Review: Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria Vol 5-6

After the introduction of Iroha Shindou, the iron willed student council president and Yuuri Yanagi, her rotten backstabbing best friend in volume 3 and 4, Eiji Mikage continues his chronicle of the self-sacrificing heroine, Maria, and her obsessive partner, Kazuki in a new story-arc. This arc, which is centered around Kazuki’s super genius best friend Daiya Oomine, is the last one before the series conclusion. The tension in the series are at an all-time high, and in this time, everything and everyone gets a lot more crazier.

The Kingdom Royale arc, which directly precedes this one, is a very good example of good story planning. The arc is designed so meticulously that at its conclusion, the connection between the characters are placed in a very volatile condition. To begin with, Kazuki are informed about Daiya’s ambition and the fact that he’s in the possession of a box. Maria however, the other half of our protagonist duo, are made blissfully unaware about this. In fact, she’s unaware of the events unfolding in Kingdom Royale. Therefore Kazuki, now fully acknowledging his obsession on Maria, must try to stop Daiya alone without alerting his more capable partner.

This fragile relationship between our protagonists are the nucleus of the arc. The story mainly revolves around Kazuki’s effort to botch Daiya’s plan for world peace/domination while maintaining a facade of peace in front of Maria. At the same time, it also tells us Daiya’s story, including his tragic history, motivation and struggle in conquering the world. Also, the hassle he had when using his box’s power.

Daiya’s box is an interesting one. The idea drew heavily from Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s 2003 thriller masterpiece, Death Note. The premise of the box is simple enough, by swallowing the sin of a person (as in taking every emotional burden caused by it, leading to a very graphical description of sin), Daiya gain total control of said person. When our silver-haired prodigy makes an order, the dominated person will do anything humanly possible to fulfill it. Now, what he do with this power, is basically turning every criminal he met into a ‘dog human’ who can only crawl and bark by shouldering the criminal’s sin.

Now the similarities with Death Note can be seen in the way the power is used. Basically, by turning enough criminals into ‘dog humans’ (Death Note instead opts for the killing route), people would defer from doing crimes. The design of Daiya’s power and the psychological exploration of ‘dog humans’ are brilliantly in-depth and are two of the high-points of the arc.

Another highlight of the arc comes from the extended feature of Daiya’s abilities: it’s possible to share the power of the box with other humans dominated by the box, something akin to a pyramid scheme. Leveraging on this, author Eiji Mikage masterfully brings back Iroha and Yuuri as Daiya’s underling, but not ones without any personal agendas. Both characters brings more depth and complexity to the unfolding conflict, with a major scene for Iroha at the climax of volume 5. But more than bringing back old characters, this ability enables the most interesting point of the plot:

Daiya himself is currently imprisoned in an unknown box of an unknown person that is specifically designed to crush his own.

The arc spans two volumes: volume 5 and volume 6. Both are published by Dengeki Bunko in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The two volumes highlights the battle of wits between Kazuki and co. whose lives are threatened by Daiya’s minion. Daiya himself is imposed with a time limit to find out and destroy the owner of the box that trapped him, all the while trying to destroy the ties binding Kazuki and Maria. The twists and turn of the arc are the among the biggest and most intense of the series, most of the best ones aren’t even touched by this review since they’re just too good to spoil. It’s one of the most perplexing intellectual battle story you will ever know, one you definitely need to read.

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