Museum Vol. 1, released by Kodansha Comics, contains the first nine chapters of Ryousuke Tomoe’s suspense-horror manga series. Museum stars police sergeant Hisashi Sawamura, who investigates a series of gruesome murders carried out as “punishments” by a man in a raincoat and frog mask. Does the first volume do a good job setting up the premise and, more importantly, entertaining?
Writing-wise, Tomoe knocks it out of the park here. Sawamura and the rest of the police’s investigation into the murders takes a number of twists and turns, and each reveal is paced wonderfully. This is due partially to the way Tomoe creates tension by both providing and withholding necessary information regarding the killer and his victims. The reader is often two steps ahead of the police in terms of what they know, while still being two steps behind the killer in terms of understanding the plot’s implications and upcoming events. There are a number of fake-outs and reveals throughout the volume that succeed rather than feeling predictable, thanks to Tomoe’s near perfect balancing act of providing false leads while keeping the truth logical and obvious in retrospect. Even when he isn’t on panel, the frog-faced killer dominates with a sense of danger that is as inevitable as it is unpredictable.
Speaking of the killer, his design is fantastic. Dominated by two components, one nondescript and one almost absurd–his raincoat and frog mask, respectively–his appearance is unique enough to be memorable and striking but also simple enough to not feel overdesigned. The choice of a frog mask specifically feels ingenious. Large, lifeless eyes dominate the killer’s panels, and readers get no hint as to the expressions beneath the mask. Fear of the unknown is as affecting as it is universal, and the killer’s visuals help reinforce the sense of mystery and intrigue put forth by the writing.
I don’t have much negative to say about this volume. My main qualm is just that the first chapter isn’t quite as indicative of the rest of the manga as it could be. The beginning has more explicit gore in a more compressed span of time than the subsequent chapters do. This led me to suspect that there would be a much larger amount of shock visuals than there actually are, and that they would become less effective due to overuse. Thankfully, this did not end up being the case. As later chapters devoted more and more time to human and investigative drama, the gorier panels grew more effective due to their contrast with their plainer surroundings.
Museum Vol. 1 is a great start for the series. I wasn’t sure I would like it after reading just the first chapter, but from the second chapter onward Museum engrosses with clever twists, impressively textured artwork, and a constant sense of narrative tension. Tomoe places readers squarely in the middle of the action–aware of where the police are headed, but unaware of what the killer has in store next. This is a thriller manga that delights with both what it reveals and what it withholds, inviting readers to search desperately for clues while inevitably getting blindsided by what lurks around corners and behind closed doors.