Friday, June 22, 2018

C.M.B. volume 38 review

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C.M.B., vol. 38, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B
If you're not familiar with the magazine that C.M.B. runs in, it's Monthly Shonen Magajin, a big "phonebook"-style publication. C.M.B. chapters average 50 pages, and the chapters come out monthly. In this volume, we have two stories - the first one is one chapter, and the second takes up the other 3 full chapters. They were originally printed in issues Jan.-Apr., 2018.

Mokugeki Shougen (Eyewitness Testimony, Monthly Shonen Magajin, Jan. 2018)
This is a simple mystery told from the viewpoint of Kyousuke Harumi, a young man accused of attacking his girlfriend, Mami Sumida, with a knife. The chapter starts with Kyousuke facing charges in court, under the glares of Mami and her father, Touji. The young man claims innocence, while the prosecutor asks for a sentence of 7 years, ostensibly because Mami was a promising young pianist and the damage to her left arm from the knife wound has sidelined her career (she's still taking physical therapy to get the ring finger on her left hand to move properly). Two months go by, and the judge sentences the man to 4 years in prison. Time flies, and Kyousuke is released, cursing the loss of that part of his life. As he exits prison, he's met by a weird old guy (who actually looks like Shinra in a bad haircut and fake glasses and bulbous nose). This guy introduces himself as Kouryou Kanda. Kanda invites Kyousuke to a grilled steak restaurant, and tells him that he knows the younger man is innocent. There's a witness, Ugetsu Ishibana, an itinerant worker who had been sleeping on a park bench near the place where Mami and Kyousuke had been standing at the time of the "attack." Ugetsu heard them shouting, and had crawled over to a break in the bushes in time to see Mami slash herself in the arm with a carving knife. Kyousuke crows that this vindicates him, and wants to know where Ugetsu is. Which is the problem - Ugetsu often works on fishing boats, and between jobs he will travel to other cities to pick up more work. If Kyousuke wants to clear his name, Kanda is willing to help him get work through a temp agency to try to track down Ugetsu. Kyousuke is more than eager to take the man up on this offer.

More time goes by. Mami is still trying to play piano, and her left-hand ring finger is still not moving right. A fact not lost on her father. Eventually, Touji Sumida goes to Shinra's natural history museum, and offers the boy a magic lantern projector (the specific model is here). In return, Touji wants Shinra to track down this "Ugetsu" for him. Shinra and Tatsuki locate Kyousuke, who has been on Ugetsu's trail for nearly 3 years. During this entire time, Kyousuke has been just one step behind Ugetsu, but now it looks like he's finally found some other fishermen that have just finished doing a tour on the ocean with Ugestu, and are celebrating with a dinner party at a nearby restaurant. Shinra, Tatsuki and Kyousuke go there to finally get testimony proving that Kyousuke is innocent of attacking Mami.

Questions: Why is Touji so interested in finding Ugetsu before Kyousuke does? Why did Mami cut herself? Why has Kyousuke been so bad at finding Ugetsu up to this point? What is Kyousuke going to do once he gets Ugetsu's testimony? What is Kouryou Kanda's interest in all this?

Natural History: We get a short Japanese folk tale.
Payment: The magic lantern.

----- Spoilers -----

On meeting Kyousuke, Shinra notices the rice cooker that the man uses in his apartment, which had been supplied by the mysterious Kanda. He gets the man to tell his full story. When that's done, the clock in the room reaches midnight, and Kanda runs into the room to say that he's gotten more information on Ugetsu. Kyousuke attacks him because the last lead turned out to be a complete dead end. Shinra then tells a little story titled "Isui no Yume" (One Boil Dream), also known as "Kantan no Makura" (The Tree Cricket Pillow). In the story, a young man meets an old sage while the two are traveling. The two prepare dinner together, and while they wait for the rice to boil, the sage gives the young man a Japanese style headrest (makura) and he lies down to sleep. After waking up, the young man becomes rich, powerful, and surrounded by beautiful women. Years go by. Finally, the young man wakes up again. The rice has yet to finish cooking - it's all been a dream. Shinra asks Kyousuke to think about the rice cooker he'd gotten as part of the apartment furnishings from Kanda. What does Kyousuke's cooker, and a few other clues from the folk story have in common? Answer, they make up the name Kouryou Kanda. Additionally, the name "Ugetsu Ishibana" is made up of the kanji for "a flower growing from a stone" and "a moon visible during the rain". Neither of these things are possible, pointing to the fact that Ugetsu never existed. In fact, Kanda is Mami's father, Touji Sumida, in disguise. Touji had been upset that Kyousuke's sentence had been commuted down from 7 years to 4, and had wanted the guy to serve out the last 3 years as punishment for injuring his daughter. At the end of the chapter, Kyousuke still refuses to accept his guilt for the attack, blaming everyone else but himself. Touji had used Shinra to break the truth to the criminal at midnight of the 3rd year anniversary of Kyousuke's release from prison.

Hikari no Kyojin (Giant of Light, Monthly Shonen Magajin, Feb.-Apr. 2018)
Ok, we're going to need a lot of backfill here. Snorri Sturluson was a historian, poet and politician from Iceland (1179-1241). He's best known for having collected all of the existing folktales into the Prose Edda, in which we get the origins and legends of Odin, Thor, Loki, Midgard and the end of the world with Ragnarok. However, Snorri was also a lawyer, and had been elected lawspeaker of the Althing, the only public office of the Iceland commonwealth. He was invited to Norway by King Hakon 4, who wanted him to convince the people of Iceland to submit themselves to Norway. He returned to Iceland, but the other chiefs there wanted to get him out of their way. A nephew, Sturla, raised an army against Snorri, driving the older man into hiding. Snorri eventually returned to Norway, but Hakon was disappointed in Snorri's inability (or unwillingness) to make Iceland a fiefdom of Norway, and he sent a request to Snorri's relatives to have Snorri assassinated. This eventually did happen in 1241. Snorri's lasting legacy was in collecting the stories that made up the Edda.

The story alternates between the 1200's and the present day. In the past, we have Snorri going to Norway to collect stories for his Edda, accompanied by Olen, a young, weak-willed, recalcitrant assistant who does all the legwork in finding folktales in whatever land they visit, while whining over Snorri's ability to wed beautiful women and marry into some of the most powerful  families in northern Europe at the time. Olen keeps reminding Snorri that Hakon is getting increasingly more angry about the old pervert's failure to bring Iceland under Norway's control. Snorri is impervious to these calls of doom, and continues on his merry way. At one point, Olen mentions that there are tales of the Holy Grail being in Norway, and that it can cure all diseases. He comes down with a horrible cold, and is visited by Snorri, who is carrying a plain wooden cup filled with hot water. After drinking the water, Olen falls asleep, and wakes up completely cured. He's convinced that Snorri had found the grail. Eventually, they run afoul of Sturla's assassins, and Hakon 4's ire, and Snorri is forced to hide his treasures in a cave somewhere in Iceland.

In the present, Ryouta Tomonaga, a second grade junior high student, is having a miserable time. His parents have divorced, and he's been forced to live with an uncle. His step-aunt hates having to take care of him and wants him dumped on someone else. He's being bullied by neighborhood toughs, and the only thing he has to hold on to is a pocket knife his father gave him. In the middle of his step-aunt's screaming at his uncle to do something about the boy, Ryouta discovers a package from his father. He opens it to reveal a large calcite crystal, and a note with some weird marking on it and instructions to his uncle to contact Shinra. Ryouta's step-aunt is in full rant, so the boy decides to find Shinra's museum on his own. But, once he gets outside, he is approached by a couple strangers that try to take the crystal from him. These guys are attacked by a different group of foreigners that kidnap the boy and stuff him in the trunk of their car. He uses his pocket knife to get at the trunk release cable and frees himself. He reaches the museum, where Shinra uses the calcite on the strange markings. The crystal's main property is that it causes lines to appear as doubled, so the markings can be read through the crystal as "GRALL." Shinra puts all the clues together to say that Ryouta's father is in Iceland (this particular calcite is called " Iceland spar"), looking for the Holy Grail, and that the boy is being followed by neo-Nazis that want the Grail as one third of the items Hitler sought for world domination (the other two being the Spear of Longinus, and the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire.

Shinra decides to find Ryouta's father, and the boy insists on tagging along. Tatsuki goes with and the three of them are soon in Reykjavik. Shinra talks a lot about the grail, and how it's currently believed to be in Iceland, in part because of stories involving Snorri Sturluson. As they're standing around near a statue of Snorri, an Icelander approaches them, asking if they're Japanese. He hands them a pamphlet from Ryouta's father, and warns them of suspicious-looking men a block away. Ryouta recognizes one of the men as the neo-Nazi that had tried to kidnap him. In the pamphlet is a GPS coordinate, and instructions to find the "giant of light." Tatsuki uses her smartphone to pinpoint the coordinates about 80 km east of them, but as they make their way out of the city, the enemy spots them and gives chase. Tatsuki ambushes three of their pursuers, stealing their horses, which makes the subsequent trip much easier. They spend the night out on the ice and lava flows, and Ryouta turns into a whining ball of fear (identical to Olen when he was with Snorri), blaming his father for his being so miserable now. But, Tatsuki notices the northern lights surrounding them, and Shinra figures out that the clue in the pamphlet refers to a particular area in the landscape where the lava outcroppings and aurora form the silhouette of a giant made of light.

Eventually, Shinra finds Tomonari's camp (I don't think Ryouta's father is ever given a first name), and the guy wants to know why Shinra brought his son instead of his brother. Ryouta yells at his father for everything that's happened to him, and the guy says, "Yeah, it's quite an adventure, isn't it." Ryouta answers back "You're not out on an adventure, you're just playing around." The Neo-Nazis catch up to the group, and Tomonari has them put on an ice crampon each. They escape over the ice field. Their pursuers have to go more slowly after them because they keep falling through snow-covered cracks. Tomonari gets to a cave in the lava flow and they go down into a tunnel. Tomonari had found Olen's diary, where he described how he and Snorri had hidden Snorri's treasure, including the Grail. Shinra wants to know why Tomonari hasn't taken it yet, and the guy throws open a door at the end of the tunnel to reveal why. Inside is a wood paneled room with shelves of cups, goblets, gold-filled chests and books. Plus, three mummified corpses. Tomonari says that obviously the room is trapped, and he didn't want to touch anything until his brother arrived to help him. The Nazis enter the room and tie up the heroes.

Questions: Did Snorri really find the Grail? Will the Nazis get their hands on it? How will the heroes escape? Did Motohiro steal the end scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?

Natural history: A lot of background on Snorri, with some mentions of the Edda.
Payment: A wooden cup.

----- Spoilers -----

The bad guys again fail to check Ryouta's pockets, and he pulls out the knife his father had given him. The heroes cut their bonds as the enemy searches the shelves for the Grail. Shinra had mentioned earlier that the corpses looked like soapy mummies because they'd been exposed to sulfur water for a very long time. Iceland has a lot of volcanic activity, which means that it also has a lot of onsen (hot springs). The steam from one of the vents must be escaping into the treasure room here. One of the thugs notices a chest of coins and picks it up, releasing a trip pin underneath. Trapdoors open under the mummies, causing them to drop into the darkness below. Shinra and the others bolt from the room, with Shinra yelling at them to run full-out. In an onsen field, there has to be geysers as well. If you have super-heated water, and you drop rocks into it, you'll artificially trigger a discharge. The mummies are rock-like enough that they need to get out of the cave right now. A few second later, they reach safety only to see a massive gush of water and steam explode from the cave entrance. The Neo-Nazis get parboiled.

Shinra explains that the room is designed in such a way that when the water subsides, the victims inside will settle in the corners over the trap doors, where they'll mummify and act as the new triggers for the trap. Tomonari apologizes to his son, and Ryouta relents. They think they'd really found the Grail and lost it, but Shinra pulls a plain wooden cup out from his jacket and asks them to look at it. He'd grabbed it as they left the room. It was carved from Willow wood. Willow was an early source of aspirin, so it contains a painkiller. Snorri had taken a willow wood cup, let it soak in hot water, and given that to Olen when he was sick. The painkiller helped him to sleep until he got better on his own. Shinra keeps the cup as payment for this trip. The chapter ends with Olen trying to rescue Snorri from Hakon's assassins, but the old man is dying. Olen promises to get him to the Grail, which will save him, but Snorri says that his work is done and he can die happy. Olen thinks about the Edda, and how the stories of the gods, giants and dwarves are really real to the old man, and as he looks up at the stars, he can see the battle of Ragnarok playing out in the sky as well. The narration states that Snorri died in 1241, and that when Hakon learned of the news, he'd wept.

Summary: Well, the first story is pretty standard, and follows Motonori's tendency to tell first-person stories where the villain sees themselves as being innocent of any wrongdoing. I do admit that I failed to predict the twist ending, and it took a while to figure out what was going on. And I really did think at the beginning that Kanda was Shinra in a bad wig. Giant of Light holds a special place for me, because I'd managed to get one SF book published back in 1987, which was based largely on the Prose Edda myths. The Snorri Sturlusen here is completely fictionalized, and Motonori made up Olen, but the relationships between Snorri, his relatives and Hakon pretty much do follow what we know about that time period. I don't buy that Snorri's treasure room has been fully functional and free of mineral deposits over the last 800 years, but otherwise, I do like this story. Recommended if you like the series.

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