Thursday, January 7, 2021

Remote Vol. 1-3 (2002/2004) by Seimaru Amagi (translated by Haruko Furukawa)

I'm back for now.

Even I understand how nothing but Hoch reviews can come off as tedious (although seeing as I keep going silent for months, this might not be an issue), so I’ve decided to break things up with reviews of a manga that I haven’t seen discussed: Seimaru Amagi’s Remote. ''Seimaru Amagi'' is one of the many, many, pennames of Japanese novelist Shin Kibayashi. The penname is mainly associated with the mystery manga The Case Files of Young Kindaichi (or The Kindaichi Case Files in the Tokyopop translation) but also with Tantei Gakuen Q. He's also one of TomCat’s fanboy obsessions. I’d seen Remote linked on Kibayashi’s Wikipedia page, didn’t see any other in-depth reviews on it (beyond some simple ones on Goodreads), and decided that this was a niche that I needed to fill.

Tracking down information on this series was a pain since I had no idea where to look. Wikipedia, which as we all know is never wrong, says the series was written by “Tadashi Agi,” another of Kibayashi’s pennames...but on his actual page it says he wrote Remote under the Amagi name, which is backed up by the Tokyopop translation. The series started in 2002, and a live-action adaptation began the same year. The series does feel like a TV drama, with eleven ''episodes'' and simpler plots than I was expecting.

The premise is simple: Kurumi Ayaki is a former meter maid looking forward to her upcoming marriage to car salesman Shingo. Unfortunately, said fiancé's promotion isn’t happening, meaning she needs to go back to work to help pay for the wedding. Thankfully, her old precinct does have a position open, but not as a meter maid. Instead she’s made part of “Unsolved Crimes Division, Special Unit A,” under the command of Kozaburo Himruo. Himuro is an unconventional partner though. He lives in a room in his basement after an incident in his TRAGIC PAST (™) rendered him unable to feel emotions and left him with a serious case of agoraphobia (although I don’t remember if that word is ever used). As a result, Ayaki is equipped with a cell phone and headset that allows her and Himuro to communicate and exchange information.

The series kicks off with “Serial Killer Circus” (taking up Volume 1 and some of Volume 2), which is now the name of my new heavy metal band. The story opens with two police officers stumbling on a dancing clown, followed by finding a dead woman among some trash bags. A disk labeled “Stage 1” is in her hand, and the message “SEND MORE MONEY” is painted over her body. Ayaki is also witness to a clown dancing and humming a song shortly before the discovery of another body...a murder foreshadowed on the “Stage 1” disk. It seems that there’s a movement of murderous clowns (Amagi was clearly having visions of that clown panic of 2016), but who’s behind it, and what connects the victims?

This is more of a serial killer thriller than a fair mystery. Most of the story is Ayaki and Himuro trying to crack the killer’s codes and prevent more murders. I’m a little surprised that Ayaki didn’t pick up on the connection between the codes earlier, since it sprang out to me at once. Too much of the backstory is also delivered in an info dump and this drowns out the interesting idea behind the murders. (One part of the backstory both comes out of nowhere and feels very 2000ish, but I can’t explain without spoilers. There’s still a little exposition about the mastermind, albeit nothing major, at the beginning of the next story!) There is some fair play to the story, in that you can deduce the mastermind if you’re paying attention to the art, but it’s a pretty minor aspect.

But while we’re on that, I have to register one of my biggest complaints with this manga: the aforementioned art. My understanding is that Amagi is mainly associated with his sister. Fumiya Sato, who draws The Case Files of Young Kindaichi series. The artist for this manga, however, is Tetsuya Koshiba, and I don’t know if I’m fond of his artwork. Characters who are the focus of the panel are generally fine, but background/minor characters sometimes seem underdrawn, or with a bad case of what I can only describe as “fish lips.”

All that griping aside, I have to say that “Serial Killer Circus” held up a little better than I remembered it (since I’m rereading the manga for these reviews). There’s too much “I quit, wait, no I don’t, but actually I do!” from Ayaki, and Himuro’s emotionlessness is dialed up for the sake of tension, but it was fun on the whole.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the next story, “Survival School,” which takes up the rest of Volume 2 and most of Volume 3. The story kicks off with Ayaki meeting Shingo for a date at a café, only to clash with students from the “elite” Shoto High. Shortly after, a bomb destroys the café, and suspicion falls on the students/faculty of the school. Ayaki is sent in to question a former classmate of Himuro, now a teacher, but the interview is interrupted by a bomb threat. The bomber has rigged the school with bombs, preventing anyone from entering or leaving. The name of this dangerous maniac endangering hundreds of lives?


Apparently Amagi read too much Terry Goodkind. It does make more sense in context, but still.

Anyway, Ayaki goes undercover as a new student in order to find out who Chicken is before news of the situation spreads to the student body...and when it inevitably does, things get violent fast. However, this escalation leads into one of the story’s issues. My understanding is that stories like this are at least in part about seeing what happens when otherwise respectable people are thrown into a dangerous situation that pushes them to the brink, seeing their true personalities and values exposed. However, most of the characters are jerks with little redeeming qualities, even before things get bad. The closest we get to character breakdown is a rapist jerk becoming...a paranoid rapist jerk.

There’s not much of a mystery here either. It’s even more of a thriller than “Serial Killer Circus,” and it does have an exciting climax, but that comes at the expense of the cluing. I think that you really only get clues about Chicken’s identity at the very end, but they’re pretty obvious and I might have imagined them in my desperate attempt to find actual cluing. Pretty much all of the important information you get is found offscreen. A murder is implied to be important, but doesn’t get explained beyond implication. Even the “undercover” aspect of this story doesn’t amount to much. It’s annoying, since the byplay between Himuro and Ayaki is much better here, with no quitting/not quitting.

My other major issue with Remote as a whole is all of the fanservice everywhere. I get that this is meant to be an adult series, but that doesn’t mean I want or desire near-nudity shoved in my face all the time. It also comes off as...crude in this story, considering an incident that happens near the climax. It felt pointless and gross.

All in all, these first three volumes don’t exactly bode well. Volume 3 ends with the start of what I remember being the worst story in this series, but I do want to assure the reader that there are some good mysteries in this series. Later. Not Recommended (for now).