"I am the Armchair Detective. I am nothing more and nothing less than that."
"The Armchair Detective ON STAGE"
Disclosure: I translated novels by both Arisugawa Alice (The Moai Island Puzzle) and Ayatsuji Yukito (The Decagon House Murders) As far as I know by the way, the only things they really co-created are this show, and one of the stories in the mystery game Trick X Logic.
Anraku Isu Tantei ("The Armchair Detective") is a TV drama originally created by mystery writers Ayatsuji Yukito and Arisugawa Alice for ABC, a local network in the Kansai region of Japan. It is essentially the ultimate Challenge to the
It had been eight years already since the Armchair Detective last appeared on television, so quite a lot of people were surprised by the sudden return of this almost legendary show. Things sure have changed in those eight years though, and while the show was still produced by a local TV station, Anraku Isu Tantei ON STAGE, the eight installment in the series, marks the first time the show was available to viewers throughout Japan through online streaming and on-demand services. The first episode was broadcast on January 5, 2017, the second episode on January 13.
In essence, Anraku Isu Tantei is at the core nothing more than a pure whodunit, with a few basic (written and unwritten) rules, including 1) there is only one murderer, 2) nobody will tell a lie (on purpose), save for the murderer, 3) everybody acts in a logical manner, 4) nothing "outside" what is shown exists (objects etc.), 5) motive is of no consequence and so on. Usually (and also in the case of Anraku Isu Tantei ON STAGE), your main objective is to identify a few characteristics of the murderer based on what you saw in the first episode, and use those characteristics to eliminate suspects. For example, let's say you have found evidence on the screen that prove the murderer was left-handed. Then you check for every suspect whether they are right or left-handed (or ambidextrous) and so on. I wrote a lengthy post on this 'elimination-style of mystery fiction' quite some time back now, but this is a form that is especially well-suited for the game-format of this show, because viewers can very clearly show the logical process of how they deduced the identity of the murderer ("Scene 1 proves the murderer was left-handed. Only X is left-handed. Ergo the murderer is X").
It's been eight years since the last episode aired, but Anraku Isu Tantei ON STAGE was still incredibly difficult. Not as difficult as previous episodes, true, but still, it's gloves off here. The truth behind the double murders on the twins is complex: you can identify the murderer based on basically two characteristics deduced from the crime scenes, but arriving at those two points will require lateral thinking by the viewer, as well as a very keen eye for detail. Still, as you listen to the solution in the second episode, you really can't help but cry out: "Ah! That makes so much sense!". Tthough admittedly, there were a few points where I could see the logic behind it, but did not see it as the one and only possible interpretation possible.
The logical chain that leads to the culprit is definitely not short, but it is so satisfying to get to the end of things. Though I do have the feeling that this episode was in a way 'easier' than previous episodes (it's less mean), but that it did ask for a lot more 'boring' work from the viewer. Making a time table of where everybody was at what time for yourself is pretty handy for example (that's what all the timestamps are for in the episode!) Also, in a puzzle plot mystery novel, it's easy to flip some pages back to check up on something, to reread that part about some minor detail that might be an important hint (I do so often). This is also required with this show: it is utterly impossible to solve this show with just one viewing (unless you have photographic memory). It's definitely easier now than eight years back, now we have digital recorders and on-demand streaming services, but if you want to solve this crime, you'll need to look really carefully for clues, zooming in on the background and stuff. On one hand, I think it's brilliant. This is a visual format, so of course yeah, come on with visual clues and other clues that make use of the medium. On the other hand: as a viewer, it's also not particularly fun to zoom in on a wall to look for a fly resting there, as an example. Anraku Isu Tantei ON STAGE is a fair mystery story that is solvable, but a challenging one too. It is not as mindwarping shocking as some of the earlier entries in this series though (Ayatsuji commented after the show they tried to be 'gentle' as it was the first episode in almost a decade).
Last year, I reviewed the 2016 installment of Nazotoki Live, another TV show with an interactive format. There they helped the viewer organize all the information and important clues at set points throughout the show, making an otherwise complex mystery plot understandable by breaking the logical process in steps. In Anraku Isu Tantei, the viewer has to do all of that themselves. There is of course a monetary award involved with this, so that's a logical design choice, but it's interesting comparing the two shows. In terms of complexity, the two don't differ that greatly on the whole, but Nazotoki Live helps you on the way, while Anraku Isu Tantei will make you work very very hard on the problem.
The way the character of the Armchair Detective was incorporated in the story itself was fun too. The Armchair Detective is a really fun character, and the solution episodes are often a blast to watch not in the least because of him. The solution episodes are also very meta-concious: all the involved characters are transported to the world of the Armchair Detective, and together with the suspects, he explains the logical elimination process by showing the corresponding scenes from the first episodes as his proof. This explanation process (which includes false solutions and faulty hypotheses) takes an about an hour on average: the plots are just that complex (and therefore of a scale seldom seen on TV).
After the second episode, it was revealed 6819 people submitted an answer. While 60% did guess the identity of the murderer correctly, only 32(!) submissions out of those nearly 7000 got the logical process of elimination correct. So only 0.47% of all the entries guessed the murderer in the correct way. In the end, Ayatsuji and Arisugawa had to choose the 'most elegant' answer from those 32 correct answers, but they couldn't pick one single winner, so there were two winners for Anraku Isu Tantei ON STAGE.
Anyway, Anraku Isu Tantei ON STAGE was definitely an entertaining addition to the series. As always, it shows how a true fair play mystery plot can work out on the screen, but like previous installments, it can be very tough at times, and sometimes it's asking the viewer to look at rather small details on the screen too much. Still, there is still an air of magic around this show, with the money prize and the meta-approach to presenting the solution to the viewer in the second episode that makes this an unique experience as both a mystery show and a game. I think that's the word I was looking for. Experience. Anraku Isu Tantei is always an experience. Let's hope the Armchair Detective will be summoned again in the future soon.
Original Japanese title(s): 『安楽椅子探偵ON STAGE』