I’ve been curious about Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning for a long time, and after really enjoying The Record of a Fallen Vampire by the same author, I decided to choose it for one of my Shounen Sunday picks.
It’s been two years since Kiyotaka Narumi, a brilliant young detective, disappeared after announcing he was pursuing the mystery of the “Blade Children.” Now, his wife Madoka and younger brother Ayumu are left to wonder what’s become of him. Madoka, a lieutenant on the police force, continues to investigate, while Ayumu is presently slumming it through high school, haunted by the amazing abilities of a brother to whom he feels he will never measure up.
When murder is committed on campus and Ayumu is accused, he must clear his name. Unexpected assistance arrives in the form of Hiyono Yuizaki, the president of the school newspaper who has a mysterious knack for gathering information. Together, they identify the real culprit, who ends up having connections to the Blade Children. Two further deaths require Ayumu’s sleuthing skills and each provides one more morsel of information about the central mystery.
In the second volume, the tone shifts as members of the Blade Children arrive and begin testing Ayumu with a variety of life-or-death challenges. These tests are apparently being administered at Kiyotaka’s orders, possibly as a means to jolt his brother from his torpor and awaken his true abilities so that he might become the Blade Children’s savior. Ayumu performs well, but the Blade Children utilize his lack of faith in himself to manipulate him. At moments like these, it’s Hiyono who steps up to display her utter confidence in her friend.
There’s no doubt that Spiral is an interesting and well-written manga. Author Kyo Shirodaira does an admirable job, achieving perfect pacing with the mystery but also taking the time to develop his lead character. Ayumu is quite the atypical shounen hero. He’s not at all confident in his abilities, and possesses a huge inferiority complex about his brother. Many people whom he meets identify him by his relationship to Kiyotaka, and he worries that his own personal tastes have become shaped by his brother, too. This even affects his ability to play the piano, an instrument he loves but gave up because “Even when I try to play from my heart, it always becomes like my brother’s style.”
Hiyono’s also an intriguing character, providing indispensible assistance time and time again and bolstering Ayumu’s spirits with her convictions when his own are lacking. I love how much he comes to rely on her help and is impressed by her (and tells her so). She even gets to save the day a time or two. It’s great that she’s given the opportunity to prove her usefulness, unlike some female sidekicks in shounen manga.
Unfortunately, the Blade Children are almost unbearably dull. They like to sit around and angst about whether Ayumu really can save them, whether they oughtn’t just kill him instead, whether their as-yet-undefined cruel fate can be avoided, whether it’s worth it to even hope, et cetera. Their gimmick of challenging Ayumu to high-stakes gambles gets repetitive, too. (Bomb, card trick, bomb again, poisoned beverage dilemma.) Even Shirodaira admits it becomes not so much a mystery manga as a “showdown manga.”
Shirodaira is paired with artist Eita Mizuno this time, who is a more consistent and traditional artist than Yuri Kimura, with whom Shirodaira worked on The Record of a Fallen Vampire. I like some of Mizuno’s character designs (Ayumu looks cool with his improbable hair and crazy sideburns) but not others (one of the Blade Children, Eyes Rutherford, looks like a petulant tween goth). I had been thinking that Hiyono looks she stepped from the pages of Ribon, with her big eyes and poofy braids, until the diminutive character of Rio was introduced. Rio, with her even bigger eyes and propensity to trip every five feet, just screams moe, which makes me worry that perhaps Hiyono is supposed to be moe, too. In the end, I think she’s too competent to qualify, but it’s worrisome nonetheless.
While I may find the reality of the Blade Children somewhat lacking, the mystery behind their creation is still intriguing, though ultimately not as compelling as the question of what Kiyotaka is really up to. It’ll also be interesting to see whether these tests do really result in Ayumu achieving his full potential. In fact, Ayumu and Spiral have a lot in common that way—the series has a lot of good points, but hasn’t yet managed to fire on all cylinders.