador to meet the witch." Shun is kind of an idiot, and a typical insular Japanese kid. But, he's a regular at Tatsuki's family's public baths, and he has her help him talk to Shinra to identify the carving. The boy says it's a Pachamama statue, originally treated as a fertility goddess by the Inca. It's carved from the wood of the Lignum vitae, (AKA: Tree of Life), which is very hard; the wood is often used for gears and pulley shafts. Shun can't understand what his grandfather would be doing with this carving. The old man is 85, and is notoriously spineless. He was fired from his job, his wife divorced him, and he's been living alone in front of a TV ever since. All Shun wants is for Morio to return home so the rest of the family will stop worrying about him. Against his wishes, he's dragged with Shinra and Tatsuki to Quito as part of the search party.

As Shun keeps whining, Shinra locates an old friend of Morio's (nameless) who is now running a Japanese restaurant in Quito. The friend says that Morio used to be the most amazing man he'd ever met. At the time, various countries in South America had been asking for assistance in setting up companies and providing labor for growing coffee, and the friend and Morio had been financed by the government to come to Ecuador at the same time. But, WW II broke out, the Japanese government abandoned them, and the local government didn't trust the Japanese ex-pats anymore. There was a crackdown on Japanese language radio programs and newspapers, and very few people that knew what was going on in the outside world were Japanese speakers. Eventually, there were reports that the war had ended and that Japan had lost. But, with no way to verify this, the ex-pats broke into two factions - "The Japan Won" and "The Japan Lost" groups. Morio was one of the Japan Winners, and he was one of the most vicious of the bullies that would attack anyone from the Japan Losters group. But then, one day, the friend saw Morio on the streets, and the guy looked completely devastated. He simply said "Japan really lost" and then wandered away. Finally, Morio disappeared on his way back to Japan.

(Morio wakes up in Denny's office, where Denny welcomes him back. Shinra tries to explain to Shun and Denny the concept of expanding one's awareness.)

Part 2. (Monthly Shonen Magazine, Nov. 2016)
Shun is having trouble reconciling any of this with his image of his grandfather. Shinra follows the clues to Mariana's village, where he locates Denny. The doctor tells him that the old witch had died a little while ago, and he shows them her grave. Morio had been at the village a few days before, but Denny doesn't know where he went after seeing the grave. The trio learns about Mariana's treasure, which includes a clue. Mariana's house is divided into 4 small buildings that are interconnected with covered walkways, and there's a small drawbridge at the entrance, although, the draw ropes and pulleys are missing. There's a chapel in one building, with poles stuck in the walls to act like steps up to the belfry. The poles are kind of treacherous and there's no hand railing. In the belfry, Shinra and Tatsuki look around the town, but they don't see anything that could have scared the German tourist to his death two years earlier. In any event, the clue is that the treasure is near the chapel room. And Mariana had often said that anyone who wanted to was free to try to find it.

Later, the trio have lunch with Denny at the village restaurant. He tells them that he and Mariana had been children together in a village along the Amazon. He was planning on going to school to become a physician, and that Mariana's mother was training her in the use of botanical medicines as a shaman. They separated as they got older, and Denny looked down on her as an unschooled heathen. Later, they reunited near this village, where Mariana was already in love with Morio. But, Morio wanted to return to Japan, firm in his belief that Japan had won the War. Mariana accepted this, on the condition that he let her weave some magic on him to "see the truth." After that, Morio was a shell of his former self, having been destroyed by the witch. Denny says that he never understood what powers she'd had at her disposal. Back in Quito, the Japanese restaurant owner confirms the parts of Denny's story that he has personal knowledge of.

Questions: What happened to Morio that one day? Why did he come back to Ecuador? What is the meaning of the Pachamama? Where is Morio now? What and where is Mariana's treasure?

Natural history: The history of second and third generation Japanese living in South America, and how they had to overcome malaria and the abandonment by both the Japanese and local governments up through WW II. Plus, a little information on the Lignum vitae wood.
Payment: The Pachamama carving.

--- Spoilers ---

Mariana and Denny had worked together to convince Morio that his beliefs were wrong, with Mariana giving him a powdered hallucinogen, and then having Morio wake up in Denny's hospital, where the doctor said "you've been in a coma for 1 year. Welcome back. By the way, Japan lost." This is what crushed Morio's soul. He gave up then, and returned to Japan. Mariana used her income as a shaman to support the construction of the town over the following years, ensuring that the buildings mirrored her house layout - the church=her chapel room; the restaurant=her dining room; the inn=her bedroom. The clue was in her wording of "expanding one's awareness." If you expanded her house layout to the town, the treasure would be behind the church. That's what the German tourist realized, and he was so surprised that he lost his footing at the top of the watch tower and fell. When Mariana died, Denny lowered the drawbridge in front of her house, and took the ropes off to show there was no one living there anymore. He also carved one of the pulleys into the Pachamama figure and mailed it to Morio along with a note telling him to return to the village.

The path at the back of the church leads to a little glen where Morio and Mariana had used to spend all their time together, so the "treasure" was Mariana herself. When Morio realized that, he dug his own grave next to hers, and had Denny give him an injection for assisted-suicide. Denny filled the dirt back over the grave. He insists that he doesn't know where the spirits of the love couple are now, but they're not of this world anymore. Shun is offended, but unable to press charges, while Shinra speculates that Mariana had cast her spell over Denny, too. The story ends with a young Morio telling his friends that all he wants to do is make enough money to buy his own castle with a drawbridge, as a young woman watches him from within the brush.

(Namie sees a ghost.)

Old House (Monthly Shonen Magazine, Dec. 2016)
Ushi Tose is a salaryman that gave up his job to go live in the countryside to start up a career as a baker. He'd talked to an old woman, Ukiko Tsuruga, and she'd offered to let him live in an old house she owns, for free. The place had been damaged in an earthquake, and she can't afford to have it rebuilt to rent out. Instead, Tose can stay there as long as he likes, and fix the place up if he wants to. He visits the ruined house with his girlfriend, Namie Saga, and that's when the weirdness starts. Tsuruga's son is living on a neighboring property, carving up the rose bushes with a chainsaw and tossing out perfectly good persimmons. In their new house, Namie discovers a ghost in the rafters. They try to talk to craftsmen in town to get them to provide estimates on the repairs, and every single one of them refuses to work with them. Tose goes to a neighboring town for an independent contractor. This guy is willing to help, but he's scared off by a creature in a mask that makes a neck-cutting motion. Tose and Namie chase the creature, but it seems to teleport away from them by magic, and it escapes by motor boat from the bottom of a cliff.

Tose is convinced that his dream is on the rocks, but he commiserates himself by making dinner on a grill with camping gear he'd brought with him. The smell reaches Shinra, who is nearby, researching local sea creatures. He and Tatsuki talk to the two new renters, and they're amazed by how good Tose's bread is. That night, there's rain, but nothing's leaking into the house. Looking in the rafters, Tose discovers that all the leaks have been patched with fresh thatch. This just confirms the presence of ghosts. Namie confronts Tsuruga, and the old woman breaks down in tears at the claims the house is haunted. Then, Shinra shows up with a lawyer, and a contract to rent the house for 5,000 yen ($50) a month. The old woman starts to object, then relents.

Questions: What is haunting the old house and why? Why does Shinra insist on having a contract drawn up charging Tose rent, when the guy is already living there for free? Why won't the local craftsmen help Tose out?

Natural history: Just a little bit of discussion of human nature.
Payment: Dinner and fresh-baked bread.

--- Spoilers ---

Turns out that Tsuruga, the old woman giving out the use of her land for free, along with her son and daughter-in-law, is a con artist. She lets young couples live in run-down houses on her property, and waits until they sink enough of their own money into the repairs before evicting them. Since there's no paper contract, the victims have no legal recourse. The local craftsmen have been burned by this as well, and they refuse to accept loan money for repair work this time. However, they are secretly on the side of Tose and his girlfriend. One worker had been in the rafters of the house when Namie saw him and thought he was a ghost. He'd been patching up the holes in the roof. He and his friends had all put on the same creature mask and clothing, and positioned themselves along the trail on the hill to make it look like they were teleporting - one guy would duck in the bushes, and the next one would pop up on the other side of a chasm or at the bottom of the cliff. Now that Shinra has Tose renting on a well-worded contract for real cheap, Tsuruga can't evict him without just cause, Tose can create his bakery, and the workers are willing to help him with the rest of the building repairs.

(Pachamama carving.)

Summary: Some pretty good storytelling this time, and a very pointed jab at the idea of "fake news" (the belief that Japan had won the war and the denial of any facts contradicting this belief). Good art, and some decent mysteries. There is a bit of frontal nudity at the beginning of Mariana's Illusion, so be aware of that if it's something that offends you. Recommended if you like the series. Note, though, that the front cover is misleading. Mariana never gets found in a pond like that in the book.


Jasmine Zhou said...

I've been following all your reviews for several years. I really appreciate your hardwork in writing these detailed narration of my two favorite manga, Q.E.D. and C.M.B., which are still catching up with the latest volume in Japan. Quite close but still several numbers apart.

Plus, I like how you put "spoiler" section in your review. It is really frustating to not know the resolution.
Keep up the good work. ��

TSOTE said...

Hi Jasmine. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your feedback. I hope you continue to enjoy both series.