Wednesday, August 31, 2011

「ゲームマスター・・・! お前の正体はこの俺が必ず暴く!」

学校では教えない ウラワザ
無敵コマンド 復活の呪文のとなえ方
人生で大切な事は
すべてゲ-ムでおそわった
「ラストコンティニュー」 (中山智明)

Things they don't teach at school
cheats, invisibility commands, how to do the revival spell,
all the important things of life,
I learned through games
"Last Continue" (AP Nakayama Tomoaki)

Oh, the summer is almost over. That means it's time for the annual Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo release! I guess it's better than nothing and it's become something like a habit for me too, but it'd be nice of they would do more volumes a year. Like two releases every year or something.

The previous couple of years, two volumes were released simultaneously, but this year it's just a single normal-sized volume. Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo - Game no Yakata Satsujin Jiken ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi -  The Game Mansion Murder Case") starts with Kindaichi, Miyuki and some other friends having fun at an amusement park. Kindaichi and Miyuki get seperated from their friends and with cellphones not working in that area, the two decide to have fun on their own. After a great day, the two discover they don't have enough money left for the bus fare back to their inn, so they decide to walk back, only to get surprised by a huge rainfall halfway. Luckily, a bus passed by them on the road and they are allowed to get on by the driver.

The next moment however, Kindaichi and Miyuki awaken in some kind of a deserted building, together with some other people. It seems all the people here were on the bus and that they were all knocked out by sleeping gas during the bus trip. A man in a cloak tells the confused party that they are in the so-called Game Mansion and that the only way to escape is to play his games. Which include things like quizzes (oh, and if you don't get a right answer in time, you get blown up) and wire puzzles (oh, and if you don't solve your puzzle in time, you might burn to death) and other fun games. Who is the Game Master and why is he forcing the party to play through his sadistic games?


I have actually never seen Saw, but I guess that this is inspired by Saw? The sadistic games that lead to death? While there's often a certain sense of danger in the Kindaichi Shounen stories because the stories are often set in closed circles, it's seldom this intense and it certainly made for a very exciting story. But Kindaichi Shounen wouldn't be Kindaichi Shounen if this wasn't connected with an orthodox mystery plot. Which is where the story both fails and succeeds. The orthodox mystery plot is really neatly integrated into the slash-horror plot, with actual proper clueing to what the Game Master is trying to accomplish. It's actually pretty cool how the hints were hidden in the 'games'. However, the clues pointing to the murderer are few and I was actually suprised when Kindaichi said who the murderer was, as there was pretty much nothing to point to that person. Of course, Kindaichi was told something the reader didn't know late in the story, so this was just unfair clueing.

But if I was asked whether I like this volume or not, I'd still say I like this volume though: the change in pacing because of the Saw-like story does changes things up a bit and like I said, it's actually done in a way to fit into the orthodox mystery genre. Because of this change in pacing, the story feels fresh for a Kindaichi Shounen story. It's a shame though that Kindaichi and Miyuki's friends (like Souta) only appeared at the beginning of the story: I had really hoped they would stick for the rest of the story, as the stories featuring the extended Kindaichi Shounen cast, mostly seen in the short stories, are usually more fun than the more classic stories.

I just wish Amagi/Satou would be a bit more active with the Kindaichi Shounen stories. Yes, I know that Amagi is a pretty busy guy, writing many, many scenarios for manga and drama using like eight different aliases, but it's been a while since he did a regularly running detective manga, right?

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸、さとうふみや 『金田一少年の事件簿 ゲームの館殺人事件』

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

「えぇ、俺まだ分かってへんで!」

ぼく達は
A) 一旦部屋に戻って着替えると、玄関脇の談話室で落ち合った。
B) 一旦部屋に戻って着替えて、夕食までどちらかの部屋で話でもしようということになった。

『かまいたちの夜』
有野: いや、でもちょっと、いろんな人がおるところにいって、ぼく結構社交的な面あるんですよって真理にみせる方がいいと思う。ちょっと『ときメモ』風の考えですけど
『ゲームセンターCX』 #113

We...
A) went to back to our rooms to change our clothes and met at the lounge next to the entrance.
B) decided to go back to our rooms to change our clothes and talk in one of our rooms until dinner
("The Night of the Kamaitachi")

Arino: Wait, but, I think it's better to go to a place with all kinds of people, to show to Mari that I'm pretty sociable.  That's kinda more like TokiMemo though...
(Game Center CX #113)

It's funny if you think about it, but the only Choose Your Own Adventure books I have are of Super Mario Bros. Why would I need a gamebook of a game?  I had fun with them though, reading the stories, collecting items and going through all the possible endings. So it's not strange I enjoy Chunsoft's sound novels. 'Cause they are basically CYOA-esque games: interactive fiction accompanied by images and audio where you advance in the story by making choices, with as goal finding the best ending. These sound novels are usually a lot more complex than your average CYOA book though, with countless of multiple choice decision points that affect the way the storyline will develop. Especially Chunsoft's 428 ~ Fuusa sareta Shibuya de ("428 ~In a Sealed Shibuya") is amazing, with five seperate storylines that intersect at certain points, with the decisions made in one storyline affecting the other storylines.

Kamaitachi no Yoru ("Night of the Kamaitachi") is one of the more famous sound novels (maybe the most famous?) and the second sound novel Chunsoft made.  It was a big hit when it first hit the Super Famicom and has been ported to other systems like the PlaySation and GameBoy Advance. And the series is still going strong apparently, with even a new entry announced for the PlaySation Vita. At any rate, Kamaitachi no Yoru is considered a pretty important title in the Japanese game world.

And the fact that I discuss the game here pretty much gives it away, but Kamaitachi no Yoru is basically nothing more or less than an orthodox mystery sound novel.  The scenario was penned by Abiko Takemaru, a mystery writer who seems to have a very close connection with Chunsoft (he also contributed to 428 ~ Fuusa sareta Shibuya de and Trick X Logic). The story is a pretty basic one: protagonists Tooru and his sorta girlfriend Mari are on vacation, staying at the ski pension of Mari's uncle. One night, during a snow storm, one of the guests, or to be exact, many pieces of one of the guests are found in his room. A murder! In a secluded ski lodge in a snow storm? Who would have expected that?! But the more important question is: Who did this? Someone from outside? Or one of the people in the pension? Or are the titular kamaitachi to blame?


As this is still considered a game, it is expected that the player solves the mystery himself (taking up the role of Tooru). And it's here where the sound novel feels superior to 'normal' books. As you control Tooru, you get to choose what actions to take. Do you suspect someone in the pension? Do you make your suspicions clear to the other people, or  do you wait until you can get some more information? At certain points in the story you are offered the choice what to do next and this has influence on the rest of the story.

Although the basic premise (people locked up in a snow lodge with a murderer) seems pretty standard and not particularly exciting, it's fun to see how the story changes by the little choices people make.There are literally dozens of decision points in the story and more importantly: one choice can completely change the story. With every decision point, the story changes a little, making it possible to play through the game dozens of times and still experience a totally different story everytime. In fact, there is a flow-chart included in the game to show what choices you have made and how your story is developing.


And it's really needed, as there are many, many endings. One time, my story ended with the death of everyone in the pension (including myself!) except for the killer. Which is not a good ending. In another ending, I ended up outside the pension before any murders happened, only to come back to find everyone killed.Which isn't a good ending either. In another, more light-hearted ending, I ended up as the director of a small firm, apparently having left the ski pension before the murders happened.

In one of my better endings, I did solve the murders (plural), but it was also possible to solve the case earlier in the story, resulting in fewer casualties. So the reader/player has direct influence on the developments in the story. With the changes in the story, the tone of the story also changes in the latter half of the game: the more murders happen. the more the story changes into a horror-flick, with everyone afraid of an unknown assaillant.


It might sound boring having to wade through a load of endings in search of the true ending, but it's actually really fun. Bad endings are just as amusing as the good endings, so coming across a bad ending doesn't really feel bad: it's just another variation on the same basic story. And while you might know the basic story, the changes that lead up to the various endings do prevent the story from becoming boring. In fact, even the bad endings contain little clues to the real murderer, so bad endings really aren't that bad.

As a mystery game, Kamaitachi no Yoru is awesome and the plot penned Abiko Takemaru (including the variation endings) is pretty interesting, even if it's a bit standard. The 'true' ending is not too difficult to deduce for a more experienced reader of the genre (making use of some rather 'standard' tropes), but the whole concept of mystery novel in such a form is really neat. Sound novels combine the ease of a written story with the interactivity found in games (as well as being more attractive audiovisually) in a very effective way IMHO.

And yes, this probably works best in a videogame setting. While I wouldn't mind CYOA mystery novels, the complexity of such a plot is best done in a videogame. I mean, without the big flow-charts to show every decision point and the way the story nodes are connected and instant jump-functions, Kamaitachi no Yoru (and other sound novels) would probably be less appealing

Original Japanese title(s): 『かまいたちの夜』

Saturday, August 27, 2011

「真実はひとつ。ただ真実だけが正義なろうかなって」

「《素人探偵浅黄蝉丸、密室首切り殺人事件を即座に解決、ただし犯人現行犯》みたいなっ!」
『クビシメロマンチスト 人間失格・零崎人識』

"Just like 'Amateur Detective Asaki Semimaru solves the Locked Room Decapitation Murder Case instantly, but only because the murderer was arrested redhandedly!'"
"Strangulation Romanticist - Human Failure - Zerozaki Hitoshiki"

By now, I only watch Meitantei Conan - Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou (Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi and write the reviews every week out of habit, not because I particularly like to do it. Which is never a good sign, I guess. 'Cause I really shouldn't write if I don't like writing about a subject. Aaaah, if only the TV series was a bit better... Ah well, I'm not sure how long the series is supposed to be, but it should be somewhere between the 10~12 episodes, so it's almost over.

Meitantei Conan - Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou (Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi)
Episode 1 (July 7, 2011): Before he turned into Conan, the high school detective solved the mystery of the adultery murder!
Episode 2 (July 14, 2011): The locked room murder commited on air! Reveal the secret cursed by the psychic
Episode 3 (July 21, 2011): Murder Case in a Locked Courtroom! Reveal the Trick of the Hostess Murder
Episode 4 (July 28, 2011): Perfect Crime! Murder Notice at a Wedding, Reveal the Locked Room Poisoning Trick
Episode 5 (August 5, 2011): The Glamorous Murder Trick of the Actress who lost her Memory - Perfect Murder at the Summer House
Episode 6 (August 11, 2011): The Magnificent Murderous Kiss of Twenty Beauties! The Murderous Intent Hidden in the Murder Equation!
Episode 7 (August 18, 2011): Inheritance Murder Among Bloody Relatives! Reveal the Mystery of the Kidnapping Trick!
Episode 8 (August 25, 2011): A Woman's Determination, Revenge on the Molester! The Murder Trick hidden in the Security Camera
Episode 9 (September 01, 2011): Hattori Heiji and the Mystery of the Invisible Locked Room Murder Weapon! Deduction Battle between the Detectives of East and West
Episode 10 (September 08, 2011): The Mystery of the Body that Moved 200 KM Within An Instant! Reveal the Perfect Crime Scheme of the Evil Woman
Episode 11 (September 15, 2011): A Kiss Is the Reason for Murder, A Revenge Murder After 20 Years! The Mystery of the Perfect Alibi
Episode 12 (September 22, 2011): I Killed Her! 3 Single Murderers? Reveal the Mystery of the Fake Murder!
Episode 13 (September 29, 2011): Ran Dies! The Final Challenge of the True Criminal to the Genius Detective - Reveal the Mystery of the White Room


Episode 8 ("A Woman's Determination, Revenge on the Molester! The Murder Trick hidden in the Security Camera") starts out very, very mediocre, with Ran being groped on the bus and Ran and Shinichi chasing the groper in a very, very boring chase scene (with a slight touch of Sherlock). But it seems like it was just the introduction to the main case of the episode: in an apartment Ran and Shinichi had passed during their chase, an elderly lady's artificial respiration machine had stopped working. She was brought to the hospital, but the police suspects the lady's helper might have tried to kill the lady and made it look like an accident. And for no real reason, Kudou starts to mingle with that case, while Ran is still trying to get the groper convincted for his crimes.


The mystery of the victim's artificial respiration machine turns out to be connected with the molester Ran and Shinichi had apprehended, but that was pretty clear from the start on. In fact, this whole episode is absolutely boring as everything is so obvious. From the dull humour to the bad acting at the beginning of the episode to the obviousness of the mystery, nothing interesting happens in the whole episode. It's pretty much as horrible as episode 5. Actually, I think this episode replaced episode 5 as the worst episode of this series now.While the series on a whole is not on a very high level, you'd think that a series featuring a pretty neat problem like a person dying of a fingergun, wouldn't have such boring and uninspired episodes.

The only other molester-in-detective-fiction I recall, is the story The Beauties Detective Club from the manga Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q"). That story didn't even feature a murder, but it was a story focused on how the trio of Megumi, Yukihara and Touya had to prove that a man was a groper in the train. And it was actually quite good. And according to an article by Koyama in Misshitsu Misteri no Meikyuu (see The Attic, Japanese materials), it seems that the pink film  Chikan Densha - Seiko no Oshiri ("Molester Train - Seiko's Butt") is in fact an interesting locked room mystery movie. Not sure what to expect from that though.

The preview of next week's episode, which is about 15 seconds long, was actually more interesting than the whole episode. It seems like next episode will feature both Hattori and Kazuha, which is pretty surprising. Of course, Shinichi and Hattori don't actually meet until volume 10, after Shinichi turned into Conan, so this whole episode will be pretty much impossible canon-wise, but hey, two master detectives who will probably go against each other? I'm in! Guess I was wrong with thinking that the Hattori episode would be based on the snow-trip story from the manga (a story set before Shinichi turned into Conan, with Shinichi and Hattori working on the same case but they never really meet or even get to know each others' names). Of course, if the writers are going to ignore canon, they can go pretty much anywhere...

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 工藤新一への挑戦状』 サブタイトル「女の意地、痴漢犯への復讐!監視カメラに秘めた殺人トリック」
Date & Password: 2010.09.30; ジハツコキュウ

Friday, August 26, 2011

「すいません、キムチ丼大盛り、ご飯抜きで」

つまり、ぼくはここ一ヶ月ほど、「お、こりゃおいしい」という感覚に出会っていないのだ。ものを食べるたび、なんだか物足りないような、大事な何かが欠けているような、そんな気分になるのである(省略)
どんぶりいっぱいに盛られたキムチの山。これを食べ切って尚現在の味覚を維持できるほどに丈夫な舌などこの世に存在すまい (省略) 
「いただきます」 呟いて、一口目。「………」 これは。結構、キツい (省略)
そろそろ限界なのだろうか。舌先どころか頭の中まで麻痺しまじめ、自分が一体何をしているのか、そう言えばぼくは一体だれだったのか、誰ってどういう意味だったのか、そもそも意味って何だっけ、そんなことも分からなくなって頃 (省略)
ぼくはキムチの最後に一切れを口にした。舌、と言うか口の中は完全に参っている。恐らくこれで、明日からは《ご飯がおいしくない》などのワガママを吐かすことはなくなるだろう
『クビシメロマンチスト 人間失格・零崎人識』

So this last month, I hadn't felt the sensation of  'This tastes good'. Every time I ate, it felt like it wasn't enough, like something important was missing (...)
A bowl with a pile of kimchi. No tongue in this world strong enough to retain its tasting abilities after eating all of this (...)
I muttered a 'I humbly accept'. The first bite. '...' This. Is. Going. To. Be. Hard (...)
Reaching my limits. Not only my tongue, but my head too has started to feel numb. What am I doing? Or rather, who am I, what's the meaning of who and what does meaning mean, it was about when I started to lose my comprehension of even that, that... (...)
I placed the final pieces of kimichi in my mouth. My tongue, no, my entire mouth had given up. From tomorrow on, I'll probably never say something like 'this doesn't taste good''.
"Strangulation Romanticist: Human Failure - Zerozaki Hitoshiki"

Maybe I should stop with the habit of reading several books at the same time. As I switch books in and out of my reading schedule rather regularly, sometimes a book gets switched out of the schedule without getting back in. Usually because I forgot I was still reading that book. Or was I just ignoring it? Anyway, I think I have read the first 100 or so pages of NisiOisiN's Kubishime Romanticist - Ningen Shikkaku Zerozaki Hitoshiki ("Strangulation Romanticist - Human Failure - Zerozaki Hitoshiki") about two or three times by now. And they were funny every time. Don't know why I never finished the book though. Until now, that is.

Kubishime Romanticist is the second volume in NisiOsiN's Zaregoto series, a light-novel series that starts out as a sorta-mystery series, but it seems like the mystery element fades out as the series progresses. It's been about three years since I read the first volume, Kubikiri Cycle, but I remember it as novel that was, in some ways, genre-deconstructing. The locked room mystery with a headless corpse was interesting yes, but the biggest mystery of the novel was definately the narrator. A young 19-year old student. He was relatively smart, but as he is constantly surrounded by geniuses, he didn't stand out particularly. Or maybe he did stand out because he was so relatively normal. Although, normal, he was a bit dark at times. A bit inhuman. A bit of a liar. In fact, our narrator is a very unreliable narrator.

Anyway, Kubishime Romanticist is set about a month after the events of the first book, with our narrator back at university. While eating his all-kimichi breakfast/lunch, he is approached by Mikiko, one of his classmates (because of his bad memory, he doesn't remember her though). He's invited  (forced?) to go to a small birthday party of Tomoe, one of his other classmates (and he doesn't remember her either). With nothing else to do, he agrees and spends a relatively pleasant night. The next day however, he hears that Tomoe has been found strangled to death in her apartment. Oh, and in between, our narrator also met and became sorta friends with a serial killer who has been active in Kyoto. To keep things interesting.

The second volume in the series already feels less focused on the mystery, though the solution is still fairly hinted and still makes for a very interesting novel. Kubikiri Cycle definately felt closer to the old 'secluded-island model', while Kubishime Romanticist is a lot more open, being set in Kyoto. With a locked room mystery, a mysterious message left at a crime scene and perfect alibis for everyone, this novel is still pretty classic, but is quite clear that the murders are is not the focus of the book.

For once again, our narrator is the biggest mystery of all. I also had this feeling with Kubikiri Cycle, but Kubishime Romanticist is more like a novel about the narrator, about his view on the world and on human beings, who just happens to come across mysteries. Which he doesn't really need to solve actually. He usually does though. But let the reader beware: the narrator is not a fair person. At first sight, he seems like an somewhat aloof person with maybe a bit dark, pessimistic personality. The reader will often think he knows more than our narrator, as it seems like the narrator has little common sense (or more preciselly, feels less inclined to adhere to common sense). But the narrator knows a lot more than he tells the reader and he easily lies to the people he knows, the readers and even himself (the narrator is usually fair enough to admit he's lying when he's called out on it though).

I really love this novel though: the narrator, as a detective-like person, is really interesting and NisiOisN's writing style is just awesome. The novel tends to walk across a bunch of genres and themes, from philosophical themes to sheer comedy (the part with the kimchi quoted above is hilarious when read in context), but NisiOisN pulls it off very good. I tend to prefer stories that are (very) focused on the plot-structure and tricks, but NisiOisN manages to convince me of the possibilies of the modern mystery novel. Or am I only praising the novel because I feel a kindred spirit in the narrator? Seriously, some lines said by the narrator feel just all too familiar. I am not as dishonest as him though. I think.

Whereas the narrator worked with genius IT-specialist Kunagisa in the first novel, she hardly appears in this novel. I don't really like her as a character (neither do I like Aikawa), so I was pretty happy the focus in Kubishime Romanticist was on the narrator and his interactions with other people in a relatively normal environment. I haven't read the following novels yet (though I have Kubitsuri High School somewhere), but I guess that as the series' focus changes to action, characters like Kunagisa and Aikawa will pop up more often. Which is a shame, I think, for I think I like this novel exactly because it's relatively normal, with the just the right amount of mystery, philosophical themes, action and humor. I really don't hope that this series changes into some sort of harem-series with all kinds of super-powered/smart girls fighting and stuff (<- though I have to admit, I know nothing about how this series will evolve beyond the fact that the focus changes, so it might stay this awesome).

Original Japanese title(s): 西尾維新 『クビシメロマンチスト 人間失格・零崎人識』

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

「じゃあ聞いてくれるかな?僕が蘭さんに告ってもいいかどうか・・・」

「愛美は事故で死んだのではなく、このクラスの生徒に殺されたからです」
『告白』

"Manami didn't die because of an accident, she was killed by students in this class
"Confessions"

Am I the only one who occasionally talks while reading? I guess this makes me sound like a madman, but I mean more like little remarks when reading. You know, when in a horror-movie the girl goes alone down in the cellar, and you say that isn't smart to do? I also do that with novels. Praising characters when they say something good, yelling at them when they do something wrong. When reading a detective, you'll often hear me muttering "ah, that's how it was done!" and stuff.

I usually read several books at the same time spread over a large period of time, and I occasionally write down some memo-notes for the different books, just to make sure I don't mix the stories up. Those notes are usually exactly the utterances I make while reading. While these notes are usually a bit more specific ('This OOO trick was good' or 'he's not doing much between chapters X and Y')) my notes for this post's novel were a bit vague.
  • 気持ち悪ぃ! 気持ち悪ぃ! (Gross! Gross!)
  • 残酷だな、子供って (Kids sure are cruel)
  • この先生マジ腹立つわぁ (This teacher... he really irritates me)
  • そっか暗いな、これ (Aah, this novel is pretty dark)
  • 繰り返しっちゃん (But it's repeating itself!)
  • 狂ったかおまえ (What? Are you' mad!)
  • おおおおい、めちゃくちゃやじゃん (Heeeeeeeey, what the hell are you doin'?!!)

Yet these notes make perfect sense to me.

Minato Kanae's Kokuhaku ("Confessions") is a relatively well-known title even outside of Japan, as the 2010 movie won quite some (international) awards and nominations. I too only heard of the title because of I had seen the movie trailer in the theaters, which was quite interesting. The story starts with a startling confession by Moriguchi Yuuko, the teacher of class 1B of the S Municipal Middle School on the last day of school year. She tells that her class that she resigns as a teacher. The reason? The death of her four-year old daughter Manami. While it seemed that Manami's death was just a tragic drowning accident, Moriguchi tells her class that two of their classmates, whom she dubs student A and B, are responsible for Manami's death. And as legal minors can not be punished by law, she confesses that to take her own revenge, she had injected the milk cartons student A and B had just drunk with HIV-contaminated blood.

I'm pretty sure I came up with 気持ち悪ぃ! 気持ち悪ぃ! (Gross! Gross!) at this point.

This is actually just the summary of the first chapter, Seishokusha ("Sacred Profession"). It's also the story with which Minato Kanae won 2007's Shousetsu Suiri Shinjin Shou ("Fiction Detective Newcomers' Price"), a price for short stories in crime fiction. Afterwards, Minato extended the story into a full-length novel by adding five new chapters. The chapters all have a different narrator (i.e. the murderers, their family and classmates) and these narrators are all somehow connected to Manami's death. As the story switches narrators, we see both the events leading up to Manami's death, as well as the aftermath of Moriguchi's horrible revenge.

And as a revenge novel, it's entertaining, though I do wonder why this novel ended up so high in the Kono Mystery ga Sugoi rankings ("This Mystery is Awesome!") (fourth place). Kokuhaku is barely a mystery. The first chapter I can clearly see as a piece of crime fiction, with teacher Moriguchi slowly explaining how she came to find out that her daughter was killed and by whom. The following chapters are a bit different though, as they tell the events after Moriguchi left the school, but from different viewpoints, with every character offering their own thoughts, their own versions of the same event. With different characters with their own motives giving their own accounts on the same events, it's not strange to see that there are little differences, little discrepancies between the different accounts. It's by looking at these points that the whole truth becomes clear (and unlike Akutagawa's In a Grove, these accounts are not really contradictory, only seen from different viewpoints). The last five chapters are clearly a whydunnit, and it's pretty interesting to see how Minato constructed this plot by having different characters influencing each other in all kinds of ways. In fact, this is very much like how the game-system works in that awesome visual novel, 428 ~Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de. Not precisely what I look for in a mystery, as I'm always a fan of the more the grand tricks, but nice nonetheless.

Though that thing with the HIV-contaminated blood? That's really, really gross. To make my own confession: I am absolutely OK with chopped off arms, decapitations and other horrible murder tricks, but I can't stand blood being used. So I am not talking about blood an sich. I am not particularly afraid of bloody scenes, blood spraying everywhere and stuff. But I get goosebumps when I just think about tricks in detective fiction that use the substance blood. Like water, blood as a substance has several characteristics that might be used for some murderer's evil scheme. For example blood can solidify, it can flow, it can dry. A smart person might use that for something. Those tricks, I really, really dislike. Blood should either be in somebody's body, or spray out or something, but not be used for anything like that~

Halfway through the second chapter, I decided to read Kokuhaku as a normal thriller and yes, it was pretty awesome. Like Otsuichi's GOTH, this is a pretty dark, at times simply gross story set at a school, but Kokuhaku is definately set up more as a... 'reconstruction' of the standard school drama. At times it feels very much the anti-thesis of GTO - Great Teacher Onizuka. Of course, if I wasn't mostly focusing on mystery here, I might go on about how minors are seen in the eyes of the law in Japan, about the role of the teachers in Japan, the importance of status within the eyes of students and parents, the way parents handle their kids in Japan, bullying, the growing number of hikikomori, and the gap between the Kinpachi Sensei-like school dramas and real-life, but.... this is not really the place to discuss these themes. Unless I somehow connect it to the mystery genre. But certainly not something I want to do here and now.

I still haven't seen the movie actually, but as I hear a lot of positive reviews, I might take a look in the future. The novel was interesting at least and a nice break from my usual crime readings, which tend to be a bit less realistic. I am looking at you Akuryoutou ('Island of Evil Spirits"), with your Siamese Twins, legendary birds and disappearing people.

Original Japanese title(s): 湊かなえ 『告白』

Sunday, August 21, 2011

「君は一体、何者なんだい?」

「名探偵ゆく所に殺人事件ありさ」
『少女探偵金田はじめの事件簿』

"Where great detectives go, murder happens"
"The Casefiles of Girl Detective Kaneda Hajime"

Going over my bookcases, I finally noticed that some of my detective series feature rather strange detectives. And I don't mean strange in the sense of a strange personality. I refer to the unlikely detectives. Not the private detectives, not the police, not even the magicians or the laywers or anything. 'Cause it isn't very strange that they are capable detectives. Not even thieves or something like that. Just detectives who are just very unlikely to be great detectives. Yet they are. Famous examples would be Father Brown and Mrs. Marple. So I'll avoid those in this post, 'cause that would be to easy.

And I guess this is Edogawa Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan's influence, but there's huge amount of young detectives running around in Japan. Conan (Detective Conan) is probably the most famous of these child detectives (being both child and a young adult). And Conan is actually still relatively normal as a child detective. As Kudou Shinichi, he wants to be a famous detective and by the time the series begins, Shinichi has already made a name for himself as a private detetective, so it's not strange that people come to him for help. The same holds for Conan, where most of his work comes via Kogorou. So it's not strange that he has a lot of work. So Conan is actually a bad example for an unlikely detective.

Kindaichi Hajime is more of an unlikely detective. He might be the grandson of Kindaichi Kousuke, but he is nothing more than just a somewhat underarchieving high school student. Besides his intellect, he has nothing. Not a special interest in mystery fiction (he is only in the mystery research club because he was forced into it), he has no other strange talent that assists in his detecting. Even though he has solved many cases, he does not want to be a detective like Shinichi in Detective Conan. It's not like he purseus cases actively: Hajime is just forced to solve crimes as he always happens to get involved with them. He detects out of necessity, not out of his own will.

With bukatsu (extracurricular activities in the form of clubs and circles) being an important part of the Japanese society (being like a practice stage for later human relations), it's not  surprising that quite some novels and manga feature a detective who is a member of a school's/university's mystery research club. As experts in the genre, these people are usually wonderfully genre-savvy, often resulting in discussion that refer to older, famous works. Student Alice, Mizuno Satoru and Nikaidou Reito and Ranko are good examples of this trope. But what about... an actual detective club at school.

Shoujo Tantei Kaneda Hajime no Jikenbo ("The Casefiles of Girl Detective Kaneda Hajime") is a little known parody manga and protagonist Kaneda Hajime is actually a detective only because she entered the Detective Club. Meaning she is only a detective because its part of her extra-curricular activities. When club activities are over, she goes home immediately, leaving any unsolved murders for tomorrow.Of course, the whole series is crazy like a bat, with a 40-year old 'boy' detective and a forensic pathologist who uses dead bodies as a ventriloquist's dummy when giving his autopsy report. For some reason, nobody knows this one-shot manga, even though it's pretty funny.

Usami-chan, one of the segments in the hyperactive supernonsensical Gag Manga Biyori series, is another parody of the genre: the rabbit Usami just likes to make calls to the police to report someone. That's the only reason she's a detective. She is good at it too, but that is also because the bear Kumakichi is always the one behind crimes like peeping on girls and stealing swimsuits. Yes, the premise is a bit strange and may sound lame and I admit that one needs a particular sense of humor to appreciate Gag Manga Biyori, but I think it's brilliant.

Even stranger are the protagonists from Himitsu Keisatsu Holmes ("Secret Police Holmes") and Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q").  Cause these kids actually have official authority to solve cases. For some reason, someone thought it was smart to give these kids official power, often even the power to overrule police authority. Which is just plain nuts. Heck, the children in Himitsu Keisatsu Holmes are still in elementary school! Yet they solve locked room murders and stuff! It's not like in Detective Conan, where Conan is technically a young adult who will try to keep the real children out of trouble. The kids here are really just kids. Which makes this series a bit frightening.

Tantei Gakuen Q's Q Class is slightly more realistic, as the five members in Q Class were selected by the famous detective Dan Morihiko himself, and are to be trained to be his successor. The members of Q class are a bit older, a bit wiser than the kids in Himitsu Keisatsu Holmes, but still. They are kids. With the power to take over any police investigation whenever they want. Which is silly. Of course, Edogawa Rampo's Boys Detective Club was even more insane (because it's Edogawa Rampo), with some children even carrying guns and stuff... but still.

I can't remember whether the protagonist in Karakurizouji Ayatsuri Sakon ("Puppeteer Sakon") still went to school or not, but his main occupation isn't a student anyway. Sakon is a young performing bunraku artists and together with his dummy puppet Ukon, he solves mysteries. Which are usually murders. Ignoring the fact that puppets are, together with clowns, the scariest things on this world, Karakurizouji Ayatsuri Sakon is also actually a horrible detective series. Not even Obata (Death Note)'s art can save this boring series. In the same Japanese culture-thingy-mode, we have the houkan Sharoku, who specializes more in coded messages than murder, but still an amateur detective with a somewhat surprising main occupation.

Kujiragi Yuu (nickname: Kujira/Whale) from The Accidents ~ Jikochou Kujira no Jikenbo ("The Accidents - The Casefiles of Accidents Investigator Kujira") doesn't have a occupation unrelated to the official authorities, but as nobody seems to know this series, I make an exception in mentioning it. I'm actually not sure which of his two jobs is his main occupation, but Kujira is usually found in his little toy store. But he's also working as a high ranking investigator of accidents. Whenever a plane crashes, a train rides off a bridge, a satellite stops working or even when a bride suddenly bursts in a ball of flame (yes, they all happen in this series), we have Kujira to investigate the cause of these accidents for the government. It's a bit like Master Keaton, with protagonist Keaton working as an insurance investigator, but while Master Keaton isn't only focused on Keaton's investigations, The Accidents is really only about the investigation of pretty impressive accidents. Which of course aren't always just accidents.

Writer-detectives are not rare. We have many, many mystery novel writers who detect themselves actually, like Ellery Queen, Jessica Fletcher, Arisugawa Alice and Norizuki Rintarou. We also have reporters, like Rouletabille and the reporters in Shimada Kazuo's novels. We even have someone like Mitsuhiko Asami, a freelance writer who specializes in historic research. He usually writes for travel magazines, but the crimes he encounters are actually related to his field of expertise.

Takano Seiya (Kuitan) however, is a writer of historical novels. Yet the crimes he solves are all food-absolutely nothing to do with his amateur sleuthing. Which is actually a bit strange. He could have literally been anything.
related, whether it being related to the food itself, or the way how people work in restaurants, or even the cultivation of food. His expertise is the whole chain of food: from creation of food to the consumption of food. But like I said, his main occupation is writer of historical novels. His work as a writer therefore has

And to finish it off, the really weird amateur detectives. While Mitarai Kiyoshi did switch jobs to be become a full-time private eye in Mitarai Kiyoshi no Aisatsu, he started off as an astrologist. Who solved crimes. An astrologist. At least, a physicist like Galileo makes sorta sense as many crimes he assists in are sorta science-related. But the whole astrologist-thing isn't even really related to Mitarai's way of deducing, while Mitarai can be a bit vague and dreamy in normal conversation, his deductions are always as clear as any hard science.

And then we have travel agent Mizuno Satoru. Yes, a travel agent. Who is also a detective. Well, to Mizuno's credit, he was a member of the mystery novel club when he was a student and he was actually in practically all clubs, making him knowledgable about pretty much anything (but mainly otaku-fields like tokusatsu kaijuu). Writer Nikaidou Reito has actually two Mizuno Satoru series: one about his student years, the other about his time as a shakaijin, a contributing member of society (i.e. a working man). Of course, of all the jobs he could have, Mizuno chose to be a travel agent. Who occasionally detects.

And yes, I'm sure there are a lot more of these unlikely detectives, but I just picked out the ones I actually have in my bookcase. Because that makes things a lot easier. Not surprisingly, most of these characters originate from manga and anime, but that certainly doesn't make them less interesting. Well, except for Karakurizouji Ayatsuri Sakon, but that's because I really, really hate puppets. Now if the series was actually good, I might have been able to forgive the puppets....

Original Japanese title(s):
青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』 / 天樹征丸(原作) さとうふみや(画) 『金田一少年の事件簿』 / あさりよしとお 『少女探偵金田はじめの事件簿』 / 増田こうすけ 『ギャグマンガ日和』 / 立神敦(原作) 犬木栄治(画) 『秘密警察ホームズ』 / 天樹征丸(原作) さとうふみや(画) 『探偵学園Q』 / 写楽麿 (原作)小畑健(画) 『人形草紙あやつり左近』 / 山田貴敏 『アクシデンツ -事故調クジラの事件簿-』 / 寺沢大介 『喰いタン』 / 法月綸太郎 作家法月綸太郎シリーズ / 有栖川有栖 学生アリスシリーズ・作家アリスシリーズ / 島田荘司 御手洗潔シリーズ / 二階堂黎人 水乃サトルシリーズ・二階堂蘭子シリーズ

Saturday, August 20, 2011

「溢れる涙光る」

"There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded"
"Twenty rules for writing detective stories"

This has definately been a very active year for Conan-related media (as it's the 15th anniversary of the animation): besides the manga, anime and the annual animated movie, we were also treated to a new game, a live action TV special and a live action TV series. And now Aoyama Goushou is also going to release two new chapters of Magic Kaito?! While I really like Conan!KID, Magic Kaito!KID was always a lot more comedy-oriented and I felt the last chapter in Magic Kaito was a bit too dark for the series. I hope the new chapters are a bit more light-hearted. But anyway to continue with the weekly Conan media...

Meitantei Conan - Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou (Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi)
Episode 1 (July 7, 2011): Before he turned into Conan, the high school detective solved the mystery of the adultery murder!
Episode 2 (July 14, 2011): The locked room murder commited on air! Reveal the secret cursed by the psychic
Episode 3 (July 21, 2011): Murder Case in a Locked Courtroom! Reveal the Trick of the Hostess Murder
Episode 4 (July 28, 2011): Perfect Crime! Murder Notice at a Wedding, Reveal the Locked Room Poisoning Trick
Episode 5 (August 5, 2011): The Glamorous Murder Trick of the Actress who lost her Memory - Perfect Murder at the Summer House
Episode 6 (August 11, 2011): The Magnificent Murderous Kiss of Twenty Beauties! The Murderous Intent Hidden in the Murder Equation!
Episode 7 (August 18, 2011): Inheritance Murder Among Bloody Relatives! Reveal the Mystery of the Kidnapping Trick!
Episode 8 (August 25, 2011): A Woman's Determination, Revenge on the Molester! The Murder Trick hidden in the Security Camera
Episode 9 (September 01, 2011): Hattori Heiji and the Mystery of the Invisible Locked Room Murder Weapon! Deduction Battle between the Detectives of East and West
Episode 10 (September 08, 2011): The Mystery of the Body that Moved 200 KM Within An Instant! Reveal the Perfect Crime Scheme of the Evil Woman
Episode 11 (September 15, 2011): A Kiss Is the Reason for Murder, A Revenge Murder After 20 Years! The Mystery of the Perfect Alibi
Episode 12 (September 22, 2011): I Killed Her! 3 Single Murderers? Reveal the Mystery of the Fake Murder!
Episode 13 (September 29, 2011): Ran Dies! The Final Challenge of the True Criminal to the Genius Detective - Reveal the Mystery of the White Room


Episode 7 ("A Bloody Inheritance Murder Among Bloody Relatives! Reveal the Mystery of the Kidnapping Trick!") is a very strange episode in the Conan-Canon. I didn't notice it until the preview for this episode, but Conan has very few kidnapping cases (though volume 72 actually had one..). At least, they don't occur often  in the manga, I'm not sure about the anime. You'd think that in a mystery series with a lot of children and even a heir to a zaibatsu conglomerate walking around unguarded, there'd be more kidnapping cases. I'm not sure whether Kindaichi Hajime encountered more kidnapping cases or not, but those cases were at least memorable. But anyway, Sonoko does get kidnapped in this episode actually.


Sonoko was just kidnapped for convenience however, as she happened to be with the real target of the kidnapper: Noguchi Yuri, (incredibly rich) daughter of the recently deceased Ramen King Noguchi. The kidnapper asks for a case full of diamonds as the ransom. Miki, Yuri's half-sister, agrees to pay the ransom. Not for Yuri's sake, but just to protect the company's name. She is supposed to place the diamonds in a briefcase and attach it to the big ad-balloon on top of the firm, letting it float in the sky. The police and Shinichi keep a watch over the briefcase and balloon, but nobody approaches it for over an hour.


After a hour, the kidnapper calls again, saying he has received the diamonds. Shocked, they get the briefcase back to the ground and discover that all the diamonds have disappeared from the briefcase! And because we want murder in a mystery (?), Miki gets killed while everybody is busy releasing Yuri from her holding cell. Because an impossible disappearance isn't enough.

Like I said, kidnapping cases seem more a case for Kindaichi Shounen (or maybe more specifically, Amagi Seimaru) to me and this case really feels like a mesh of some Kindaichi Shounen stories (and a bit Tantei Gakuen Q  ("Detective Academy Q")). The disappearing ransom trick was done much better in Kindaichi Shounen's short story The Ransom that Disappeared into Silver. The setting of the diamonds disappearing from a floating locked room in this episode is cool, but the solution to the disappearing ransom is just too obvious here. It's never a good sign when you figure out the trick of a mystery before it appears on screen, right? Well, I bet most people figure out the trick to the stolen ransom trick before it's even done!

The whole kidnapping-ending-in-murder plot was also done better in Kindaichi Shounen's Hayami Reika's Kidnapping Murder Case and Tantei Gakuen Q's Murder Collector. Both stories are written by Amagi Seimaru and share a similar trick, which is actually also sorta used in this episode, but not nearly in as interesting ways as in the mentioned stories.

So all in all, not an episode I like very much. The idea of a kidnapping case is good because it hardly ever happens in Conan, but the mystery itself is pretty boring. Focussing only おn an impossible disappearance might have made the story better, as now it's a bit too much in too little time (something the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo live action series also suffered from actually: Young Kindaichi's Murder is a hectic story as is, but reduced to a 45 minute episode? It's nearly impossible to follow)

Soooooo, when are they going to introduce Hattori? The storylines from the manga? Don't tell me I have to wait for the finale for that....

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 工藤新一への挑戦状』 サブタイトル「血ぬられた骨肉の遺産相続殺人! 誘拐トリックのナゾを暴け!」
Date & Password: 2010.05.27; ダイヤモンド

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

「犯人は、あなたですね」

死んではいけないと長い夜も私は
あなたの名前呼んで朝を待つでしょう
「愛のバラード」 (金子由香利)

Thinking I should not die, I keep calling out your name
during the long night, waiting until the morning comes
"Ballad of Love" (Kaneko Yukari)

Like always, pattern-like behavior here is usually nothing more than a coincidence. Suddenly a lot of English in my post-titles? A week long of reviews of Western mystery novels? Reviews of debut works one after another? It's really, really nothing more than coincidence. To be totally honest: I usually select the next book to read on basis of... page count and readibility. I don't look at summaries, reviews, I don't plan for one review to fit thematic with a next review. I just estimate how much free time I have and how much one book should take.

So the fact that I'm discussing Inugamike no Ichizoku ("The Inugami Clan"), right after Akuma no Temariuta and Gokumontou is not because I wanted to do a Kindaichi Kousuke series this week. It wasn't because I procured all the Ichikawa Kon movies at the same time ('cause I didn't). It wasn't even because I refered to Inugamike no Ichizoku so often in my review of Akuryou no Yakata. Things just happened this way. Call it fate.

To start from the conclusion: Yokomizo Seishi's Inugamike no Ichizoku, is a masterpiece. And actually a masterpiece English readers can read, as a translated version was released many years ago already. Actually, The Inugami Clan is the very first Kindaichi Kousuke novel I read and I still love it. It has everything: a fight over an inheritance between the three families of the Inugami clan, a beautiful heiress, a series of murders with a sick meaning behind them and even a man walking around in a rubber mask  (is less funny than it sounds). What's not to like? The bloody battle for the inheritance family patriarch Inugami Sahei started with his devilish will is nothing less than sadistic and the truth private eye Kindaichi Kousuke uncovers makes this one of the best mysteries ever.

Publishing firm Kadokawa Shoten started releasing the Kindaichi Kousuke novels as paperbacks in the 1970s and Kadokawa Haruki had a brilliant idea when he followed his father up as the president of the firm in 1975: the Kadokawa company was to enter the movie industry, with a focus on making movies of the books it published. Cross-media promotion was the way to go according to Kadokawa Haruki. Kadokawa Shoten had a deal going on with movie studio Shochiku for a movie adaption for Yokomizo Seishi's Yatsu Haka Mura, but as that movie was delayed, Kadokawa Haruki pushed its own movie plans and one year later, a movie adaption of Inugamike no Ichizoku was released by Kadokawa Pictures. And there was much rejoicing.


For the film was a big succes. Kadokawa Pictures had pretty much gambled on Inugamike no Ichizoku, but it certainly payed off.  And that wasn't surprising. The movie was beautiful, with fantastic shots, great music and a grand cast. In fact, the movie is at least as great a classic as the original novel and one of the greatest mystery movies ever in my opinion. The film is very faithful to the original source material, but Ichikawa Kon's directing and the actors really add an extra dimension to the story. And the cross-promotion scheme of Kadokawa Haruki also succeeded: the movie was the second biggest earner that year in Japan and Kadokawa Shoten also profited from boosted sales of the paperbacks.

Ishizaka Kouji shines in this film: even though he was the seventh person to the Kindaichi Kousuke part on the screen, he was actually the very first to be faithful to the character of the novels. Ishizaka also added a lot of his own little touches to the character that other actors have taken over (especially the suitcase Kindaichi carries, which is a personal item of Ishizaka). For many people, Ishizaka is the definite Kindaichi. And funny: Yokomizo Seishi himself plays the Nasu Hotel owner!


In 2006, Ichikawa Kon released a remake of his own masterpiece (his final movie actually) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original. And surprisingly, Ishizaka Kouji once again starred as Kindaichi Kousuke! He was 35 when he played in the original movie, so here we had a 65 year old Kindaichi Kousuke. Nobody complained though, because everyone knew Ishizaka had to be Kindaichi. There was just no other way around it. Katou Takeshi also played his familiar detective in charge again (though this time, he's called Todoroki instead of Tachibana), while other actors from the original came back in other roles (as Yokomizo Seishi isn't alive anymore, Mitani Kouki played the Nasu Hotel owner!)




The remake is actually very faithful to the original, with many shots copied 1:1 from the original movie. I still prefer the original version a bit, but the two movies are really so much alike that it mostly doesn't matter which one you see. There are some slight differences though of course and Ishizaka Kouji intentionally played Kinidachi in the remake as an older, more wiser Kindaichi in the remake. If you happen to be able to see both movies: compare the eye-movements of Ishizaka during his confrontation with the murderer. The whole scene is shot pretty much the same, but this is definately a different Kindaichi. And yes, I'd rather seen Ichikawa Kon film a new Kindaichi movie with Ishizaka rather than a remake, but what's done is done.

Inugamike no Ichizoku is, whether you choose the novel or one of the movies, a great mystery. It's regarded as one of the masterpieces in Japanese detective fiction and all formats will show why. I myself am even inclined to prefer the '76 movie over the original novel! Actually, the world needs more of these grand scale classic movie mysteries!

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『犬神家の一族』

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Which Witch is Which?

「青白く光る女の幽霊。美しい謎の女の肖像画。夜中に廊下を歩き回る甲冑の亡霊。黒魔術の化粧をされた首と手のない死体。そして、鍵のかかった殺人現場。消失した犯人 ― ふん、まさにこの《悪霊館》という奴は、幽霊の巣窟に違いない」
『悪霊の館』

"The pale glowing ghost of a woman. A portrait of a mysterious beauty. The ghost of a suit of armor that walks the hallway in the middle of the night. A head- and handless corpse that shows signs of black magic. And a locked murder scene. A murderer who has disappeared.  Hmm, this Palace of Evil Spirits really seems like a den for ghosts"
"Palace of Evil Sprits"

I'll admit that my pile of unread books is quite big when compared to normal standards, but if I ignore the non-mystery books and the Edogawa Rampo paperbacks, the pile isn't that absurd anymore actually. I brought back about 60 unread mystery novels back from Japan last year and there are about 10 novels left. Which means I'll allow myself to buy new Japanese novels in the mere future. Yay!

I had already gone through all my Norizuki Rintarou and Arisugawa Alice novels and this week I finished my last Nikaidou Reito novel. For some reason or another, I've been reading the Nikaidou Ranko series in a very roundabout way. And contuinity is actually quite important in this series. The basic premise is the same for every novel, with narrator Nikaidou Reito teaming up with his genius (adopted) sister Nikaidou Ranko solving grand grotesque cases, but the characters in this series actually grow up (they start out as high-school students in Jigoku no Kijutsushi, but are university students in Jinroujou no Kyoufu) and they often refer to previous cases, sometimes even nearly spoiling the solution to them. For example, pretty much every reference to Jigoku no Kijitsushi (the first novel) in subsequent novels kinda reveal who the murderer is in that novel.  Maybe I should learn to read things in order.

Anyway, Akuryou no Yakata (the covers says "Palace of Evil Spirits") is the fourth novel in the Nikaidou Ranko series. The book starts with a scene borrowed stolen from Yokomizo's Inugamike no Ichizoku: the whole Shimanuma clan, comprised of three different families who live in different buildings inside the Shimanuma mansion, is gathered around the deathbed of the Shimanuma patriarch. The will she leaves is as devilish as that of old Inugami Sahei in Yokomizo's classic: she is practically forcing the heir of the main family, Takuya, to marry the heir of one of the branch families, Miyuki, if the main family wishes to keep its wealth and power. They have one year to decide whether they will marry, or else the money will go to one of the branch families. The problem is, Takuya wants to marry his niece, Mari.

Skip to one year later. The deadline of the will is nearing and Takuya has finally agreed to marry Miyuki. Mari has been dumped and there is a tense atmosphere in the Shimanuma mansion, which for everyone's convenience is nicknamed the Palace of Evil Spirits. And then one day, murder! A truly grotesque scene is found inside Mari's locked bedroom: the naked,  head-, finger- and toeless body of a young woman lies in the middle of the room. A sword is sticking out of her body. The body itself is placed inside a pentagram, surrounded by a circle of torn up books and to finish the scene: four suits of armor surround the dead body, with their backs turned to her as if to protect her. Besides the obvious problems like how the locked room was made, how the murderer managed to move four suits of armor from the gallery to the room and the meaning behind all the black magic stuff, there is another important problem: is the victim Mari.... or her twin sister Sari?

At this point, you'd think that Nikaidou has done enough for the atmosphere, but as if a creepy locked room isn't enough he also includes: 1) a walking suit of armor that attacks people in the mansion, 2) a clock tower that seems to attract suicides, 3) the mystery of the whereabouts of the previous owners of the Palace of Evil Spirits, 4) a ghost of a woman who roams the third floor of the mansion and 5) the curse of a witch. And not creepy, but he also sqeezes in a two-chapter police procedural in the novel. Just to keep things interesting. Or just to fill all 850 pages of this brick novel.

A lot of Nikaidou's novels are quite long and while the effort usually pays off, the novels usually start out immensely boring. The first chapter of this novel is one big family-line and it pretty much killed the book for me. I picked up the book again after a month and the second chapter was better, but pretty much a complete copy of Yokomizo's Inugamike no Ichizoku. Get past that point though and you get a story that develops at the speed of light and that is interesting until the end. Which is not too surprising considering the ridiculous amount of sub-story lines and at times a lot seems rather unnecessary, but Nikaidou mostly manages to keep everything together (although admittedly, only barely at times).  He has trouble keeping things realistic at times though, with some actions taken by the murderer and some 'deductions' by Ranko asking for a lot of suspension of disbelief.

Nikaidou specializes in locked rooms and other impossible situations and this locked room was a very entertaining one. The trick is deviously simple, but it fits so perfectly with the story. The pseudo-historic background of the story is also interesting and is something Nikaidou works with quite often. In fact, Akuryou no Yakata feels a lot like an Ur-Jinroujou no Kyoufu. A lot of elements from this novel are found in that Giant, including the whole Medieval esotorism theme, the walking suits of armors , the grotesque locked rooms, pseudo-historism and immense list of characters. Some supernatural elements are also found in both novels (not with a direct influence on the story, but for example Ranko is often foretold to be an extremely powerful force in the battle against evil).

Akuryou no Yakata is an entertaining locked room mystery, but it has a bit too much going on for its page count at times. Getting rid of a few story-elements could have made this book a third shorter and just as powerful. Or he could have made the novel longer and gotten more out of some of the elements. Akuryou no Yakata therefore feels like a transition novel at times, a work that floats between the 'normal' long novels of Nikaidou and the next book in the series, Jinroujou no Kyoufu.

Maybe now is a good time to read a bit more of Nikaidou Reito's Mizuno Satoru series...

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『悪霊の館』

Monday, August 15, 2011

「ラブは0・・・いくら積み重ねても惨めに負けるだけ・・・」

なるべく傷つけぬよう傷つかぬように
切なさもほらね押し殺せる
愛だと名付ければそれが愛だといえる
『忘れ咲き』 (Garnet Crow)

Look! So I won't hurt you or myself,
 I can even supress my own sadness!
If I would call this love, I could say that this is love
"Wasurezaki" (Garnet Crow)

Re-reading Conan for the big series overview was fun, but it also took quite some time, that could have been spend on other material. And there is enough material I still want to read/watch/listen. So I won't make a habit of re-reading / reviewing material I read in the past. It would just take too long, even if it would be fun to discuss classics like The Greek Coffin Mystery, the Father Brown stories or 813 (I have a loophole for 813 though!).

But for some reason or another, I suddenly developed the urge to write about Higashino Keigo's Yougisha X no Kenshin ("The Devotion of Suspect X"). So I did. Yougisha X no Kenshin is the third entry and the first full-length novel in the Galileo series. For me, it's a book of memories. It was the very first book I read in Japanese. Armed with a dictionary, I spent an obscene amount of time deciphering the novel. For a first-year student who had just finished the elementary level lesson material, reading a complete novel in Japanese was perhaps a bit ambitious. Every three words, I had to open my dictionary to look up some word or expression. It took me months to get to the final page of the book. But it was worth it. Yougisha X no Kenshin was a great story that really impressed me. Earlier this year, an English translation was released and going through the book again, my opinion on the novel didn't change: Yougisha X no Kenshin is a great story.

The previous Galileo stories were about crimes that were connected one way or another to the exact sciences. Sometimes it was about a murderer who used some high-tech machinery to kill his victim, sometimes it was about some ghostly apparation that turned to be some natural phenomena. Science still plays a big role in Yougisha X no Kenshin, but no death-lasers to be found here. The story starts with a murder commited by single mother Yasuko and daughter Misato. The victim, Yasuko's ex-husband, was really asking for it, but still, murder is murder. Mother and daughter are still dazed, the stiff is still warm, when suddenly their neighbour, the maths teacher Ishigami knocks on their door. He knows what has happened and says he wants to help the two. Luckily for them, Ishigami is a real genius and he gets rid of the body and whips up a perfect alibi for the two in no time. The police on the other hand are having trouble finding the murderer (though they do suspect the mother/daughter duo) and detective Kusanagi decides to ask his old friend Yukawa, a physicist nicknamed Galileo, for help. And just to make things more dramatic, Yukawa and Ishigami are actually old friends too, each acknowledging the other as a true genius on their own respective fields (physics and mathematics).

I could write about the big Yougisha X no Kenshin controversy (with big players like Nikaidou Reito and Kasai Kiyoshi), which was about whether this novel is a true orthodox detective and whether the hints were fair enough (and thus whether it was fair that this novel won the Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize). But I won't. All I know is that I enjoyed this novel when I first read it in 2008 and again when I read the translation in this year. I don't think that any discussion on the book will change my opinion about it. It's a very engaging mystery novel that anyone can enjoy. Unless you're an old sour grumpy critic.

Higashino Keigo is always quite strong in characterization, as human relations are often the emphasis of his mystery novels. Actually, his novels often turn out to be some kind of orthodox mystery romance psychological thrillers. Which totally explains his popularity in Japan. But anyway, in Higashino novels, people usually commit murder out of love, to protect the ones they love or because their unrequited love turns into grudge (See for example Seijo no Kyuusai ("The Saint's Salvation") and Akai Yubi ("Red Fingers")). But even though this is a common theme in Higashino novels, the way these themes are used  in Yougisha X no Kenshin is exceptionally good. Inverted mysteries often need both a detective and a murderer you can root for. People can easily root for cops like Columbo or Furuhata Ninzaburou, so it might be a bit harder to create a symphathetic criminal. But it's almost insane how much the reader will root for Yasuko and Misato, how much the reader hopes that Ishigami succeeds in protecting his neighbours.

Note that the whole fact that I address a topic like characterization and human relations here is very strange. I mean, for someone who loves robot!Ellery Queen and the supershort Q.B.I. stories, you'd expect I don't pay much attention to those kinds of themes. Which is totally true. So the fact that I actually talk about them in a review, means that I was quite impressed.

This novel was also made into a movie in 2008 (the TV series based on the previous books was very popular). Actually, the reason I started with the book was because I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie. The movie itself is pretty good too: the TV series had some cheesy elements, but the production team luckily got rid of that to fit the story's more dramatic tone. Tsutsumi Shinichi is unfairly billed as a supporting role, as he really steals the show with a heartbreaking Ishigami (and I love the ending song, Saiai).

I doubt whether I'll ever be able to look at this novel without the Nostalgia glasses on, but I'd like to think that this is a great novel, even without those glasses. 

Original Japanese title(s): 東野圭吾 『容疑者Xの献身』