After losing her parents in a fire, Nanase Takamine resolved to become a firefighter. Now 21, she has achieved her goal and works as a fire investigator, not actually battling fires directly but determining where and how they started. Three years ago, while she was still a student at the academy, she came upon the scene of a hospital in flames. Rushing inside, she saved the life of a burning man, ignorant at the time that he was actually responsible for setting the fire. After he escaped from the ambulance, taking the lives of a pair of paramedics in the process, his identity as the wanted arsonist Firebug became known. Now, as Nanase is facing some puzzling cases, Firebug has contacted her and, in an effort to repay her for saving his life, provides clues and insights that help in her investigations.
When a story features a young female investigator receiving hints and advice from a notorious criminal, comparisons to The Silence of the Lambs are inevitable. What Fire Investigator Nanase reminds me most of, though, is actually Gosho Aoyama’s long-running mystery series, Case Closed (Viz). You’ve got the rookie investigator spotting things that others with more experience miss and piecing together the elaborate methods used to commit and obscure crimes. Even the little boxes that introduce the suspects and the anonymous way the culprits are drawn pre-reveal are similar. Unfortunately, the cast of suspects is more limited in this series, making for predictable outcomes in most cases.
The cases themselves are mildly intriguing, and certainly fast reads, but I found them to be easily forgettable after I’d put the book down. One story, too, cuts off rather abruptly, with Firebug taking off in a burning car with an arsonist while Nanase, left behind, thinks, “How horrifying.” It took me several pages to realize that the next chapter had moved on to a different case entirely.
Nanase is another problem. She’s plucky and determined as one might expect, but early on she’s portrayed as klutzy and cries frequently. I had been hoping for someone more… badassedly professional, I suppose. Firebug is the real star of the series, wonderfully creepy in his omniscience and equipped with the ability to disguise himself as others in order to get close to Nanase. The moments when he appears before her, managing to elude her attempts at capture while doling out just enough information to get her on the right track, are eclipsed in greatness only by chapter sixteen, “Stalker,” in which he protects Nanase from an assailant in order to preserve her for his own evil purposes.
Tomoshige Ichikawa’s art works well for action sequences, with a good sense of place that makes it easy to keep track of characters’ locations within burned or burning structures. Less successful, though, is the depiction of people. The two adult males that figure most closely in Nanase’s career—her supervisor, Tachibana, and the police arson detective in pursuit of Firebug, Ogata—look superficially similar, with slick-backed black hair, sneering smiles, and arching brows, and it took me a while to be able to tell them apart. Too, there’s a shower scene in which Nanase’s torso is so asymmetrical it looks like she’s missing some bones.
On the whole, I found Fire Investigator Nanase to be a bit of a disappointment. It isn’t bad by any means; it’s simply just not as cool as I was expecting it to be.
Fire Investigator Nanase is released in English by CMX and two volumes have been released so far. It’s complete in Japan with seven volumes.
Review originally published at Manga Recon.