Fire Investigator Nanase Volume 1 by Izo Hashimoto and Tomoshige Ichikawa
Fire Investigator Nanase combines the qualities of a police procedural and a psychological thriller to produce a manga that is thoroughly entertaining. Nanase is a recent graduate of firefighter academy. Years ago she saved a man from a burning building. He turned out to be the notorious serial arsonist nicknamed “Firebug”. Nanase is dedicated to finding the causes of fires. She investigates the aftermath of a mysterious blaze at a supermarket. While her supervisor Tachibana belittles her for being a rookie, Nanase has strong instincts that cause her to look at clues more closely. A dead security guard, burned computer, empty fire extinguisher, and a melted plastic bucket lead Nanase to assume that the cause of the fire was arson. She goes to the site alone at night to continue her investigation. She’s attacked by a mysterious masked man and then saved by an unexpected ally, the Firebug.
Firebug takes Nanase to a building where he tests her knowledge of fire with a variety of traps. She manages to pass each one, and Firebug gives her hints that will help her solve the supermarket fire mystery. She asks why he’s helping her. Firebug turns to leave and she grabs his head, accidentally ripping off a mask that reveals a scarred, almost melted face underneath. Nanase and Firebug begin a somewhat twisted relationship. Firebug seems to take offense at the work of arsonists other than himself, and he keeps phoning Nanase to give her help on her cases. He’s obviously watching her very closely with inside knowledge that seems almost impossible for him to know.
Nanase is a strong and engaging heroine. Her parents were killed in a fire, and she is totally dedicated to her job. She still has some family life because she adopted the orphaned son of a fellow firefighter in order to prevent him from having to live in an orphanage. While Nanase isn’t afraid of action, she has a more cerebral approach to solving fire-related crimes. She’s willing to accept Firebug’s help, even though she’s unsure of his motivation. Firebug himself is a compelling contrast to Nanase. He seems to be a master of disguise in addition to being a clever arsonist, as he is always ripping off his face to reveal new identities. The art for this series is solid, and especially excels at portraying the crazed look in Firebug’s eyes as he confronts the authorities. I’ll definitely be collecting this manga in the future.