If something happens to Tan… I’ll never forgive myself. My heart will be crushed to pieces. He deceived me… and yet… somehow I can’t think of him without being overcome with emotion. Dr. Bunnakit
Coroner Dr. Bunnakit first met Tan, a tutor, when he was called to investigate the murder of a young woman, Janejira, that appeared to be a suicide but, given his medical expertise, he was certain was a murder. And Tan looked as if he could be the prime suspect. Attacked and threatened in his own home by a masked man in black, Bun knew his life was in danger. But later the two men found themselves fleeing together as others around them were targeted. One thing led to another and, while on the run, they realized that they’d fallen in love. To throw their pursuers off their tracks, they faked Bun’s death – but now they’ve found out that Pued, the public prosecutor, has been murdered.
In the meantime, a certain Dr. Boonlert has contacted Tan – and it turns out that he’s Bun’s doting older brother. The two fugitives debate whether to risk confiding in him and then ask for his help. Tan’s complicated family set-up is being used against him; he’s the illegitimate son by a mistress of ‘Oto’, a gang boss, and his invalid mother is being held by Oto’s son, Por, to force Tan to do what he wants. Will they ever be free to pursue their relationship and become life partners?
I have no idea how long the original novel by Sammon on which this manga is based happens to be but the second and final volume of the manga adaptation practically gallops through the material, leaving the reader breathless. A body here, a betrayal there, another revelation… the fast pace is relentless and makes any attempt at creating tension redundant.
On the plus side: the central relationship between Bun and Tan is sensitively portrayed and we come to believe in the strength of their feelings for one another, even as events conspire to pull them apart. It’s a positive and heart-warming picture of two lonely people finding each other and knowing that they want to be together forever; a positive piece of advocacy for LGBT relationships.
On the minus side: the balance of the plot and timing of the reveals are all over the place. The central plotline involving murders, cover-ups and betrayals is obscured by incidental events, when it should really stay centre-stage to achieve maximum effect. A flashback showing Dr. Bun’s past occurs at a slightly bizarre moment in the narrative (and at first doesn’t even seem to be a flashback from the way it’s written) which is confusing; it seems to be there to introduce another character. The romance plotline comes to the fore – which is no bad thing because it’s touchingly done – but after all the secrecy and the faking of Bun’s death at the end of the first volume to save his life, it feels as if the main ‘manner of death’ plot is solved as an afterthought and thrown away. The same can be said about Tan’s ‘difficult’ family situation; the fall-out from this side of the plot is still unravelling as the murder mystery throws up new suspects and eventually is resolved rather swiftly and in an offhand way. (I’m old-school in my crime story preferences that I’d rather not have one of the culprits turn out to be someone who wasn’t even named in the first volume.)
The most ill-judged moment, however, occurs at the very end of the manga before the bonus and really made me do a double take. It’s the last two pages of the manga itself and, I assume, is there to remind us of the title and theme of the original novel: the manner of death. Maybe it’s from the novel and is there to set up a sequel? But as the bonus chapter that follows is a very sweet lovey-dovey scene between the two protagonists and the preceding pages are a kind of wedding night for the two, it strikes such a horribly wrong and discordant note that I really can’t believe there’s any justification for it to be there. You don’t mess up the glow of the final romantic scene with a messy and shocking defenestration witnessed first hand by Bun, only to have our coroner hero observe to himself, ‘The manner of death in this case points to murder.’ Ta-dah! Punch-line. Just no. For one awful moment I even thought that the author had killed off one of the two protagonists (we’ve only got what the mangaka chooses to show us to go on).
Endings aside, Yukari Umemoto has presented a fast-moving narrative with attractive character designs for the two leads in what is their first manga; the facial reactions and expressions convey the growing chemistry between Bun and Tan (no mean feat to do convincingly). This volume is rated Mature and there are some scenes of a sexual nature but they’re consensual and well drawn, although not explicit. The translation for Yen Press is again by Emma Schumacker and flows well. There’s a Thai TV BL drama series from 2020 but, as far as I can tell, no official translation of Sammon’s original 2017 novel (or its sequels) is currently available.
At the end of the day, Manner of Death works well as a BL manga when depicting the evolving relationship between Bun and Tan but is much less successful as a murder mystery.