Wednesday, April 27, 2011

『事故現場で弁当を拾い喰い!!』

「王将といえば、 餃子!!餃子と言えば王将!!」
『喰いタン』

"Oushou is gyouza!! Gyouza is Oushou!!"
"Kuitan"

And I welcome thee back, use of the 'food' tag! The tag hadn't been used since I returned from Japan and while food is still in the blog description, the strike-through kinda implies it's not really part of the blog anymore. Which it, usually, indeed isn't. I'll be sure to use it more often when/if I return to Japan. But! There are reasons to why I never deleted the word 'food' from the site description completely. One was because I still expect I'll someday post pictures of ramen bowls and gyouza and stuff again. But it also served as a reminder to myself to discuss one particular series.

I like detective fiction. And I also like food. Especially food in Japan (note that I'm not saying Japanese food; 'cause there is a big difference). And as it happens, there are also quite some detective manga in Japan. And there are a lot more gourmet manga available. About all sorts of food. And thera re really a lot of series. But I'm pretty sure there is only one series that combines both of these themes: Kuitan (a contraction of the two words kuishinbou ("gourmet") and tantei ("detective")). An idea so absolutely ridiculous that it actually works out quite well. Quite tasty (only the manga though; the drama is bad. Avoid!).

Protagonist Takano Seiya is a historical writer by profession. While he's quite popular as a writer, he is horrible at actually keeping deadlines, much to the despair of assistant Kyouko and his publishers. The biggest problem of Takano: he just can't stop eating. He eats everything that tastes good. And quite a bit of it too. Takano shoves away 50 bowls of ramen away as a lunch (which reminds me I once witnessed somebody eating about 70-80 plates of sushi at Sushi Ichiba in Fukuoka. His three friends together probably had only 30-40 plates...). With eating taking a lot of his free time, there just isn't a lot of time left to actually work.

Besides his writing and eating, Takano also often assists the police in criminal investigations. His expertise lies, naturally, in food-related crimes, so you'll often see him called in at murders at restaurants and the like. So how does he use his expertise of food to... detect? Well, did you know that sushi made for delivery is made differently than the ones made in restaurants? Or that ice water works well for gyouza skins? Or that the bikes delivering Chinese food are designed differently from the ones delivering udon? Or that if you boil ramen together with udon, the taste of the udon will suffer from it? Need fingerprints? They might be hidden within a cooked egg! You'd be surprised how much clues are left in food!

Takano's knowledge of all the ingredients of a dish, how people prepare the food, how restaurants work all help him in solving cases ranging from murders, but also theft and in Conan-like hostage situations. Conan might use his wristwatch to knockout a suspect, but nobody but Takano can use a Cup Noodle to disarm a suspect. After which he eats the rest of the noodles. Don't be surprised if Takano 'accidently' eats the food left at a murder crime scene either: you should never let good food go to waste and dead people usually don't eat anymore. And like I said, you'd be surprised how much can be detected from looking at what and how someone ate right before he died. In detective fiction, food is usually only investigated for poison, but how often do you see food being used for alibi tricks?


Experienced detective readers might be trained experts of recognizing locked room tricks, alibi tricks, the workings of rigor mortis and know precisely which poisons taste bitter and which are odorless and how effective they are, in short, they might know a lot about things most of them won't see in their everyday life. Yet, it's not nearly as entertaining and down-to-earth as the food theme in Kuitan. I am pretty sure I'll come across gyouza more often than cyanide. At least, I hope so. While a lot of the tricks and explanations rely on semi-obscure information, it's always very interesting and often actually applicable to real-life. The series often feels more like a gourmet manga with a detective twist, rather than a detective manga with a gourmet twist, but I think it's a really fun series for people interested in a) detective manga, b) food (Japanese food culture) and c) both.

And it's just totally awesome to have actually tasteful pictures in a detective manga, rather than the bloody chopped up corpses and stuff. You really shouldn't read this on an empty stomach.

Of course, with gourmet manga (and detective manga) not doing it particularly well outside of Japan (the same with sports manga), I doubt that Kuitan will make the jump to a western country.

Original Japanese title(s): 寺沢大介 『喰いタン』

Monday, April 25, 2011

『氷点下15度の殺意』

"And have I not cause for such a feeling? Consider the long sequence of incidents which have all pointed to some sinister influence which is at work around us."
"The Hound of the Baskervilles"

While I mostly read and review Japanese detective novels here, it doesn't mean that I don't read English detectives. It just means that I seldomly read English detectives. Which in turn doesn't mean that I don't like them. On the contrary, there is still much I really want to read. But with a gigantic tower of books looking down on me, I try to be a bit more careful with any new purchases. And that means I don't really get to read many English detectives nowadays. I kinda wonder why I bought that Japanese Holmes story collection last year though. And mental note: I still have to procure a copy of Queen's The French Powder Mystery this year.

One of the few English-language detective novels purchased this year was Hake Talbot's Rim of the Pit. With the novel ending rather high in best locked room mysteries lists and the writer being a magician himself, expectations were naturally a bit high. Luckily excellent, Rim of the Pit was excellent. And the Rambling House edition even features the original crime scene map on the backside cover. Which is something reprints of older books occassionally miss. Yes, I'm looking at you, Leonaur's Philo Vance omnibuses. Having a map on the backside cover is actually brilliant, as you don't have to look for the right page all the time.

A seance session held in snowy New England to contact the ghost of the medium herself (to negotiate logging rights. With the ghost), ends in the possession of one of the party by the ghost and a locked room murder. Add in disappearing footprints in the snow and a flying ghost (the Windigo) and you have a nice pile of impossible situations. It is up to Roger Kincaid (gambler, adventurer, survivor extraordinaire) to solve the case.

The main strength of this novel is no doubt its atmosphere. New England forms a snowy background for some genuine creepy happenings. The build-up to the murder(s) is done very well and while I feel that not all the impossible situations are resolved as satisfactory as others, Rim of the Pit is still a very strong novel. I've seen the remark in several reviews, but Rim of the Pit is a very Carr-ish non-Carr. Which is indeed true. The supernatural, the impossible situations, it all screams Carr. Except for the solutions, there Carr remains the master.

I have to admit though, with a flying ghost, the snowy background and the constant wandering of the characters and splitting up of the gang, I personally first associated the novel with Scooby-Doo. Seriously though. Stop. Walking. From. A. To. B. And. Back. It is very, very confusing. Ah well, at least they didn't had those Scooby Doo corridors.

The Rambling House edition also features the short story The Other Side, but I personally didn't like it at all. The story itself is a bit like a Chesterton story with a religious confidence trickster, but it's a bit of a let-down after the excellent novel.

The cover of this book is super creepy by the way. Which is why I always keep it turned away from, like I do with my Queen's And on the Eight Day and Uchida's The Togakushi Murders. Scary faces are scary.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

「自分を信じられない自分は、いったいなにを信じて生きればいいというのだろう」

「人にはそれぞれ、生きかたというものがある。百人いれば、百通りの生きかたがあり、おそらく人は、自分以外の人間の生きかたをうまく理解できないだろ う。彼女と僕はお互いに、一般てきに範疇からはみ出している特殊な生きかたをしていた。つまり、入手した死体の写真を見せ合うような、生きかただ。」
『GOTH』

"People all have their own lifestyle. Every single person has his own way of life and is probably not able to understand the way of life of someone else but himself. She and I had a lifestyle that was different from the normal categories. A lifestyle where we showed each other the pictures of dead bodies we got an hold of."
"GOTH"

I suspect I have serious problems with concentration. I just can't focus myself on a single activity for a long time. I wrote my thesis by writing a bit for one section, than writing a bit for a different section and going back and forth, changing everytime I thought it was getting boring. In the end, I just swept all the little parts together in a semi-coherent text. I do the same with my blogposts by the way, which explains why sometimes (often?) my texts seem to be a bit incoherent. I have the same with books. I seldom read a single book at any given time, but always several at the same time. Which means that I often can't seem to finish a single book in one week, but then suddenly three or four books are finished the next. Which is kinda what happened now. Don't think I'll discuss everything this week though.

But first an easy one. I reviewed the first part of Otsuichi's GOTH earlier, so now the second part, GOTH - Boku no Shou ("GOTH: My Chapter"). Which I actually planned to do right after the first review, but yeah, sometimes stuff happens. For more background information, I refer to the previous review. Nothing has changed for this volume though, so it's still about the nameless narrator and Morino Yoru, two students who have an interest in death. And murders. And murderers. The two of them have a knack for finding murderers, though they don't really have any interest in turning them over to the police. They'd rather just shake a murderer's hand. This part contains three short stories, just like the previous volume.

Wristcut Jiken (Wristcut) ("Wristcut Case: Wristcut") is chronologically the first story of GOTH, as this is the first story where the narrator and Morino become... friends? Friends is a big word. Allies? Partners in crime?  Anyway, the town is haunted by a murderer who cuts off the hands of his female victims. The narrator finds out his teacher is the murderer and sneaks into his house to steal the murderer's collection of hands, but his teacher finds out who stole his hands (and thus who knows his horrible secret). Murderers driven to despair often resort to violence. This one does too.

In Tsuji (Grave) ("Soil: Grave"), Saeki has the strong urge to... dig holes. Well, it's not as much as just digging holes, rather than digging holes so he can bury people in it. Alive. Of course, these victims don't stay alive for long. He usually keeps his urge under check by planting trees in the holes he digs, but he has already buried a neighbourhood boy once. And this time he has captured someone, with according to her school ID is a certain schoolgirl we readers know.

The final story, Koe ("Voice"), revolves around Natsumi, who lost her sister some weeks ago. Her sister was found slaughtered, chopped up in pieces in an old abandonded hospital. One day, Natsumi is approached by a mysterious high school student who gives her a tape, with a message from her sister, recorded moments before she was killed. Natsumi will be given the rest of the message if she comes to the hospital where her sister was killed, where she will meet the same fate.

By now, Otsuichi's stories have become very predictable. A 'shock' ending might work all six times if at least the trick was different every time, but the same trick is used all the time, so Otsuichi lost me a bit there. The stories themselves are still entertaining though, great horror/mystery stories with really creepy scene depictions. And as it's one of the few relatively new Japanese mystery books translated into English, I would recommend it to anyone. But who were the people who favored GOTH over Norizuki Rintarou no Kouseki for the Orthodox Mystery Price?! That's just plain nuts.

I wonder how Otsuichi's Zoo will be. As far as I know, that a normal horror anthology (so I'll not discuss it here), but I might enjoy Zoo even more than GOTH, as I won't think about the Orthodox Mystery Price.

Original Japanese title(s): 乙一『GOTH - 僕の章』「リストカット事件 Wristcut」/「土 Grave」/「声 Voice」

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What a Night for a Knight

「もちろんだとも。幽霊の出ない古城など、何の価値もない!」 
『人狼城の恐怖 第一部=ドイツ編』

"Of course. Who would need a castle without a ghost!"
"The Terror of The Werewolf Castle Part One: Germany"

The complete Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle") review series:
1. What a Night for a Knight (Part One: Germany)
2. Hassle in the Castle (Part Two: France)
3. Nowhere to Hyde (Part Three: Detective)
4. Who's afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf? (Part Four: Conclusion)

And so it begins. I've mentioned often that I prefer short detective stories over longer stories here. It might have something do to with my inability to focus on one single thing for a long time, it might have to do with my love for tricks (and short stories == more tricks in the same amount of pages). Whatever the cause, I usually have to plan when I read a long novel. And I had been postponing it for some time now. But now I've finally started reading it. So there's no turning back now. I've started in The World's Longest Detective Story (@ time of publishing).


Nikaidou Reito's Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of The Werewolf Castle") is a monument in Japanese detective writing. The story was published from 1996 until 1998, divided in four separate books (Germany, France, Detective and Conclusion), around 700 pages each. So it's long. It's really, really long. To compare: most Japanese detective novels I have are around 300-400 pages, with some exceptions that reach into the 600s. Jinroujou no Kyoufu is no push-over and certainly something you have to prepare for. Well, at least if you usually read short stories.

So what's it about? I'm not totally sure at the moment, as the story is split in several parts. The main problem in the story is the so-called Werewolf Castle. In fact, the Werewolf Castle is a collective name for two identical twin castles, one called the Silver Wolf Castle, the other the Blue Wolf Castle. The two castles face each other, with not only a deep gorge seperating the two, but also the German-French border. The Silver Wolf Castle is on German territory, the Blue Wolf Castle on French. Twin castles are a rare thing as is, and thus many myths are connected to the castles. It was even thought for a long time that the twin castles didn't exist at all. But they do. And they are the stage for a truly horrifying story.

In the first part, Germany (or as the cover says: Dei (sic) Furcht in der Burg des Werwolfs Erster Teil: Deutschland), a group of people are invited by the current castle lord to spend some days at the Silver Wolf Castle. The group is a varied one, with aristocrats, university professors, musicians and actresses amongst the visitors. The stay at the castle seems fun at first, the party being welcomed warmly by the lady of the castle (the lord had been called away on business) and her servants, but the fun quickly turns into horror when they get locked up in the castle and people die one after another. The first death seems like an unlucky accident, but the second incident, where an husband and wife are found decapitated in a locked room, leaves little doubt; someone, or something is killing them all. Add in a bit of poisoning and a crossbow shooting shadow. But who is the murderer? Is it someone from the party? Or one of the inhabitants of the castle? Or maybe a ghost? Or the Devil himself? For who else but the devil could have made a suit of armor kill somebody in a locked room and then disappear again into thin air? As fewer and fewer people are left, they start to suspect each other, but that is still not the end to the terror of Werewolf Castle.

Because this was only part one. Which was long. Very long. But a lot happened. It's even a bit information overload. It starts with a retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, makes a detour to werewolf legends and the Spear of Longinus, adds in the complicated political situation of Werewolf Castle (being in both Germany and France) and the creepy Silver Wolf Castle with hidden passages and suit of armors on every floor, and I think Nikaidou might also work out the World War II / Nazi regime point a bit. Oh, and there's the 'main' story too. So yeah, a lot to keep track of. But I enjoyed the book quite a bit. The locked rooms presented are very interesting and while I complain somewhat about all the themes in the book; I do like them and I'm curous how it'll work out in the end. I only have a problem with the names. Readers of Japanese will understand me, but reading a book with names only in the katakana script is very, very hard on the eyes. And while I usually can imagine what the name is supposed to be in English when written in katakana, I often have no idea with German names written in katakana (yes, German names are quite different from Dutch).  Funnily enough, a lot of Japanese reviewers comment on how hard it is to remember all those foreign names.

But everything up until now was only part one. Of four. I'm not even halfway in the story. This is just the very beginning of the story. So there is no solution or anything to the murders here. Just the main problem. I'm not even sure whether I already have all the clues necessary to solve the case. Suffice to say, I haven't any clue at this stage. The second part, France, is probably set in the Blue Wolf Castle in France. It seems that the detective, Nikaidou Ranko is slated for an appearance in the third book and only solves the gigantic case in the last book. So I have still a long way to go.

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『人狼城の恐怖 第一部=ドイツ編』

Sunday, April 17, 2011

「犯人は・・・・・・・・・・人間です」

 「わけなんているのかよ?人が人を殺す動機なんて、知ったこっちゃねーが…人が人を助ける理由に…論理的な思考は存在しねーだろ?」
『名探偵コナン』

"I don't need a reason. I don't know about people's motives for killing others, but people don't need logical reasons for helping others."
"Detective Conan" 

I like Meitantei Conan ("Detective Conan"). I really, really like Meitantei Conan. You might even say that Conan made me what I am today. I started reading manga actively after reading Conan. I got to know Ellery Queen through Conan. I started reading Japanese detectives thanks to Conan. And yes, you might even say that it was thanks to Conan, that I started my current Japanese studies.

So to me, Conan will always be a special series. Going to the movie theater to see Tenkuu no Lost Ship (Lost Ship in the Sky") last year will always be a fond memory. Watching Shikkoku no Chaser ("The Raven Chaser") in my room with too many people was immensely fun. But it was also all part of a ritual I just had to do. Conan has influenced me, and by extension, events in my life too much (for a comic!) to consider just as a normal series you get easily in and out of.

So I lament the fact I can't go to the newest movie, Chinmoku no Quarter ("Quarter of Silence"), which was released yesterday. Breaking a two year tradition. This year luckily is the 15th birthday of the Conan animation, so in celebration to that, they made a new TV-drama special, so I at least had something to watch.

Two live action TV-drama specials were released earlier in 2006 and 2007, both starring Oguri Shun (Shinichi) and Kurokawa Tomoka (Ran). The first, Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou ("The Challenge Letter to Kudou Shinichi") was a story set some time before Shinichi turned into Conan, while the second, Kudou Shinichi no Fukkatsu!  Kuro no Soshiki to no Taiketsu ("The Revival of Kudou Shinichi! Confrontation with the Black Organisation") was a great story actually set after Conan had turned into Shinichi and as the title subtly suggests, the Black Organisation makes an appearance too. The first special was decent, but I really liked the second special with the Black Organisation, which had all the excitement you'd normally get only from a Conan movie.


This year's special, Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou - Kaichou Densetsu no Nazo ("The Challenge Letter to Kudou Shinichi - Mystery of the Monster Bird Legend"), broadcast last Friday, takes a step back in time and is set 100 days before Shinichi turned into Conan. Shinichi, Ran and Ran's mother are invited by Sonoko to visit a business relative's place, the Wakura family in the village of Juugoya. A local legend tells of a giant bird, a monstrous bull-headed shrike that, like the normal-sized version, has the habit of impaling its prey on trees for storage. The normal shrike usually impales small lizards and the sort on twigs, the giant monstrous type impales humans. Tree-shaped pillars have been erected all over town in the town, used for praying to the giant bird. The protagonists arrive just right in time for a big festival to appease the bird in a few days. Appearently, the bird is not too happy though, as people are found impaled on the tree-pillars one after another. It's up to the high-school-detective-not-turned-into-elementary-school-detective Shinichi to solve the riddle of the monstrous bird (hint: it is not a real monster bird killing people!).


I don't think I've ever discussed acting or something here before, but I'll make an exception. Mizobata Junpei and Kutsuna Shiori took over the roles of Shinichi and Ran for this special, but I really, really felt the two of them didn't set the characters as well as Oguri and Kurokawa. Especially Katsuna wasn't as much a Conan's Ran, rather a Kindaichi Shounen's Miyuki. Combined with Otsuka Nene's strange portrayal of Ran's mom (why would she need a funny character trait, suddenly?) made this special a bit harder to watch, for me, than the previous two. And this is ignoring the fact that I'm pretty sure that Shinichi hadn't seen Ran's mom for some time before she showed up in the manga, which would make her appearence/interactions with Shinichi here errm... impossible? Jinnai Takanori is luckily still there with his funny portrayal of Mouri Kogorou. A bit over the top, but he's convincing as a human-version of the cartoon.


The story itself was more Kindaichi Shounen, than Conan to be honest. Giant monstrous birds, small villages, local legends. Heck, it even had an old lady yelling tatari ja ("it's the curse!"). Even the trick to the murders, which was kinda too easy to see through, was more mid-Kindaichi-ish than Conan. But what made this special especially un-Conan-ish, was the dynamic between Shinichi and Ran. With Shinichi still his normal age and no sign of the Black Organisation, his relation with Ran is precisely the same as that of Kindaichi and Miyuki in the Kindaichi Shounen series. If you mention a live-action TV drama show featuring two high school students walking around in villages solving murders involving old legends with a romantic subplot, well, that's Kindaichi Shounen and not Conan.

Of the three TV specials, I think this one was the weakest. The second special is the best, no doubts about that, and while this TV special had a better detective plot than the first TV special, it misses the Conan feeling the first did had. The characters and acting was more Conan-like in the first special than in this one. It's too bad though. While I like the original two Kindaichi Shounen live action series, I have to say that the feeling in that series was quite different from the manga, with more emphasis on humor and a bit of Tsutsumi Yukihiko's distinct directing style. The first two Conan specials with Oguri in the other hand, really felt as a part of the Conan-franchise. This third special feels like an extra I don't really need.

Hopefully, I'll be able to see Quarter of Silence before next year's movie is out =_=.

まさか・・・『踊る』の青島!?

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン ドラマスペシャル 工藤新一への挑戦状~怪鳥伝説の謎~』

Saturday, April 16, 2011

「21世紀型密室の発展型ービデオゲームと密室ミステリー」

「たまに帰りたくなる”愛しく懐かしい遊び場"・・・それが密室だと思います」 巧舟

"A beloved, nostalgic playing ground you occasionally want to go back to, that is the locked room.", Takumi Shuu

No, I've not forgotten I am supposed to write more about detective games. But with a new Meitantei Conan game coming out in a just a few weeks (days?) and games I've still not finished, I'm once again delaying it a bit. Just to be able to talk about more material. But in the meantime, I'll let my favorite detective-game creator take the word. I present, a (very hastily made) translation of an essay by Takumi Shuu of Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) fame. As a games creator / mystery writer/genre fan, he makes an interesting observation about the difficulty of making detectives games and what for future he sees for the game genre. The hyperlinks were naturally my own additions to the original text. And ha, I just knew Takumi had to be influenced by Edogawa's Shinri Shiken ("The Psychological Test")!

And of course, a translation is just an excuse to cover up the fact I didn't finish a single book this week and can't write a new review. I somehow did manage to start new books, so I'm now busy with... 4 or 5 books =_=

巧舟 「21世紀型密室の発展型ービデオゲームと密室ミステリー」『密室ミステリの迷宮』(監修:有栖川有栖)

Takumi Shuu (2010). 'The Development of the 21st Century's Locked Room - Video Games and Locked Room Mysteries' In: The Maze of Locked Room Mysteries (Ed.: Arisugawa Alice). Tokyo: Yousensha.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

「草の名は 知らず珍し 花の咲く」

"Well, let's not discuss the future. I've found that the future generally gets where it's going despite every effort of mere Man to arrest its progress."
"Halfway House"
 
I read a lot of manga. Really a lot. But the only series I read regularly, that is to say, the only series I'm up to date with and of which I buy every new volume the second they are released, are Meitantei Conan ("Detective Conan") and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ("The Casefiles of Young Kindaichi"). Which are, no surprise, detective-manga. Which naturually is one of my favorite genres within the manga medium.

I read other detective manga besides the two mentioned above though, though true orthodox detective manga are, well, not really rare, but if you mainly read detective manga, you'll go through them quickly. So I was happy to see that last a year a new series was released. Well, techically, the series had alreadly begun in 2008, but with an irregular release scheme for its chapters, the first volume was released only last year.

The best feature of Houkan Tantei Sharoku ("Houkan Detective Sharoku") has to be its setting. Set in the early years of Showa Japan, it tells the story of the houkan (taikomochi, male geisha, entertainer, whatever) Sharoku. Though he is supposed to entertain guests with his arts and smooth mouth, Sharoku has a bad history with liquor and he usually ends up insulting everybody. He has a patron despite all that, the young master of the Wadasou family (though that might be because Sharoku is kinda blackmailing him). In true orthodox detective style, the two of them come across crimes rather regularly and it's at these times that Sharoku shows his brilliant mind for understanding his fellow man. Sharoku and his young master Soujirou share a relation comparable to the one of Conan and Kogorou in Meitantei Conan; while Sharoku is the one who solves the cases, he always allows Soujirou to take the credit for all it. Or more precisely, Sharoku always gives the credit to his master, while Soujirou has no idea about what is going on. In the end though, Sharoku always makes sure his masters returns the favor by taking him out drinking.

Like said, the most interesting of the series is the setting. Sharoku being a houkan, most of the cases are set in the Japanese high-culture entertainment world, so it involves topics like kabuki, high-class food and other geisha. For a manga set in the 1920s, after the Great Kanto earthquake, it is pretty interesting to see how it focuses not on the modernization of Tokyo, but on the more traditional entertainment-forms.

The series, as a detective manga, shows some potential, but isn't quite there yet. Now it focuses a lot on the solving of codes (usually in the form of Japanese poems), which is appropiate to the setting, but not particularly exciting. And I'm bad at code-breaking. The few times a 'normal' crime occurs, the plot/problem/solution is either not interesting, or just not fair.It's the opposite of what I feel about the series Q.E.D. Shoumei Shuuryou ("Q.E.D. Quod Erat Demonstrandum"), which is probably the most succesful of the detective-series that aren't called Conan or Kindaichi, but I don't feel Q.E.D. offers something original with its story-setting, while it does offer interesting traditional puzzle stories. At their current level, both of these series aren't interesting enough for me to follow religiously, like I do with Conan and Kindaichi Shounen. Those two will probably remain the kings of this particular genre.

Ah, how I lament I can't go the theaters next week to see the new Detective Conan movie! For the first time in 3 years! Ah, how fun it was last year! Well, maybe next year. I guess this year, I'll have just to do with the new live-action special...

Original Japanese title(s): 青木朋(画), 上季一郎(作)『幇間探偵しゃろく1』

Thursday, April 7, 2011

「どうですか、一度ここらで巻を閉じて、瞑想一番、犯人を指摘してごらんになっては。」

「それですよ。私は一度コントラバス・ケースの中へ入ってみたことがあるですが、きれいに立って入れたんです。探偵作家がどうしてあれを利用しないのか、- やはり御存じじゃないでしょうね」
「「蝶々殺人事件」あとがき(「探偵小説 昭和22年7月」)」

"Exactly that. I once went inside a contrabass case and I could fit right in. Why won't detective authors use that.... you wouldn't know, right?"
"Afterword to The Butterfly Murder Case (Detective Fiction, July 1947)"

It seems like I was one of the few, but I liked last year's Epic Mickey for the Wii. The theme of the Disney was surprisingly dark, as it told the story of Disney characters which have been forgotten by the public and even by Disney-mascotte Mickey Mouse himself. Most of them just tried to live out their lives, with some  characters cherishing the time they had with superstar Mickey, while other resented Mickey for just moving on without looking at Disney's past.

Anyway, so while I knew Yokomizo Seishi had written non-Kindaichi Kousuke detective novels, I thought they were either non-serial novels, or torimono chou, detective novels set in the Edo period like Okamoto's The Curious Casebook of Hanshichi. I was wrong. It seemed that before Kindaichi Kousuke's debut in 1946,  Yokomizo had been writing stories starring Yuri Rintarou, an ex-police officer-turned-detective.He was assisted by the narrator, a newspaper reporter called Mitsugi Shunsuke, who would use his connections to help the Yuri-sensei.

And I mentioned it already in my Honjin Satsujin Jiken review, but Yokomizo released two novels in 1946, right after the war. One was Honjin Satsujin Jiken, starring newcomer Kindaichi Kousuke, and the other was Chouchou Satsujin Jiken ("The Butterfly Murder Case") starring Yuri. Both novels are similar in the sense that they are orthodox Golden Age-styled detective novels, signifying a break with the dominant pre-war detective genre in Japan. Of the two, Kindaichi proved to be more popular though and nowadays Yuri Rintarou is not a particularly well-known fictional detective. You hardly see him mentioned in fiction or secondary literature.  I like to think he is living in his own little world now, plotting the death of his more famous, younger brother.

It's a shame though. Chouchou Satsujin Jiken offered me some elements I hadn't expected from Yokomizo, which were quite pleasant. But Yokomizo also didn't disappoint in coming up with a great case with its particulars. The story begins with Mitsugi visiting Yuri after the war, requesting  some documents. For Mitsugi has been asked to write a detective-story and Mitsugi feels that the so-called Butterfly Murder Case is the best case to write about. For who could forget that case?  The case were the dead body of "Madame Butterfly" herself, Hara Sakura, primadonna of the Hara Sakura troupe was found dead covered in roses, stuffed inside the case of a contrabass? Who could forget the mysterious note in her bag, seemingly a sheet of music? Why did she disappear the moment she arrived in Osaka for a performance? Did the members of the troupe that arrived the day after have something to do with it? What about the death of Fujimoto Shouji, a popular singer some time ago? Didn't he had some sheet music too when he died?

As I've read Kindaichi novels by Yokomizo before, I was much surprised how... open this book was. Whereas most of the Kindaichi novels are set in kinda desolate places, this book alternates between Tokyo (where a certain familiar police officer makes an appearence) and Osaka, Yuri and Mitsugi walk around hotels, appartments and trains. It's distinctly modern and lively compared to the Kindaichi novels. Also, the way the book is mostly written from the viewpoint of Mitsugi as the narrator (occasionally from the viewpoint of Sakura's manager Tsuchiya) makes the dialogue and writing-style of Yokomizo a bit livier. It was a nice change!

From a structual point of view, this is familiar terrain though. Like always, Yokomizo's plots involve many strange happenings piled on each other, with multiple parties working against/with each other that make his books so enjoyable to read. This time though, it's a bit busy though, with really a lot of happenings going on and a lot of traveling (note: in that time, going from Osaka and Tokyo took _a lot_ longer than the 3 hours Shinkansen nowadays). I lost my interest a bit in the middle, as there was no clear goal the story was aiming for, but it luckily picked up at the end. The solution to the problem is a good one, though you won't hear me raving about like I did about Honjin Satsujin Jiken. The main problem has a neat, well executed solution, that is a bit easy to see through though with the clues lying about. It is a solution though that is very fitting to the feel of this book and just won't have worked that well with the closed space Kindaichi usually encounters. The second problem/solution set was a bit more vague though and it's too bad it seems almost added in the story as an afterthought. Oh, and writers will always please me with a Challenge to the Reader! First time I saw this in a Yokomizo work and I hope I'll see it more often in his books. And as I totally write this as I'm going, the urban setting, the theater, the odd place of the dead body, the challenge, the more I think about it, the more Queen this book seems.

The introduction of Chouchou Satsujin Jiken was also quite interesting, seeing as Mitsugi says he was asked to write detective novels as a medium to promote logical reasoning to the Japanese people. Which is exactly what a lot of detective writers/magazine editors were aiming for already in the pre-war period in Japan. Detective novels as the sign of modern logical reasoning is of course an important topic in a lot of historical genre-studies, but this was the first time I saw it so explicitly referenced in a Japanese novel.

It seems this book wasn't nearly as popular among detective readers in Japan as Honjin Satsujin Jiken. According toYokomizo, Honjin appealed more to detective readers, while Chouchou was better received with "normal" readers who also liked detectives. I can see how the more suspenseful and glamorous story of Chouchou would appeal to a more wide audience. While I personally also prefer Honjin, I will say clearly that Chouchou is a fine book, it just had the bad luck of being released so close to Honjin. Yuri as a detective also misses the look Kindaichi has. Everyone knows Kindaichi just by looking at his silhouette. You can't do that with Yuri. Interestingly though, actor Ishizaka Kouji has played both Kindaichi Kousuke and Yuri Rintarou and is considered by many fans as the definite depiction of both detectives in the screen.

Still, I'm all for a pastiche where long-forgotten detectives plot the demise of their famous counterparts. Make it so.
  
Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史、『蝶々殺人事件』

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

「なんじゃこりゃ」

"On the main railway line to Kagoshima there is a small station called Kashii, three stops before the city of Hakata. From the station, the road inland, in the direction of the mountains, leads to Kashii Shrine; in the opposite direction, it goes down to the seashore from where Hakata harbor can be seen. 
Directly in front of the beach a narrow strip of land called Umi no Nakamichi extends in the sea like a sash, and at the end of it the island of Shika appears to float on the water. Off to the left lies the island of Noko, barely visible in the misy dis-tance. It is an exceptionally beautiful spot.
The stretch of seashore is called Kashii Bay. In olden times it was known as Kashii Inlet. In those days Otomo no Tabito, a government offical, was inspired by this same scene to compose the poem that appears in the manyoshu, a famous eight century anthology:
At low tide though our sleeves may
get wet, let us hunt
after sea herbs for breakfast in 
Kashii Bay."
"Points and Lines"

While there is a noticable gap in English translation of Japanese detective fiction, Matsumoto Seichou is one of the few authors who is relatively 'known' outside of Japan. Several of his books have been translated to English and reviewers always seem to be quite enthousiastic about his writing-style, praising his realistic depiction of the Japanese post-war society, the tension between classes and the workings of the Japanese justice system. Matsumoto is the starting point of the so-called shakai-ha ("social school") of Japanese detective fiction, a post-war movement that moved away from the fantastic plots found in orthodox Golden Age fiction, towards crime novels set in contemporary times, addressing contemporary (social) problems. Gonda (1993) (see the attic) quotes Matsumoto saying "[I] want to take detective novels outside the "haunted house"". Matsumoto was not a full-time crime writer by the way, but he's mostly remembered for being the whole starting point of the dominant post-war movement in detective fiction till the 80's. Which is kinda understandable.

And I don't really like it. I want imaginative plots and tricks!  I want a locked room, an intricate alibi trick, headless bodies and ancient curses! In fact, of all the Matsumoto novels I read until now, the only one I truly liked was Ten to Sen ("Points and Lines"). And I'll admit it's partly because the murder scene is set in Kashiihama, Fukuoka. See introducing quote. But it is a decent detective novel on its own, though I can imagine very well the solution is rather bland in this time-and-age. The trick doesn't age well.

So why did I buy the short story collection Kao? I'd like to know that myself. I think it had something to with 2009 being Matsumoto's 100th birthday (he is dead though). As he was from Kita-Kyuushuu, his books and movies were promoted quite heavily that time all over Fukuokan bookstores. Or at least, in the bookstore across my dorm. And it had won the Japanese Detective Writers Assocation Price! And it was released in the cool black-cover Japanese Detective Writers Assocation Price winners series, of which actually features great novels and secondary literature. So I kinda got swept away by the promotion. But note that while I bought the book in 2009, I've only read it now.

The short story Kao ("Face") starts the collection and is one of Matsumoto's most famous stories. It tells the story of a young stage actor, who is slowly getting more popular. He gets gigs in movies and before he knows it, he is seen as the next rising star of the silver screen. The problem is... he doesn't want his face to get known all over Japan. Or more exactly, he doesn't want to show his face to one specific person. Ishioka. Ishioka is the only witness who saw him that fateful day many years ago, when he was in the train with a girl he killed. Ishioka is the only person alive who can connect him to the murder. So he decides what every murderer would do, he tries to kill the witness. It is pretty decent as a thriller and I enjoyed it on that level, but I have no idea why Matsumoto won a price for detective novels with it.

Satsui ("Murderous Intent") is also rather disappointing. Here a judge examines the court records of a certain poisoning case. But what initially looks like a howdunnit, ends in a whydunnit. Which kinda took me by surprise. All my musings about how the poison was administred or who did it were pretty useless, as a bit for the finale the judge kinda decides rather arbitrary what the solution is and then asks himself the question why. The motive is not an original one though and while you might say it is interesting looking at it from the whole Japanese post-war economic miracle society angle, I won't.

Naze "seizu" ga hiraiteitaka ("Why was it opened at "star chart"?) is slightly more orthodox. A teacher was found dead in his study by his wife. The man had a weak heart from the start and had just come back home after several days of hunger strike at school, so there was nothing unnatural to his death, but because of his involvement with the strike, the police decides to look in things more thoroughly, just to be save. It seems the man was looking something up in his encyclopedia when he died, and the book is still opened at "star charts". Does it has anything to do with his death? Yes, it does and I guess the solution isn't too bad, but Matsumoto really had trouble making the problem relevant. The way the police suddenly decided that the open book had a) to be a clue and that b) it was intentionally opened at "star charts" was just weird.

My favorite story of the collection is Hansha ("Reflection"),  an inversed crime story very much like Edogawa Rampo's Shinri Shiken ("The Psychological Test"). A man comes up with 'the perfect plan' to kill his lover, steal her money and hide it where the police won't find it. To be exactly, in a bank. To be even more exactly, at several banks. In different accounts. And it works, the police somewhat suspects him, but they have no decisive proof nor any clue of where the money is. But like the protagonist in Edogawa Rampo's story, this man might have been too smart for his own good. And also like Edogawa Rampo's story, this is a good story, which I enjoyed very much. It was the only one in this collection though.

Shichou Shisu ("Death of the Mayor") is a bit like Naze "seizu" ga hiraiteitaka, in the sense that it is kinda like an orthodox detective story, only written more blandly and not particularly original. The mayor of a small town and several members of the town council were on a business trip in Tokyo, but on the way back, the mayor said he had somewhere to go and took a different train. Much later, the mayor is found dead in a small hotel in a town far away. Why did the mayor go there? I could say something about confusion casued by the war, the opening of the country due to economic prosperity or something like that, but I'll just say that the solution is a neat, simple one and more interesting than the story itself. It's not really original like I said earlier, but I have to admit I fell for it.

There was nothing to fell for in Harikomi (Stake Out) though, as this was .... I'm not sure what kind of story this is. Was there something? Anything? Like the titles suggest, the story is about a stake out of a woman, who used to be the lover of a wanted man. He is on the run, but the police suspect he might go look for his old lover. The woman is married now, lives in Kyuushuu and has several children. So the Tokyo police send a man to keep an eye on her. What follows is a long description of her daily routine, the wanted man showing up and taking the woman on a bus and the police capturing their man. The end. Maybe the twist was that there was no twist. Maybe I should focus on the working woman in post-war Japanese society as depicted here. Maybe I should really stop with reading Matsumoto.

Ah well, at least I got this over with.

Original Japanese title(s): 松本清張 『顔』,「顔」/「殺意」/「なぜ「星図」が開いていたか」/「反射」/「市長死す」/「張込み」

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Lord, what a relief it is to have been wrong for once! You don't know the monotony of infallibility!"

Wang: Let out one more small detail, Mr. Twain. Who victim?
Twain: Is the. Is the. Who is the victim? That drives me crazy.

Maybe writing a review of this book now isn't the best idea. It's been almost a month since I read it and I've read many books in between. It's all a bit hazy. The headache I have isn't helping too much either. Well, you might even say it is kinda hindering my faculty to write in semi-proper English. But as waiting even longer probably isn't going help my foggy memories of the book, I'd better write it down now.

Topic of today: Leo Bruce's Case for Three Detectives (1936).  Ah, yes, that famous detective pastiche. And it starts with all the classic themes. Mary Thurston is found dead in a locked room in her mansion. The doors were bolted from the inside, of course. The windows don't lead anywhere. The knife that killed her is found outside the mansion. And there was a weekend party going on, so the house was full of suspects. But no fear, for the mysterious murder attracts not one, not two, but three famous detectives. Lord Peter Wimsey Simon Plimsoll, Monsieur Hercule Poirot Amer Picon and Father Brown Monsignor Smith. The three of them all come up with a brilliant solution. Brilliant, but all wrong. Luckily, Sergeant Beef is here to save the day.

I am not sure how I feel about this book, actually. It is a very well structured novel, with a neat solution to the locked room. As a Queen-reader, you'll always catch my attention with a multi-layered solution. And this book has no less than four, all deviously logic and clever. In short, it is a good detective.

Yet, it is also clearly a parody on detective novels in general, featuring three slightly familiar detectives. The three are parodied very amusingly, all acting like their counterparts. Bruce, through the voice of narrator Townsend, also sneaks in some wonderful witty remarks regarding the detective genre. I would totally quote an awesome line from the book, if I had taken notes. I usually forget to take notes whenever I read in the train...

And I like parodies. A lot. The 'problem' is that I love my parodies to be... slightly extreme. They have to exaggerate the theme. Even if it's a detective. Higashino's Meitantei Tenkaichi ("Great Detective Tenkaichi") series is a hilarious parody of the genre, which presents classics like the locked room or alibi tricks in a 'possible-yet-totally-bizarre' way. My favorite, 33pun Tantei ("33 Minutes Detective"), is a Police Squad!-styled TV-drama which parodies everything of the genre, all the way to the very essence of the genre (while every case is solved within the first 5 minutes of the show, the detectives forcefully pads out the show with crazy, impossible deductions in order to fill in the total length of the show). The manga Shoujo Tantei Kaneda Hajime no Jikenbo ("The Casefiles of Girl Detective Kaneda Hajime") features a ventroquilist-pathologist (yes, he uses dead bodies) and killer-snails.

Case for Three Detectives is just too tame as a parody. And I suppose I could just look at it like a normal, neutral pastiche, like Nishimura Kyoutarou's Meitantei ("Great Detective") series with Akechi Kogorou, Poirot, Ellery Queen and Maigret. But the fact that those three detectives appear (with those names), as well as all those sharp observations put the book, for me, more in the parody genre, where it kinda fails because it is too much like a normal detective. Don't get me wrong, though, this is a great book. But I can't really 'shoehorn' it in my comfy categorial bookcases in my head and that makes my feelings about the book somewhat ambiguous.

But maybe it's just the headache talking. I might say something totally different on a clear mind.