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Hatsuka Nezumi no Jikan, vol. 4, by Kei Toume (2007-8, Monthly Afternoon). Grade: B+
----- Spoilers -----
With their locations known, the escapees are taken back to the school, with Nagi and Mei in one car, Maki and Kiriko in the other. Mei wants to know why Nagi won't expose her attempt to poison him, and he replies in a way that indicates he's trying to keep Maki from doing something rash. At the school, Kiriko is locked up in a solitary cell, while Ryou is allowed to visit Mei and Maki in the main room. Nagi is shuffled off to the family home to face his older brother, Mayumi, and eventually his father and Yuuko.
(On the long drive back.)
It's now made clear that Yuuko is Mayumi's younger sister. In fact, her mother had died when she was young, and she was raised by the elder Narusawa to be a part of the school's drug testing system, too. She's introduced to Nagi for the first time, but there's no chemistry between them. Narusawa tells Nagi that the family's pharmaceuticals company is being approached by similar corporations from overseas, and they're going to have to come up with a plan to cloak the existence of the school. His idea is that Nagi will take over the presidency of the medical arm and act as the company's public face, while Mayumi continues to run the school, and tests the new drugs on the orphan kids, in secret. With Kiriko as a hostage, Narusawa expects Nagi to come on board quietly. Instead, Nagi is very blunt in what he thinks of the plan, and this makes the old man angry enough that he tells Yuuko to wheel him to his room.
(Narusawa explains his plan to Mayumi and Nagi.)
Mayumi and Nagi trade barbs, but when Nagi tries to leave the room, he passes out on the floor. He's taken to the hospital where he's diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumor, and is given 6 more months to live. At the school, Mei is feeling very contrite and apologizes to Maki for what she's done. She's sure, though, that Nagi will be fine because he has Kiriko there to look out for him. She's also thinking that she doesn't want to take the memory eraser drugs anymore, because if she does, and Maki tries to escape again, she'll just end up making the same mistakes and betraying him again. She and Maki are released from quarantine and allowed to return to class. Maki and Ryou encounter the strange girl who tells them that, yes, there are other people that know about the true nature of the school, but who are happy to just stay here because this is the only life that they know.
Nagi dreams of being in the forest with Mayumi when they were both kids, capturing stag beetles. Nagi wanted to go farther into the woods, but Mayumi balks, afraid of leaving the school grounds. Nagi wakes up to find his brother in the room with him. They talk about having memories of their mother, but it's just brief little snatches of a woman taking them to the school, or of her dying in a hospital bed. Nagi's pretty sure that the dreams don't mean anything, because none of that actually happened, while Mayumi is reacting as if Nagi had been the subject of eraser drugs as a child (which might actually have caused the tumor). Back at the house, Narusawa suffers a heart attack, and Yuuko gives him his pills. In the school, the kids visit Mei in the nurse's room, and realize that Yuuko is missing. Ryou takes the opportunity to grab a handful of medicines to use later in case they try to escape again; specifically stuff for their headaches.
(Nagi's dream, collecting stag beetles with his brother.)
When Mayumi gets home, he tries to talk to his father about Nagi's condition. The old man cuts him off, saying that Nagi will still take over the company and work for them while he's still alive. If Mayumi doesn't like this plan, too bad. He's free to leave and go do whatever he wants, now that Nagi is back. Suddenly, Narusawa suffers more chest pains and knocks his bottle of pills to the floor where they roll to stop in front of Mayumi's feet. Mayumi freezes, and both Yuuko and Narusawa yell at him to do something. Mayumi snaps out of his thoughts, and rushes forward with the pills, but its too late. Narusawa is dead.
The next day, the students at the school want to know where all the teachers, staff and guards went. A few days later, the school is shut down for good. The students are allowed to choose whether to be transferred to other schools, or be absorbed into the pharma company. Yuuko decides to leave the family and return to university to further her medical education. She visits Nagi in the hospital, and tells him that it really didn't matter whether Mayumi had reacted in time or not - she'd already switched her father's medicine out for vitamin pills. Mayumi is going to take over the company (minus the orphan testing), while Nagi will be allowed to live out his days as he likes. Mei and Ryou have become a couple and are transferring to another school together. Kiriko meets up with Maki, and he tries to talk her into staying with him, but he knows that her place is beside Nagi. She then gets in a school car and rides off to wherever Nagi has gone. Maki himself wanted to return to his life in the city, and had gotten the part-time job Kiriko had been doing at the bar. One day, he's approached by Natsume, who is also out of the hospital after having slashed his wrists. Natsume has gotten all his memories back, and is starting to reconcile with his parents. He tells Maki that he's writing a short story about their time at the school, and gives the notebook to him to read, if he wants to. At the end of the day, Maki goes home to the empty apartment, feeling lonely. Then, his former boss from the liquor store, and Kiriko's friend from the bar drop by to give him a party.
(Natsume talks to Maki after the school closes.)
Comments: And thus the story ends. It's kind of anti-climatic, and we never learn what happens to the strange girl that had confronted Ryou. Over all, I like the characters and the plot line, but I'd have been a lot happier if Maki hadn't been so passive, or if Nagi would have found a way to thwart his father outright. But, still, it was a good story and things never dragged along the way. As I mentioned before, Hatsuka Nezumi no Jikan is about relationships, and trying to find one's place in the world. It's not an action thriller. Recommended if you like Kei Toume's other works.
The back of the volume advertises the start of Acony, which also ran in Afternoon.