Spiral 4

April 17, 2011

Kyo Shirodaira / Eita Mizuno – Yen Press – 2008 – 15 volumes

This volume was a little bit of a drag at the beginning, since Narumi mopes around a lot and wallows in self-pity. A lot of the fun in this series is watching Narumi one-upping everyone in increasingly elaborate ways, so to see him wandering around dejectedly, with people giving him pep talks and others speculating on his mood after his “loss” elsewhere makes for slow reading.

But the story makes up for it in the second half of the volume, when a lengthy exchange is done between Narumi and the Blade Children, Hiyono for an incriminating tape. There are elaborate traps laid on both sides of the lines during this race, and I loved seeing the intricacies play out. Hiyono has nothing but confidence in Narumi, thankfully Narumi seems to believe in himself again, and this time around, the Blade Children are scared, though they believe they’ve planned for every eventuality.

I have to admit, as much as I love the logic puzzles that this series engages in, they are getting increasingly hilarious. Narumi planned on an enemy shoving Hiyono into a train and putting her out of commission for the duration of the race? He knew exactly how the boy was going to gain access to the mailbox, and when? The gasoline or whatever at the end? It gets pretty funny when one character pulls out their show-stopping diversion, only to have Narumi claim he planned for it and reveal an elaborate method he uses to circumvent it, to which the Blade Children respond with whatever they have in place to stop that since it was all in the plan… you know how it goes. But I love it. It’s a new spin on a fast-paced action scene, and again, I’m a big fan of Kyo Shirodaira’s writing. The man knows how to plan, although it’s less obvious in a story like this, when everything comes one right after the other.

I do like it well enough, especially when I’m reading it, and I think Case Closed is the only similar series I’m reading right now. I like these little action-packed mystery-type stories. I just got three more volumes of this in the mail too, so that should tide me over for some time.

Spiral 3

February 19, 2011

Kyo Shirodaira / Eita Mizuno – Yen Press – 2008 – 15 volumes

Here we start to get into Record of a Fallen Vampire territory. Ayumu lays out a plan for snaring Rio in Hiyono’s information net, knowing full well that Rio will plan on going after Hiyono. But Ayumu knows there is one extreme way out of the situation, and Rio of course does this. It is pretty extreme, and luckily it followed up with a confrontation anyway. I was a little worried that it would trip over its own logic and not go for the exclusion theory here.

Aside from the fun in seeing how Narumi and Hiyono would eventually catch Rio (which is a lot of fun), we also get another deadly puzzle for Narumi at the end of the volume. Rio’s fun because it’s the type of mystery where the reader sees who did it, and the characters know who did it, it’s just a matter of piecing together enough evidence to prove it. And Rio makes that hard, because she’s willing to go to horrifying lengths to avoid getting caught by Ayumu. And the Ayumu deadly puzzle du jour involves strychnine, and a winning save by Hiyono. I can’t say it enough, but that girl’s a wonderful part of this series.

Plot-wise… meh. Not much forward movement or news on Narumi’s brother or the Blade Children. But the Rio situation more than made up for it. The mysteries here remind me a lot of Case Closed, except this series avoids being too episodic, and the mysteries are targeted directly at the main characters and those around them rather than Ayumu just wandering into them all the time. It’s a lot of fun. Luckily the fourth volume came into the store I work at this week, so I have one more volume before I wait to pick up the rest on sale.

Spiral 2

February 5, 2011

Kyo Shirodaira / Eia Mizuno – Yen Press – 2008 – 15 volumes

Ooh, second volume moves from being more Case Closed-esque (with Ayumu wandering into crime scenes and solving difficult problems like locked room crimes) to being about Ayumu and the “Blade Children” playing mind games with him. Either way, I love the little problems that Ayumu conquers again and again.

The plot deepens, as I was hoping it would. There’s not a whole lot of new information on just what the “Blade Children” are, but two of them begin playing an active role in the plot here, and neither are very nice people. They also are both targeting Ayumu, making him solve life-threatening puzzles while dangling information about his missing brother in front of him.

Ayumu’s “assistant” Hiyono continues to play a part. Normally I dislike characters like her (she’s a bit clingy and comes off as a little empty-headed), but she’s awesome. She continues to be a mysterious source of important information for Ayumu, and while she plays at being empty-headed, she really knows what’s what. She’s an interesting person to keep around, and I also like that, so far, there has been no overt and awkward romance between she and Ayumu. She also brings some much-needed levity to the story. Not too much, but she does brighten things up.

I can’t get over the crazy traps the Blade Children are setting up for Ayumu, though. That was the biggest draw for me. A room full of bees that unleash based on the results of a card game? A bomb under his seat that’s set up to give narrative with a talking turtle? This is some crazy stuff, and watching Ayumu work his way through the solutions has been pretty fun so far. Honestly, the Blade Children stuff isn’t striking me as terribly interesting so far, but if they continue to make elaborate plays at Ayumu’s life, I will be satisfied.

It’s not yet knock-your-socks-off amazing, but this is only volume two, and I think it might get there eventually. I have one more volume here, but it looks like I’ll probably soon be picking up the rest.

Spiral 1

January 8, 2011

Kyo Shirodaira / Eita Mizuno – Yen Press – 2007 – 15 volumes

I really, really liked Record of a Fallen Vampire, also by Kyo Shirodaira, so… you know. We also have this in English, and there’s no reason I shouldn’t read it. I think RoaFV has an advantage in that the twisty, winding story that repeatedly flips itself on its head also involves dark, brooding vampires and lots of inherent emo, but I still think he’s good at making a mystery and revealing key points at just the right time. So I dug into Spiral.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to be a straight-out mystery. Someone is murdered on the first page, and from that point on, prickly and somewhat apathetic (at first) Ayumu is saddled with finding the killer or winding up being accused of a crime he didn’t commit. The structure is very similar to Case Closed, where there is a crime, Ayumu gathers the details and figure things out, then there’s just a bit more poking around to encourage the reader to figure things out before Ayumu reveals the bad guy in grand style.

It is exactly like Case Closed, actually, except each mystery leads into another one that is slowly leading back to the disappearance of Ayumu’s brother two years ago. Ayumu’s brother was a brilliant detective on the police force, and I’m half expecting him to be an adult Shinichi Kudo. Ayumu is what Conan would be, attitude and all, had he not been shrunken down.

It seems unfair to compare it to Case Closed, the most popular mystery manga and one of the most popular manga of all time, but they really are similar, and not just in a “they’re both episodic mysteries with a schoolboy detective” way. Most mystery novels I read are more along the lines of the main character groping blindly through a series of clues before finally putting the pieces together, usually right before something terrible happens to them in the climax of the novel. Both Conan and Ayumu are geniuses who sleuthing just comes easy to. They don’t grope blindly for anything, they just pick things up at the crime scene and figure things out almost instantly. The reader often can’t make sense of what’s going on until it’s spelled out explicitly. And neither Conan nor Ayumu need to do research or use additional resources to find out the meaning of a clue. They just know. Format has a lot to do with that, since with a chapter a week, it would be boring to dwell on the same case for more than a couple months. And it seems like, with the structure of this series, it will move away from the episodic mysteries and more into an issue that will be central to the plot. The “blade children” and the disappearance of Ayumu’s brother seem like they will take center stage before too long, we just have to make it there first.

And to be fair, one difference in Spiral is Hiyono, a friend Ayumu picks up in the first chapter. She’s a bouncy, spirited girl who is editor of the school newspaper and has the frightening talent of picking up any and all gossip you could possibly want. Ayumu and she, after starting off on the wrong foot, form a team, and frequently Ayumu would’t be able to solve cases without the social insight Hiyono gathers on the people involved.

Comparing it to Case Closed isn’t an insult, either. I love that series, and this one works just as well as it does. It is well-written, and as far as I’m concerned, as long as the mysteries continue to be interesting and different enough in their own way, there’s no problem. I doubt it’s even really copying Case Closed, since this is also a valid approach to writing a mystery story, especially one told in a short format like this. I do wish I could compare Kindaichi Case Files to these, but I’ve never read it.

The characters do evolve through the course of even this graphic novel. Where at first Ayumu sees being a murder suspect as a major pain, he willfully involves himself in all the cases after that, possibly in order to find out what happened to his brother. And Hiyono mellows out, though she keeps her bouncy, pleasant edge. The other characters, including Ayumu’s older sister (?) and her partner on the police force, are still mostly just serving a role in the story, but I’m interested in seeing where they go from here.

So far, so good. I like a good mystery, and this looks like it’s going places before too long. After seeing how many good turns Shirodaira gave us in Record of a Fallen Vampire, I definitely have high hopes for this series.