Saturday, July 8, 2017

Box, vol. 1

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

Box, vol. 1, by Daijirou Morohoshi, Grade: A
Box is subtitled "Hako no Naka ni Nanika Iru" (There is something inside the box), and that pretty much sums up the entire story. Kouji is a high school boy who receives a strange package in the mail one day. His current home life is something of a mess, and he really doesn't need strange packages right now. His older brother had died in a car accident some years ago, and his mother is still pining for him, probably wishing that Kouji had been in the accident instead. His father is a regular salary man, and doesn't know how to cope with his wife at this stage. Kouji opens the package and finds a wooden puzzle box, the kind that has sliding pieces that need to be moved in the correct order to open the box. The next day, in class, he opens the box, and there's a sudden burst of wind one floor up. Everyone in the school goes to investigate, and they discover that the art room on the third floor has been destroyed. Kouji is the only one that notices that the damage is in the direction of a department store towards the hills. When he goes home, he discovers that one corner of the house, including his room, is missing, as is a section of his mother's head (she claims to not feel any different, and her husband doesn't comment on the change.) The following day, Koui goes to the roof of the department store and sees another boy, Megumi, working on a Rubik's cube that he also got in the mail. Megumi solves the cube, and another burst of wind destroys a billboard that was obstructing the view of a big cube in a park at the foot of a large hill in the distance.

(Kouji gets a puzzle box in the mail. All his mother cares about is her deceased older son.)

Kouji and Megumi go to the park to investigate, and find a motley group of people that have received their own puzzles in the mail. Actually, with the exception of Kyouko, a woman that had been in a tree near Kouji's house, spying on the school with a pair of binoculars. The others include Mr. and Mrs. Tani (retired), who got a paper maze; Shinichirou, (architect) who received a solid block; Makoto (a folklorist), with a crossword puzzle but no up or down clues, and Chieko (a goth loli girl claiming to receive premonitions) whose smartphone had been loaded with a strange soma cube game. They're all standing in front of a giant stone cube, trying to figure out who all the other weirdos are. Kouji and Kyouko walk around the cube without finding an entrance, while Chieko helps the Tani's with their paper maze. Kouji completes his round without finding anything that looks like an entrance and gets back to the main group just as Chieko solves the maze. Kyouko yells out that there's an entrance now, and the group agonizes over whether to go inside.

(Mom has half a mind.)

Thus starts the adventures of Box, a Japanese-style horror story about a group of strangers that enter a giant stone building and have no hope of finding their way back out. Morohoshi is a famed horror manga writer, and I've reviewed a couple of his other works here. His character designs are similar to his earlier titles, and his artwork is as sketchy as ever. But, the story is fun, and the dialog is relatively easy to read. I am looking forward to see where the story is heading next.

(The motley crew, upper right. The Tani paper maze to the left.)

In this volume, we meet the caretaker of the box, a creature that looks like a school girl, in uniform, that takes the tickets everyone had received, and welcomes them into the game (she calls the place the "Box Museum"). Kyouko sneaks in on her own, and we get occasional hints that she may have been an earlier caretaker before escaping some time in the past. Chieko solves her smartphone game, allowing the party to proceed deeper into the cube, and receives a card from the strange girl as a reward. Kouji tells the caretaker that he'd solved his puzzle box already and he wants his card, but she replies that everyone has to get their solutions while they're in the cube. But, there's a cost - when you solve your puzzle, you forfeit something you feel that don't need. In Chieko's case, it's a section of her head. For Megumi, it's his genitalia. For the Tanis, it's their own selves. The Tanis slowly merge into each other to create a 50-50 person. Both Makoto and Shinichirou are afraid of the consequences, and deliberately refuse to solve their puzzles, which is a problem for the rest of the gang because the passage forward is blocked until they do.

(Kyouko gets Makoto's puzzle from his torso, accidentally dismembering him and turning him into a monster.)

Kyouko confronts the caretaker, who attempts to attack her, while also releasing monsters from their containers. Makoto gets forced to reveal one of his secrets - in his folklore researches, he's come across stories in Japan's past about a cube like this. People are recorded as going in, but not everyone comes back out, and some of those who do are thought to be crazy in the head afterward. He's terrified of what's going to happen to him, which is why he won't try to work his crossword puzzle (he knows that the answers are the full names of the rest of the party). Eventually, the group happens into a room with a bunch of boxes on trolleys. Both Makoto and Megumi get trapped in the boxes, which separate like the "sawing a woman in half" magic trick things. The only solution is to solve the crossword puzzle, so Kyouko opens Makoto's box to get the paper to show to Megumi, but that messes Makoto up. Megumi talks through the glass cover of his box, and Kyouko fills in the blanks with a pen, causing the boxes to stop driving around the room. Megumi is rescued, but not Makoto. Additionally, the group is chased by the monsters the caretaker released, which turn out to be the people that failed to escape the cube in previous games. Makoto becomes one of them.

(Kouji fights the monsters to save Chieko, and along with Megumi they wheel the box containing the fused Tani couple to the end of the corridor, where Shinichirou is stuck, waiting.)

The Tani's get tired and can't continue on, so they sit in one of the boxes, which turns out to be a safe place, it can only be opened from the inside. Kouji uses one of the trolley carts to wheel the Tani's to the next stage, but only because Megumi refuses to leave without them. Shinichirou and Chieko get to another door, as the monsters approach, and Shinichirou abandons everyone to save himself, closing the door behind him. But, it seems that the doors only open for Kouji, and the group finally catches up to him when he gets trapped at the end of a corridor with a door he can't open. In the end, we have Makoto gone, the Tanis merging into each other and being transported in a glass-fronted box, Megumi acting more like a girl all the time, Chieko minus part of her head (but otherwise she feels fine,) and no shoes, Kouji, and Shinichirou (who's the only one that doesn't know how to solve their puzzle). Plus, Kyouko, who keeps following the group just one step behind, as the party prepares to go to the next stage of the game

Summary: Japanese horror tends to be more atmospheric than graphic, so most Americans wouldn't consider Box to be scary, per se. But, I like the story and the puzzles that are added as "omake" for each of the chapter splash pages. The fact that I used to own the same puzzle box that Kouji receives kind of adds to the fun. Right now, there are only two volumes, and I've read both. The chapters are running in Morning Two, and I'm looking forward to book 3. Recommended.

Full character names: Kouji Kakuta (kaku = angle, square or cube; ta = multi-)
Megumi Masuda (masu = a square on a grid; da = field)
Shinichirou Kouda (kou = can mean a plaintiff in a legal document)
Kanichi and Yaeko Tani (kan = gentle; ichi = 1; tani = valley; yae = 8 layered boxes)
Makoto Yamauchi (makoto = truth, reality; yamauchi = inside mountain)
Chieko Jingu (chie = higher insight; jingu = Imperial shinto shrine)
Kyouko (Kyou =  interest, entertainment, pleasure)

No comments: