Warning: Part of this review comments on a decision made in the art which directly ties to a spoiler in the story.
Yukito Ayatsuji’s classic mystery novel The Decagon House Murders has seen a resurgence of attention in the English-language market as of late. Pushkin Press released the novel late last year in what was only its second English translation in over thirty years. Plus, we’re now getting digital editions of the manga adaptation by Hiro Kiyohara. The first volume made a good first impression with its lovely yet foreboding artwork, as well as its sheer commitment to the dramatic premise. Does The Decagon House Murders Vol. 2 meet the high expectations set by its predecessor?
Artistically, Kihohara continues to deliver much of the same from Vol. 1. Fortunately that’s a good thing, especially where the characters are concerned. One advantage the manga version has over the original novel is its ability to flesh out the characters’ personalities via facial expressions and other visual cues, not just through dialogue.
The character designs themselves are notable as well. The core cast have a strong variety of facial structures and features, ensuring that they never suffer from Same-Face Syndrome. In many ways the standout characters of this volume are Poe and Carr, largely because of the art. Poe’s strong but calm demeanor is matched by his chiseled jawline and frequent rendering in partial silhouette. Carr meanwhile has an abundance of cocky, accusatory smirks, befitting his role as the firecracker of the group.
Once again, the manga’s architecture and shading impress as well. There’s a particularly lovely splash page of the cast all sitting around the table in the Decagon House’ common area with the decagonal glass ceiling above them, sunlight beaming down upon them. It’s a strong example of enhancing horror and fear of the unknown by shining light upon it. In this moment all the key players in the story are present, mere feet away from each other, and there aren’t any pivotal details being obscured in shadow. No, the characters are all forced to look each other in the eye in idyllic light of day, aware that the killer is almost certainly among them. To call it an eye of the storm moment wouldn’t quite be accurate since the characters aren’t actually feeling calm, but that disconnect between their internal panic and the appearance of normality is precisely why the image works so well and warrants the full-page treatment.
Kiyohara’s conveyance of dread is effective in more shadowy moments as well. The use of deep black inks when depicting corpses, crime scenes, and even nature during foreboding moments is as tonally appropriate as it is pleasing to look at. The use of screen tones is also well-done, contributing to the shading and general sense of danger. The only real con to the artwork is a brief instance of the Drop Dead Gorgeous trope. It only lasts for a panel and is far from the trope’s worst examples, but it still dampens the scene’s seriousness a bit.
Story-wise, this volume is solid though nothing to write home about. The characters’ lamentations and speculations about the plot are frankly more interesting than the actual pacing or execution of the pivotal murder moments thus far. One particular highlight is when Ellery shows some of his magic tricks to the rest of the group. It provides an opportunity for the characters to chit-chat and display personality and emotion beyond the simple rage, shock, and fear that (understandably) take up so much page-time. The mainland subplot continues to be less interesting than the main drama on the island, although that problem isn’t unique to just the story’s manga adaptation. Readers who have also read the original novel will notice some deviations here, but these aren’t worrisome and are of the sort that makes sense in terms of fitting the novel’s story into fewer words.
All in all, The Decagon House Murders Vol. 2 delivers more of what made the series’ debut volume so promising: dramatic artwork that’s elegant and pleasing to look at, fun characters, and effective visual reinforcement of the mystery. While the mainland subplot continues to be a bit of a bore and the sexy female corpse moment is a bit ridiculous, this volume still makes for an enjoyable read. Here’s looking forward to seeing how Kiyohara handles his adaptation of the rest of the story.
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