Doubt, vol. 1 is a lengthy whodunit that pits six teenagers against each other in a life-or-death situation modeled after a popular cell phone game. The manga calls to mind character-driven thrillers like Saw, building an intricate mystery and connecting the victims beyond their experience with the game. Unfortunately, any tension and suspense is undone by slow pacing and uninteresting characters. Sensitive readers should know that Doubt features a fair amount of violence. Though there are no outright scenes of gore, there is a fair amount of blood.
The game Rabbit Doubt has taken the world by storm. Cast as rabbits, its players must figure out which among them is the wolf, a randomly selected antagonist given special abilities in order to help them devour other players. The game ends when the wolf has killed everyone or the players have determined the identity of the enemy. Rabbit Doubt plays a major role in the social lives of six young adults who have come together for an offline meetup, all of whom represent familiar archetypes. Yuu-Kun is friendly, concerned with everyone’s well-being, and fulfills the role of a brother figure to his childhood friend, Mitsuki. He is joined by gruff, streetwise Eiji; the sexy Haruka; and Rei, a fragile, wheelchair-bound girl. Their gathering is casual, filled with karaoke and fun, and it leads to the revelation that Rei is a former child star who hypnotized audiences until she was overwhelmed by negative media attention. Everything goes well until an unknown assailant knocks everyone out and imprisons them in a secret underground facility.
Rei’s past is one of many that are exposed in the first volume, shedding light on that which makes these people special, and the reasons they may deserve to be imprisoned. When Yuu-Kun awakes after the attack, he finds Rei’s bloodied corpse hung from a wall with a scrawled message that references the death of “the liar.” While he fumbles through his surroundings, he crosses paths with the sixth member of their game group, the cold and intelligent Hajime. When pressed about why he didn’t attend the meetup, Hajime mentions a text—supposedly sent from Yuu-Kun—that told him to meet someplace else where he, too, was attacked. As the body count slowly rises, chaos reigns as the group realizes they have been forced into playing a real-life version of Rabbit Doubt. This is where much of the drama is supposed to occur: a group of people, each with disparate personalities, must work together to solve the mystery before it’s too late. The trouble with this set-up is that everyone seems to get along quite well, both before and after their imprisonment, and the differences in their characterizations do not lend themselves to The Real World-style personality clashes. It isn’t until certain elements reveal themselves—such as barcodes that are tattooed on each person except for Yuu-Kun—that fear, uncertainty, and doubt begin to spin the situation out of control.
For a book of its size, this volume is a surprisingly breezy read. The characters frequently bicker back and forth as they accuse one another of being the wolf or offer their two cents about the situation. There are a lot of scenes that take up an entire page, designed for dramatic effect, but I couldn’t help but think that the frequency of these spreads was also intended to pad the chapter’s length and prolong the mystery for as long as possible. The chapters are expanded further by an extensive collection of viewing angles that focus on darkened hallways, empty rooms, and brooding players. Though Yoshiki Tonogai aims to establish the mood, I was left hoping he’d that just get to the point. He does introduce a clue that contains dossiers on everyone who played Rabbit Doubt and a newspaper clipping that suggests a connection between Eiji and Haruka. Unfortunately, the volume ends soon after their discovery and I couldn’t shake the feeling of disappointment at having to wait so long for the revelation.
Doubt, vol. 1 offers an interesting mystery that struggles to maintain its energy for 400 pages. If there were a tighter focus on the story and fewer atmospheric angles, it probably would read better. Its plot ends with a number of dangling threads: who has trapped the group? What is their intention? Who was the disfigured man wearing the rabbit mask? What role does Eiji’s past have in the proceedings? These questions force the reader to seek out Doubt’s second volume, because this one leaves the reader with very few answers.
Doubt, vol. 1
by Yoshiki Tonogai
Yen Press, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)