Muhyo and Roji couldn’t be a more mismatched pair. Roji is a tall, light-haired fellow with the minimal skill set and the can-do attitude of many a shonen hero. Muhyo’s a short, morbidly-grinning little imp who looks like a chibi version of Peter Lorre, and with a library of magical incantations at his command. From the third floor of a tiny Tokyo office building they operate a “Bureau of Supernatural Investigation,” where clients come to them with problems involving misbehaving spirits and they lay yards of smack down on the offenders thanks to Muhyo’s command of “magical law.” (Plea-bargains do not appear to be part of the deal.)
That’s the premise for Yoshiyuki Nishi’s Muhyo and Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation or BSI for short, a fun new Viz title that takes a few basic manga patterns — the all-knowing genius detective and his hapless sidekick — and spins them in clever new directions. For one, the genius detective and the hapless sidekick seem to be about the same age, although Muhyo, with his weird “onion-head” appearance (he’s called that more than once), will probably look the way he does for decades on end. Muhyo reached the dizzying heights of the title of “Executor of Law” at a very young age, and delights in gloating about that fact in front of the lowly Roji. Put them together, though, and they make a sharp team — although Muhyo still does most of the leading.
The introductory episode gives us the manga’s basic approach: there, a high-school girl approaches the pair with a horrible burden of guilt on her shoulders. She believes she’s responsible for the death of one of her friends — she shrugged the distraught girl off at a train platform, and she stumbled in front of an oncoming express — and also believes the girl’s ghost has been wreaking havoc on the same train platform ever since. Their approach is blunt: You need to go back there and say one last goodbye … with a little help from the two of them. They pull it off, and in the process we learn a) a bit more about the relationship between the two girls (it’s closer to an unrequited crush than an actual friendship!), and b) we see that Muhyo’s exorcisms are downright cinematic in execution — in this case, the ground itself opens up its maw to swallow the souls of the forsaken.
The other stories follow in a similar fashion — there’s a haunted piano and a haunted antique chair that Roji brings back to the office to liven the place up, among other things — but along the way other touches are dropped in. Roji may only be a rank amateur, but he has ambitions to rise in the ranks … and there are hints that Muhyo faces competition from others who are at least as skilled as he is, some of whom may not be of this world. Those open up doors to possible things to come, although the story as it stands now is more than decently entertaining, and by the end I was genuinely curious to see where it would head.
In its first volume, M&R’s BSI comes off as a mix of the adorable and macabre that actually blends instead of colliding. It’s not so creepy that it seems unsuited to the audience it’s targeting, and the fun stuff works on its own merits as well. If Tim Burton was Japanese, he might have dreamed up something like this early in his career, and I guess that’s one way to say I liked it.