Enigma (Manga) Review

Plot: Haiba Sumio has a mysterious power – the dream diary. He’ll fall into a slumber and suddenly start writing in his diary. When he awakes, he finds that the words he’s written in his sleep are actually a prediction of the future, and his predictions always come true.

One day, he gets a prediction that his mother will be whisked away by a mysterious force, and the prediction comes to pass. Before he can figure out what happened, he and seven other individuals are kidnapped and taken to a vacant alternate version of their school. A strange being, signified only by a skull with a backwards jaw, named Enigma, tells them that they’re all trapped and they cannot get out unless they succeed in an e-test – a series of several challenges that, when completed, grant the group one of seven passwords to leave the school.

The e-test lasts for 72 hours. Anyone who doesn’t have a password in the allotted time will be trapped in the school forever.

Breakdown: I found Enigma while searching for survival game manga. I have a particular interest in stories like that, and this added several elements that changed the structure quite a bit. Most notably, this series includes the aspect of ‘talents’ which are unique powers each participant has.

I really liked this twist because most of the participants either didn’t know they had a talent or they kept it a secret, allowing the reader to learn with the group as to what talents they had. Not only do they all have individual talents, but the e-test was created in such a manner that each challenge could be solved by utilizing the talents of each subject – sometimes just one person’s talent was needed, and other times they all needed to work together.

It’s a rather brilliant and unique approach to this type of story, especially considering that many of the participants have powers that aren’t your typical abilities. Sumio’s future prediction is rather cut and dry, but some of the other powers include a magic sentient scar that can detach itself from the user and ‘rewind’ things to certain times, the ability to enter and manipulate 2D worlds like photos and videos, and the power to transfer their consciousness into a super-strong, super-light cartoon-y police mascot.

Not only do you have the mystery of what their talents are, but you also wonder what their prizes are going to be. Enigma gives each participant a card listing a prize that they’ll win should they beat the e-test. Sumio’s, for example, is getting his mother back. The prizes of the other players are slowly revealed as their stories are given.

I was very much invested in this story…..for the first half.

Something that raised a red flag for me going into this manga was how long it was. I got to about chapter 20 when I realized there was more than 30 chapters left, and the e-test was nearing completion. What could they possibly do to extend it for so long?

A lot. A lot of….stuff.

Let’s start with the reveal of Shigeru’s talent. Shigeru is Sumio’s childhood friend and kinda-ish love interest. Her talent isn’t revealed or even really hinted at until the very end. Spoilers: Her talent is actually the future prediction, and all along it was working in tandem with Sumio’s real talent, which is telepathy. Whenever she’d have a vision, Sumio would zonk out, I guess, then telepathically transcribe the event, for some reason. Also, he’d include a childishly drawn picture with it, and it’s revealed that….It’s…Shigeru’s younger self….drawing…it. I dunno.

Somehow, someway, Sumio never realized he could read minds, even though he was close friends with a mute person and could understand what he was ‘saying.’

Also, Shigeru never realized she could predict the future all this time.

Also, also, after this is revealed, Sumio starts reading people’s minds with his cell phone….and the cell phone’s UI tells him which people can telepathically connect with him and who is in range of his powers….End of spoilers.

But that’s just the tip of this insanely contrived iceberg.

Enigma was secretly Kirio, an old friend of Shigeru and Sumio who had never been seen or mentioned until about two chapters before his reveal. The skull is actually real….and magic. It’s a magic wish-granting, reality-bending skull. Enigma, which is actually a title given to the current owner of the skull, was using the e-test to find a new owner of the skull since it brings him nothing but misery.

However, even that’s a misdirect because it’s revealed that finding a new owner for the skull was really a ploy to draw out another talent-user, a being known as Cannibal. He’s made out to be scary given his character design and the fact that he eats people’s bones, but his fright factor is diminished immensely by the fact that, in order to do this, he….somehow….turns the bones…..into little human-shaped….pies….And the people don’t even really die when this happens. They turn into wiggling lumps of flesh that all get instantly dumped into convenient trash bags while their….essence or real forms lie in coffins in a literal room within Cannibal’s stomach while they’re all slowly digested in the most non-graphic way ever.

You ever have one of those moments where you don’t truly process how ridiculous something is until you write it out?

Drawing out Cannibal results in another e-test-like game on a train, but this time only three new characters are introduced – all of which are suspected to secretly be Cannibal. You have a really skeevy girl named Mao who clings to all of the boys, a gentlemen with his head encased in a safe, and a literal serial killer. Not lying, he’s a serial killer. He happily murders little children.

You never learn of the talents of any of these people, and such talents never factor into the game, which is getting an ever-diminishing amount of tickets at each stop, forcing the players to leave behind one person at each location.

Along for the ride is the only other member of the original cast to be part of this new game, class president and resident justice advocate, Matsurigi, somehow.

There is a decent mystery in figuring out who Cannibal is because all three of the new people are jerks to some degree, but it’s also very suspicious that Matsurigi is even on this train.

I’ll spare you the details of the rest of the story, partly because it’s just way too much to go over and partly because it’s near impossible to do it without spoilers everywhere.

The end result is….a lot of exposition being thrown around in nearly every chapter, a hell of lot of insane coincidences and an ending that is both baffling in how confusing and overly complicated it is while simultaneously being one of the most quick and clean endings ever.

I went from a cool supernatural power-based survival game, one that focuses more on building friendships and actually surviving instead of shock deaths, anger and never-ending suspicion no less, to spending almost every chapter being confused and wondering why this manga is continuing as long as it is. The second e-test was almost entirely pointless, in my opinion, and I just could not care at all about any plot involving that skull.

The manga has a wide range of fairly unique characters, with my favorites being Aru and Moto. I loved that everyone got their own unique backstories that melded with their talents quite well. However, like a lot of ensemble series with colorful casts, the main character is fairly dull.

Sumio is a very nice guy that damn near everyone loves. His only real flaw seems to be that he’s a bit of a skirt chaser, even though this is nearly gone by the midpoint of the series.

The entire group relies on him and his dream diary a lot to get through the e-test. Enigma even points this out at the end of the game. In the second e-test, most of the original cast is MIA, and the only talent shown, for the most part, is Sumio’s telepathy.

Everyone does come back together near the end, but scarcely are their unique talents used again, and the focus remains on Sumio throughout the entire story. In fact, in the ‘true end’ chapter, the whole story is dedicated to the group following some very strange and insanely convenient ‘seven wonders of the school’ ghost story in order to find and remember Sumio….who was just…hanging out in the auditorium.

I don’t dislike Sumio at all, don’t get me wrong – he’s very noble and brave and is always working to help people – but when you have such a large cast of interesting characters, it irritates me when the most boring one of the group ends up being the main focus.

Speaking of boring, Shigeru is a perfect match for Sumio in that regard. Shigeru is the quintessential love interest. She’s childhood friends with Sumio, she’s very nice, she gets kidnapped more than once and she’s kinda useless until the very end.

Also, her prize might be a little on the ‘oh my god, are you kidding me’ side. Spoilers: Her prize is for her and Sumio to reunite with their old friend, Kirio. And…it’s kinda implied that she wanted this because Sumio started paying less attention to her after Kirio left, and she thought if Kirio came back, Sumio would pine after her. Between that and the fact that her power is linked to crying, she’s a real feminist icon. End of spoilers.

Like Sumio, I didn’t seriously dislike Shigeru, although I will admit I definitely dislike her more than Sumio. She just didn’t interest me very much. She doesn’t have an interesting story. She is literally just there for most of the series, being useful only a few times before she’s kidnapped and removed from the story for about 70% of the second act.

The art in this series has its ups and downs. It’s fairly well-detailed and some characters have memorable designs, but wow, Sumio’s hair is one of my most hated hair designs ever. It gets better as the manga goes on, but the fact remains that it’s an oddly coiffed green afro. At least the manga’s in black and white so you rarely see the green, but just the design was driving me mad in the first handful of chapters.

Bottom Line: I can’t bring myself to say I genuinely disliked this manga because I did connect with several characters (I love Aru most of all) and some of their stories and powers were really well-constructed. There were numerous nail-biting and heartwarming moments, and the story, as a whole, could be really creative. The aspect and integration of the talents and prizes were very well-done and incredibly interesting.

However, I also can’t deny that the second act is just a big cluster of convenience and so many sudden exposition dumps that it was actually getting difficult to keep up with it half the time. I really believe that the story should’ve ended just a few chapters or so after the e-test was over. Everything involving that dumb skull just seemed tacked on and ridiculously contrived. I can see where they were coming from and how everything interconnected, but it was a really long road to follow and it just wasn’t worth it, in my opinion.

The absolute or ‘true’ ending quickly cleaned everything up in such a squeaky clean manner. I’m all for happy endings, believe me, but there’s such a thing as going too far with it.

Additional Information and Notes: Engima was written and illustrated by Kenji Sakaki, and it was published in Shueisha.

Year: 2010-2011

Volumes: 7

Recommended Audience: This is a little tricky. Some people do die in this manga, but, for the most part, it’s tame. There are some graphic-ish images, but they’re usually off-panel or quick. Cannibal’s shtick should be incredibly dark and made specifically for shock deaths and gore, but considering the goofy nature of his powers, what with turning people into cute little pies and the eaten people not actually dying, I can’t say he’s a big offender either.

The serial killer I mentioned earlier gets some questionable-ish scenes and dialogue, especially when he’s talking about his past crimes, but that’s also not that bad.

There’s no nudity and only a tiny bit of harsh language.


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Doubt (Manga) Review


Plot: There’s a new game called ‘Rabbit Doubt’ in which a bunch of people, connected by cell phone, take the role of a rabbit with one person being ‘the wolf.’ As the game goes on, rabbits start dying, purely in the game of course, and the remaining rabbits have to figure out who the wolf is.

As a group of friends who play Rabbit Doubt enjoy a day of fun, they suddenly find themselves trapped in a weird warehouse with barcodes tattooed on their necks that open one door each. That’s not all – one of their own is found to be murdered, and they realize that Rabbit Doubt has turned into a real game. But who’s the wolf?

Breakdown: I was honestly conflicted about my feelings for this manga for a while. On one hand, I was really getting into it and enjoying it quite a bit. Like many of you might know by now, I do enjoy ‘death game’ stories as they usually have nice mysteries, strong characters, good stories and some creative ideas. This isn’t the most creative premise in the world, but it still a pretty good one.

They know from the get-go that one of them is ‘the wolf’, so the group, despite being friends, are pretty paranoid of each other, and that paranoia only gets worse as clues to the wolf’s identity are strewn about and more people get killed.

The characters themselves are pretty decent, though none are horribly memorable, especially the main-main two of Yuu and Mitsuki, who basically encapsulate every average nice guy and gentle childhood friend/love interest/person the nice guy swears to protect couple ever.

Now, obviously the meat of this story is the ending as it will reveal who the wolf is and what their motivations are. The ending, however, is the weakest part of this story to me.

Jump down to the Bottom Line to remain ending-spoiler-free.

Now, noticeably, they put a lot of focus on talking about this girl named Rei before the actual game ever starts. Yuu and the others meet her as they’re hanging out, and Yuu recognizes her as a psychic hypnotist who used to be on TV but fell from grace when she was accused of being a fake. They spend an inordinate amount of time talking about her and more than one conversation arises about her before the game starts. It really makes you think that either she’s the wolf or she’s a gigantic red herring. She even carries around a rabbit doll.

When the group are all knocked out and brought to the warehouse, the first person found dead, before anyone even wakes up mind you, is Rei. For anyone taking this story as a mystery, which it should be, or has read or watched plenty of stories like this before, you’re likely confused at this point yet still focused on Rei. Why was she killed at the very beginning before the actual ‘game’ ever starts? Why have a game if you’re not going to give one of the players a chance? Why did we spend so much time focusing on Rei before the game started if she was going to be superfluous by chapter three?

Here’s the thing, I tend to jump to conclusions when it comes to first suspects in stories like these, but when a character is found dead I typically just accept that they’re dead unless I have reason to suspect otherwise. This leaves Rei as just being a dead body in a room for much of the manga and not really paying it much mind outside of how they’re going to use her barcode key and what she had to do with the big web of crime and lies that is revealed at the end.

Another character that seems like a big red herring is Mitsuki as she doesn’t play Rabbit Doubt. She was merely hanging out with the group since Yuu was playing. Her presence and the fact that files are found with profiles on everyone, Mitsuki included despite her not meaning to be there, put a lot of suspicion on Mitsuki near the middle.

And it does turn out that Mitsuki was one of the wolves…

Yes, you heard me, one of the wolves.

There are technically three wolves for this game; a man they find watching the security monitors, Mitsuki and someone I’ll reveal later. Now, having the man be one of the wolves is fine since he’s really just someone helping things along and is not the real wolf. He’s not the alpha, so to speak.

However, Mitsuki being a wolf and having another character be another wolf means that the structure of the mystery is ruined for the reader. If we’re meant to take the rules of the game as gospel and have no given reason to think that there’s a mastermind’s mastermind, then it seems like you’re ‘cheating’ us out of figuring it out for ourselves.

The reason Mitsuki is doing this is actually pretty dumb. She loved two people in this world; her father and Yuu. Her father was scammed out of his money, and he tried to kill himself by hanging. He lived through the hanging, and after a week went by Mitsuki wanted to talk to Yuu about it. However, he said he couldn’t do it right then as he was told to go home early and not make any stops along the way.

Mitsuki later saw Yuu hanging out with a girl named Kei, who isn’t a part of the group. Thinking they’re dating and realizing Yuu kinda lied to her, Mitsuki essentially lost the only two people in the world that she loved. So she decided to murder Kei for her ‘betrayal’ and create the game to punish liars since everyone in the group, in one way or another, was a liar.

However, she purposely refused to give a barcode to Yuu. Supposedly this was to protect him and give him a chance to tell her the truth. However, him not having a barcode when everyone else did just threw all of the suspicion on Yuu. In fact, when Mitsuki is called out as a suspect, they suspect Yuu too since he brought her there and has no barcode.

Since he never fessed up to Mitsuki, and didn’t even remember what he lied to her about, Mitsuki decided he needed to die too. It’s not until Mitsuki shows him photos of Kei’s body that she reveals what he lied about it, and Yuu counter-reveals that he wasn’t dating Kei at all. Kei was a good friend of Mitsuki’s, and she was helping him pick out a great gift for her birthday, which he was keeping in his pocket but lost somewhere during the game.

Without the gift as proof, Mitsuki doesn’t believe him, so she tries to kill him again only to end up getting badly wounded by accident. Yuu attempts to free them from the building with Mitsuki’s barcode which should open every door since she’s the wolf, but is baffled when it’s shown that a door won’t open when her barcode is scanned.

As footsteps approach, the real alpha wolf is shown to be none other than Rei.

Now this just raises all sorts of questions. Why didn’t they check her pulse to ensure she was really dead? They checked up on her body a few times – did she just sit insanely still for hours while still somehow orchestrating this game? How is she connected to the man and Mitsuki?

Well, prepare for a very weird ending that is only unpredictable because it’s just so silly.

Remember that Rei was a hypnotist? Well, when the rumor spread that she was a fake, she was bullied pretty harshly and her parents were even harassed quite a bit. It got so bad that her parents entered into a murder-suicide pact that included Rei against her will. They rammed their car into a tree and died instantly while Rei was left alive.

Yup instead of just laying low and waiting until no one gave a crap about some TV hypnotist girl anymore or trying to prove that she actually has psychic hypnotism powers or moving away or transferring her to a different school or some other logical thing, they decide murder-suicide, with their young child, is the best option. Especially using such an iffy method as a car accident. Dumbasses.

Now left an orphan, Rei wanted revenge on all liars in the world, so she created Rabbit Doubt and spread her hypnotism through one last TV broadcast. I don’t know why she’d get another TV broadcast when she’s been so firmly labeled as a fake, but there ya go. She specifically sought out people who had lost loved ones recently, and Mitsuki actually had her father die that week instead of just being in a coma like Mitsuki believed under the hypnotism. That coupled with her devastation over losing Yuu made her a great candidate to be hypnotized and made into a wolf.

On one hand, this is a pretty decent twist since you really never suspect Rei since she was ‘dead’ the whole time. On the other hand, this is really too big of a pill to swallow.

The wolf is really someone with magical hypnotism powers. And I don’t care that Rei outright says it’s not magic; she’s controlling people through hypnotism, through the TV and cell phone tones no less, to partake in a death game. No, she can’t make anyone kill another person, supposedly, but she can manipulate their minds and memories to the point where they’d be pretty okay in doing so.

It’s clever in that, despite being told of these abilities beforehand, you’d never expect that this is what’s going on…..but the reason you don’t suspect that this is what’s going on is 1) It’s never proven before the game that Rei was actually some psychic hypnotist, thus the reader has no idea that her ‘powers’ or ‘abilities’ are real, and 2) Jumping to what is essentially a supernatural conclusion when absolutely no indication of there being any such abilities or powers being used in this universe at all is a big hurdle to jump for any mystery reader.

I’m not going to say it’s unfair to the reader who wants to figure it out on their own since they did say she was a hypnotist and they did spend a lot of time giving her focus, but it just seems….underhanded to bring this up so late in the game.

Everything that is revealed to us at the end is either something we had no clue or indication to prior to the reveal, thus giving us no opportunity to solve that particular mystery, or it resorted to quasi-supernatural means that weren’t properly established, thus making us feel foolish if we said ‘Oh it’s Rei. We know she’s dead, but she was a hypnotist, so she’s probably pulling the strings and making them believe she’s dead.’

By the way, Mitsuki is the only one in the group who is hypnotized, so Rei’s not making the group think she’s dead with hypnotism. She was just laying about in realistic death effects for hours on end.

I’m not going to go so far as to reveal the actual solidified ending here, because there’s not much else wrong in that part that isn’t a reflection of what’s wrong here just on a slightly bigger and even less believable scale.

Bottom Line: The ending has quite a few problems. The first wolf turns out to be someone who is seemingly a red herring, while the alpha wolf turns out to be an even bigger seemingly red herring made into the bad guy through somewhat ridiculous means that you really wouldn’t be able to predict unless you’re fine with breaking the laws of reality within an established realistic world.

The story is pretty good outside of that, and the characters are decent enough, though Eiji is a bit abrasive. The horror aspect has some good ambiance to it, and you care about the characters enough to worry about them, especially since both the wolf and the rabbits may be threats to them. You’re never really worried that the rabbits will actually kill each other, but they lock each other in rooms that only the wolf has access to, and they leave them unguarded half the time leaving them as wide open targets.

Art-wise, it’s pretty nice. They get really very detailed on closeups and splash pages, and I especially like the designs of the rabbit heads.

Overall, this is a pretty good ‘death game’ manga. Maybe a bit too cheap with the ending, but an enjoyable and suspenseful ride the whole way through.

Additional Information and Notes: Doubt was written and illustrated by Yoshiki Tonogai, and it was published in Square Enix’s Monthly Shounen Gangan. In the US, it was published by Yen Press. Doubt has two spiritual successor manga called Judge and Secret.

Volume: 4

Year: 2007-2009

Recommended Audience: The manga is essentially self-censored, leaving disembodied heads and hanged people slightly blacked out, but there is quite a bit of violence, blood and mild to moderate gore. No nudity, no swearing or sex, though. 13+

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