~by Yumi Tamura
Although Yumi Tamura is probably best known for her post-apocalyptic epic Basara, her later two-volume manga series Chicago was her first work to be officially released in English. Chicago, Volume 1: The Book of Self was released in 2002 by Viz Media after serializing the manga in the monthly shoujo magazine Animerica Extra between 2001 and 2002. The collected volume was originally published in Japan in 2001. Chicago is now out of print in English but still fairly easy to find at reasonable prices. Because May 2013's Manga Moveable Feast focused on Tamura and her work, I decide to track down the short series. I've actually been meaning to read Basara for what seems like ages now, but I thought it would be interesting if my introduction to Tamura's manga would be through her introduction to English-reading audiences.
Rei and Uozumi are the only remaining survivors of the Japanese Self-Defense Force's Rescue Squad Four. The rest of their team members died in Bay District D while on a rescue mission after the Great Tokyo Earthquake. The official press release described the deaths as an accident, claiming that the squad was caught in a fire after the quake. Rei and Uozumi know differently and because of that their lives are still in danger. Down on their luck and barely scraping by, the two partners are approached by a mysterious man looking to recruit them for a rescue mission of a different kind. A young, aspiring photojournalist has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. At first it appears to be a case of mistaken identity but it may in fact have ties to the annihilation of Squad Four in Bay District D. Looking for answers, Rei and Uozumi agree to take on the job despite their misgivings.
Rei is a pretty kick-ass heroine. She's a competent fighter with top-notch knife skills that are more than a match for those who would try to do her harm. She doesn't take crap from anyone except maybe for some good-natured ribbing from Uozumi. Rei also seems to have some vague supernatural powers, such as the ability to sense danger and an odd intuition that leads her to be in the right place at the right time, allowing her to prevent several tragedies in The Book of Self before they can happen. She and Uozumi also share a very strong bond with each other that borders on ESP. Rei is actually in love with Uozumi and he obviously cares for her as well. However, he already has a lover and as is revealed towards the end of The Book of Self, there are other reasons why Rei has no chance with him. That doesn't make the pain and frustration of her heartbreak any less, though.
So far, Chicago is a rather odd series even if it does have some great action scenes and a quirky charm to it. Much of the story relies on convenient coincidences, but these incidents may be attributed to Rei's intuition or some other sort of fate. Tamura does include some seemingly strange character details in The Book of Self. Some, like fellow rescue agent Shin's apparent abhorrence of celery, add a weird bit of humor to the story. Others, like Rei's work as a model, seem an unnecessary distraction. Still others appear to be innocuous at first only to play an important role later on--Uozumi's extensive knowledge of classical music actually ends up saving his life. Chicago can be a little over-the-top, ridiculous, and unbelievable, but ultimately I found the first volume to be a fun read. I have no idea what's in store for the second volume, The Book of Justice, but I look forward to finding out.