Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
A class trip ends in tragedy when their bus crashes, with only six students surviving. A seventh student who wasn't on the bus later kills himself, with authorities claiming survivor's guilt. The remaining six students have been receiving counseling from the school doctor, and at what is their final session he informs them that he knows that three of them are murderers. He'll give them a week to come clean, but after that he'll go to the police with his proof...and thus the students' lives are once again thrown into turmoil.
If you've read Yoshiki Tonogai's other works, Doubt and Judge, you might be forgiven if you think he's a bit of a one trick pony. Therefore the sight of the rabbit masks on the cover of his latest offering, Secret, isn't likely to make you think that he's doing anything different this time either. But there you'd be wrong – while Secret shares elements of his earlier works, it eschews the locked-room format and hidden identities of those other titles, focusing instead on the idea of trauma, guilt, and what happens when you survive, against all the odds.
The story jumps right in at its most shocking point: a student with his arm in a sling backs a teacher up against the chalkboard, screaming at him while his classmates look on in horror. From the student's words, we know that the teacher has just accused someone in the class of murder. As the pages progress, we find out that the six students, four boys and two girls, are the lone survivors of a terrible bus accident that killed the rest of their classmates (although one committed suicide after the fact), and that their counselor has just told them that he knows that three of them are murderers. He gives them a week to figure things out before leaving them to spiral into hysteria. Everyone immediately begins to distrust their classmates, setting the stage for madness to force the murderers out of hiding...or for the other three students to prove themselves equally capable of killing.
Midway through the first chapter we begin to see flashbacks of the accident's aftermath, including the bloodthirsty reporters who cluster around the school gates hoping to catch one of the survivors, preferably Rika-chan, a fairly well-known idol who was about to have her big break before a potentially disfiguring injury. The media appears unwilling to understand that their constant presence only prolongs the trauma for the kids, which while not a clue per se, is still an interesting detail that we haven't seen Tonogai use before, although televisions do tend to play a role in his mysteries. This first chapter is nominally from the point of view of Iku, one of the boys, although we don't really see that until the end of it, when we suddenly have cause to question his reliability.
Each chapter is from a different student's point of view, a conceit which works very well to both cast doubt and make us (mistakenly?) trust various players in the game. Chapter two, called “Eyewitness,” is from Odzu's perspective and marks the occasion when we learn exactly what happened on that bus. At this point I am inclined to think that Odzu is the most trustworthy of the suspects, and his chapter is presented without damning details about any of the six...although some interesting clues do emerge. The line about the teacher being “completely passed out” in particular seems suspicious, and there are a few other details that stand out as perhaps providing information as to why the crash happened. As for Odzu himself, he seems mostly guilt-stricken, an emotion not outwardly shared by his fellow survivors.
The least interesting and explained element here is Tonogai's insistence on using the fraying rabbit-head masks once again. They were kind of terrifying in Doubt and at least symbolic in Judge, but using them again in Secret really feels like a stretch. There's barely an explanation for the mask being here – it is taken from the stored items used in the deceased class' haunted house – but it doesn't feel like a particularly well-used item within the story. Secret's mystery is strong enough to stand on its own without a gimmicky object like the mask, and Tonogai is a strong enough artist that he doesn't need to rely on it to give us a creepy carnival feeling.
On the whole, however, Secret is the strongest of Tonogai's works, at least in its first volume. The mystery is interesting, the partial memories we've seen of the past – from different perspectives, which is important – give us hints as to what might have happened, and motives feel sufficiently unsettled and shady at this point. While it may be possible that we figure out whodunit this early in the game, finding out if we're right should still be worth reading the rest of the series. Mystery fans, even those leery of reading another weird animal mask story, should check this out, as it has the makings of a very good read.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Interesting set up, varies from the author's previous works. Use of different characters' perspectives helps to cast doubt on all truths.
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