Friday, February 28, 2014

C.M.B. volume 21 review

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

C.M.B., vol. 21, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Aki attends her father's funeral.)

--- Here there be much spoilers. Warned, you have been. ---

Fuyuki-san no 1-nichi (A Day of Mr. Fuyuki, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
14 years ago, Aki Fuyuki is arguing with her father, Ichirou, over her decision to find a job in the U.S. Her claims are that the work environment is much harsher than it had been in his day. For the most part, Ichirou isn't disagreeing with her. Instead, he just asks her to pick some cards from a deck, and then tells her what cards those were. Present-day Tokyo - some of Ichirou's friends have noticed that he hasn't been following his regular routine during the last couple of days, and they get concerned enough to visit his house, where they discover his body in the backyard. The verdict is that he'd died of a heart attack while watering his garden. Aki shows up for the funeral, where the other mourners gossip about her having found a husband in the U.S. and starting a family there. Aki then goes to the Nanase sento (public baths) where her father had been a regular patron. She tells Tatsuki that a couple of years earlier, after her father had had his first heart attack, she'd been on the phone with him, trying to talk him into coming to the States and living with her there. He'd turned her down, saying that he had a secret here in Tokyo, and if she ever wanted to learn about it, she should visit the Nanase sento. Ichirou's friends overhear the conversation and volunteer to help her out by reconstructing her father's daily routine.

(In the garden.)

The group starts by discussing his breakfast at home, watering the garden, going to a shogi club (Japanese checkers, Ichirou was a lousy player), eating dinner at a ramen shop, taking a bath at the sento and then going home to sleep. They fail to uncover any kind of "mystery" and Aki is disgusted at wasting their time over someone that would lie to her and live such a hollow life. However, Tatsuki spots Shinra going in to the sento for a bath and asks Aki to buy him a bottle of fruit milk in order to get the boy's assistance. The next day, Shinra has Aki repeat Ichirou's routine, but this time Tatsuki actually serves her the breakfast her father normally ate (toasted fresh bread with margarine and marmalade). They go to the backyard, and when Aki waters the flowers, the leaves part to reveal several miniature figures that no one had known about before. For dinner, they stop at the ramen shop and Aki takes Ichirou's regular seat at a table facing the TV. In the middle of the meal, the broadcast switches to "QNN" news, and Aki realizes that he'd been following the events in the country she'd run off to. Shinra comments that sometimes, people are like butterflies. If all you see is the butterfly, you'd never suspect that it had come from a caterpillar. That is, you have to walk in someone's footsteps to really understand them. Satisfied, Aki, thanks Tatsuki before returning to America.

No science, just an explanation of the card trick at the beginning of the story.

(The Ashihara's want Shinra to assess their art collection.)

Kotei (The Bottom of a Lake, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
"Ashi" refers to reeds growning by the side of a lake. "Ashihara" is "reed field". The Ashihara family has a long and storied past, and the reeds in the area around their ancestral home were used for making window blinds, among other things. Now, the family controls a huge conglomerate, but the only direct descendents are two sisters, Saki and Ai. Being the eldest, Saki requires that Ai behave like proper gentry and marry someone from an equally powerful family. Initially, Ai had rebelled, insisting on dating a university folklore researcher named Enoki. But, Enoki had died in a boating accident a year before, and because Ai now is willing to accept Saki's choice of husbands, the family needs to compile a list of all their assets as part of the legal requirements for the marriage. Further, Saki wants Shinra to assess their art collection to put a price on it. Ai then brings out a small box with a carved stone, called a "kougyoku no magatama" (a comma-shaped piece of jadeite) as payment for "finding out the truth". She suggests that if they need to take a break, they seek out the talkative guy that gives boat rides nearby. After some hours of hard cataloging work, Shinra and Tatsuki do indeed need a rest. The boatman talks a lot, about the surrounding mountains, the reeds, and the drowning incident that claimed Enoki's life. The Ashihara estate is on the shores of Japan's biggest inland lake, Lake Biwa. Over the centuries, due to earthquakes, flooding, mudslides and the like, there are at least 100 known village ruins at the bottom of the lake. Recently, barrier walls have been constructed around some of the sites and the water pumped out, to allow for excavations of the remains. Statues and pottery dating from the Jomon to the Edo eras have been recovered so far. Ai met Enoki while she was at university and fell in love with him. As a gift, he gave her the magatama that he'd received from his professor. Unfortunately, Saki disapproved of Enoki as being unsufficently royal, so she dragged Ai to Tokyo to introduce her to "better husband material".

(Holes in the water.)

While they were away, Enoki was returning from his research when his boat suddenly sunk. Since he'd grown up in Tokyo, he'd never learned to swim, and his drowned body was found the next day. Ai claimed he was murdered, but the police ruled it an accident. When Saki learns that Shinra is investigating the drowning, she insists that the boy leave the estate immediately. However, he has one question that he wants answered first. On the day the two sisters had gone to Tokyo, if Saki really wanted Ai to find the "right husband", why didn't she force Ai to stay there, rather than the two of them coming back to Biwa on the same train? If Ai couldn't leave Tokyo, her engagement to Enoki would have been annulled and there'd be no problem from him anymore. The only answer is that Saki already knew that Enoki was dead, so it didn't matter where Ai went. When the boat had been found, there was a nail sticking out of the prow. In the lake, there still is a concrete block attached to a chain and some pieces of sheet rubber. Shinra speculates that a weather balloon had been inflated in the river and submerged just below the surface. When the nail punctured the balloon, the resulting hole in the water caused the boat to sink, and Enoki (who never wore a lifejacket) to drown. Shinra and Tatsuki return to Tokyo, and a story breaks saying that the Ashihara estate is being investigated for tax evasion. Shinra says this is all part of Ai's plan: She'd agreed to Saki's engagement proposal in order to gain access to the family's financial records prior to writing the prenup contract. Once she'd confirmed that her boyfriend had been murdered, she took the records to the authorities to get her revenge against her family.

No science, but some history on the ruins around Lake Biwa, and a discussion of how the shape of the lake has changed over time.

(Mao is so cute when she's angry. Inside the Cloud family mansion study.)

Erufu no Tobira (Elf Door, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
The story starts out 11 years ago, when Mao was celebrating her birthday with a big party with her parents. They tell her that since she always rejects the things they buy her, her mother had designed her latest present and her father had built it himself. It's an elf door. Mau puts it in front of the opening of a hollow tree and uses it to pretend that her dolls can return to fairy land when she's not playing with them. Things then flip back and forth between the present, where the adult blackmarket broker Mao is asking Shinra to appraise a Mesopotamian pottery representing a character from the Gilgamesh myth. Shinra refuses to help her, believing that the artifact is stolen. Mao kicks him and Tatsuki out of her office, so they decide to follow her in a taxi as she visits various cake shops, and takes a ferry cruise of Tokyo bay. Eventually, Shinra realizes that Mao has been staring at the warehouses on the other side of the bay, and he figures that given the phonecall she'd taken when he first arrived, that she's preparing for a big shipment of stolen goods to arrive soon. That night, a cargo ship does make a port of call, and a bunch of suspicious guys surround the ship prior to quietly unloading the cargo. The police, accompanied by Shinra, raid the docks and round up all the smugglers.

(Mao, Queen of Elfland.)

In the flashbacks, we learn that Mao's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cloud, were very well-to-do, and loved to collect ancient and modern art. The broker they used was a guy named Mon Batta (Butter?) Mon would bring various items to parties being held at the Cloud estate and auction them off to the guests. At one point, one of the items was a white jaguar statue that Mon claimed had been made by the Olmec. Mao had pushed it off the table, shattering it, saying that it's a fake. Mon does some fast talking and the Clouds send their daughter to her room. She goes to their library, where she's surrounded by books on history and art. She tells one of her dolls that the adults are all stupid. The Olmec worshiped jaguars as being sacred, and would only use green stone, like jade, for the statues, never white limestone. The doll suggests that she study really hard and when she becomes an adult, she can get her revenge. So, when the police identify the leader of the smugglers, it turns out to be Mon Batta, a dealer in fake antiques with a history of defrauding wealthy families. At the end, Mao's assistant asks if it was really wise to manipulate Shinra this way, since he may refuse to work with them again. She says that sending him some free cake will smooth over any ruffled feathers. She's then reminded that her mother's birthday is today. She arranges to have a present sent out, but decides against meeting her parents this time. The chapter wraps up with one of her dolls inviting her to enter through the elf door and become the queen of the elves.

No science, just a look at how rich people get talked out of their money by con artists.

(Shinra talks about the history of the Knights of Malta.)

Baretta no Shokudai (Vallette's Candlestick, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
Marte is a big, older guy that likes to practice with a wooden sword, living in Malta. He hits a neighborhood kid in the head with the weapon and ends up getting arrested. While in custody, he tells the lawyer that he's one of the Knights of Malta, and not subject to local law. In investigating his claim authorities realize that his land is part of a historical grant dating back to the original knights, and that he may possess a solid gold candlestick holder rumored to have belonged to the famed leader of the Knights, Jean Parisot de Vallette. This opens up a huge can of diplomatic worms, if the candlestick is authentic. Spain, France, Germany, England and Malta all lay claim to it, and this could turn into a war if Shinra refuses to step in and mediate. The government of Malta makes the request and Shinra agrees. There is a complication, though. Marte is living with his granddaughter, Cynthia, now. Cynthia's parents live in Germany, but it was learned that Marte has cancer, and Cynthia rushed to be by his side in case he becomes ill. On the day of the incident, she says that the neighborhood kid had tried attacking Marte from behind, and then complained to the police after getting his butt kicked. Cynthia is afraid that if Shinra rules that the candlestick belongs to Malta that they'll seize the family's land and her grandfather will become homeless.

(Marte faces a real Knight Hospitaller.)

In the proceedings, Shinra announces that neither Spain nor Germany have a claim to the candlestick since Malta never belonged to either country. France has something of a claim, but since Malta belonged to France for only about 6 months, and to England for about 150 years, that the candlestick goes to the English ambassador. Now, during all of this, Shinra has been telling Tatsuki about how Malta was founded, and the history of the Knights Hospitaller. One of the beliefs held by the Knights is that if they fall in battle, they'll join God for eternity. Shinra suddenly realizes that the reason Marte had revealed the existence of the candlestick is that he's looking for a worthwhile foe to best him before he succumbs to cancer. Shinra and Cynthia take a boat to the mouth of a cave, where they arrive just in time to see the English diplomat trying to obtain the gold candlestick, but instead is getting attacked by Marte wielding a heavy sword. Then, a figure steps forward wearing the armor of the Knights, and it manages to shatter Marte's blade. As the figure picks up the broken sword, everyone hears a deep voice, presumably that of Vallette, telling the old man that he has conducted his service admirably and that he can now live out his years without worry about getting to the afterlife. The next day, Shinra and Tatsuki are at the airport to return to Tokyo. He asks her if she'd been the one giving the speech, and she answers that if she'd opened her mouth everyone would have figured out that a girl was inside the armor. Shinra shrugs, saying he must have been imagining things. Then he looks at the silver coin that Cynthia gave him as thanks for saving her grandfather, adding that by Malta law, only citizens of Malta are normally allowed to possess this particular type of coinage.

Lots of history about Malta, Vallette and the Knights.

Comments: Ok, this is going to be an easy call. If you like C.M.B., then you're going to want this volume specifically to watch Mao playing in the garden with her dolls. Everything else is secondary. However, I had no idea that there were so many ruins in and around Lake Biwa. I'm hoping that on some upcoming long holiday that I can manage to go visit the area for a few days. Recommended.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


One weekend, one of the car companies had their new models out on display in the plaza in front of Amupla. And, what is a car show without a balloon guy in a balloon power suit?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Funny Stuff

Over the last couple of years, I've been relatively lucky in terms of winning stuff, and getting my name mentioned in the funnies.

Doc Rat:

Doc Rat is an anthropomorphic comic that runs in Australia about a rat in a medical clinic, and the animal patients that he treats. Jenner himself is a general physician who draws on the side. He holds a caption contest 3-4 times a year, and the winner gets his caption added to the cartoon and receives the finished original artwork. I won once 18 months ago, and I'm told that I won a second time for the Fall contest, but I'm still waiting for him to mail the artwork out.

The GoComics website hosts several hundred webcomics, and they have occasional contests to give away stuff related to those comics, such as signed prints, crossword puzzles and desk calendars. I've won 5 times now. Unfortunately, I never got one of the items, which was apparently lost in the mail. The First Kiss/Cathy package contest just closed and it may get mailed out soon.

Skin Horse - A signed print of the Skin Horse characters

Matt Bors - A signed print of a Matt Bors editorial cartoon

Non Sequitur - A 365-day calendar (apparently lost in the mail)
Zombies Hate Stuff - Monthly calendar
First Kiss/Cathy - A signed First Kiss print, and a copy of a Cathy comic


Hubris is a webcomic about a very enthusiastic guy with no commonsense who runs an outdoors gear shop. Last year, the strip ran a long story arc about a 3-day outdoor sports fest, and a number of the regular readers sent in photos to have their likenesses used on Team Us. So, I made a couple of cameo appearances during the rock climbing contest (that's me in panels 2 and 3).

Lost Side of Suburbia:

This is an illustrated web story drawn by Kory Merritt, a highly-talented art teacher, with ghost stories based on tales he heard around the campfire during elementary school camping trips. Occasionally he'll work the GoComics account names of his readers into the panels in various ways. Since my account name is Three Steps Over Japan, Kory put "3 Steps Over Japan Speaks" on a fortunetelling machine in an amusement park in one of his recent stories.

Zippy the Pinhead:
I've already wrote too much about this.

Otona no Kagaku:

The "Adult Science" line of science kits put out by the publisher Gakken, was celebrating its 10th anniversary a year and a half ago by featuring pictures of the modifications some of the readers had made to their kits. One of my photos was used in that article, for adding a white LED and a DC power pack to the reflective paper film camera (middle photo) (in Japanese, my name is spelled カーチス・ホフマン).

Monday, February 24, 2014

Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Review

Back in the early 90's, I got a job at a small game company in Japan doing localization for imported video games from Australia and Germany. At the time, the main system was still the Super Famicom (SNES), although it was going to be replaced by the Sega and Play Station systems pretty soon. At the time, some of the other guys were playing the original Legend of Zelda, and they showed me a bit of the game play. A few years later, in the U.S., someone else found a Gameboy cartridge in a parking lot somewhere and gave it to me - it was the Gameboy port for Legend of Zelda. I didn't have a player then, so I went out to buy one used specifically to play that game. Unfortunately, while I did manage to finish LoZ, which I enjoyed, BTW, I somehow succeeded in leaving the Gameboy itself in a seat pocket on an airplane during a business trip and the airline never returned it to me. Anyway, I had a Playstation 2, and I was happy just playing PS2 games from that point. Last year, I decided to get another handheld, and I chose a used Gameboy DS, and I bought Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass as well. So, yes, I do have some level of nostalgia when it comes to Zelda.

A few weeks ago, when I was looking through the 1,000 yen bin ($10 USD) at Bic Camera, I discovered Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks in with everything else. Spirit Tracks is essentially a sequel to Hourglass, with one of the shopkeepers, Linebeck III, being the descendent of your Hourglass ship captain, Linebeck the First. However, instead of Linebeck being your main companion on your travels, you're accompanied by Zelda herself. And rather than getting around by boat, this time the primary form of transportation is a steam train.

(In one of the villages.)

The story starts out with you meeting Princess Zelda in the castle, along with her uppity adviser. Pretty soon, the adviser reveals himself to be a demon, and he steals Zelda's body to use it as a vessel for summoning the demon king, Malladus. At the same time, all of the train tracks disappear. It's your job as Link to return the tracks, defeat Malladus and save Zelda. The fun part is that Zelda's spirit form can go where you go, and possess Phantom armors in aiding you to solve some of the dungeon puzzles. It's pretty funny watching a big, almost invulnerable armor cringe at the sight of mice. There are 5 primary dungeons, plus the Spirit Tower, that have to be cleaned out before you can get initial access to the final boss battle (in Hourglass, you fought ship vs ship, now it's train vs train). After that, there's well over 20 side quests available to help power up further. One difference is that while in Hourglass you could fairly easily get the parts to make several different boat bodies (with the Golden Boat having the most hearts), with Tracks you're finding pieces of treasure throughout the game that can be converted to the various train cars (4 cars total: Engine, cannon, passenger car and flatbed). Locating the super rare treasures needed to make the Golden Train is incredibly time consuming and not especially enjoyable. The final boss can be beaten with any of the other train types (all four cars of the same type, i.e. - iron, dragon, dessert), but you'll only have 6 hearts at best, compared to 8 hearts for the Golden Train.

(Iron train, but since only 3 of the cars are Iron, you only get 5 hearts.)

For me, the real fun in the Zelda games is in getting each of the tool/weapons (bow, boomerang, bombs) and solving the puzzles with them. I really dislike the mini-games where you have to finish a race course on ice within a few seconds, or shoot at moving targets. That's not what I want to spend my time on, and unfortunately, these kinds of mini-games show up a lot in Tracks and you need to best them if you want extra heart containers or the super-rare treasures needed for the Golden train set. I'm still short of finishing all the side quests, although I may be able to do that with about 16 more hours of game play. And that's the thing - getting around on the map with the train is very slow. It kills the momentum of the game, even if you use the shortcuts. Many of the side quests involve hauling passengers or freight from one town to another, and if you don't do it exactly right, you either lose the freight or anger the passenger, and you have to try it all over again. So, I'm skipping anything that doesn't directly help me beat the final boss. Therefore, yes, I'm not going to have all 16 heart containers. I'm not that much of a compulsive completist. (Although I did end up getting all sword attack types, and all of the cars for each of the train sets, including the Golden Train.)

(The kind of puzzle we expect from a Zelda game.)

I do like the artwork, the music and many of the puzzles. And, Zelda is one of the only games I've see so far that takes advantage of many of the Gameboy DS's features, like being able to draw on the maps, use the stylus for entering patterns for opening doors, and even employing the microphone. This last one is both fun and infuriating. One of the tools you get is a windfan. You point the fan in some direction and then blow into the microphone to make whirlwinds to take out enemies (fun) or push you around on the water. Additionally, you get a pan pipe, where you blow into the mike to play different notes on the pipe. These notes can either be for "casting spells" (healing or summoning birds) or for playing interactive duets with some of the other characters. The infuriating part comes in when you have to do a duet to progress further in the game, and it keeps telling you that your rhythm or notes are wrong. If I were a regular flute player, maybe this part of the game wouldn't be so hard.

Bottom line is that if you like Zelda, you've probably already played Spirit Tracks and you know what I'm talking about. But, I waited to get it used, and now that it's cheaper, I do want to finish it off. If you haven't played ST, then I suggest trying Phantom Hourglass first. If you like that, then give Spirit Tracks a go, but only if you can find a discounted copy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Kitaro DVD Review, vol. 20

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

Gegege no Kitaro Magazine DVD Series, volume 20

(Original Art: Sara Kozo)

Features Present:
Where's Yamada (some background shots)
Kitaro Goods (piggy bank, pocket puzzles, plastic seal)
History of Gegege no Kitaro, #19
Mizuki Collection (a short "Mizuki Weekly Diary" series from Shonen Magajin)

Features Missing:
Fold-out posters
Interviews or special video sections
Featured supporting youkai page

(Original Art: Amamehagi)

TV Episodes:

#34: Sarakozo (Plate Boy, 08/25/68)
#35: Komayokai (Spinning Top Monster, 09/01/68)
#36: Daiyamondo Youkai (Diamond Monster, 09/08/68)
#37: Te no Me (Eyes in the Hands, 09/15/68)

One comment about episode #34 - there's a rock band that shows up as a parody of the Beatles, called The Binbows (binbou translates to "someone with no money".)

(Original Art: Wanyuudou)

New Yokai Pages:

Sarakozou (Plate Boy)
Amamehagi (a kind of mountain ogre)
Wanyuudou (Burning Oxcart Wheel)
Tenome (Eye Hands)

Sara Kozou: The literal translation is "plate boy". In fact, he is a variation on the Japanese creature, the kappa. A kappa is kind of a humanoid frog with a bird's beak, and a depression at the top of its head which is filled with water. If the water spills out, the kappa will die. Generally, kappa are malevolent, so you do want to avoid them if possible. The difference here, with Sara Kozo, is that he doesn't have the bird beak. Regardless, the "plate" refers to the depression that holds the water.

Amame Hagi: A variation on the mountain-dwelling ogres that wear a straw cloak, found in Ishikawa prefecture.

Wanyuudou: A yokai that figures kind of heavily in Japanese folklore as a guardian to the gates of hell. He's usually depicted as a head inside a flaming oxcart wheel. He's a major supporting character in the Hell Girl anime.

Tenome: Literally, "Hand Eyes", he dates back to the 1770's, from a book series called "The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons".

(Original Art: Tenome)

Original Art Pages:


(Back Cover: Where's Yamada and the Kitaro Goods)

I've finally had a chance to catch up somewhat on my backlog of Kitaro DVDs, and am now up to vol. 19. One thing that I've discovered along the way is that the closing theme song changes with episode 27, "Odoro Odoro". From ep. 1 to 26, it's been "Karan Karon" (The Geta song). For #27 and #28, it's "Kitaro Nai Nai Ontou" ("I have nothing"), sung by Kazuo Kumakura, who also sings the opening "Gegege no Kitaro".

Saturday, February 22, 2014

C.M.B. volume 20 review

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

C.M.B., vol. 20, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

----- Spoilers -----

There are four short stories this time, and I may or may not choose to give away the endings. You have been warned. However, in this volume, we get the appearance of Shinra's third, and final, adoptive father, Morris Rand (or Land). So you may want to scroll down to the bottom of the blog entry for that.

(Even dinosaurs like Christmas.)

12-gatsu 27-nichi (December 27, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
It's December 27th, and Shinra's class is having a "Discontinued Christmas" party at the museum. Everyone's having fun and enjoying the stuffed turkey and mountain of Christmas cakes when it comes time to give each other presents. One of the guests, Akihiko Hachigoume, goes to his bag and then complains that his treasure is missing. He demands that whoever took it return it immediately, but none of the other guests know what he's talking about. The story then flashes back 2 weeks, when the class had just finished up a pre-exam study session. Because they'll be busy with tests, they're going to miss Christmas. To make up for it, and take advantage of all the bakeries that will be discounting Christmas cakes after the holiday is over, they decide to have a "discount/discontinued" party on the 27th. Meanwhile, in the Wondervogel Club room, Akihiko is pestering his clubmate, Yuka Nobe about the love letter he'd asked her to deliver to one of the other girls in the school, Risa Fukuyama. Risa's not interested in Akihiko, and she feels imposed upon in having to reply back. Yuka's not happy to be the go-between here, either. As Yuka is trying to explain the situation, she bumps a box, causing a lumpy rock to fall out. Akihiko tells her to be careful with that - it's his treasure, a fusulinida (calcite fossil) that he'd found on a school field trip a long time ago. Akihiko switches between being fixated on the fossil, and talking Yuka into delivering the next letter to Risa, while Yuka unsuccessfully tries to get him to help her prepare for an upcoming trip for a group climb of Mt. Fuji. On getting the latest rejection letter from Risa, Akihiko realizes that it would be better to talk to Risa in person, and when he learns that she'll be at Shinra's party, he decides to go too, and give her the fossil as a present.

(Some people pick up on clues slower than others.)

A little later, Shinra, Tatsuki and a friend are at the Goth+ Burger shop, where Yuka works part-time. She recognizes her customers and asks for help in dealing with Akihiko. Tatsuki notices that she's kind of flustered, and Yuka admits that she likes the guy herself. Shinra agrees to come up with a plan, but it's going to require Yuka's cooperation. Fast-forward to the party. As Akihiko demands to know who took his treasure, Tatsuki points out a shattered rock on the floor near the table. Seems that someone really hates him for some reason, and when Shinra asks who that could be, Akihiro accuses Risa of doing it since she detests him because of the love letters. Then, Shinra, who is dressed as Santa, asks if he'd noticed that Santa has two reindeer - the second reindeer takes off its fake head to reveal Yuka, with the intact fossil. Now that Akihiko can't bother Risa anymore, Shinra takes the fossil, saying that Akihiko is better off finding a new treasure. Later, Akihiko and Yuka are on their group climb, with the boy whining about whether there will be any volcanic rocks at the top of Fuji. Yuka suggests that that's a really good possibility.

No science, outside of a brief mention of the fusulinida.

(Shousuke has a heart-to-heart with Tobio over the company's money problems.)

Tenraku (Downfall, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
Tatsuki's grandfather has accepted an invitation to stay at the onsen (hot spring spa) resort run by an old friend, and he brings Shinra and Tatsuki with. Also at the spa is Shousuke Egashira, president of a company that makes apps for cell phones, and the rest of his staff. There's a big trade show coming up, and Shousuke has been egging his people to come up with products to demonstrate at the show to get the company out of the red. Unfortunately, his accountant, Tobio Tegata, wants to publicly announce that the company is bankrupt, which of course would mean that investors would avoid them and they'd go belly up. Although Shousuke verbally threatens Tobio to remain silent until they can get some contracts signed, the other man remains obstinate. So, at the resort, Shousuke starts acting really abusive and pressures Tobio into drinking more beer than he wants. The two go to the hot spring, which is abandoned now because no one wants to be near Egashira, and the company president then pushes his accountant down a flight of stone steps, killing him. Shousuke then sets up a projector to display Tobio's head on the steam clouds to make it look like he's in the hot spring, while playing back a recording of the two of them talking and laughing.

("To us! And may we make enough money to go somewhere better next year than this here rat hole.")

Shousuke returns to the dining room, and after a few minutes, sends two of his office ladies to check on the missing guy. The women discover the body at the bottom of the stairs and scream. The police arrive, and it looks like Tobio had gotten too intoxicated, spent too much time in the spa, and then blacked out at the top of the stairs before falling backward. Shousuke comments that because this resort is so old and run down, it was inevitable that someone would slip on the crumbling steps. Since, Shinra, Tatsuki and her grandfather like the resort's owner, they're getting very angry at the abuse she's receiving. Shinra decides to unmask the killer in Columbo style. Questions: What clues did Egashira overlook, and how do they give him away?

No science or history.

(Spooky stuff happens as Shinra sleeps at a haunted shrine.)

Mokuhen (A Piece of Wood, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).
In the museum, Tatsuki has noticed a partly-carved hunk of wood in an unmarked glass case and she asks about it. Shinra replies that he'd been helping a folklore teacher clean out a storeroom, and as payment he'd been allowed to take any carving that he liked. This hunk of wood seemed out of place with all of the other dolls and masks, and he grabbed it without thinking. A few minutes later, a high school girl, Airi Kino (her last name means "wood field") walks into the museum and puts a log on the table, challenging Shinra to unravel the puzzle it represents. It's supposed to be haunted, and the reward would be a "treasure" from her grandfather. Confused, but tempted, Shinra accompanies Airi out to a shrine in the countryside. To observe the mystery for himself, he's supposed to sleep in the main shrine room where the log had been stored for many years. A few minutes seem to go by, when Airi returns and tells him to come outside with her. They walk several yards, past a white line of rocks. Airi picks this moment to "remember" to give the boy her warning - by crossing the rocks he's become trapped in a dream world. His body is still in the shrine, and his spirit has to solve the puzzle before he shrivels away and dies. Then Shinra is transported to a small village in the old Edo era, where a talented woodcarver, Mokuhen ("Woodblock") is putting the finishing touches on a wood statue of Buddha. While the villagers can only afford to give him a raddish or rice ball in return, when a group of Samurai arrive to commission their own statue, he charges them 50 gold pieces. While most of the group is offended, the leader agrees to these terms and promises to come back later.

(Mokuhen working on a statue in the street.)

Mokuhen claims to be able to do 2 or 3 statues a day, bringing out the main features of the wood in each abandoned log that he finds lying on the ground outside the village. Then, a monk comes by and asks if Mokuhen is familiar with Ryuukei, a famed sculptor living in Edo (Tokyo). The monk suggests that Mokuhen travel to Edo to study Ryuukei's technique. That night, in an inn, Mokuhen is drinking with the other villagers and talking about going on a little trip soon. The craftsman that makes carving tools says that Mokuhen should reconsider. He's heard rumors and he doesn't like what he's heard. Mainly, Ryuukei has a school where he teaches his students to visualize the Buddha dwelling within a piece of wood before starting to bring it out in statue form. After completing his masterpiece, Ryuukei's top student suddenly threw away his tools and refused to ever carve again. At this point, Shinra leaves the inn and goes out to the street where a giant image of Airi asks him if he's solved the puzzle yet. Shinra answers that the solution doesn't exist here, so the girl pulls out a dagger and cuts the air to take the boy to her grandfather. In a different building, Shinra meets someone who he surmises is Ryuukei. The old man says that he'd learned about Mokuhen from a traveler and had gone on the road with his granddaughter to visit the village. But, along the way they discovered that Mokuhen had fallen off a cliff and died on the ground below, while still holding a log in his hands. Ryuukei took the log and had it placed in the shrine out of respect, but he can't shake the feeling that there's something special about it, and he's obsessed over what might have happened if Mokuhen had lived long enough to work on it.

Shinra answers that the real puzzle is in why Ryuukei's top student suddenly gave up on carving, something that the old man himself never figured out. The problem is that by visualizing the perfect Buddha within the piece of wood, the student artist discovered that what he made never turned out as well as what he wanted to achieve. No one else could see anything wrong with the finished statues, but the student knew, and that sense of failure finally did him in. Satisfied with this solution, Ryuukei lets Shinra return to his body. The next day, Tatsuki tries to get him to explain why they're taking the partly-carved log out to a cemetery to be dedicated to Mokuhen no Haka ("Mokuhen's Grave"). As Shinra prays, he says "Take this and do what you want with it." In the final panel, Mokuhen is preparing to do another carving, using that log.

No science, just a story featuring the historical figure Shimizu Ryukei.

(Morris notices Durer's woodblock print.)

Sai no Zu (Durer's Rhinoceros, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2012).

The story starts out with three men in Utrecht, Holland. Dek Green is the current president of Green Pharmaceuticals. His father, the founder of the company, had amassed a huge personal collection of natural history artifacts during his life. Dek has no interest in the stuff himself and wants all this "trash" assessed so that he can sell it off to use the money to prop up the failing business. At this point, someone throws a sword at Dek, embedding it in a stone pillar. Dek demands to know why the guy did this, and the current head of the National Museum, Morris Rand, says that he was asked to. Dek says,"Who would do that?" and Morris replies, "Your father". Then, when Dek runs away, Morris and his assistant, Jeeno White, start looking at the collection. Morris immediately gravitates to a woodblock of a rhinoceros by the famed German artist, Albrecht Durer. One week goes by, and Shinra receives a request to come to Holland. He and Tatsuki meet with Jeeno, and are taken to the prison cell where Morris is being held. In the cell, Shinra's third adoptive father is doing yoga on a chair. The boy asks what's going on and Morris says, "That's what you're here to figure out". Tatsuki jumps in, demanding an answer to her friend's question, and when Morris learns who she is, he apologizes for his rudeness, thanks her for taking care of the boy for him, and wraps up with "that's all". Knowing that they won't get any further this way, Shinra leaves to do some thinking. Jeeno explains that his boss only says as little as he believes is necessary and it's up to everyone else to connect the dots. Once, when he had just started in his job, he and Morris had been in the woods on a study trip. Jeeno had touched a leaf and asked what tree it was from. The other man just replied "Steroids". Later, Jeeno learned that the plant was used for making laquer, was toxic, and having already come into contact with the oils, the only treatment for the resulting rash was to receive steroid shots. Shinra adds that once, his mother had been working on restoring an Italian fresco and she'd asked Morris to join him. The guy requested a hammer and proceeded to destroy the fresco. Thus revealing an authentic Michelangelo masterpiece underneath. But, because he'd started smashing away without explaining himself, Shinra's mother punched him in the face.

(Shinra figures out the puzzle.)

The boy starts investigating. It seems that one night, Morris had put the Durer print in a locked cabinet, and he and the other staff had left the storeroom for the evening. The next day, the print was missing. The police couldn't find it, and then Morris suddenly confessed to the crime before asking for Shinra to come rescue him. Other than Morris Rand himself, there are three suspects with opportunity: Jeeno, Bren Keating, and Linus Bernar (or Berner, or Bernard). Bren is the lead researcher at the Dutch National Museum and would be the head there if Morris hadn't taken the job away from him. Linus is a part-timer with a bad gambling habit. Jeeno doesn't have motive, but he was in the room that had the cabinet with the print locked in it. Bren has motive, but he says he'd never do anything that would tarnish the name of the national museum. Linus has a massive gambling debt and has suddenly come into money, but he claims that Durer made many copies of that rhinoceros woodblock print, and that enough of those still exist to keep the missing print from having much of a resale value on the blackmarket. Shinra tells Tatsuki that Morris has a reason for confessing and then not explaining himself, and it's Shinra's task to figure out what that is. While standing in front of the cabinet, the boy notices a terrarium holding some caterpillars, and he yells out that he knows what happened.

With the main characters gathered in the storeroom office, Shinra points out that the caterpillars, which belong to Bren, are Japanese oak silkmoths. Long ago, fishermen would take the coarse silk threads the caterpillars produced and soak them in vinegar to create fishing lines. Bren has been making these lines as part of his research. The thief had taped the ends of one line to the outside of the cabinet, so when Morris put the folder with the print away for the night, the thief could easily pull it back out through the gap at the top of the drawer with the now-looped thread (which is as strong as nylon line). The reason Morris had confessed and then stayed locked up was that he feared that the thief would burn the evidence if the police got too close to him. And, none of the suspects had acted suspiciously that evening because the thief had slipped the folder back into the cabinet through the gap at the bottom of the wooden drawer. Shinra pulls the drawer out to show the folder sitting on the thin wooden slat the drawer rests on. He asks Bren what possible reason there would be for stealing a print like this (other than for getting revenge on Morris), and the man replies, "the insurance money". This last piece of information indicates that Dek Green had conspired with an accomplice to make it look like the print was stolen to collect on the insurance, and the only one in a position to be that accomplice is Linus. Since his fingerprints are on the folder (and Morris was the only other one to handle it) Linus collapses and confesses. Afterward, as Shinra and Tatsuki are returning to the airport, he mentions that there's one thing he still doesn't understand. While he had been the one asked to solve the crime partly because he's so young and that would put the thief off-balance and reduce the odds of the print being destroyed in a panic, Jeeno could have solved the crime just as easily. So, why did Morris specifically ask for him for help? Tatsuki suddenly yells out, "Of course, Morris just wanted an excuse to see you again".

The history revolves around Durer and the printing of the rhino woodblock picture. Durer was a great artist, but he'd never seen a rhino himself; he just made pictures of it based on third-hand reports.

(Back cover.)

Comments: Lots of fluff stories this time. The one murder mystery is a Columbo-style "we know who did it, how does he get caught" story, but minus all of the tension that Peter Falk brought to the show. December 27 is just silly, while A Piece of Wood is the kind of supernatural tale that Motohiro claims can't happen in real life. Regardless, the artwork is good in all 4 stories, and especially so in Durer's Rhinoceros. I like Durer's prints, and I enjoyed seeing him show up here. But, there's one specific scene where Motohiro copy-pastes the entire panel and just moves the word balloons around to hide the fact that he's recycling himself. He does that occasionally, especially with certain crowd scenes that involve people on juries or in a courtroom audience (such as in The Arrested President Affair). On the other hand, if you like C.M.B., then you'll want this volume for the introduction of Morris Rand. Recommended.

I do want to mention something about Downfall. One of my complaints about certain kinds of mystery stories is that they ignore "collateral damage". The cell phone app company is running out of money, but the development of new apps would save it and return it to the black. The accountant's insistence on announcing their insolvency would cost everyone else their jobs. But, the accountant decides to stick to "principle", which would protect the big banks from possibly losing their investment capital, so the president kills him to protect his own company. Now, we do get one small cut scene where the president offers to buy his young daughter an expensive violin to use at school, implying that the reason the company is running out of money is that the president has spending it all on himself. So, this gives us justification for Shinra unmasking the killer. The problem now is that when the news gets out about the insolvency issues, the current investors will seize the company to carve up the assets, and the workers will lose their jobs and all back-salary that they are due. The thing is that Motohiro just focuses on the president's "villainy" and Shinra's "pure-hearted" pursuit of the truth, with no thought of how this is going to impact everyone else. In part, Shinra is outraged by how the president's comments about the rundown onsen hurts the feelings of the onsen owner, but he's completely oblivious to the greater impact on the 20-30 people he's going to kick out onto the streets. I find this "ignoring the collateral damage" very unsatisfying in these kinds of stories.

Friday, February 21, 2014

C.M.B. volume 19 review

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

C.M.B., vol. 19, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Ishidera asks Ryou, "Who do you really love?" Ryou answers, "You".)

Ginza Mugentei no Shujin (Master of Ginza Mugen-tei, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2011).
Three stories this time. This one starts out with Ichirou Ishidera, a Lower House Diet member, in the Diet complaining about overtly sexual materials being used in manga aimed at the youth audience (a reference to the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths, driven by then-Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara). After grandstanding for a while, Ishidera hops in his limo and drives home to meet with Shinra regarding a somewhat-related matter. Initially Ishidera attempts to reneg on his agreed payment, but is eventually forced to show off a very realistic doll called "The Master of Mugen-tei". The job involves listening to the story surrounding the doll, then quietly investigating the answer to a specific question. The story: Back during the late 1950's, there was a bar/nightclub in Ginza, Mugen-tei, that was frequented by the top writers, poets and artists of the time. The star attraction was the captivatingly beautiful nightclub singer, Ryou. The only catch is that Ryou was a boy still in his teens, but that didn't matter to the club's guests. One night, there was a terrible rail accident where a train slammed into a fuel tanker that had run the no-crossing sign. Of all the passengers killed in the fire, Ryou's body was the only one not charred by the flames. After the funeral, the will was read, allowing all of the Mugen-tei's guests to select one of the gifts that they'd given him, none of which had been opened. The box that Ishidera claimed contained the doll in Ryou's likeness. The question: "Who did Ryou love?"

(Yajima spies Ryou crying over a music box.)

Whenever he was asked directly, "Ryou would answer "Only you"." Ishidera wants to know the real answer. In investigating, Shinra tracks down two men, Manabu Kirio, a former literary editor, and Shunji Yajima, a former novelist currently running the Mugen-tei coffee shop. Kirio adds little to the mystery, but constantly shows off the watch he got from Ryou. Shunji claims to not have received anything, but does relate an incident when he had seen Ryou looking at a music box and crying. Questions: What secret does the music box hold? Do the gifts the guests had received after the funeral mean something specific? Who did Ryou really love? Does Shinra get to keep the doll as payment?

No science, just a little history about creative types liking to hang out in certain bars in Ginza. In fact, one such place was Bar Lupin. And, yes, "Ishidera" succeeded in getting his "Healthy Youth" law passed in 2011. However, I'm not sure if the Mugen-tei story, or the doll, are based on anything in real life. I can't find "Mugen-tei" in a search.

(Ruka sees a burglary in progress.)

Yoru ni Dansu (Dance the Night Away, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2011).
Ruka Ichii is a third-year student at Tatsuki's school. She's practicing to be a dancer outside an office building one night. As she's taking a break, she sees an office worker carrying a bag through the lobby. He spies her, bolts, trips and spills stacks of 10,000 yen notes ($100 USD) on the floor. Ruka runs into the building after him; the guy is gone but he left one of the bills behind him. Ruka calls the police. A little later, as she's giving her report to one officer, she sees the building nightshift guard giving a DVD of surveillance footage to another cop. At the same time, some of her fans spot her and wonder what's going on. The case is handed to Kujirazaki, and he starts doubting Ruka's report. The nightguard claims to have seen nothing, but had heard the click of a door behind him at about 8 PM. The surveillance footage just shows an empty lobby at that time. And, a website designer that had been working nights in the building had been walking in the stairwell and had heard the clicking of a door at about the same time. Meanwhile, at the high school, Shinra and Tatsuki are helping with the preparations for an upcoming talent show. Ruka is part of the basketball team, but hasn't been showing up for practices because she'd rather focus on dancing. A couple of the girls try complaining about the "spoiled rich kid who gets everything she wants", but a third girl interrupts, saying that she'd overheard Ruka's parent-teacher meeting, where both adults were trying to talk Ruka into concentrating on a stable office career. A little later, Ruka sees Shinra trying to catch a dragonfly (a Lyriothemis pachygastra) and she easily plucks it out of the air. She wishes she could fly like it does, and the boy tells her that dragonflies don't have a choice, it's a fate that they're stuck with.

(The girl, the boy and the dragonfly.)

The next day, Det. Kujirazaki tries getting Ruka to come in for additional questioning, and all hell breaks loose. Her fans (some of the other boys are dancers that sometimes practice with her in front of the office building because it has a big reflective window and the lobby is empty at night) are afraid she's going to be arrested so they start claiming to have seen the same alleged thief. Her parents are terrified that she's lying to get attention and demand that she recant her story before her potential office career is destroyed. And the main investigating officer keeps telling her that her story isn't supported by the other witnesses and that she should return the money she stole from one of the businesses in the building ($16,000 USD had disappeared from a locked cash box on the evening in question). At the peak of the chaos, Ruka sees Shinra standing there, smiling, and she quietly refuses to back down. It's up to Shinra to uncover the truth. Questions: Ignoring any other tricks like reflections off a partly-open glass door, why does the surveillance not support Ruka's claims? Is there significance in the fact that both the guard and the website designer say that they heard the "click" of a door closing? Why don't the police find the office worker Ruka described?

No science, no history. Reasonable motive but the trick is kind of forced.

(Tatsuki takes pleasure in the simple things.)

Daitouryou Taiho Jiken (The Arrested President Affair, Monthly Shonen Magajin, 2011).
Ok, this is the story that people may want to buy this book for. It's the crossover to Q.E.D.'s Special Envoy for Balkia, from volume 41. Swami was the president of a small eastern European country named Balkia. Until he was overthown in a coup by Mantory, he had led a brutal genocide program against immigrants and minorities, which resulted in 30,000 dead, while at the same time funneling the country's wealth into the purchase of bags of blood diamonds. The diamonds were then hidden in statues sent to churches around Belgium. Following the coup, Swami fled the country, but was soon captured by Belgian police. The Belgian Prime Minister has presented Shinra with the fur of an extinct Japanese wolf in exchange for his representing Belgium in the world court in Hague over Balkia's attemts to have Swami extradited to face criminal charges back home. The Prime Minister is afraid that Swami's former military supporters will free him from jail and restore him to power in Balkia. Europol agent Bia Brust has been requested to act as Shinra's bodyguard. When Shinra visits Swami in the hotel room where he is under house arrest, the guy jokes about a game he used to play. In his prison, he'd find immigrants or minorites that were family members and give them each guns; the one to kill the other would go free. One time, it was a father and his son, and the father had ruined everything by shooting himself in the head. Shinra then vows that Swami will stay in Belgium and pay for his crimes in prison there. Unfortunately, when it comes time to meet the Balkian envoy, it turns out to be Sou Touma from Q.E.D., and Sou refuses to explain why he's on the "wrong" side. This just makes Shinra angrier and more determined to win his case in Hague.

(Swami and his trail of dead.)

Because Tatsuki has no idea what the World Court is, both Shinra and Brust have to spend several pages describing how cross-country disputes are handled. The key point in this story is that certain high-level functionaries, like Kings, Emperors and diplomats, are generally exempt from legal punishments. The exceptions are for war crimes, or cases where the detainee has been legally stripped of their office through impeachment proceedings. Paul, the older guy in Q.E.D. dispatched by Mantory to the Hague, is carrying a formal document declaring Swami impeached, but because Paul has disappeared, Belgium considers Swami to still be the current leader of the country and therefore untouchable by Balkian law. So, the case goes to World Court, where Brust, Sou and Shinra all present their arguments. Shinra keeps looking at Sou for support but doesn't get it. After the presentations, Kana forces Sou to at least say something to Shinra, so he asserts the fact that he's won, and that Swami is going back to Balkia. Therefore, Shinra should be concentrating on something that he alone can do. He adds a clue: when Paul had disappeared, he left a phone message mentioning "Kimberley" and "Mirny". Additionally, after Shinra had met with Swami the first time, one of his Balkian guards had said "If you want to capture a snake, you must remove its fangs".

(Shinra presents Belgium's case to the World Court.)

A few days later, Brust is in Swami's hotel room with several Belgian guards, preparing to have Swami and his cohorts transported to their next location. Then, Brust announces that the Court has ruled in Touma's favor so Swami is to be deported to Balkia. The guy laughs, sure that he's back on track to being restored to power by his supporters. Shinra mentions Paul's clue, saying that it refers to two diamond mines, one in Africa and the other in Russia. At one time, they were in the same place when all of the continents were one super-continent - Gondwana. Through continental drift, they separated. This hints that Swami had dispersed his blood diamonds across Belgium, where the city of Antwerp is the diamond trade hub of the world. This makes it easier to launder the diamonds and convert them to cash. Since Europol knows where to start looking, it's just a matter of time before they get confiscated. Also, Paul has finally surfaced and Swami is now officially impeached. However, with this news, the Belgian forces have been recalled, leaving Brust to be the only one armed with a gun to escort Swami back to the border. Brust goes ballistic, but the Belgian police say that they have their orders.

(Break out.)

We next see Brust fuming in a van, with a single police car ahead of them. Swami is laughing, and Shinra has to explain that the only reason he himself is in the van is because he promised Touma to not screw up this assignment. Eventually, a bicyclist on the road takes a spill, causing the police car to stop, thus blocking the van. Swami's forces rush out from behind some bales of hay, killing the police escort. Shinra wants to stay because of his promise to Touma, but Brust's job is to protect Shinra, so he slugs the boy and carries him away before the smoke screen envelops both vehicles. Swami is freed from custody and he disappears with his men. Question: What happens next?

----- Spoilers -----

Some time later, a small group of men disembark from a plane and walk to the airport exit to enter Switzerland. They're met at the gate by Shinra, Tatsuki, Brust and a number of police. While Swami has undergone another costume change, he is still recognizable. Shinra's plan had been to defang Swami by forcing him to panic and gather all the diamonds in one place and then sell them. And, since Swami has no idea who his supporters are, it was a simple matter of using Belgian forces to stage the jail break. In fact, only one of the men with Swami actually supports him. The full defanging can occur because now that Swami is on Swiss soil, he's guilty of attempting to smuggle a large amount of cash into the country. As a regular citizen of Balkia, this is a crime he can be tried for and the money confiscated. Swami asks for a pistol from his bodyguard and points it at Shinra, saying that if he's going to hell, then Shinra will get there first to clean his room for him. He fires, then Brust shoots him in the shoulder. As Swami lays bleeding on the floor, the guard looks at him and says "Blanks". Turns out that the bodyguard was a relative of the boy killed in Swami's "family game" at the beginning of the story and he's been waiting for his revenge ever since. The guard wants Swami to bleed to death here and now, but Shinra asks for an ambulance, adding that this is part of his promise to Touma.

No science outside of the discussion of diamonds and continental drift. The only real history is the evolution of the World Court.

(Back cover, with the doll of Ryou.)

Comments: I really like the artwork on Mugen-tei, but it does look like the bar and the doll of Ryou are fictional. I can see why Motohiro wrote this story to parody Ishihara, since the provision of "no violence against minors" in the Tokyo Ordinance would effectively outlaw both Q.E.D. and C.M.B. So far, though, the ordinance seems to have had little effect on the manga or anime industries as a whole. Dance the Night Away is ok, but the trick is kind of far-fetched. On the surface it looks like Shinra solved the case for free, but it may have been in exchange for Ruka's catching the dragonfly for him (which he released after verifying what species it was). Finally, though, the main reason for getting this volume is to see the "Balkia Affair" story from Shinra's side. It's very talky, with almost none of the action of the Q.E.D. portion. Swami's final denouement is a bit predictable, and it's not really believable that a snake like him would have fallen for it. But, at least this time we don't have Tatsuki going up against an army of trained killers, and winning. This story is more of a condemnation of the violence by dictators against their own people, which is more political than Motohiro normally gets. Recommended if you like the C.M.B. - Q.E.D. crossovers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


When you're cool, you don't need to shout it for everyone to figure it out.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cat Girl Bookstore Closed

Back in July, I wrote about a bookstore that had opened up in the old Docomo cellphone shop location. They had a lot of older, out-of-print or hard to find manga at cover price, plus discounted old-format DVDs for about $5 each. That's where I found the Rune Masquer volume. I kept wanting to go back, but it was as much a question of having money as it was not needing to get any other manga yet. Well, I guess I waited too long. As of Jan. 27, the place is out of business.

A lot of shops here have been closing lately.