Friday, March 25, 2011

「克子死ス 金田一氏ヲヨコセ」

「そう考えたとき、私は急になんともいえぬほど嬉しくなって来たものです。犯人は『密室の殺人』という問題を提出しt、われわれを挑戦して来ていえ るのだ。知恵の戦いをわれわれに挑んで来ているのだ。ようし、それじゃひとつその挑戦におうじようじゃないか。知恵の戦いを戦ってやろうじゃないか」
『本陣殺人事件』

"And when that came into my mind, I became unbelievably happy. The criminal gave us a locked room murder as a problem and challenged us! He challenged us with a battle of wits! Well, let's take this challenge then! Let us fight this battle of wits!"
"The Daimyou's Inn Murder Case"

When reading secondary literature and meta-fiction, you sometimes come across spoilers for detective novels. And while spoiling some plot-twists might be considered 'safe' in this time and age (is it possible to spoil... King Kong?), spoilers are usually marked and even an academic will usually first introduce the title of the work before going into the spoiler-danger portion of his story. So a reader has the choice of reading the spoiler, or not. With detective novels, a lot of the fun derives from the fact you have to deduce the facts yourself, so spoilers are usually avoided.

Unless, of course, you don't actually think you'll ever read the book anyway and thus don't really care about a solution being spoiled. So when I many, many moons ago read a detailed summary of Yokomizo Seishi's masterpiece Honjin Satsujin Jiken ("The Daimyou's Inn Murder Case"), with no prospects of a translation in a language I could read, I didn't really care about the spoiler. Who would've guessed I'd do another bachelor course after the first one, this time in Japanese studies, resulting in a new-and-improved me who is actually able to read the novel in Japanese?

Yokomizo Seishi was a detective writer with quite some similarities with Edogawa Rampo. In the pre-war (WWII) period, both writers started out as orthodox detective writers, only to change to un-orthodox detective stories, as these were the norm in pre-war Japan. Following the Second World War (during which the publication of detective novels was forbidden), both writers returned to the orthodox detective novel. Edogawa Rampo poured his energies in essays and criticism, while Yokomizo Seishi finally wrote the orthodox detective novels he always wanted to write.

He published two novels in 1946, of which the more famous one is Honjin Satsujin Jiken. The novel is commonly seen as the first Japanese orthodox (authentic) Golden Age-style detective novel. A symbol of the change between the pre-war un-orthodox novels and post-war orthodox novels. It plays a big role in influential critic/writer Kasai Kiyoshi's orthodox detective theory (on which I'll someday, someday will write something. But not now). It's also considered a very Japanese novel, a novel only a Japanese, living in a Japanese setting could have written.

But most importantly, for me, it's a great detective novel. Not even knowing the solution already could spoil this experience. I'm not going to say anything new in a historical context about this book, so I'll just rave about this novel.

While the novel is called Honjin Satsujin Jiken ("The Daimyou's Inn Murder Case"), it's not set in a honjin. Which is an officially appointed inn for daimyo to stay in while traveling (because of sankin koutai.) during the Edo period. But the Ichiyanagi family did run a honjin during the Edo period and while the family have moved away from their original location since then, the Ichiyanagi family is still a wealthy and influential family in 1937, nowadays living in a big mansion (complete with annex) in rural Okayama. While the class-structure has been abolished for many years now, the villagers are still looking up to the marriage of the eldest son of the Ichiyanagi family, Kenzou, as though they were peasants to their lord. But tragedy strikes! The night of the marriage a scream and the eerie sound of a koto being played is heard at the Ichiyanagi mansion and when members of the family go take a look at the annex where Kenzou and his new wife Katsuko are staying, they find the married couple dead, slayed by a sword. But how could have the murderer have escaped? The sliding doors of the annex were all fastened from the inside and what's more, there were no footprints in the snow around the annex! The only clues left are some bloody fingerprints of somebody with only three fingers... Genzou, the uncle of Katsuko sends out a telegram asking his wife to send his protogé Kindaichi Kousuke to him.

Yes, Honjin Satsujin Jiken is the first novel to feature famous detective Kindaichi Kousuke. As this novel is set before the war (all the other Kindaichi novels are actually set after the war), Kindaichi is here still a young, bright boy (though he has been to America by now, and was addicted to drugs for a while too), but his trademark long hair, his out-dated clothes and his stuttering are all there. And he is as bright as always. He solves the locked room murder through sheer logic and it's no wonder this book set off such a boom in orthodox detective novels (and Kindaichi fans!).

Yokomizo's also a genius in creating atmosphere.  The creepy sound of a koto in the night, a ghost from the past (the man with three fingers), the small rural (Okayama) village setting, head and branch families, the upper/lower classes, the occasional use of dialects, elements that are unmistakenly deeply connected with the Kindaichi Kousuke novels were all introduced in this novel. The war, a theme that plays a big role in the background in many of the Kindaichi novels is not as visible, as it's set in before the war, but in return, the focus shifts a bit more to class differences, something also decidedly present in the Kindaichi novels (though not as 'visible' as the war).

Strangely enough though, this book seems to be parodied not as much as other Kindaichi classics like Gokumontou ("Prison Gate Island"), Inugamike no Ichizoku ("The Inugami Family") and (of course) Yatsu Haka Mura ("Eight Graves Village"). Even though it has its own set of memorable scenes like the koto, the dead cat body and the three fingered man!

The solution of the novel is a very memorable one, ingenious enough to be called a classic, though it is a bit hindered by its complexity. While not as improbable as The Chinese Orange Mystery, it's still a very complex one with many factors to consider, but the way the locked room is a) set and b) how it's made possible, makes this one of the Grand Titles in Japanese detective history, a must-read for anyone interested in how in the genre has developed in Japan. It's also much more satisfying than Edogawa Rampo's D-Zaka no Satsujin ("The Murder at D-Slope"), Japan's first locked 'room' murder mystery.

The novel feels very much as meta-fiction too. Yokomizo longed to write a detective novel during the war, having spent much time reading them and he makes many references to the authors who have inspired him. In the first chapter, for example, he mentions Leroux' Le Mystère de la Chambre Jaune, LeBlanc's Les dents du tigre, S.S. Van Dine's The Canary Murder Case and The Kennel Murder Case, Carr's The Plague Court Murders and Scarlett's Murder Among the Angells, while halfway the novel, Kindaichi Kousuke and third son of the Ichiyanagi family, Saburou, talk about the workings of locked room murders and in the end, the author pats himself on the shoulder gloating about how his carefully chosen words were a hint on their own.

I don't read Kindaichi novels often, as they take some time (though this one was surprisingly easy, taking only three days), but actually own many of them and every time I do read them, I can only rave about how awesome they are. I really, really should read more.

But then again, I say that also about Edogawa Rampo, Norizuki Rintarou, Ayatsuji Yukito, Shimada Souji, Arisugawa Arisu, Nikaidou Reito, Maya Yutaka, American/English writers, secondary literature...

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史、『本陣殺人事件』

Monday, March 21, 2011

「この世には殺す人間と殺される人間がいる。自分は前者だ」

「胸の奥に深く響いているのは、クラスメイトたちの楽しい話でもなければ、家族と交わす暖かい言葉でもなかった。まるでそれらはチューニングのあっていないラジオの雑音のようにしか聞こえない」
『GOTH』

"What resonated deep within my body, was not the fun chatter of my classmates, nor the warm words I exchanged with my family. Like a radio that wasn't tuned right, it all sounded like interference"
"GOTH"

While most of the books I read (and therefore buy) are detectives, I occasionally buy other books. Some might be about the Japanese language, some about videogames and once in a blue moon, I actually buy fiction that doesn't belong to the detective genre. Though I don't go through them fast. Maybe I should continue with the second chapter of Ningen Shikkaku ("Failure as a Human") by now, I think I finished the first chapter almost a month ago...

I also have some books by Otsuichi, a popular light novel writer who mainly writes horror-stories, as far as I know. I had heard about him before, as some of his novels are also available in English. But I learned most about him when Otsuchi was discussed in class once as an example of the Japanese Generation Y, and we also read/watched some of his works there. And his stories seemed interesting enough. And very, very graphic. In words. I don't know what's worse, to see such graphic things as images (i.e. manga) or just reading it in detail. At any rate, the stories left an impression. So I picked up some books by him. In the mindset that these were horror-stories. Which was not completely correct.

So I think this is the first time I'm going to write about a book, I hadn't even considered to review. I always thought Otsuichi's GOTH, also available in English, was just a horror story collection, so I was very surprised to read on the back-cover that GOTH had won the third Honkaku Mystery Taishou (Orthodox Mystery Price), beating something like Norizuki Rintarou's Norizuki Rintarou no Kouseki. Which was a great book. It also got second place in the Kono Mystery ga sugoi (This Mystery is Great) rankings. GOTH was probably the first light-novel that moved into the big-leagues (in the detective field).  So GOTH quickly moved from my 'other'-pile (which shrinks at the rate of one book every two months. If things are going well), to my 'detective'-pile (which goes at around a book a week, sometimes two).

GOTH tells the story of the narrator, a high school student and his classmate Morino Yoru, a girl always dressed in black, who actively investigate strange happenings in town. But not as 'boy detectives'. The two just have an interest in the macabre. Gruesome murders are much more alluring to them than just chatting about what was on TV yesterday. The narrator's 'hobby' is walking around crime scenes and meeting murderers. They just want to seek the darkness within man from close by. They have no interest in 'justice' or helping out other people. They just want to see blood.

While the English version of GOTH is a single release, based on the hardcover release, I got the paperback version, which is split up in two books. I'll discuss only the first one here. Mainly because I haven't read the second one yet. And because splitting up reviews makes me seem more productive. GOTH - Yoru no Shou ("GOTH - Yoru's Chapter") is the first book and consists of three short stories. It seems like the story order is slightly different in the paperback version, but that doesn't really matter.

In Ankokukei (GOTH) (Dark Type: GOTH), Morino has picked up something what seems to be the notebook of the serial murderer prowling around lately, who dissects his victims, high school girls, in countless pieces and leaves them in the mountains. Using the diary, they manage the body of a girl that hasn't been discovered yet and they wonder whether they could get contact with the murderer. After a while, Morino starts to dress and act like the third victim, but she too disappears, only leaving a text-message saying "help".

In Inu (Dog), the narrator investigates the disappearance of dogs in the neighborhood, after his sister came across a pit hidden away beneath a bridge with the remains of said dogs. In a parallel story-line, a girl and her dog are planning to kill her mother's boyfriend because they keep getting abused.

Finally, Kioku (Twins) (Memories: Twins), Morino has trouble falling in sleep, saying she needs to put a rope around her neck in order to fall asleep. She also tells the narrator about her dead twin sister. The two of them used to pretended to be death to scare people, but one day, her sister Yuu accidentally hanged herself. The narrator travels to Morino's hometown to investigate about the twin sisters' past.

All of these stories feature some kind of 'surprise' ending (though I doubt any experiences reader of the genre will truly be surprised), and while the stories feel more like horror-stories than detective-stories, these endings and the, in hindsight, fairly well plotted stories do make it a suitable book to discuss here. Especially the first story features a nice conclusion in an almost Queen-ish logical argument solution. Which was quite surprising. Though I wouldn't say this book was better in the orthodox mystery subgenre than Norizuki Rintarou no Kouseki, I do have to say I'm fairly (pleasantly) surprised by this book. But most memorable is the darkness in these stories. These stories are quite dark, with graphic violence and just creepy. Which was kinda what Otsuichi does, I remember from my class. He pulls it off quite good. So yeah, I think I'll start with the second book soon. 

[ADD: Review of the second book]

Original Japanese title(s): 乙一 『GOTH - 夜の章』「暗黒系 Goth」 /「犬 Dog」/「記憶 Twins」

Thursday, March 17, 2011

「古畑任三郎でした」

「赤い洗面器の男の話。ある晴れた日の午後道を歩いていたら、向こうから赤い洗面器を頭にのせた男が歩いてきました。洗面器の中にはたっぷりの水。男はその水を一滴もこぼさないように、ゆっくり、ゆっくり歩いてきました。私は勇気をふるって、「ちょっとすいませんが、あなたどうしてそんな赤い洗面器なんか頭にのせて歩いているんですか?」と聞いてみました。すると男は答えました。この話の続きは番組の最後で。中浦たか子のミッド・ナイト・ジャパン、午前4時までお付き合い下さいませませぇ」
『さよなら、DJ』

"A story about a man with a red wash basin. On a clear day, I was walking in the afternoon, when a man carrying a red wash basin on his head came walking this way. The wash basin was full of water. The man was walking slowly, very slowly, so not even a drop of water would fall out. I gathered all my courage and asked him: "Excuse me, but why are you walking around with a red wash basin on your head?" And the man answered.. The continuation of this story will come at the end of the program. This is Nakaura Takako's Midnight Japan and please accompany me until 4:00 AM!"
"Goodbye, DJ"

If my habit of using introductory quotes was stolen from Ellery Queen, then my inability to write a post without an introductory, contextualizing paragraph comes from Furuhata Ninzaburou. I need start-up time before I get into the main topic. I just can't go straight into the reviews. I just can't.

And as I don't seem to use my Furuhata Ninzaburou tag as much as I should, a short introduction: Furuhata Ninzaburou was a Japanese TV-drama, penned by playwright Mitani Kouki, that ran for well over a decade. The show was very much like Columbo, where the thrill came not from finding out who did it, but from guessing how the detective would catch his culprit. Tamura Masakazu played Furuhata Ninzaburou, a Japanese police lieutenant. Assisted by bumbling subordinate Imaizumi (played by Nishimura Masahiko) (and in the third season, also by smart, but short, sidekick Saionji (Ishii Masanori), Furuhata would use his keen mind (and utterly irritating habits which would annoy every living being) to confront his murderers, played famous Japanese people (Ichiro, SMAP, Ishikawa Kouji, Shoufukutei Tsurube and  Karasawa Toshiaki to name a few).

Every show would begin with a short introduction, before the opening themes, were Furuhata would talk about some non-sequitur. Like vending machines or alarm numbers or the moon or dogs....But in fact, these little stories would often turn out to be hints pointing at the solution of every case. The stories are, as said, very much like Columbo. Furuhata would lock on every single contradiction at the crime scene or testimony and try to find the truth behind it. Not seldom would he give his suspects a chance to explain themselves, only resulting in them burying themselves in more lies till they couldn't get out. Also, in a nod to the Ellery Queen TV drama, Furuhata would always address the TV audience just before the final act, asking them whether they knew where the murderer had slipped up or how he would trap the murderer.

And yes, this is a great show. It's my favorite Japanese TV-drama (well, shared with Trick) and while Trick is more a bizarre comedy set in a mystery, Furuhata Ninzaburou is just everything a fan of the genre can wish for. And more.

Scenario-writer Mitani Kouki was mostly known for his comedic stage productions (some of which have been made into movies), and has also directed movies himself in recent years (for example Welcome Back Mr. McDonald, The Uchouten Hotel and The University of Laughs). Mitani is quite a prolific writer, as he also pens essay-books and novels. But I am actually not sure what moved him into creating Furuhata Ninzaburou. You do see a lot of his background in Furuhata Ninzaburou though. Situation comedy plays a big part in the show (you might chuckle when watching Columbo, but Furuhata Ninzaburou is actually _funny_) and I can't help but think that the small casts and the focus on fast dialogue also comes from the theater.

But anyway, the novelization of the first season of Furuhata Ninzaburou was actually penned by Mitani himself. As he writes in the afterword of Furuhata Ninzaburou - Satsujin Jiken File ("Furuhata Ninzaburou - Murder Case File"), usually scenario-writers just lend their names to ghost-writers for TV drama novelizations, but as Mitani is a honest man, he wrote it himself. The book was to be released before the final episode would appear and because of that, Mitani was only able to make novelizations of 10 episodes (of a total of 12 episodes).

As a man of the theater, Mitani didn't see the novelization as just a novelization, but more like how it works with a play. Every time a play is performed, the playwright learns something new, he sees something that needs to be changed and so the novelization differs at some points with the TV drama. Mitani deleted some scenes/lines he felt obsolete, added scenes/lines that had been cut at first. Most importantly, Mitani shifted the perspective of the stories from Furuhata, to the criminal. Furuhata Ninzaburou in the TV show is, thanks to Tamura's acting, a very recognizable character, with dozens of habits and pet-peeves (Regarding hamburgers: "One pickle in the middle, surrounded by four pickles!"). You'll see him a lot in monomane shows. In the novel however, Mitani tried to erase as much of Furuhata's presence as much as possible. And as we only see him through the eyes of the criminal, it almost seems like Furuhata is a ghost. Appearing before the eyes of the murderer after the crime, solving it, and then leaving. Because of the shift of perspective, subordinate Imaizumi was deleted from the stories entirely, which is a bit sad, but I admit it's needed if Mitani wanted to write it like this.


But onwards to the stories.

In Omedetou Ari sensei ("Congratulations, doctor Ari) [TV-version: Episode 3, Waraeru Shitai ("The Laughing Corpse")], psychologist Ari kills her lover, but sets things up to make it seem like self-defense. The fact that the corpse seems to laugh makes Furuhata thinks otherwise though (Memorable moment: Furuhata smoking through a panty, something he had hoped was impossible.). Both the way Ari killed her lover, as well as the solution are amusing, though the solution is slightly... well, not unbelievable per se, just a bit unlikely.

Rokudaime no Hanzai ("The Sixth' Crime") [Episode 2, Ugoku Shitai ("The Moving Corpse")] is about a murder committed by a kabuki actor. Besides the kabuki theater setting though, the story has no real particulars in my opinion. Not counting Sakai Masaaki playing the murderer in the TV-version.

Banzuiin Dai, Hashiru ("Run, Banzuiin Dai") [Episode 4, Koroshi no Fax ("The Murder Fax")] is memorable to me, because it's the first Furuhata story I ever saw. Mystery-writer Banzuiin's wife has disappeared and Banzuiin is sent fax-messages from a kidnapper demanding money. But actually, Banzuiin has killed his wife himself and has set his fax on a timer to send the 'messages from the kidnapper' to himself, as this would make him seem innocent in the eyes of the police. Furuhata was called in just in case by his superiors (as Furuhata handles murders, not kidnapping cases), but some sharp observations ruin all of Banzuiin's plans. And it seems even my modern readings are old: I chuckled when reading the line saying using something like a fax for an alibi trick must be unprecedented. Times move fast.

Chinami no Ie ("Chinami's House") [Episode 1 Shisha kara no Dengon ("A Message from the Dead")] I have actually translated. Features a dying message without a message. Or something like that. Read it.

Iguchi Kaoru no Requiem ("Iguchi Kaoru's Requiem") [Episode 6, Piano Lesson] is very similar to Rokudaime no Hanzai. Both stories are set in a 'special'  environment. Where Rokudaime no Hanzai was set at a kabuki theater, Iguchi Kaoru no Requiem is set at a music school. Both stories also feature a solution that hinges the culprit's misunderstanding of circumstances. 

Kuroda Seinen no Yuutsu ("Young Kuroda's Melancholy") [Episode 9. Satsujin Koukai Housou ("Open Broadcast Murder")] is a fun little episode, where the self-proclaimed psychic Kuroda shows his powers to the world in live broadcast show. His 'powers' are quickly proven to be nothing more than mere parlor tricks by a scientist. But just as it looks like game over for Kuroda, he senses and finds the body of a dead man. Live on TV! I actually enjoyed the novelization more than the original TV version; reading it from Kuroda's perspective makes the character a lot more interesting (he has the same character development in the TV-show, but there it's rather sudden). And this time, Furuhata doesn't even make a real appearance, as he only tells the scientist some thoughts he had while watching the broadcast...

Sakotsubo Hisho no Nagai Yoru ("Private Secretary Sakotsubo's Long Night") [Episode 10, Mujun darake no Shitai ("The Corpse full of Contradictions")] feels a bit like those shakai-ha (Social) detective novels. Sakotsubo, the private secretary of a Diet member accidentilly kills his boss' lover as Sakotsubo and his boss tried to convince her to break up with, in fear of a scandal. When his boss orders him to make it look like Sakotsubo had a relation with the woman and that she comitted suicide because he dumped her, Sakotsubo snaps and kills his boss. Or so he thinks. Even though he went through the trouble setting things up to look like a double suicide, he is quite surprised to see the police handling the lover's death as a murder, while his boss wasn't dead, only heavily wounded! And as if that wasn't enough, that annoying police lieutenant keeps rambling about things...

Sayonara Otakasan ("Goodbye, Miss Otaka") [Episode 11, Sayonara, DJ ("Goodbye, DJ")] is one of my favorite stories. Once again a 'special' environment is used, this time a TV/radio station, where DJ Otaka manages to kill her assistent while on-air! The setting of TV/radio station is used perfectly and Mitani would revisit the radio-station setting in the wonderful movie Welcome Back Mr. McDonald,

Nakagawa Gekabuchou no Coat ("Chief Surgery Nakagawa's Coat") [Episode 8, Satsujin Tokkyuu ("Murder Express")] is just fun, because it features a murder on a train. On a Shinkansen to be exactly. With topics like ekiben, yakuza and train manners in Japan, this story is also one of the more cultural interesting ones, I think. 

Kogure Keibu Saigo no Jiken ("Police Inspector Kogure's Last Case") [Episode 12, Saigo no Aisatsu ("The Final Greeting")] is indeed about Police Inspector Kogure's last case. The murderer of Kogure's granddaughter was never convicted by the judge, so Kogure took matters into his own hands. Furuhata immediately suspects his superior, but it seems like he has an iron-clad alibie. This story once again features a solution that hinges on the culprit's misunderstanding of circumstances and I don't really like it, as the solution is rather hard to deduce yourself. It makes sense in hindsight, but it's a bit unbelievable and the whole story is only just memorable for some scenes where Furuhata explains that he never uses a gun (he always pretended to be sick when they had shooting exams) and eating MOS burger.

It's just too bad it ends with this though! I wish Mitani had wrote more novelized versions, as there are great stories in later seasons too. Especially season two's opening episode, Shaberisugiru otoko ("The Too Talkative Man") can be considered one of the better known detective stories in Japan (having Akashiya Sanma as the culprit might help) and in fact, I'm pretty sure that episode is where Takumi Shuu got his inspiration for Gyakuten Saiban from, as it features a case solved in the court and incessant pouncing on contradictions in testimony that is the essence of Gyakuten Saiban. 

Original Japanese title(s): 三谷幸喜『古畑任三郎・殺人事件ファイル』/「おめでとうアリ先生」/「六代目の犯罪」/「幡随院大、走る」/「ちなみの家」/「井口薫のレクイエム」/「黒田青年の憂鬱」/「迫坪の長い夜」/「さよならおたかさん」/「中川外科部長のコート」/「木暮警部最後の事件」

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

『今、甦る死』

「えーテレビを見ながら食事をする人、いらっしゃいますよね。お風呂の中で雑誌を読む方、いらっしゃいますよね。ただ、私からのお願いです。人を殺すときくらいはどうか、殺人に集中してください」
『古畑任三郎: 忙しすぎる殺人者』

"There are people who eat while watching television. There are people who read a magazine while in bath. But I beg of you. When you kill somebody, please focus on the murder"
"Furuhata Ninzaburou: The Too Busy Murderer"

Hmm, maybe thinking I would be able to finish several games, while writing my thesis and other things, was somewhat stupid on my part. So I'll stop with the game reviews now and pick them up again after most deadlines have passed. In April.

I consider myself sort of a bibliophile. I love the touch and smell of older books, I love seeing books on shelves (or in my case, in little piles on the floor and on bookshelves and on other books and...) and I just enjoy browsing through little chaotic bookshops. So no, you won't see me buying an e-book reader any time soon.

But having said that, I read some stuff on my mobile phone in Japan occasionally. No, no cell phone novels. Just books and manga I downloaded, because it was free and I was bored and I was still trying out my new phone then and stuff. Because everyone would do that. In the end though, I mostly used my phone for normal things like calling people, mail, getting weather forecasts and finding out when that bus was coming, so I think I finished very few of the books I downloaded. And recently I decided I would read them now. So I took my Japanese cellphone from the drawer, switched it on, looking at that screen full of memories.

One of the authors I had on my phone was Oosaka Keikichi. Of whom I knew nothing. Nothing at all. I think Oosaka may be the only Japanese mystery writer of whom I knew nothing when I procured his works (not counting anthologies). Anyway, his writing-style quickly told me he was a pre-WWII writer, because few people would use the kanji he uses in modern writings (except to look smart/be irritating) and Wikipedia tells me he was a detective writer who lived from 1912-1945 and that he debuted in 1932 with Depaato no Koukeiri ("The Hangman of the Department Store"). Starting out as a somewhat amateuristic, stiff writer, he wrote better stories as the years went by, until state censoring prohibited detective stories and Oosaka turned to spy and humor stories. Also sprach Wikipedia.

And lo and behold, I actually had Depaato no Koukeiri on my cellphone. And it's an enjoyable story too! The narrator (a newsreporter) and Aoyama Kyousuke head to a department store to cover the news of a man who had fallen from the roof. What first seems like a suicide, is quickly proven to be something else, when they find strange marks on the victim's body, as well as a necklace which had been stolen a day earlier from the department store's jewelry section. Aoyama doesn't take long to solve the case though.

And I like the case. Around the beginning of the story, Aoyama deduces the nature of the crime by looking at the marks on the body and it is a bit Holmes, a bit Queen. A somewhat fantastic deduction, but certainly grounded in reality upon which Aoyama bases his next decision. While the trick is not very difficult, I gather anyone would see through the trick as it is not particularly well hidden, it is a well-structured, fairly hinted story and I can see why Oosaka went on writing detective stories.

The one point I didn't really get though, is why there was a tiger (in a cage) on the top of the department store. I know the department stores in general are meant to attract people, and are supposed to be grand and all that, even more so in the Taishou/Shouwa period, but a tiger? 

Kankanmushi Satsujin Jiken ("Clanking Bug Murder Case"), released the same year, is very similar to the previous work. Once again, the narrator and Aoyama head out to cover a murder scene. The dead body of a dockworker (called "clanking bugs" in slang) who had been missing for 5 days was found at sea. The other personm who had disappeared with him hasn't turned up yet. Like at the department store, Aoyama manages to deduce a lot from the wounds on the dead body, ultimately leading to the culprit. However, while the structure is similar, I didn't enjoy it as much as Depaato no Koukeiri. The solution here is, in an oblique way, quite similar to the solution in Depaato no Koukeiri (people who have read the stories might say otherwise though. It's somewhat hard to explain and kinda abstract). The drydock setting was OK and actually more fleshed out in the story than the department store, but it's just not as alluring as a department store. Which is cool and glamorous and stuff.

Still, that digital-reading, thing? Not really for me. Sound novels? I actually love them. But just plain texts? Actually, halfway through, my cellphone tried to connect to a network, which is kinda impossible, so I told him to stop it. He asked me another time. I said no. And now it seems my phone doesn't want to start applications (like the e-book reader) anymore.  I read the last part online, as it seems like the copyright on most of Oosaka's works has expired. And I could just read them all online, but I just... ugh...no. No.

Original Japanese title(s): 大阪圭吉、「デパートの絞刑吏」/「カンカン虫殺人事件」

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Recipe for Turnabout

「弁護士はピンチの時こそふてぶてしく笑うもの」
『逆転裁判』

"Defense attorneys have to smile brazenly especially when they are in a pinch."
"Gyakuten Saiban"

Need to cheat with a short manga review. Again. But it's game-related, so it still fits in with this month's theme.

Like mentioned in the Trick X Logic post, Kuroda Kenji has been connected to the Gyakuten series for several years now, being the script-writer of the serialized manga version. The manga is not a comic-version of the games, but contains original stories set in the Gyakuten world with art by Maekawa Kazuo. Just like the games, the manga started out as Gyakuten Saiban ("Turnabout Trial"), with defense attorney Naruhodou as the protagonist, but two years ago the title changed to Gyakuten Kenji ("Turnabout Prosecutor"), and features prosecutor Mitsurugi as the protagonist now.

Gyakuten Kenji 4, released in February, contains two complete stories, Gyakuten! Kikikaikai  ("Turnabout! Strange Monsters") and  Gyakuten Clinic ("Turnabout Clinic"). In the main story, Gyakuten! Kikikaikai, Mitsurugi and detective Itokonogiri end up in a small hotel in the mountains after a driving accident (resulting in Itokonogiri's patrol car's fall of a cliff). With the Supernatural Phenomena Research Committee gathered in the hotel and no rooms left, Mitsurugi and Itokonogiri are forced to stay at the hotel-annex. Fire has broken out several times the last month in the annex and one of the guards even says he saw an Oni in the midst of the fire once. Add a woman who thinks her husband disappeared from the hotel, an excorist and a rather touchy hotel owner and you have all the ingredients for murder. When the hotel owner is found dead outside the hotel, seemingly pushed from the seventh floor of the annex, Mitsurugi starts his investigation. He has done it in other stories in this series, but Kuroda focuses a lot on architecture and the movement of people in this story and while the story has no real original elements, the solution consisting of two smaller, well known tricks, Kuroda managed to mix the elements in an amusing way.

Gyakuten Clinic ("Turnabout Clinic") is a short story and has the same  focus on architecture and the movement of people, but is less interesting that the previous story. It features a very crude locked room mystery, one of the most basic forms (and solutions). The usage of a modern kind of key actually makes this kind of locked room even more easy to pull off (and see through), and I am actually kinda disappointed in Kuroda for writing such a story.

But the biggest problem I have with this volume is that it strays far from the focus of the Gyakuten series on contradictions and turnabouts. People who have played the games will know that the title "Turnabout Trial" doesn't only refer to the flow  of the trials in the games, where you often need to switch between defense and offense. You also often have to look at the facts from the totally different angle (sometimes it's even needed to actually turn evidence around) to get to the truth. While Kuroda's earlier stories for the manga did reproduce that turnabout feeling, lately his stories are "just" normal detective stories. They just don't feel like they are specifically turnabout stories, which was why I liked the manga in the first place. It is still a decent, sometimes quite good detective manga, but I don't see the need of the Gyakuten name anymore. At this point, I would say Kuroda might as well drop the Gyakuten franchise name and just write an original detective manga. 

Original Japanese title(s): カプコン(監修)、 黒田研二(脚本)、 前川 かずお(漫画)『逆転検事4』/「逆転!鬼々怪々」/「逆転クリニック」

Saturday, March 5, 2011

「たたりじゃ、あ、あやしろけのたたりじゃあ!」

「ざけんなよっ!ガキの探偵はファミコンだけだ」
『ファミコン探偵倶楽部PartII うしろに立つ少女』

"Don't fuck around!  Kid detectives only exist on the Famicom!"
"Famicom Detective Club Part II The Girl Standing in the Back"

I think the very first Japanese mystery adventure game I ever played, was the Super Famicom port of Famicom Tantei Club Part II Ushiro ni Tatsu Shoujo ("Famicom Detective Club Part II The Girl Standing in the Back") (FamiTan 2). A time when I couldn't read Japanese. When we still had dial-up internet. A time when I was still computer-literate enough to do something as simple as download a(n excellent!) fan translation patch for a videogame ROM and actually patch it. While I had played many point and click adventures, FamiTan 2 was the first time I played a command-style adventure game. Nowadays, it seems like most adventures I play are of the command-style variety. Anyway, at that time, I knew there were other games in the FamiTan series, but as I couldn't read Japanese and there were no translation patches, not much could be done then.

But that's hardly a problem nowadays, so I decided to play through all the games this week. And it was at times a frustrating, yet certainly a satisfying week.

The first game Famicom Tantei Club Kieta Koukeisha ("Famicom Detective Club: The Vanished Heir") (FamiTan 1) was originally released in 1988 in Japan for the Famicom Disk System, with big Nintendo names as Sakamoto Yoshio (Metroid, Kid Icarus) and Yokoi Gunpei (Game & Watch, GameBoy) involved with the development. Similar to the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series on the Famicom, FamiTan 1 was a mystery adventure game. And for people familar with Nintendo, or even more specifically Nintendo of that period, a very heavily plot-oriented game from Nintendo might be a bit surprising

A plot-device that isn't surprising at all though, is amnesia. FamiTan 1 starts when the (nameless) protagonist, a teenage boy, wakes up in the arms of a man. Which is not what it sounds like, because it seems the protagonist has been pushed off a cliff at the beginning of the game and he was just found by a man passing by. Because amnesia is something that occurs immediately when you hit you head (?), the player shouldn't be too surprised at seeing the protagonist wondering what he was doing near the cliff and what happened. As he investigates his own incident, the protagonist meets the girl Tachibana Ayumi, his colleague. He hears from Ayumi that he's the assistant of Utsugi Shunsuke, a famous detective and that he had just begun an investigation in the recent death of Ayashiro Kiku, a wealthy land-owner and head of the Ayashiro Trade Company, living in the village of Myoujin. While it seems like she had just died from a weak heart, her butler isn't so sure and had hired the hero to investigate her death for him. As it's obvious that his own 'incident' is connected to the case, the hero continues with the investigation.


As the hero investigates the family, he finds many people who had a motive for killing Kiku. Her two nephews, Kanji and Jirou, and her niece Azusa wanted to see Kiku dead to get her money. Her grand-nephew Akira had been seen loitering around the house lately. Or are Kiku's missing daughter Yuri and her missing adopted son somehow connected to Kiku's death? And then the case enters a new stage when Kanji is killed. And more follow.As more and more people get killed, the people of the Myoujin village recall the old legend of corpses getting back to life and getting revenge on the living. Are the murders the work of a revived Kiku?

Well, of course not, but FamiTan 1 sure is creepy. 8-bit music and crude pixel-art help a lot of course, but this game surely has the atmosphere right. The suggestion of the supernatural would remain a characteristic of the FamiTan series. As an adventure game, it's still quite rough with unnatural actions required to activate story flags (and a very irritating maze at the end). As a detective game, it's also quite crude, the game doesn't really allow you to think and there are only two or three instances where you have to input a name of a suspect / item to show your own deductions. And while Ayumi returns several times in the story, offering support, it's strange that detective Utsugi, who is supposed to be the boss of the hero, doesn't show up in the whole game. Not even once.

Yet, I really liked it. The atmosphere was creepy, the story OK (don't expect a masterpiece though) and for a Nintendo game, it was quite dark with the murders and all. It has a cool commercial too!

The second game is probably the most famous, also in the West. Famicom Tantei Club Part II Ushiro ni Tatsu Shoujo ("Famicom Detective Club Part II The Girl Standing in the Back") (FamiTan 2) was originally released for the Famicom Disk System in 1989, but it was ported to the Super Famicom in 1998 for the Nintendo Power cartridge system. As there is an English fan translation for the Super Famicom version available, this is probably the only FamiTan most people have played in the west. It's arguably the best of the series anyway.

FamiTan 2 is a prequel to FamiTan 1 and stars the same hero. The game starts with a short prologue explaining how the hero became the assistent of detective Utsugi (who makes an actual appearance in the game), followed by the discovery of the strangled dead body of the schoolgirl Kojima Youko. The hero starts an investigation at Ushimitsu High School, assisted by... Tachibana Ayumi, who was a close friend of Youko. The two of them had a detective club, and it seems like Youko had discovered something big. The murder of Youko seems connected with the school legend of the Girl Standing in the Back, a school ghost that would appear right behind you and the disappearence of a high school girl many years ago.


I don't why, but schools in Japan all seem to have some kind of urban legend. At least, that's what detective manga have taught me. And games. Anyway, as FamiTan 2 is mostly set in a high school, it's slightly less creepy than FamiTan 1, though those empty corridors and classrooms (with portraits hanging on the wall) can be quite scary too. Once again, not much is asked of the player's intelligence, but players will have experienced a satisfying story ties nicely in with FamiTan 1. I haven't played the Famicom Disk System version, but the Super Famicom version is actually fantastic. Nintendo's R&D1 did an outstanding job with some graphical tricks and music. As FamiTan 2 was released 8 years after the Super Famicom's release, R&D1 really pushed the hardware. And with an English translation patch available, this is the most easily accessible game of the series. Except for me. When I replayed this game yesterday, I got stuck on trying to patch the ROM, so I just gave up and played it in Japanese. I could do something as simple as that many years ago, why not now?

Anyway, storywise, the story ends with Ayumi joining the Utsugi Detective Agency, leading into the events of FamiTan 1. Set in the same year as the events of FamiTan 1, is the third and last game in the series.

Which was actually released one year before the Super Famicom version of FamiTan 2. 1997 brought us BS Tantei Club: Yuki ni Kieta Kako ("BS Detective Club: The Past Lost in the Snow"), released on the Satellaview add-on hardware for the Super Famicom. Due to how the system works (connecting to a satellite), it's actually impossible nowadays to play the game (at least not with all the music and voice-over work). In the end, I had to give up and I watched a full play-through of the game on Youtube. From a VHS source. I hope I will never have to do that again.

This time, the protagonist is Tachibana Ayumi, who has gone back to visit her mother in Ochitani village, who is recovering from illness. When Kusano Genzou, the former mayor of Ochitani village is found murdered, Ayumi's mother is a suspect, because only her footprints were found in the snow leading to the crime scene. When the son of Kusano, current mayor of Ochitani village, is also killed, stabbed by a spear, the villagers start talking about a legend of a fallen warrior coming back to life to kill the corrupt mayor. Ayumi, helped by her friend Reiko, tries to find out the real murderer, but she finds out her family has had a family fued with the Kusano family for a long time. Is the murderer someone in her family?



BSTan is probably the shortest and weakest of all FamiTan games. While it features voice-work and a cleaned up interface, it's very small in scale with few characters and few developments. Which is a shame, as the story offers many opportunies to make it a grander story, but it never really gets anywhere. The footsteps in the snow? The locked room where they found Kusano's son? They are solved mostly as an afterthought. The ending is quite bad though. While the FamiTan games have always been more about telling a story, than making the player a real detective, to have Ayumi pretty much walk in on the murderer who happened to be confessing to the murder, well, that's a bit easy.

But the first two games were great and I do hope that Nintendo will revisit this little R&D1 series in the future again. But please not for something obscure this time please. Famicom Disk System, Nintendo Power cartridges, Satellaview, no wonder this game series is practically unknown except for a small group of fans.

Original Japanese title(s): 『ファミコン探偵倶楽部 消えた後継者』、『ファミコン探偵倶楽部PartII うしろに立つ少女』、『BS探偵倶楽部 雪に消えた過去』

Awesome music: ???- ファミコン探偵倶楽部BGMアレンジ (Famicom Tantei Club BGM Arrange)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

「論理の旋律は必ず真実を奏でる」

1.アカシャに書かれていることは全て事実。ただし犯人はウソをついている可能性がある
2.動機の強い弱いは重要ではない
3.トリックや犯人は、超能力や宇宙人など超常的な事象によるものではない。冥界の住人も、現世の事件に一切関与していない
『TRICK X LOGIC』

1. Everything that is written in the Akasha is true. However, there is the possibility that the murderer is lying.
2. It is not important whether a motive is strong or weak.
3. Tricks and criminals are not supernatural, like psychic powers or aliens. The inhabitants of the underworld are not involved with incidents in the world of the living.
"Trick X Logic"

More games!

I think I bought my PSP in the winter last year, but I have to honestly say I haven't played it that much this year. Strangely enough, the PSP games I have cleared  are all detective games. Weird. You'd think I'd clear something like Warriors Orochi faster than a game that actually requires me to read.

I've already covered the first season of PSP game Trick X Logic in an earlier post, and I won't go into the specifics of how this game works here, neither the details of the story as it's all there. Trick X Logic Season Two is exactly the same as the previous season, except for the stories of course. As my previous post was mostly about how the game works, I'll discuss the stories of Season Two more deeply this time. Once again, all of these stories are loosely linked by the story of prosecutor Yoshikawa trying to solve his own murder by reading underworldly Akasha (crime records) and young camera-woman Tsukasa who keeps getting involved with murder cases.

As the problem- and solution-chapters of Bourei Hamlet ("The Ghost Hamlet") by Kuroda Kenji were divided among Season One and Two, I started this season just checking whether my deduction was right. Which it was. The story was a very interesting one, with a man, dressed as the Phantom (of the Opera) being killed at a costume party. His murder is caught on CCTV, but it seems his murderer was... an armor of suits. Was it the Ghost of Hamlet that killed someone? With a gun?! I had a lot of fun with this story, and I think that came from the fact I'm somewhat familiar with Kuroda, due to his manga adaption of the Gyakuten series ("Ace Attorney series"). If you read this story as a Gyakuten story, everything makes sense.

Bloody Mary no Nazo ("The Mystery of Bloody Mary") by Takemoto Kenji starts with a famous detective writer visiting a hotel. Several fans knew he would visit this hotel and have booked their own rooms there too. Add in some other suspects, and you're all set for a Murder of a Detective Writer. Hardly an original premise, but it's usually entertaining. Which it was, but this story certainly didn't offer something original or innovative. A decent story, but nothing more than just a decent story.
 
Maya Yutaka's Rifling Murder is one of those stories I don't know whether I should love or hate. With a man being killed in his cottage on a small island, with the trajectory of the bullet suggesting the murderer was flying (or "Being sniped by a man hanging from a helicopter!"), it certainly has an interesting concept. The solution however, while adequately hinted at (well, that's pretty mandatory with this game), borders on the fantastical. It's not impossible, but quite improbable.

Me no Kabe no Misshitsu ("A Locked Room with Walls of Eyes") by Ooyama Seiichirou is maybe the most ambitious story of the whole bunch. In this story, the owner of a building is found killed in his office. But strangely enough, no murderer is seen entering the office through the door (there is a camera), nor through the window (witnesses). What makes this story so interesting, is that everything up to the discovery of the corpse is written from the viewpoints of the suspects, switching between them. One of the rules of the Akasha is that everything that is written there is true. The only exception is that the murderer might be lying (in conversation). Therefore, a sentence like "He thought that was strange" is true, while an utterance of "That's strange" might be false. Making use of these Akasha rules, Ooyama has neatly written one of the better stories of Trick X Logic.

Y no Hyouteki ("The Target of Y") is probably the story that attracts most attention. Written by Ayatsuji Yukito and Arisugawa Alice?! That's like Queen and Carr collaborating on a story! The story itself felt very Trick-ish, with a sun-worshipping cult-like new religion and the second patriarch being killed while he was performing the daily Southern prayer. Who killed him, and more importantly how? The prayer was held in a special court, locked from the inside with only his two most trusted followers besides him. Neither of them seems to have done it though. This religious element as well as the solution also remind of Chesterton and it's all in all a very neat story. The solution is somewhat spoiled by the title (which is a very Arisugawa-like title!), but like the previous story, one of the better ones. Well, it has to be! I'm not sure how the two worked on this work though. While I'm fairly well-read with Arisugawa, I'm not that far with Ayatsuji and it's hard for me to point at something and say, 'well, that's clearly Ayatsuji there'.

The final story, Kanzen Muketsu no Alibi ("The Absolutely Perfect Alibi") by Abiko Takemaru is a rather simple story compared to the previous two. The story obviously is about breaking an alibi, but the solution is an old, old one and thus a somewhat dissappointing ending to a fun series.

Well, it's not the ending actually, as there is also a bonus story (you unlock a chapter for every story you clear). Bousou Juliet ("Juliet Running Wild") by Kuroda Kenji is once again that is so obviously inspired by the premise of the Gyakuten series, I wonder whether he was planning to use this in the Gyakuten Saiban/Gyakuten Keji manga originally. Here, a man, Shuuhei gets crushed between his own car and a truck. Tsukasa, who was sitting in the backseat of the car, swears the car started to accelerate on its own, killing Shuuhei. She remembers the story she was told by Shuuhei. When he bought the car, the seller said it was called Juliet and that the previous owner had commited suicide. The car was still looking for its owner. Did the car run over Shuuhei? And why? This bonus story is just a normal story, so there is no looking for keywords/mysteries/insights here, but Kuroda Kenji did manage to slip in a Challenge to the Reader here and somewhat hard to believe at a certain, crucial point, it's a very nice bonus story.

The worst of the lot, has to be the overall storyline though. Yes, Yoshikawa "solves" his own murder, but in such a ridiculous way, it's not even worth mentioning. Tsukasa as the sole link between every story also feels very forced and didn't really add something for me (especially the obligatory "chief inspector Marunouchi suspects Tsukasa did it" scenes every single time were horrible). Maybe it bugs me that much because I have been praising the Gyakuten series for good overall storylines, but I expected something better from Chunsoft. You know, the company known for writing stories and sound novels.

Trick X Logic, basically being a interactive novel written by several big names in the world, is still very entertaining though and hope Chunsoft will use this deduction system with a few tweaks in future detective games though.

Original Japanese title(s): 『TRICK X LOGIC』/ 黒田研二 「亡霊ハムレット」/竹本健治 「ブラッディ・マリーの謎」/麻耶雄嵩 「ライフリング マーダー」/大山誠一郎 「目の壁の密室」/綾辻行人 & 有栖川有栖 「Yの標的」/我孫子武丸 「完全無欠のアリバイ」/黒田研二 「暴走ジュリエット」