The Decagon House Murders has a rather unique premise for a manga, paradoxically so given (or rather, because of) its status as an adaptation. It is based off the 1987 novel of the same name by Yukito Ayatsuji, which in turn was inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The manga, in turn, is illustrated by Hiro Kiyohara. Suffice to say, there are a lot of layers here— perfect for a mystery title. The main plot follows seven members of a university Mystery Club as they travel to a deserted island that was the site of a series of murders, the truth of which remains merely speculated about. Before long the threat of more murders arises, and the mysteries just keep piling up. Is The Decagon House Murders Vol. 1 good?
One barely needs to crack open the spine on this book to get treated to its most delightful feature: its highly dramatic if silly theatrics. The earliest examples of these are the characters themselves. The club members all go by the names of various famous mystery writers. They are introduced in quick succession as they arrive at the island, where they’ll be staying in the titular decagon house.
It’s an absolutely perfect setting. From a visual standpoint the geometric nature of the building is simultaneously pleasing to look at and also foreboding. The architecture of the building is stark in how unnatural and against common norms it feels, and it only becomes more so as one examines the metaphor. Each character’s room is located within one of the building’s ten distinct facets, with a circular common area in the building’s center symbolic of the common truth that will ultimately be threaded together from all the various characters’ perspectives and findings. It’s a well-thought-out setup for a game of “Whodunnit?” even if some of the characters detest such an outlook.
Unfortunately the pacing leaves something to be desired. The start is fantastic, and every scene on the island is very well-written. The problem is with the subplot set back on the mainland. At the same time that the club members have found themselves in danger of becoming yet more murder victims, ex-members of the club unearth a whole new layer to the mystery. The official explanation for the original murders is called into question, and the reader can begin to speculate about the connection between the old murders and the new ones. Are there two mysteries, or really just one larger whole?
While layers and layers of enigma are par for the course for the genre, the actual transitions between scenes here undercut the suspense. Just as events really get interesting in one location the action shifts to another setting that, rather than complimenting and enhancing the drama, almost fizzles it out. This is due largely to how much more generic the characters in the mainland portion of the story are; with so much less dramatic flair than their counterparts they’re just less fun to follow and sometimes incite tonal whiplash.
Artistically, Kiyohara does a great job. Every detail of the decagon house is well-drawn, and he does a good job of making the bizarre layout make sense. The rest of the scenery is also very nice, from the lovely nature imagery on the island to the thoroughly detailed and lived in locales on the mainland. The characters are also quite expressive and easily distinguishable from one another; there’s an actual variety in body types and facial structures even before more individual personality quirks come into play.
All in all, The Decagon House Murders Vol. 1 is a very promising start to the series. The art is pleasing to look at, the dramatics are a lot of fun, and the setting is perfectly set up to mirror and enhance the mystery. There are some issues with the pacing in terms of how the A and B-plots intersect, but this is nonetheless a great read.
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