I’ll probably grouse forever about the shady illogic that underpins the central premise of MPD Psycho, but I also know it’s not going away. Last time around I wrote about how the central character was being treated like a clown car, with new facets of himself popping out at each new trauma. Kazuhiko Amamiya, alias Shinji Nishizono, alias Yosuke Kobayashi, alias Kiyoshi Murata, alias — How many multiple personalities can you fit in a single body? Five in the brain and one in each nostril.
The reason this bugged me wasn’t because it wasn’t interesting — if anything, MPD Psycho Volume 3 has shaped up to be the most absorbing book in the series so far — but because I was wary of this device being used to excuse any number of sloppy plot shenanigans on the part of the authors. I’m still wary, but I also get the impression that the authors do in fact have a bit more on their mind than just front-loading poor Amamiya/Nishizono/Kobayashi/Murata/etc. with a persona du jour each time something horrible happens. The real ambitions of this series are finally coming to the fore, and maybe it wasn’t really possible for them to be brought upfront until this point.
Volume 3 breaks down into three storylines. The first one (after a brief and convenient recap of Amamiya’s madness) gives us Akio Umemiya, “the Naniwa Pleasure Killer,” headed for the gallows after racking up a roster of murders as nastily colorful as, well, any of the other crimes committed in this series. There’s just two problems: 1) the guy they hanged wasn’t the real Umemiya, and 2) his eye, too, bore one of the weird “bar-code bruises.” Then someone claiming to be the real Umemiya phones the police and gleefully claims responsibility for a horrible act of arson that ends up being televised live. Toguchi, the roguish reporter originally best known for hanging around Amamiya and making his life difficult, scores an exclusive interview with Umemiya — and while on camera he declares “Shinji Nishizono, I’m here to pay you back!”
It’s definitely not what Amamiya wants to hear: that another loon from his messy past has surfaced to make trouble. Things are complicated all the more by the presence of Kitou, a government MIB (with “Public Security Section Four”) and also a former flame of Machi Isono, Amamiya’s headstrong female compatriot and co-investigator. Kitou pulls rank to take over the arson investigation and scoops up Amamiya to put him under a microscope as well, as it were — but gets a lot more than he bargained for when Isono is kidnapped by Umemiya (she seems to serve as the Conveniently Kidnappable Female entirely too often in this story) and Amamiya’s Nishizono personality emerges to take charge. The climax of this plotline’s a cleverly crafted action-movie set-piece involving those ever-dependable elements, an out-of-control tanker truck and a wad of explosives. (They didn’t even forget to give us a moment where a car manages to outrace a fireball in a traffic tunnel.) And the white-haired weirdo from last issue, Zenitsu, emerges from the shadows at the end, as is his wont, to pick up the pieces and vanish without a trace.
The second and third stories in the book, though, are extremely low-key affairs, and all the better for it. Instead of clobbering us with over-the-top violence, sadism or gore, the second deals most directly with the sad wasteland inside Amamiya. And when the story stands back and lets Amamiya be himself, it’s remarkable how effective it all becomes. He does not like being what he is; he does not savor knowing he has so many names to be called by, without any of them really being his. There’s a moment where he and Isono stand on the beach and look at the sky, and he quotes a song on the radio — ”It feels like someday all of us will just disappear somewhere” — and for the first time in the series there is a real and lingering sense of despair about his condition. There’s no one in that skin that feels real — but then again, maybe all the rest of us are no more permanent, either.
The third story may well be the single best part of the series so far. It deals with Toguchi, one-eyed and cheerfully mercenary in all of his dealings, now up to his neck in trouble of one kind or another, including his back-channel dealings with the mysterious Zenitsu. He meets up with his original mentor, Kiryu, a photojournalist who’s since gone to seed; he reminisces about his baptism by fire in Cambodia’s battlefields — a flashback that ties back into multiple subplots scattered through the series, too. Then Kiryu unveils more than a few truly shocking revelations of his own about both himself and his disciple, and we get a taste of what this series can really accomplish when it’s not distracted by its own flashy gimmicks. In fact, this segment is good enough that with a little editing it could stand on its own; it has the flavor of one of the episodes from Hiroki Endo’s Tanpenshu anthology, where vile things happen but we look on anyway because we’re learning something about human nature despite ourselves.
I’ve been admittedly iffy about this series so far, but now that it’s starting to settle down and make more of its big picture clear, I’m growing more impressed by it. The second half of this book in particular showcases some of the best moments this series has had to offer so far — not because they employ creative gore, but because they delve into some truly bleak and blasted emotional spaces within the characters. If they can make that sort of thing happen a little more regularly in the future volumes, this will have been more than worth the ride — and as it stands, it’s already justifying its existence nicely.