Usotoki Rhetoric Volume 1 review

The fan-favourite historical mystery manga Usotoki Rhetoric makes has made its English language debut. It is 1926, the first year of the Showa era. Urabe Kanoko has left her hometown after it turns against her for having the ability to hear lies when spoken. She collapses from hunger after arriving in a town called Tsukumoya, where she meets a poverty-stricken detective named Iwai Soma. Is this fate? Or something more?

Historical manga is having something of a renaissance with titles such as The Apothecary Diaries and My Happy Marriage becoming big hits. Usotoki Rhetoric is the latest such title, and it has already generated strong buzz from its initial release. It’s easy to see why with this strong opening volume. The beginning of the Showa era (1926) is not a time period that gets examined often in mainstream manga, and author Ritsu Miyako puts a lot of research and effort into presenting an authentic take on the period. It was a time when modernisation was slowly creeping into Japan with technology such as cars being rare luxuries and tradition still being dominant.

Whilst this is a mystery series, the mysteries in this volume take a back seat to the introduction of the two leading characters and the setting. It quickly becomes apparent that there is a great deal of superstition running rampant in Tsukumoya which makes things even tougher for Urabe. Beyond the fact that almost everyone she comes across she can tell is dishonest, she still lives with the fear that she will be abandoned once again because of her ability. Likewise, as gifted a detective he is, Iwai is very down-on-his-luck and has a reputation of being untrustworthy. But both characters are a greater whole than the sum of their parts. The mysteries including a woman supposedly kidnapped from a theatre present the synergy between the two as they work out a way to make their skills work together – including a special set of hand signals Urabe gives when she detects someone is lying whilst Iwai uses his detective skills and bluffing ability to compliment this.

Miyako is very strong in the art department as well. Her faithfulness to the time period is reflected in the detail of her artwork with plenty of attention being given to the fashion of the time and architecture. She is also easily able to flit between serious detective narratives to more lighthearted and zany moments, with her artwork adapting to the change each time. She also has some great character designs which add to the attractiveness of the series. This is a fun mystery manga that makes fantastic use of its historical setting and has some fun characters to boot. Fans of historical manga will definitely want this series in their collection.

Usotoki Rhetoric Volume 1 is out 1 December from One Peace Books (9781642732030, p/b, £10.99)

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