Sunday, January 15, 2017

Misty Mystery


I can't see you... 
On this long, long Sunday 
I'm stuck waiting for you
"The Long Sunday We Couldn't Meet" (Fujimoto Miki)

Useless fact of the day: the Japanese magazine Shounen Sunday, which is the home of series like Detective Conan, is released every Wednesday, not Sunday.

Chizuru is a second-year student in junior high who goes to a Catholic girls academy. One day, her mother gives her five vouchers for the Yotsuya Culture Center, telling her daughter to take the cooking class there. In the class, Chizuru is grouped together with three other girls of the same age. Moodmaker Momo, gamer Maki and silent, but intelligent Kimiko and Chizuru all appear to have nothing in common, but they grow closer during their cooking class, especially because something curious happens that piques the group's interests. After their initial cooking class, the group decides to try out different classes together, using the remaining four vouchers each of them have. And so begins a tale of four girls in Van Madoy's short story collection Nichiyou wa Akogare no Kuni ("The Land of Our Dreams On Sunday", 2016).

Nichiyou wa Akogare no Kuni ("The Land of Our Dreams On Sunday"), which also carries the alternate English title Sunday Quartet, was written by Van Madoy (or Madoi Ban), who first debuted with the Revoir series, a young adult mystery novel featuring the unique setting of a private underground court in Kyoto. Since then however, his works have become more and more accessible, with more normal settings. And for some reason, his protagonists also become younger and younger, as we started with university students, and then went from high school students to a group of junior high students in this book.  I am expecting kids in elementary school in his next book.

Nichiyou wa Akogare no Kuni is a short story collection featuring so-called everyday life mysteries, a subgenre that mixes the mystery genre with the slice-of-life genre. So we don't see gruesome murders, but mysteries you and I might come across in our everyday life.  These stories are often whydunnits, and look into seemingly weird situations. The difficulty with this subgenre is that the mystery needs to be attractive to the reader, but also 'normal' enough to fit the slice-of-life theme. One of the best stories I've read in this genre is the short story Oishii Cocoa no Tsukurikata ("How to Make Delicious Chocolate Milk") featured in Yonezawa Honobu's Shunki Gentei Ichigo Tart Jiken ("The Spring Special Strawberry Tart Case"). The mystery there is that of how a person managed to make the perfect cup of chocolate milk using a limited set of tools, but the way it unfolds is no less serious and logical than any mystery story by Ellery Queen. But I have also often read everyday life mystery stories where the mystery is not very attractive, often because it's not defined properly, making it hard to judge whether it's a true mystery story or not.

In general, the lack of truly attractive everyday life mysteries is what most stories in Nichiyou wa Akogare no Kuni have in common. The opening story, Leftovers, is about the cooking class where our four protagonists first meet. Money is stolen from one of the older participants, but the teacher decided to pay the money back to the victim from his own wallet and then let the whole thing go. Considering how much one class pays him (not much), it doesn't make any sense why he would decide to do that instead of finding out who did steal the money. The solution to this question is okay, though the one problem with this subgenre is that it seldom feels 'satisfying' as often both the mystery itself, as well as the solution don't feel conclusive. Often, you feel like anything could've have happened, and the solution often feels a bit arbitrary.

Stories like Ishin Denshin ('Telepathic Restoration') and Ikutabimo Regret ("Countless Regrets") in particular feature 'problems' that don't really work well in the mystery genre. In the first example, the girls decide to deduce what the history teacher had planned to say in his class about the Bakufu system, before he collapsed mid-class and was taken away to the hospital. While a decent tale on its own, it's barely a mystery story, as it is so open and not designed as something be truly solved. The same holds for Ikutabimo Regret, where the girls have to write an ending to an unfinished story for their writing class, and each of them is hoping to find the "correct" ending.

Ifu Senkin, Nifu Genkin ("One Pawn Is Worth A Thousand Generals, Two Pawns Are Strictly Forbidden") has a slightly more defined mystery. The title refers to the rule that with the board game shougi, you are not allowed to put two pawns on the same file (vertical row). Yet that is exactly what Momo is trying to pull off in her shougi class. The story starts with the reveal that Momo is doing an awful lot to pull off that forbidden move, and the rest of the stories slowly explains why. Not a remarkable mystery story by any standard, but I did think this was one of the better-defined stories.

The final story, Ikinari wa Egakenai ("Can't Draw Suddenly") has the four girls finding a crumpled up piece of paper with a beautiful sketch looking down through the clouds at the Imperial Palace. Some dirt stuck on the back of the paper however reveal the words "Help me." The girls naturally decide to find out what the deal is behind the sketch, but how? I thought this story was very fun, as it showed how each of the girls had grown over the course of the book, and the parts where the girls deduce where the sketch must have come from were pretty interesting, but there was no way the reader could've deduce that truth. The reader is only along for the ride here and just have to see how the girls explain all the discoveries they made when they weren't on the proverbial stage. So interesting concept, but not without flaws.

As you will probably understand by now, Nichiyou wa Akogare no Kuni was not exactly what I was looking for. I do think it works quite well as a youth novel, with a light touch of mystery, as the way the girls are portrayed, and especially the way the classes and their companionship changes them, is amusing. But as a mystery short story collection, it's just not engaging enough. Oh, but I did love the cover art!

Original Japanese title(s): 円居挽 『日曜は憧れの国』: 「レフトオーバーズ」 / 「一歩千金二歩厳禁」 / 「維新伝心」 / 「幾度もリグレット」 / 「いきなりは描けない」

No comments :

Post a Comment