DRAWN & QUARTERED
Accidental heroes tackle mysteries
It's tough being a girl sometimes.
It's especially tough when you're forced to face your fears by an uncaring, coldhearted male of the species -- who also happens to be your boss.
That's what happens to our intrepid heroines in two Japanese manga series: "Remote," by writer Seimaru Amagi and artist Tetsuya Koshiba, and "Ghost Hunt," by Shiho Inada. Added to their dilemma is that these are situations they were thrust into and can't really get out of -- but at the same time, they find themselves becoming more and more drawn into not only the dangerous work their jobs call for, but also the aforementioned heartless males.
In "Remote," young meter maid Kurumi Ayaki is about to quit the police force to marry her sweetheart, Shingo. But their financial plans fall through and Kurumi returns to the force. Her job this time is a complete turnaround from her old traffic duties: She's assigned to the Criminal Investigation Department, Unsolved Crimes Division, Special Unit A.
Kurumi's new boss is Inspector Kozaburo Himuro, and he has his own ways of running the unit that give it a notorious reputation within the force. Its headquarters is outside the police station, in an office that others have nicknamed "The Crypt." He puts Kurumi through some unexpected paces that test her skills and give her a taste of the danger she'll find herself in while working for the unit.
Himuro turns out to be a young man not much older than Kurumi. Unit A's office is a tiny room in the basement of his mansion -- an old house that is empty except for him and his longtime housekeeper. "I can't leave this room. Ever," Himuro tells the shocked policewoman.
And so Kurumi's job in Unit A is the legwork: questioning, examination, surveying crime scenes and often the actual arresting of suspects. She relays information to Himuro via cell phone as he huddles alone in the Crypt, puzzling things out on a whiteboard and searching for relevant data using his computer.
The series' sexy focus is what most people will immediately notice, with the ample-chested Kurumi and abundant nude scenes and up-skirt shots that, along with its graphic murder scenes, give "Remote" its "mature" rating.
"Remote" uses the classic "good cop, bad cop" pairing in bringing Kurumi and Kozaburo together. The genius inspector, through a childhood tragedy, is a hardened man intent only on the case and catching the suspect. Kurumi has the capacity for sympathy and, despite her constant protests about being sent into creepy places, is brave. They're both likable in spite of their hang-ups, and it's easy to see both their points of view when tackling a case.
As the series continues, Kozaburo softens while Kurumi becomes more confident in different situations, though it's still the inspector who actually solves the crimes. Shingo, meanwhile, worries that his fiancee's feelings for him might be changing as her respect for Kozaburo grows.
"Remote" isn't ideal for gumshoes eager to hone their detective skills, though it's possible to do a fair amount of solving with the clues given.
"GHOST HUNT," based on novels by Fuyumi Ono, introduces us to high school girl Mai Taniyama and three of her friends during a sort of seance. They're in the school's darkened audiovisual room during rainy weather, telling ghost stories in an attempt to draw out a spirit. At the end of the storytelling, the four girls slowly count off ... and an unknown voice announces there's now a fifth body in the room.
Rather than a ghost, the fifth person is handsome Kazuya Shibuya, the 17-year-old president of Shibuya Psychic Research, who has been hired by the school principal to investigate rumors of supernatural activity. The events have been taking place in an old building that's scheduled to be torn down, and students are saying that it's cursed.
Kazuya, who terms himself a ghost hunter and not a psychic, uses sophisticated recording equipment to detect spirits. Mai, not realizing what's going on and freaked out by the sudden appearance of Kazuya's assistant, accidentally breaks a camera and causes shelves to fall on the assistant, Lin. When he later tells her that the camera costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and she has the choice of either paying him back or filling in for his injured helper, guess which route Mai takes?
But the principal, now dubious of Kazuya's success because of the young man's age, calls in four other experts: Ayako Matsuzaki, a miko, or temple priestess; Takigawa Houshou, a monk from Hoya Mountain; John Brown, a Catholic exorcist from Australia; and Masako Hara, a famous psychic medium. The five of them, all extremely confident of their own abilities and believing no others capable of tackling the job, together with Mai reluctantly band together to investigate -- all the way to its crashing finale.
The first volume of "Ghost Hunt" is a disappointing beginning to what becomes a good series. Kazuya's use of scientific means to detect an otherwise unscientific phenomenon, and the high-and-mighty attitudes and bickering of the psychics that give them an air of fraud, cast a shadow of skepticism over supernatural events that seems like the author is attempting to debunk such occurrences. This is amplified by the first story's resolution, which is too mundane in one way and too fantastic in another.
If you're not put off by Volume 1, the following books explore true supernatural activity in potentially lethal cases, introducing the horror element that was missing for most of the first book. The investigators' abilities are pushed to their limit as the spirits get increasingly angry and destructive. Mai also exhibits slight powers, with visions that sometimes help the team get on track.
"Ghost Hunt" has a lot of metaphysical jargon, explanations and cultural references, and publisher Del Rey has provided translation notes at the end of each volume, in addition to a untranslated preview of the next book.