Saturday, November 18, 2017

Box, vol. 3

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

Box, vol. 3, by Daijirou Morohoshi, Grade: A
Finally, we are BACK. Unfortunately, this is the end of this mini-series, so we won't be back for long. Recap: 7 people in Japan have received invitations to something that's not immediately all that clear. They all arrive at a park and discover a big cube at the far back. Each of the 7, Kouji, Megumi, Chieko, Shinichirou, the Tani husband and wife pair, and Makoto, received a puzzle specific to them that needs to be solved in order for doors in the cube to open and let them inside. They are joined by the mysterious Kyouko, and led by the evil being that looks like a schoolgirl (and is never identified by a name other than Akuma (devil)). Once inside, the only way back out is to solve more puzzles, but there is supposed to be a reward if they survive that long. However, there's also a penalty for getting the major puzzles right - the loss of the thing they think they most want to give up. Kouji is a school boy that resents his mother's obsession with his deceased older brother; his sacrifice is the disappearance of part of his house and his mother's head. Megumi is also a school kid, that thinks he was born to the wrong sex, and he loses his genitals. Chieko is a psychic that gives up part of her brain (and her shoes). The Tani's are tired of life and are merging into one body. Shinichirou and Makoto are the exceptions. Shinichirou is an architect wanted by the police for designing buildings that have collapsed, and he wants to cheat his way out of the game, while Makoto is an amateur folklore researcher that knows enough of the cube's history as to be terrified of playing the game at all. Kyouko is the unknown wildcard who seems to have the same control over the cube that Akuma does, but we're never told why. At the end of volume 2, the Tani's have given up and were swallowed by the denizens of the cube. Makoto accidentally got cut in half and turned into a denizen monster. Shinichirou cheated by voluntarily giving his puzzle and ticket half to Kyouko, turning her into a full-fledged player in the game, and him into another denizen monster. The surviving players, Kouji, Megumi, Chieko and Kyouko make it past the first stage and into stage two, which seems to be an endless staircase. Akuma is angry with Kyouko's meddling, and the Shinichirou and Makoto monsters are trying to find their way deeper into the game.

(Splash page for the Escher Staircase chapter.)

We start with the 4 players standing in the entry room of stage two, trying to decide whether to go up or down the stairs. Kyouko is watching the door behind them, and is concerned that Shinichirou is able to force the door open. She gets Kouji to fight the Shinichirou monster (Shin), while Chieko and Megumi start down the stairs unaware that the other two aren't following them. Shin forces Kouji and Kyouko to retreat up the stairs, and Akuma lets Makoto-monster into the room and it eventually makes its way downstairs. Shin wants the puzzle cube Kyouko holds, so she and Kouji play "keep away" for a bit, but eventually Shin simply attacks the boy, who rips off one of his arms before throwing him down the stairs. Kouji and Kyouko go up, while Makoto and Chieko go down, and soon they run into each other in the middle of the stairs.

(Kouji fights Shin-monster, while Megumi and Chieko watch helplessly. Kouji discovers there's nothing on the other side of the wall.)

Shin catches up to them and attacks Kouji again, this time causing the boy to go through the side wall and almost out into empty space. The walls have gotten crumbly again. Megumi pulls Kouji to safety, and Chieko discovers the Makoto monster and throws it at Shin, buying them a little time. Kyouko realizes that she has to solve her puzzle box now, but Shin returns and fights her for it. She gets the box open, revealing a glass lens and a strangely-cut piece of paper. The inner wall tumbles out of the way and the group discovers that they're on Penrose's Stairs (an optical illusion made famous by M. C. Escher). Kyouko tosses the now-empty box away, and Shin rushes after it. He tries manipulating the box in a vain effort to become human again, but does manage to cause the staircase to turn normal, and dropping Chieko off the now-bottom of the stairs. Megumi grabs her, and Shin accidentally returns the stairs to their infinite loop, saving Chieko before she slips out of Megumi's grasp. Kyouko understands what's happening, and she has the others get the box back for her. She opens and closes it a few times, causing a large pedestal to rise from the depths, atop which is Escher's Belvedere. However, the base of the Belvedere is too far away to easily jump to. After some thinking, Kyouko holds up the lens so that through forced perspective the top of the pedestal looks closer, and she then takes a step forward, magically ending up at the top of the column.

(The Penrose staircase, with the inner wall gone. The pedestal with the Belvedere at the top can be partly seen between the forms of Chieko and Kyouko.)

Kyouko is happy, and is about to use the same trick to have the other three come after her, but Akuma is getting angry and she causes part of the staircase to collapse to make the game more challenging. The thing is, the gap in the stairs between Chieko and the next intact section almost perfectly matches the strangely-cut piece of paper Kyouko got from the box. She holds it up, closes one eye, and to her it looks like the stairs continue down from where Chieko is standing to the next part of the flight. Kyouko tells Chieko to have faith and just start walking. The girl does so, and the illusion holds long enough for her to reach safety. Shin tries to follow, and Kyouko drops him from the illusionary steps, but he scrambles into a niche in the wall and waits. Kyouko uses the lens trick again to bring Chieko to the pedestal. Akuma messes up the remaining walls and stairs further, and Shin attacks Kouji, so that Megumi is too far away for the paper or lens illusions to work, and Kouji is on an outcropping that is about to collapse under his own weight. Kouji leaps for the pedestal, but he can only clear half the gap before starting his descent. Kyouko grabs a ladder propped along side the Belvedere and swings it out over the chasm. Again, it's not long enough to reach the boy, yet the illusion of forced perspective and pure faith is enough to make it LOOK like the end of the ladder is within reach. Kouji reaches, grabs the last rung, and makes it to safety. This just leaves Megumi, stranded in a niche in the wall. Kyouko pulls out the lens again, and positions herself so that through the lens, Megumi looks to be as close to her as Kouji is. She has them reach their hands out, and moves around so that the lens makes it seem that the two boys are really holding each other's hands. She yells for Kouji to pull. He does so, and yanks Megumi over onto the pedestal next to him. Then they notice that Kyouko had screwed up a bit, leaving Megumi an inch taller than Kouji.

(Kyouko uses the paper from the box to make an optical illusion, which Chieko can then use to go from one part of the staircase to the other.)

The Shin monster jumps across the chasm and onto the ladder, and he chases Kyouko into the Belvedere. However, he just can not figure out which part of the illusion is open air, and which part is solid column. He keeps bashing into the column parts, allowing Kyouko to scramble to the top of the dome. Shin follows up after her, as Kyouko pulls out the lens. To her, looking through the lens, Shin looks tiny, so she quickly grabs the tiny Shin monster by the back of the neck and tosses him into the chasm, and he falls into the abyss never to be seen again.

Akuma talks a bit about how the puzzles in the Box have evolved over time as humanity came up with new ones, then Kyouko asks for her reward for solving her part of the puzzle. Akuma tosses the card at her, but Kyouko fumbles it and it lands at Akuma's feet. Kyouko distracts the school girl as she picks the card up, not realizing that Kyouko had actually switched cards - Akuma is now holding Makoto's card and ticket stub, and the Box acknowledges Akuma as being one of the current participants in the game. The Belvedere comes tumbling down, and a new door opens up in the pedestal beneath it. Megumi, Kouji and Chieko go through the door, and when they look back at Kyouko, they gasp in shock. The woman asks what's wrong, and pulls out a mirror - her eyes and nose have disappeared. This is her sacrifice to the game, and she's pretty happy about it, because now she'll save a fortune on makeup. Inside the next room is a stand holding a blank Rubik's Cube; all of the faces are white. Since Akuma is now a player, she insists on being the one to solve this puzzle. But, Megumi grabs the Cube away from her, saying that he has this one. It's nothing that a tournament grand champion couldn't handle. The boy recalls the cube he'd gotten in the mail, and that when he'd solved it, a weird logo mark had appeared on one face. He closes his eyes and starts turning. After a few minutes, the logo mark shows up on this cube, and the walls come tumbling down again.

(Megumi solves the blank Rubik's Cube.)

Akuma congratulates them on making it to the end game, tossing Megumi's reward card to him. Everything inside of the Box disappears, leaving the company floating in mid-air, face to face with a second big cube. This is the final goal, "the Box in the Box." This is where the ultimate reward awaits them, but there's a condition, and still a chance for everyone to betray the others, if they wish. Akuma decides to give them the full history lesson. A very long time ago, there was a force that roamed ancient Japan, feeding on "inga" (which translates to "fate" or "karma"). After thousands, or tens of thousands of years, the force was somehow trapped in the giant Box that the group is now inside. In order to keep feeding, the force would move the Box to different parts of the country, and lure people inside. However, the force doesn't eat people, just the karma that surrounds them. Unfortunately, once inside the Box, humans tended to panic and kill each other in an attempt to get out, or they'd die of despair. To deal with this, the force started implementing puzzles as a way to give its victims a goal and a way to locate an exit. The force copied the puzzles that its victims knew about, meaning that there were always newer, harder puzzles to solve, but with the increasing number of humans unable to get out and turning into monsters, there became a need for a "navigator," which is how Akuma was created. The thing is, the force changes people's entire lives, wiping out memories and altering reality, and that new reality has to be reflected outside when the "winner of the game" leaves the Box. That means that reality changes outside as well. Either that, or the winners are deposited in a parallel reality that matches their heart's desire. Either way, when you agree to the wish the force is going to grant, you really need to be sure that that's something you can live with for the rest of your life.

(Akuma is left holding the final card.)

The group is instructed to look at the fronts of the cards they've received for solving their parts of the puzzle, and if that's the thing they're willing to give up (and let the force consume it), then they are to put their card in the middle of one face of the end goal Box. Megumi has the Tani's card, and he gives it to Kouji to attach to the bottom face of the Box. Megumi, Kouji, Chieko and Kyouko each look at their own cards, and after thinking hard for a few seconds, they put their cards on one each of the remaining faces of the Box. Akuma, though, refuses to put Makoto's card in place, claiming that while she'd been forced to participate in this game, she has no interest in leaving the Box. There have been many games in the past where there were no winners, and it doesn't bother her to leave this group trapped in the Box as well. Which is why she tried interfering with Megumi's solving the Rubik's cube. Her out is that she'd never been part of the game from the beginning. Kyouko then pulls out Makoto's crossword puzzle, where he'd had to write in the names of each of the participants. Kyouko had thought it was important to "correct it," and she'd replaced Shinichirou's name with her own, and scribbled out "Makoto" and written in "Akuma." While Akuma struggles over how to deal with this twist, the end goal Box starts advancing on her. Akuma protests, saying that she'll put her card in place, but it's too late - end goal Box squishes her up against the inside of the outer Box. When end goal Box pulls back, the last card is stuck to its side.

(End goal Box doesn't like cheaters.)

One face of the end goal Box opens, and the group is bathed in light. Time passes, and Megumi, Kouji and Chieko find themselves back outside in the park as the sun is going down. Kouji feels like he's lost something really important, but the memory of what it is quickly fades. He checks with the other two - they all remember entering the box and solving the puzzles, but not what happened at the end. Then, for some reason, they all start crying uncontrollably. They find Kyouko, who seems to be suffering amnesia and can't remember her own name, or who the others are. Pretty quickly, we learn that the other three's memories have been altered to match their new realities - Megumi has always been a girl, Chieko has never had psychic powers, and Kouji has always been Kouichi. They return to their homes, and the new realities hold there, too. Chieko's older sister is the one that loves fortune-telling. Megumi is the second-older sister that keeps "borrowing" the clothes of her younger brother. And Kouichi has always been the oldest son in his family ("-ji" means "two," or "second child"; "-ichi" means "one," or "first child." It's built right into the name in Japanese.)

(Last pages. The last puzzle asks "Who is this girl?" Answer: Megumi.)

The story ends with a "where are they now" montage. Kouichi is moderately smart, but highly gifted at sports. He's very popular with the girls at school, but he's dating Megumi. In two years, Megumi wins the Rubik's Cube Nationals tournament. She was accepted to Tokyo University, but opted to enter the same university that Kouichi goes to. Chieko becomes more outgoing and social; after graduating high school, she was accepted at a technical college, but she remains good friends with Kouichi and Megumi. No one knows what's become of Shinichirou, Makoto, or Akuma. Kyouko remains a mystery, and her fate is also unknown. As for the Box, it's still collecting puzzles and toys, and remains "out there somewhere."

Summary: I love the puzzles in these books, and the way Morohoshi works Escher into the main storyline in this volume. The optical illusion solutions are fun, and overall it's just an easy read. The character designs aren't all that great, but that's just Morohoshi's style. The rest of the art is good, and the story moves forward fast. The ending is a bit weak, since the 3 surviving characters get their wishes that had been established at the beginning, but otherwise the finish is fairly satisfying. I recommend Box to anyone that likes Japanese suspense and mild horror.

1 comment:

mjmk said...

I really love Daijirou Morohoshi Sensei's work. Long time ago I read two volumes from his 'Shiori to Shimiko series. It's magical. So sad it's hard to find translated version of his work.