From the stack: Fire Investigator Nanase

May 25, 2009

I generally like episodic crime dramas and procedurals. The genre isn’t usually appointment television viewing for me, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s almost always one airing at any given hour of the day or night, so catching an episode of this or that doesn’t demand careful scheduling.

FINThe quantity of choices lets me be picky, too. I tend to avoid procedurals that make me endure a bunch of subplot drama about the investigators. I have a very “Get back to work” attitude towards forensic scientists, detectives and their ilk. (The original Law & Order is usually perfect for this. The only times we find out anything about a character’s personal life is when they’re about to leave, which only happens every couple of years. On the flip side, I haven’t read a Patricia Cornwell novel in years because of all the intolerable whining. Solve something, for pity’s sake.)

I’m also not crazy about properties with big, recurring super-villains. These baddies are all geniuses, which is fair enough, but the protagonists are supposed to be geniuses too, and repeated failure makes them look dumb. (It also leads them to take things personally, which triggers my first aversion. Quit whining and get back to work.)

Fire Investigator Nanase (CMX), written by Izo Hashimoto and illustrated by Tomoshige Ichikawa, features personal drama and a big bad, but neither of these elements overwhelm the meat of the series – intriguing arson investigations.

As a young trainee, Nanase inadvertently saved a serial arsonist known as “Firebug.” Years later, the creepy killer has developed a protective streak towards Nanase and mentors her through a series of suspicious and deadly fires. Nanase lost her parents to fire, and she’s fostering a child who suffered a similar fate. She’s understandably conflicted about the guidance she’s getting from a natural enemy, but he’s helping her avenge other arson victims and expose criminals. It’s a familiar dynamic, but Hashimoto and Ichikawa execute it well. And it’s impossible not to like Nanase. She’s smart, dogged, ethical and still a bit innocent.

Ichikawa’s illustrations are competent but a bit by-the-manual shônen, but they’re energetic and they serve the story. It feels like there’s something more that could be done with the rendering of fire; those sequences get the job done, but I didn’t get the sense of fire as a destructive entity.

Overall, though, the book has all of the makings of an enjoyable procedural. The cases move quickly, and the suspects and their motivations are credibly rendered. The various elements – drama, science, investigation, and the symbiosis of Nanase and Firebug – are all nicely in balance.