Pop Culture Gadabout
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
      ( 6/02/2010 07:01:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“PEOPLE LIVE WITH THE IMPERCEPTIBLE EVERY DAY.” A young adult manga series that “pits beautiful men against calloused criminals in a battle for the streets” (to quote the oddly phrased back cover), Youka Nitta’s Otodama: Voice from the Dead (Digital Manga Press) is a procedural mystery with a dose of the preternatural. Kaname Otonashi, one of the series’ two sharp-dressed detective heroes, is a forensic sound man who also can hear the screams of the dead -- though his solutions to the crimes placed before him depend more on his techno savvy than they do his ultra-sharp ears. His cohort, Yasuhide Nagatsuma (a.k.a. Hide), is a former cop now working as a p.i. The pair share history from Hide’s time as police inspector and are brought back together over a series of serial murders

From this, the two form a partnership as "Stalker Busters" and are quickly thrust into a second case involving a terrorist bomber who rigs his devices to permanently deafen his victims. Doesn’t take much guessing that this bomber’ll have a connection to the sonically sensitive Otonashi, who along the way gets abducted by a necrophiliac photog. When he’s rescued by his partner, we’re given a hint about the depth of their emotional connection: “His voice always leads me down the right path,” Otonashi says, “he’s like a tuning fork.”

Though Otodama flirts with yaoi male attraction in its storyline, Nitta keeps the focus on the duo’s cases and the procedural details of each investigation. (Unlike, say, Isle of Forbidden Love, which uses its flimsy murder mystery as an excuse to get its two male leads together.) The supporting characters, Hide’s brother Senior Superintendent Yashiro Nagatsuma, and the one strong female figure on the scene, Superintendent Tadaskhi, provide the institutional counterpoint to our free-wheeling free-lancers. Without making too much of it, there’s a sense that the male/male partnership of Stalker Busters is less bound by the regs and politics than the male-and-female run police department.

Nitta (best known for more straightforward yaoi romances like Embracing Love) visually handles her crime material with a crisp and clear line work, without a lot of focus on the aftermaths of each crime. When we see our first victim, for instance, her body is obscured in the shadow as it hangs from a bridge. Too, as a scripter Nitta provides her heinous villains enough panel space to explain themselves: in the first volume, at least, the villains aren’t so much “calloused” as they are damaged or full-blown nuts. In this empathy for the devil, Otadama has an affinity with mystery series like Kindaichi Case Files, making it something that should appeal to all but the most culturally timid crime story buffs.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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