Saturday, June 17, 2017

Tokubetsu no Egoist, vol. 2

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Tokubetsu no Egoist, vol. 2, by Michiharu Kusunoki, Grade: B+
Jin, the famous novelist that claimed that someone was attacking him psychically, turns out to actually be an energy vampire. Because he's excellent with words, his pattern is to tell his victim what they really want to hear, then to suddenly slam them with the things they fear most (for the TV chef who keeps trying to bed handsome men, Jin complements her recipes and her figure, then comes back with things like "You actually believe that, you untalented cow?") He then basks in his victim's raw hatred of him, draining their life force out as if he was sucking on their blood. Reiko is his first target, and he follows her up with the hostess club owner, the chef, and the editor, all the while getting more alive and more obnoxious.

(Jin's having a good night. The chef? Not so much.)

Meanwhile, Kaneki is constantly one step behind. While Tooru can't use psychic powers himself to track Reiko, he does combine simple logic with blind luck to locate Jin's favorite jazz bar (Jin's online profile listed him as an avid jazzophile). Oddly, the old fortune teller had come to jazz bar Bird at the same time, but the shop owner has a fixed "sanctuary policy" in effect and no one is allowed to interfere in the business of any of the other patrons. After Jin leaves Bird, the teller instructs Reiko to breathe deeply to help her recover. Tooru and Mari enter Bird just as Reiko chases after Jin and follows him as he confronts each victim on his list. Rather than siccing Tooru on Jin, the fortune teller decides to relate her own story. When she was younger, she had been a very powerful esper in her own right. Eventually, though, she and Jin had become lovers and she discovered that having sex is one of those worldly things that rob you of your esper powers. Additionally, Jin discovered how to drain espers, and she was one of his first targets. There's no real way to stop him, except to fight him on his own turf. Jin is now driving Reiko's Land Rover, and Tooru has her Porsche. They cross paths on the Tokyo expressways a couple times, and finally Jin focuses on his "ghost writer," who he's known was Tooru all this time.

(Jin likes living dangerously.)

Jin and Tooru go toe to toe, and Jin winds up to make his first pitch, complementing Kaneki on having been so brilliant with his debut novel, "Tokubetsu no Egoist," and his ghost writing work, but Kaneki butts in with a slam of his own and drains the novelist of energy so fast and so hard that Reiko has to jump in to stop him, demanding that they call an ambulance. Jin nearly dies of a heart attack, but he complements Tooru on being a better vampire than him, fully knowing that the only reason Kaneki had won was because Mari, the true esper, had been standing behind him, backing him up.

A few days later, Ryouichi Harada, 55, former editor of Weekly Ace Magazine, visits Jin in the hospital, where it turns out that Jin has been dictating his next book from his bed, and his typist is Tooru Kaneki. Harada is trying to find someone, and Jin tells him to contact Kaneki, since the editor has one of the yellowed business cards of his own. Harada and Kaneki get together, and we're told that back in '95, Harada had been the editor at Ace, a bottom-feeding scandal rag that targeted movie stars and pro baseball players. Touru had worked there for a couple of years as a writer. One of their features had been on a scandal involving a scam artist and a young idol singer named Mayumi Segawa. Tooru claims to be busy with Jin's book, but currently Reiko is overseas and Mari has been out of touch because she misses Reiko. Without them, Tooru doesn't want to get involved with any new weirdness. He visits jazz coffee shop Bird and runs into the fortune teller, who makes him realize that the one Mari is waiting for is really Kaneki himself. So, the two of them meet with Harada in his studio, where he has a vast collection of Ace issues, manga, and bromide glossy photos. He's still an idol otaku, and had been a big fan of Mayumi's. He'd been shocked when he'd learned that the scammer, Keigo Hirasawa, had been arrested in Hawai'i with a call girl named Mayumi, and he was hoping that it was just a name mix-up. But, the real Mayumi disappeared after that and is now rumored to be dead. Harada thinks she's still alive, and he wants Kaneki to track her down.

(Reiko prevents Tooru from accidentally killing Jin.)

Tooru and Mari start following leads out to Mayumi's childhood home, but the yard is now a parking lot. Harada calls in, and says that Hirasawa is from west Shinjuku, so they return to Tokyo. Shinjuku is covered in office buildings now, and Mari gets thirsty, asking to stop at a coffee shop nearby. In the shop, Seven, Mari notices that the old woman working the counter kind of resembles Mayumi, but the ages are all wrong. Mayumi would be 45 now, and the old woman is well into her 60's. Then the woman's husband arrives from his walk, and he's about what they'd expect Hirasawa to look like. They leave, and Kaneki comes back the next day with Harada in tow, and the former editor confirms that this must be the couple he's seeking after. They go outside, and Harada explains his actual motives. Mayumi had been a member of a pop idol trio at age 14, and Harada had indeed been a big fan. He'd gotten a job at a young men's manga magazine as a photographer because he wanted to take bromide shots of young pop stars. When Mayumi turned 19, she started posing for nude photos in adult magazines. At age 24, she encountered Hirasawa when he was 55 and he became her sugar daddy. Someone blew the whistle on him, and he ran to Hawai'i, where he was eventually caught, arrested, and then imprisoned on fraud charges. Unfortunately, while Ace magazine broke the story of the arrest, some of the details involving Mayumi in the case were later found to be wrong by other magazines and Harada lost his job at Ace.

During this period, Mari has become close friends with Hirasawa and Mayumi, accompanying the old man on his daily exercise walks and spending time in the shop with them. Harada now wants Tooru to interview the couple to get their side of the story so that he can get his job back at Ace. Tooru hates this idea, but is told that if he doesn't do it, Harada will get someone else to write the article, someone that may be more hostile to them. Kaneki gives in. However, he's still working for Jin as a typist. Jin is finally out of the hospital, and he runs into Mari, who notices that there's something wrong with his right wrist, and she takes it, possibly helping to heal a very old disability. Jin is starting to become a normal human again, and he comments that the Mayumi story may be Harada's last chance to return to Ace. Then he leaves. Kaneki writes up everything he knows about the old couple, and gives the manuscript to the old woman at the shop. She confirms that she really is the former pop star. However, she was the one that had called the cops on Hirasawa, with his blessing. When she was younger, her parents were having trouble raising the money to keep their house. She'd started singing, and then posing for nudie magazines all as a way to make money to help her parents. When she met Hirasawa, he'd decided to play robin hood for her, defrauding companies to the tune of 1 billion yen (back in the 90's, this would have been around $10 million USD). The bulk of the money was redistributed to other people, and some to her. But, when she tried to get the money to her parents, she'd found that they'd both been killed in a car accident a few days earlier. Up to that point, Hirasawa was like a kindly uncle to her, and they'd never had sex together. They agreed for him to look like he was running away and for her to call the cops on him. She had plastic surgery to look 20 years older, and she waited for him to get out of jail. After, they got married, and opened the coffee shop.

Both of them are willing to let Kaneki's story run in Ace, which Harada is more than eager to do. But, Tooru has a really BAD feeling about this, and he confronts Harada over it. The other guy is now working at Ace again as an editor, and he desperately wants this story as his comeback prize. He and Tooru are outside near a park, arguing, and suddenly, Harada grabs his chest and falls to the ground, pleading for an ambulance. Nearby, Mari is watching from a crossover bridge. Tooru tells the editor that he's fine, he just needs to take a few deep breaths. But, there's no guarantee as to what may happen "next time." Harada eventually agrees to not run the story after all.

(Looks like Mari is causing Harada's heart attack.)

The next yellow business card comes from Shouko Kashima, 45. She and Tooru had both been winners of the same "best young writer" awards, along with 2 other men. The other two guys never wrote anything again, but Shouko went on to break a couple big investigation reports and is now much more successful than Tooru is. The two of them had slept together for a short time, but she was something of a gold digger, and she'd dropped him in favor of someone more powerful they'd met at a bar. Those two had gotten married, had a child, and then gotten divorced. Right now, she's looking for someone, and having no success. She gives up and calls Kaneki for help. They meet, and she tells him that she's trying to find the mythical real estate developer Juukichi Oomura. He'd been a big operator during the "bubble" era in the 80's, then disappeared without a trace. Kaneki takes the case, and figures that if someone was a developer, they'd do land deals in Ginza, and if anything happened in Ginza, the coffee shop owner at Bird would be the one to talk to. So, he goes to Bird, where the fortune teller is waiting for him. The owner and the teller state that Oomura had made all his money in west Shinjuku, so Tooru goes there and talks to Hirasawa at cafe Seven. Funny enough, Hirasawa had grown up with Oomura and they used to play together as kids. Back then, the Yodabashi water purification plant had been located in west Shinjuku. But that had been torn down in the mid-60's and replaced with office buildings. Right now, Tooru's focus seems to be on neighborhood 6 in west Shinjuku (nishi Shinjuku 6 choume) and Aoume highway. Tooru and Mari meet up with Shouko and he gives his report (no immediate progress). Shouko looks increasingly unhappy, and Kaneki is somewhat relieved to realize that the older woman is staring at Mari. The girl returns home, and Shouko prevents Tooru from leaving too, demanding that they go drinking together. As always, she's a truculent drunk, and eggs him into taking her up to her hotel room. But, she passes out before she can try seducing him, and he tucks her into bed and runs away. The next morning, she meets with an older guy that was on an errand for locating old books for her, and he tries to talk his way into her room, so she comes up with an excuse, dashes to the reception desk to drop off the books, and runs to the lobby just in time to encounter Jin.

Jin just likes hanging around the hotel now because this is where Mari passes by in the morning, and he's taken to watching her recently. Shouko is less than pleased at seeing the girl again. Jin talks about John Lennon's song "Mother," Lennon had been singing about a form of love that Mari has, but that both he and Shouku will never experience. That day, Tooru visits a house in Meguro and introduces himself as an acquaintance of Hirasawa's before asking to talk to the person inside. The chapter ends with Kaneki meeting with Shouko again the following day to give a report update.

Summary: Sometimes, your greatest enemies become your best friends. Kaneki continues to act as a person locator for those past associates that want to cash in on his yellowed business cards. Nostalgia about Tokyo's checkered past ensues. It's a fun read if you're willing to be patient. Recommended.

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