Krystallina: Over the years, I’ve found that manga blurbs tend to be rather heavy on spoilers despite their short length. Nothing like ending one volume in a life-or-death situation, but an accidental glance of the next summary reveals they’re recuperating after the battle or whatever.
So I was rather surprised when I read the introduction for Burn the House Down‘s first volume, which also doubles as the series’ synopsis on the website. Because while the first chapter provides plenty of clues, by the end, it confirms the housekeeper “Shizuka Yamauchi” doesn’t exist — because she’s really her client’s, Makiko Mitarai’s, stepdaughter, Anzu!
The manga opens with the protagonist remembering how her mother begged for forgiveness in front of a burning house. Then the heroine meets potential new client Makiko, a homemaker and amateur model for a housewives’ magazine. Despite her picture-perfect persona, Makiko is aloof and has no housekeeping skills, which is why she needs a maid. “Shizuka” impresses Makiko with her cleaning skills and is hired, but she secretly snatches a barrette.
It’s after going to the hospital with her sister, Yuzu, that the full story comes out. Their mother is a patient there, and she divorced their father after the fire. But Anzu has reasons to believe Makiko was the one who actually started the fire, as Makiko was stealing things from the girls’ mother when visiting — things like the customized barrette — and Anzu spotted Makiko the day of the fire with a less-than- sympathetic expression on her face.
Sometime after, Makiko married the girls’ dad. Now Anzu wants to find proof Makiko is the arsonist and, in her own words, “take everything back”.
Burn the House Down is a whodunnit with a twist — mainly, someone has already said “Idunnit”. You hear a lot of stories in the real world where, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, family members refuse to believe their relative’s guilt in a crime. And there’s a distinct possibility that’s the case here. Makiko comes across as absolutely unlikable in the story, throwing away a homemade gift from neighbors, lying about her talents for social media and magazine fame, and telling the helper she has awful skin. Not to mention most likely stealing from a friend. Still, petty theft is one thing, but arson?
Rightly or wrongly, Anzu certainly thinks Makiko is, and she’s determined to be both police investigator and fire marshal in this old, closed case. Yuzu would also love to prove their mother’s innocence (and hey, the financial benefits would be a great bonus), but she’s worried about Anzu’s safety.
I feel like I talked a lot already, and yet this is all info found in the first chapter. I haven’t even gotten to the fact that Makiko was a single mom, and you know how I mentioned Makiko is unlikable? They certainly know that, perhaps better than anyone else, which is why they have a strained relationship with her.
One thing I do want to mention is the art is a more subdued work. While Anzu (as Shizuka) has a rather more bright, shoujo vibe with eyes full of light, in the manga itself, she (and others) lack that type of brilliance. This is more along the lines of Kiss titles like Nodame Cantabile and Hotaru’s Way versus Perfect World. I will say Fujisawa’s strength lies in scenes with heightened emotions, like shock or anger, and it’s like music hitting a fevered pitch every time you come across one of these scenes.
Despite being made for female audiences, Burn the House Down is a rare title where, so far, romance is not the forefront. Anzu is clearly on a mission, and so far it isn’t going as smoothly as planned. Besides the main mystery, there are a couple other puzzles the author has presented, and I think suspense fans will want to see how — or if — they intersect.
Krystallina’s rating: 4.5 out of 5
Justin: Makiko Mitarai is an older woman who’s a housewife and model growing in popularity. Her likes on social media are going up, appearances in magazines are on the rise, and she comes across to her neighbors as beautiful and kind – when she’s quite the opposite, as she throws away a gift from one of her neighbors and comments, “ It reeks of poverty.” She ends up eventually hiring a new housekeeper named Shizuka Yamauchi to clean and maintain the first floor. The only things Makiko asks of her is to not answer deliveries and never go up on the second floor. With those words, she leaves things up to Shizuka and attempts to advance her burgeoning career…
…unaware that the housekeeper she hired, Shizuka, is not actually just a normal housekeeper – she’s someone she should know, but has no idea it’s actually Anzu Murata. Actually, even more than that – it’s Anzu Mitarai. 13 years ago, her family was torn apart after the house they lived in burned down, and all the signs point to none other than Makiko who did it. But with no proof, the only thing that happened since then is her own mom being blamed for the fire, then being divorced, and now in a state of generalized amnesia after constant flashbacks…while Makiko has upstanding sons from a prior marriage, now has Anzu’s dad (who, by the way, is a doctor), and appears to be shooting to the top of becoming a full-blown star. Anzu wants to break that, and aims to find any proof of Makiko’s wrongdoing no matter what.
This basically means Burn the House Down is a case where two women happen to be risking a lot in order to accomplish their own goals – and that makes all the secrets and mysteries involving the incident, and what has happened to everyone’s lives since then, all the more intriguing.
There’s a good amount to actually keep track of in this first volume, but the very basic fact is these two characters happen to be walking a tightrope in keeping their secrets, and it’s all going to be who blinks first. For Anzu masquerading as Shizuka, she’s changed her looks a touch (not wearing glasses like she was in her youth for example) in order to work for Makiko and get to the truth behind the fire. What she knows so far as Makiko has done everything in her power to cozy up to her mother and eventually, this led to taking her things, and soon enough, taking away her dad – and now she’s currently living the high life. But why? Anzu aims to find out – in order to help her sister Yuzu and heal her mother, she feels she has no choice, which means doing whatever she can to not tip off that Makiko knows her.
As for Makiko, it’s the classic “person in position of power” that treats people beneath her while putting on a positive façade for the public. Usually this means we’ll get the backstory or downfall later in the series, but instead we get the tenets of why she can fail in this volume, where after the fire it was reported the police were suspecting arson, which meant she had no idea if would get away with it. She insists to Anzu to never go up to the second floor or answer deliveries, and with good reason since someone’s up there. And while her public persona’s going great, her private life isn’t quite the same since her two grown boys – the ones who have prestige schooling or things they’ll be doing – don’t appear to actually trust and/or maybe like her . Heck, one of them’s now a shut-in and won’t talk to her. Wouldn’t even shock me if we later find out she’s not getting along with her husband either.
So this is an excellent start in this game of cat-and-mouse, despite how simple this is. It’s nothing elaborate or new, but establishing these characters is a good start, and adding the mystery of the house Anzu’s working at adding to the dilemma in this manga. I am a little iffy on whether all of these characters should’ve known it each other back when they were kids/when Makiko was around her 30’s, but I presume it adds to the betrayals and feelings for all the characters, though as we can Tell, Anzu’s mom has gotten the worst of it. And right now the only one succeeding is Makiko, tenuously. Can’t wait to see what volume 2 brings.
Justin’s rating: 4.5 out of 5