Don't Call It Mystery Omnibus 1

Do not Name It Thriller Omnibus 1

But then what should you call it? Even creator Yumi Tamura says in her afterword that this series isn’t a mystery, despite all evidence to the contrary: there are crimes, clues, and cops throughout the volume, with protagonist Totonou doing his best to solve them all. That sure sounds like the textbook definition of a mystery story. But maybe that’s part of the problem – to us it’s a textbook, but if you look at it from the perspective of Totonou, maybe it’s less about solving a crime and more about sorting through the various puzzles presented to him.

Totonou is the focal point around which everything else in this book, an omnibus edition containing the first two Japanese volumes, revolves. A college student living away from home, he sees himself as a fairly regular guy, as he says several times over. But that self-perception is challenged by the way others view him and the hints we get about him throughout the three-and-a-start cases covered here. Totonou has a Sherlockian ability to observe and reason, and he bolsters that with experiences from his childhood. Most of his comments indicate that he has a troubled relationship with his father, and possibly his entire family. At one point Totonou tells another character that he remembers being a child very clearly, and this feels like a more important point than it appears. Totonou often acts more like a precocious child than an adult, and some of his statements seem to stem from the uneasy middle ground between the two states that he occupies.

This omnibus contains three complete cases and the start of a fourth. All of them are intriguing in different ways, and each explores a different trope of detective fiction. The first is a pure mind exercise, with all of the actions already happening before the story starts; the entire case takes place in a police interrogation room where Totonou interacts with several police detectives. The second works in the field of misdirection and feels like an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes stories in the way that we aren’t quite privy to all of the information that the characters have access to, although it must be said that it’s still more of a fair play mystery than any of Holmes’ cases. The third story is a pure puzzle, using phonograms and depending on the various readings of Japanese words, while the fourth looks as if it’s setting up to be a much more involved combination of the previous three. As an approach to writing a story told in cases rather than chapters, it works very well, and each investigation gives us a little more insight into Totonou and his worldview.

One of the most important elements of the book is the introduction of Garo Inudou. Garo comes into the story in the bus-hijacking second case, and he is quickly set up as the Moriarty to Totonou’s Holmes. What’s most striking is that he’s the one person Totonou shows actual interest in; most of his interactions with others are because they specifically ask for his help or he feels compelled to aid them due to circumstances. But Garo piques his interest in a much more personal way, meeting him on his level. They feel like two sides of the same coin, only able to interact with each other when that coin is actively spinning, exposing both sides at once. It is Garo who, by proxy, gets Totonou involved in the fourth case in Hiroshima, and for all that he says that Totonou simply got on the wrong bus at the start of the second story, it seems possible that Totonou has been on his radar for some time – and his actions following the conclusion of the bus hijacking story indicate that he has no intention of letting Totonou forget him.

Another interesting element of the book is the way that Totonou talks about being a good father and husband. Several times across the volume people remark that it feels like he’s running a guidance office, and it’s true that he can’t seem to help himself when it comes to talking or explaining things. But his comments on a man’s role in the family stand out more than many of his other statements because they specifically address the idea that the father/husband isn’t meant to have as large a role in family life as the mother/wife. Totonou repeatedly calls out men who think that by just taking out the garbage they’re being good partners or who claim they can’t find time for their wives and children because of work. It’s during one of these conversations that Totonou makes his remark about remembering what it was like to be a child, and that gives the whole thing a much more personal air – he’s not just calling out toxic notions of masculinity and fatherhood, he’s trying to prevent men from raising their children the way he was raised. Caring for your child, he says, is a privilege not just a responsibility. It’s the one theme he returns to again and again.

If you’ve read Basara you already know that Tamura can tell a complicated story. This is a very different work, but it’s no less engaging than her other long series. Her art has gone through a lot of changes since her last English releases, smoothing out a lot of the rougher edges, and if backgrounds aren’t a thing in this book, the fact that Totonou loves words and semantics so much punch up the dialogue more than enough to make up for it. Whether you say it’s a mystery or not, Don’t Call It Mystery‘s first omnibus is a good book with a translation that does more than its best to keep up with the sometimes complicated linguistic explanations Totonou relies on. Tamura fan or not, this is worth picking up.

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