Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Queen Is In The Counting House

「The Real Folk Blues」(山根麻以)

If only I could sleep once more
In the cradle of your love
"The Real Folk Blues" (Yamane Mai)

I have only just noticed how many Writer Alice reviews I've already written. I just didn't notice it as half of the reviews are about books, the other half about audio dramas.

Writer Alice series (audio drama)
46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room")
Swiss Dokei no Nazo ("The Swiss Clock Mystery")
Yaneura no Sanposha ("The Stroller in the Attic")
Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken ("-The Castle of Screams- Murder Case")
Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie ("The House With the Long Hallway")
Saru no Hidarite ("The Monkey's Left Paw")  
Zankoku na Yurikago ("A Cruel Cradle")

An earthquake hitting the Kansai area results in heavy damage and some victims getting trapped in their houses or even getting knocked out by debris, but the most surprising result of the earthquake is the discovery of a man being shot in the annex building of the victim's acquaintance. While the victim had been at excellent terms with this friend and her husband, the home owners are naturally quite surprised to learn that the man had been in their house during the earthquake without their knowledge, and are of course shocked by the fact the man had been shot to death. The wife of the manor, before her marriage often surrounded by young men who considered her their 'queen', turns out to be an old acquaintance of criminologist Himura Hideo and mystery writer Arisugawa Alice, as they met in an earlier case two years earlier. Shocked at their reunion as they are, the crime-fighting duo set their mind to the solving the murder in the audio drama Zankoku na Yurikago ("A Cruel Cradle").

Zankoku na Yurikago is the seventh audio drama produced by Momogre based on Arisugawa Alice's Writer Alice series, which stars the criminologist Himura and mystery writer Alice. It is also the direct sequel to Saru no Hidarite, the audio drama I discussed two weeks ago. I wrote in that review that Saru no Hidarite was based on the book Kisaki wa Fune wo Shizumeru ("The Queen Sinks the Boat"), a book I hadn't read. I also noted that I thought the story might have been rewritten, because the summary of the book was kinda different from what happened in the audio drama. But now I know what was going on: the book Kisaki wa Fune wo Shizumeru actually consists of two novellettes that make up one narrative. For the audio drama, they split it up in two different productions: Saru no Hidarite and Zankoku na Yurikago. Both audio dramas can be listened to seperatedly, but do form one narrative centering around one woman.

I was quite enthusiastic about Saru no Hidarite, but I think that as a detective story, Zankoku na Yurikago surpasses that story. At the core, this is a very Queen-esque plot, which is something I always appreciate. Figuring out what characteristics the murderer must have based on the crime scene and the circumstances under which it was committed, deducing how all of the suspects fit in the big picture, it is done all very nice in this story and is something Arisugawa Alice (the actual writer) is actually quite competent in (Kotou Puzzle for example beats Ellery Queen at his own game!). The earthquake factor also adds something highly original to the mystery plot, as it is an element seldom seen in detective stories. Yet it does not feel as unreal as the volcano eruption in Arisugawa's own Gekkou Game. Earthquakes are actually quite common in Japan, so you'd think you'd come across them more often in fiction too.
The one note I want to make is that one part of the mystery was a bit vague because it was done as an audio drama. When things like architecture, positioning and angles are mentioned, an oral presentation often just doesn't work very well. Figures or being able to slowly read the description are far more effective in conveying things like that to the reader/listener. As I discuss mystery fiction in different media, I often pay attention to the question if the story fits the type of media. Some plots simply work better as a book, some better as an audio drama (or other medium). Zankoku na Yurikago still works as an audio drama, but I think I would have rated it higher if I had seen in on the screen or read it. Momogre's selection of the stories has been mostly well, but I'd say that Zankoku na Yurikago and 46 Banme no Misshitsu are the one where you kinda feel the medium fails slightly in keeping up with the story.

As said, Zankoku na Yurikago and Saru no Hidarite together form one narrative and listening to them after another, I'd say that as a standalone story, Saru no Hidarite perhaps works better. The detective plot, while still okay, is not as strong as that of Zankoku na Yurikago, but the themes there work better on their own. In return, Zankoku na Yurikago does more with the one character connecting both stories, and builds further on themes first introduced in Saru no Hidarite and forms a nice ending to this short story arc within the Writer Alice series. I recommend listening to them both and in order, as both stories are good mystery stories, but leave more of an impression taken together. I think it was an excellent idea of taking the novel and splitting it across these two productions. Length-wise, they were perfect for the complexity of the story, and together they are a lot more satisfying than the adaptation of 46 Banme no Misshitsu, the only other full novel Momogre has adapted as an audio drama.

Like with the previous release, the store Mandarake also offered a bonus audio drama together with Zankoku na Yurikago. Yuki to Kinkonshiki ("Snow and the Golden Wedding") is based on a short story originally included in the short story collection Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie (the two other stories in the collection, title story Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie and Tenkuu no Me are also available as audio drama). Unbeknown to an old couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary on a snowy night, their brother-in-law was murdered in their annex building. The police manages to bring the number of suspects down to two, but miss the crucial evidence to find the guilty one. The husband of the old couple then appears to hold the key that can crack the case, but an unfortunate fall leads to temporary amnesia. Himura and Alice are asked by the police to help. The solution is a fairly simple one. It's hardly satisfying, but then again, this was a bonus audio drama. It's a cute story though.

Zankoku na Yurukago is a good, solid detective story that might work better as book than as audio drama, but still quite enjoyable, especially if taken together wth Saru no Hidarite. I don't think I need to comment on the acting, because that has been consistenly excellent throughout the series.

And for your convenience, the reviews of Writer Alice novels on this blog:
46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room") (1992)
Dali no Mayu ("Dali's Cocoon") (1993)
Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russian Tea Mystery") (1994)
Sweden Kan no Nazo ("The Swedish Mansion Mystery") (1995)
Brazil Chou no Nazo ("The Brazilian Butterfly Mystery") (1996)
Eikoku Teien no Nazo ("The English Garden Mystery") (1997)
Malay Tetsudou no Nazo ("The Malay Railroad Mystery") (2002)

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖(原) 『残酷な揺り籠』

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mamba Wamba and the Voodoo Hoodoo

I dreamt of blood upon the shore, of eyes that spoke of sin. 
The lake was smooth and deep and black, as was her scented skin...
"Sins of the Fathers"

It's been a while since I last held a normal, English-language paperback in my hands! The last few years, I've mostly been reading Japanese pockets. And as for the couple of English books I did read, most have them have been those oversized softcover POD books that all slightly differ in dimensions...

Gabriel Knight is a not very succesful horror writer and owner of the similarly not very succesful St. George's Book Shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Police detective (and childhood friend) Mosely has been giving Gabriel some inside information on a series of horrible murders that have been happening in New Orleans, under the impression that Gabriel will base his next book on him and the case. Not a lot of evidence is found at each of the crime scenes, but they are definitely all connected, as theses scenes are all colored red by the blood of the victim and other animals, strange patterns are left in flour and all of the victims are cut open and missing organs. The gruesome nature have resulted in the nomer Voodoo murders, even though the police believes the dress-up is all smoke and mirrors to confuse the investigation. As Gabriel does more background research for his book, he discovers that these murders all do show signs of real voodoo, as a name for old African religions, and that the case might be much bigger than he and Mosely had initially thought and that he and his family was be destined to solve this case in Jane Jensen's Sins of the Fathers (1997).

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is a horror-mystery adventure game originally released in 1993 for the PC by Sierra On-Line. The mature storyline and characters, the horror themes and star-filled voice cast (Tim Curry and Mark Hamill among others) made it a great success and led to two sequels. A novelization of the game was released in 1997, written by Jane Jensen (designer/writer of the series). I recently played the 20th Anniversary version of the game and quite enjoyed it, so when I happened to come across the book, I didn't hesitate to pick it up. The second game, The Beast Within, is also available as a novel by the way.

The Gabriel Knight series is a horror mystery series with supernatural elements, which are also present in Sins of the Fathers. Gabriel for example is revealed to be the last in a family line of Schattenjägers (Shadow Hunters), who similarly to Hoch's Simon Ark have a born instinct to oppose the forces of evil. The latter half of each of the Gabriel Knight adventures feature such supernatural elements quite heavily, but the stories always start with 'normal' detective work, like how Sins of the Fathers starts out with an interesting search for what lies behind the Voodoo murders. I think you can compare it to the Indiana Jones films, which do feature mystical elements, but actual supernatural performances usually stay in the background until the finale.

Jane Jensen has a knack for mixing real history with her fiction, and it works great in Sins of the Fathers: the theme of Voodoo, both authentic ancient African religions as well as the New Orleans kind, is mixed expertly with her own arc on Gabriel and the murders. I don't think I have seen the Voodoo theme often in mystery novels (at least, not so prominently) and I thought that Sins of the Fathers was both amusing and educational. I always love it when history is mixed with mystery novels, but I usually only see European and Japanese history in these novels, so this book wins a lot of originality points.

I have read some spin-off novels from game franchises before and also reviewed them on this blog (Professor Layton and the Wandering Castle, Danganronpa/ZERO and Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Kagayakashii Mirai for example). But Sins of the Fathers is the first time I have read a novelization of a game, and the thing I had feared most was present in this book: it is too faithful to the source material. You could basically use this book as a walkthrough for the game, because I think practically all of the puzzles that appear in the game, also appear in the novel. Some of them work quite well (the infamous tomb code puzzle is a good example of a detective-like puzzle), but other puzzles that are overly obvious designed for games also make an appearance. A very early puzzle in the game for example, where Gabriel needs to distract a policeman with a mime so he can use the police motorbike radio sorta makes sense in the game (actually, I didn't really like it in the game either), but just sounds ridiculous in a novel. In adventure games grammar, it might be normal to pick up random items for later use, but in a novel, it just doesn't make sense to Gabriel to pick up item X for no reason, just so 60 pages later he could use it in a situation he could never have foreseen. I am all about making detective novels more like intellectual games, but this is just (not always sound) game-logic being forced into a novel. It really hurts the story, because a significant amount of the novel is taken up by these puzzles.

All in all I did enjoy Sins of the Fathers, that is, the overall story and atmosphere. As a supernatural horror-mystery, it's simply a good piece of fiction. But it bears its game-heritage too proudly and a lot of elements that might make sense for a game, are also present in this book, which makes the book appear to be nothing more than a glorified game walkthrough at times. I aree that novelizations shouldn't stray too far away from the source material, but still, not everything that works for a game works for a book and vice versa.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Apeman's Secret


"My left hand which resurrects the just is the left hand of god, my right hand which destroys the evil is the right hand of the devil. Be gone!"
"The Left Hand of God, The Right Hand of the Devil"

It's been a while since I last discussed an audio drama!

Writer Alice series (audio drama)
46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room")
Swiss Dokei no Nazo ("The Swiss Clock Mystery")
Yaneura no Sanposha ("The Stroller in the Attic")
Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken ("-The Castle of Screams- Murder Case")
Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie ("The House With the Long Hallway")
Saru no Hidarite ("The Monkey's Left Paw") 

What at first appeared to be just a deadly accident of a man crashing into the sea with his car, soon turns into suspected murder, when the police discovers a fair amount of sleeping medicine in the victim's body. Criminologist Himura Hideo and his friend (and mystery writer) Arisugawa Alice once again join the police investigation as part of Himura's "fieldwork". The police finds out that the victim had debts and soon decides on three suspects: his wife (who has financial gains through the life insurance), a friend of his wife from whom he had borrowed a lot of money (the life insurance money would mean she would be paid back) and that woman's adopted son (who is living off his mother). Yet none of them appeared to have been able to commit the spectacular murder of driving off a car into the sea and swimming back for several reasons, including alibi and being handicapped. Other elements like hypnosis and a mystical mummified monkey's paw which can fulfill wishes also turn the case into at least a two-pipe problem in the audio drama Saru no Hidarite ("The Monkey's Left Paw").

Saru no Hidarite is the sixth entry in Momogre's adaptations of Arisugawa Alice's Writer Alice series and is based on the novel Kisaki wa Fune wo Shizumeru ("The Queen Sinks the Boat", 2010). I think it's the first time since the very first audio drama (46 Banme no Misshitsu) that they did an adaptation of a full-fledged novel (subsequent adaptations were based on short stories and novelettes). I haven't read the original novel though, but a quick look at a summary makes me suspect the structure of the original story was changed a bit to fit the audio drama format and length.

As a detective story, I quite liked Saru no Hidarite. Unlike the always excellent Student Alice series, the Writer Alice series isn't always as complex or amusing as I want it to be, but I thought this was a very entertaining story (see this post for the link between the Writer Alice and Student Alice series). While the actual murder and all is quite boring, I loved that even though you're presented an obvious one-of-the-three-suspects plot, it keeps moving your attention from one suspect to another in a not-too-forced manner. Also, the story has very strongly links to W.W. Jacobs' short story The Monkey's Paw (1902): the way the story serves as a hint to the conundrum Himura and Alice are struggling with is brilliant, as is Himura's interpretation of the classic. Definitely one of the best detective stories I've read (heard) that reference other stories both in theme and in contents.

Like I said before, I suspect the story was slightly rearranged to fit the audio drama format (because the cover text of the book is hardly the way you'd describe the way it goes in the audio drama), and it works fairly well as it is now. Once again though, the story isn't really one that particularly gains from being presented as an audio drama: the story has no particular links to voice or sounds. I really wonder how they decide on which story they adapt.

Then again, I do have to say that this is definitely a story that works well as an audio drama. Locked rooms don't always work as well if it's all just audio, unless you can shift the focus from solving a mechnical locked room to something else (which is why I prefer the audio drama of Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie to 46 Banme no Misshitsu). And while the story has nothing to do with voice and sounds, I do have to say that it does manage to do something quite well because it's an audio drama, but I will not go in details because of I might spoil the fun.

Retailer Mandarake also offered an extra audio drama together with Saru no Hidarite. Tenkuu no Me is based on the same-titled short story in the short story collection Nagai Rouka ga Aru Ie (of which the title story was also adapted as an audio drama). It is a short story about Alice, who is asked by his neighbour for some advice. His neigbour is a teacher and one of her students has apparently taken a spirit photograph (with a ghost on it). One of her fellow students who took a look at the photo recently turned up dead due to a freak accident, falling of an old abandoned house. The solution is a bit disappointing, as it one of those stories where Arisugawa Alice (the writer, not the character) relies on random trivia and vague clueing. The one interesting point though is that Himura doesn't appear in the story; it's Alice who does all the sleuthing.

Saru no Hidarite was a good audio drama of a good detective story. The audio dramas of the Writer Alice series are always of high quality and this one is no different, but the story itself is also one of the better ones they've done now. The bonus track is a bit disappointing, but the main course is definitely worth a listen.

And for your convenience, the reviews of Writer Alice novels on this blog:
46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room") (1992)
Dali no Mayu ("Dali's Cocoon") (1993)
Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russian Tea Mystery") (1994)
Sweden Kan no Nazo ("The Swedish Mansion Mystery") (1995)
Brazil Chou no Nazo ("The Brazilian Butterfly Mystery") (1996)
Eikoku Teien no Nazo ("The English Garden Mystery") (1997)
Malay Tetsudou no Nazo ("The Malay Railroad Mystery") (2002)

Original Japanese title(s):  モモグレ、有栖川有栖(原)『猿の左手』

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fire Walk With Me

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." (Charles Caleb Colton)

Fan-fiction have always been a part of mystery fiction, I guess. I'm still surprised at the amount of Holmes pastiches released over the (many, many) years and on the blog, I've discussed a number of pastiches and parodies of various series. Of course, the quality of fan-fiction is not always even, with some very good, with some bad, but I do find it interesting that people enjoy certain worlds and characters so much they want to do something with all of that themselves.

I'm going to make an educated guess and say that most fan-fiction is in a literary form, considering it's a lot easier to write a story on (digital) paper, than record an audio drama or shoot a film. I was thus rather pleasantly surprised by the existence of Rengoku - Kamaitachi no Yoru 2 Another ("Purgatory - Night of the Kamaitachi 2 Another"), a fan-made sequel to the first Kamaitachi no Yoru game. In the original game, a group of people were trapped in the ski lodge Spur during a snowstorm, together with a cut-up body and a vicious murderer among them. Rengoku is set exactly one year after the first game. A wedding between two of the survivors of the first game brings the old cast together and after the ceremony, all of them go to the lodge again to continue the celebrations. Happy thoughts soon turn into fiery thoughts however when one of them burns to death in a room. It is unclear whether it was suicide or murder, but if the player doesn't act soon, more and more victims will turn to ashes...

Rengoku - Kamaitachi no Yoru 2 Another is playable on the PC (available here) and was written as a direct sequel to the original Kamaitachi no Yoru by three fans (note that there is also an official sequel, which is quite different from the fangame). Like the original game, Rengoku is a sound novel game: text is projected on a background accompanied by music and soundeffects, and you 'read' the story like you'd read a novel. At set points, you'll have to make choices, which will change the flow of the story (basically a Choose Your Own Adventure). In Rengoku, you'll be trying to deduce the true nature of the death-in-flames, and figure out who is behind the whole event.
For a free game, I enjoyed Rengoku more than I had thought I would. It's relatively short, but there are more than ten different endings available, most of them with you dying because you didn't manage to solve the case in time. Like in the original Kamaitachi no Yoru, it's actually possible to solve the crime at different points in the story, which can lead to fewer victims (this concept was dropped in the official sequels). The longer you take to solve the murder (not actual clock-time, but in terms of story developments), the more the story moves into horror-territory, with more victims bursting into flames until everyone disappears in a blaze. So you better make sure you find the truth in time!

Rengoku however is difficult to look at separate from the original Kamaitachi no Yoru: save for one new character, the characters and setting are exactly the same as the first game. Even the music is 'borrowed'. The mystery plot is also rather similar to the original game: okay, in this game everyone burns to a crisp if you're not in time (hence the title Purgatory), while the original games had everyone getting cut and stabbed (for the kamaitachi motif), but the truth behind the first death is actually extremely similar to that of the original game. In that sense, Rengoku is less of a sequel, rather than an alternate version of the original game. In this sense, you could consider Rengoku a rather predictable piece of fan-fiction. Also note that Rengoku contains spoilers for the first game (about the murderer and the trick used), so be sure to play Kamaitachi no Yoru first.

As a short piece of fan-fiction, Rengoku - Kamaitachi no Yoru 2 Another is fairly enjoyable. It definitely plays and reads like a Kamaitachi no Yoru game and for a free game, there's a fair amount of content available. The whole game however is perhaps a bit too similar to the original Kamaitachi no Yoru, including the mystery plot, so it might give you a feeling of déjà vu. But this was certainly not a bad way to pass the time. Rengoku - Kamaitachi no Yoru 2 Another is available for free from this site)

Original Japanese title(s): Varitra、Quiet、キリン 『煉獄 -かまいたちの夜2 another』

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Snow White

We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig dig
Up everything in sight
"Heigh Ho" (from: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)

Sticking the words "Murder Case" or "Mystery" behind something probably doesn't result in the most most original title for a detective story, but it is often quite effective. Like today: the effect the "Murder Case" has on an otherwise familiar set of words is actually quite a lot more than you'd initially expect.

The body of a beautiful woman, horribly stabbed to death and then set fire to, is discovered in a national park in Nagano. She is identified as Miki Noriko, an office worker of the cosmetics company responsible for the popular "Snow White" soap. Risako, a co-worker of Miki, contacts an old friend of hers, Akahoshi Yuuji, a director on a TV news show who has been waiting for a scoop. Through interviews with several of Risako's other collegues, Akahoshi learns that Miki Noriko's (less striking) collegue Shirono Miki has gone missing since the murder and that Shirono was at very bad terms with the victim, as Shirono was under the impression the victim stole her love interest. The reportage Akahoshi produces however raises questions with people who knew Shirono from the past and as more and more people react on Akahoshi's show through SNS like Twitter, it becomes clear that this case might not be as simple as Akahoshi had though in the 2014 film Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken ("The Snow White Murder Case").

Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken is a 2014 film based on a 2012 novel by Minato Kanae, who made it big internationally with Kokuhaku ("Confessions"), as both the novel and the film based on it went worldwide. I've only read Kokuhaku by Minato, and it was an entertaining crime novel, though there was not much detecting. But it was okay, so I started in Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken with reasonable expectations.

And I was a bit disappointed at some parts, while impressed at other parts. The biggest disappointment to me is that once again, Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken is not a real whodunnit. Even though the question of who killed Miki Noriko is definitely at the base of everything, there aren't really (fair) clues for the viewer that point to the murderer and I find that very disappointing, because the plot of Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken is definitely capable of presenting a fair puzzle plot to the viewer (with some slight tweaks), I think.

The plot structure of Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken is quite similar to that of Kokuhaku: while the main storyline is about Akahoshi and his quest for finding the murderer on Miki Noriko, the story is split into several segments where interested parties talk about both the victim Miki Noriko and the suspect Shirono Miki. The viewer is thus presented with different testimonies, often told from a certain point of view. It reminds of Christie's Five Little Pigs (which has Poirot investigating a case that happened many years ago, so he can only ask questions to the interested parties), or even Akutagawa Ryuunosuke's Yabu no Naka (where three testimonies about the same incident all differ; also known for the Rashomon effect). It is really neat how situations that are mentioned in one testimony, are inversed in other testimonies and gives the viewer the feeling that the whole picture is slowly being completed.

But the solution to the murder is also presented arbitrarily to the viewer (it basically comes falling from the sky) and while the structure mentioned above would have been perfect for hiding clues, clues to the identity of the murderer are rather weak and much too vague. A bit more work would have made it perfect, but now it falls short and it is not really possible to solve the case on your own based on the facts given to you in the narrative up to that point.

A big theme of Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken are SNS, especially Twitter. Protagonist Akahoshi constantly tweets about his progress in the investiation and tweets that react to him appear constantly on the screen and help move the story forward. It's too bad that things like SNS and the effect of mass media appear so little in detective fiction effectively actually. In Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken, it is mostly used as a vehicle to do some social commentary, which is the most orthodox way for it to appear in detective fiction, I guess (mass media is used in a very interesting way in a certain part of the story though). Detective Conan: Dimensional Sniper did the same thing too, as another recent example. But I've yet to see a good puzzle plot detective story completely built around things like Twitter, identities on the internet and the power of the mass media (rather than feature it as something on the background).

Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken is a fairly entertaining crime film, that fills it two-hours-something with a simple plot, but with good presentation. Some of the themes addressed do a really good job at captivating the viewer too. My only complaint is really just that the plot could have been a lot more fair as a detective story with minimal effort. As it is now, it's still a reasonably fun film though.

Original Japanese title(s): 湊かなえ(原) 『白ゆき姫殺人事件』

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Suitable for Framing

『名探偵コナン 業火の向日葵』

"You'll definitely end up in regrets if all you'll do is look at him."
"Detective Conan: Sunflowers of Inferno

A friend told me today that in the Korean version of the anime of Detective Conan, Shinichi is called Doyle. Which would mean that Doyle decided to use Conan as a fake name when he was changed into a kid. Which is like the most stupid name you could ever choose as a secret alias.

Detective Conan manga & movies:
Part 1: Volumes 1 ~ 10
Part 2: Volumes 11~20; The Timebombed Skyscraper (1) / The Fourteenth Target (2)
Part 3: Volumes 21~30; The Last Wizard of the Century (3) / Captured in Her Eyes (4)
Part 4: Volumes 31~40; Countdown to Heaven (5) / The Phantom of Baker Street (6)
Part 5: Volumes 41~50; Crossroad in the Ancient Capital (7) / Magician of the Silver Sky (8) / Strategy Above the Depths (9)
Part 6:  Volumes 51~60; Private Eyes' Requiem (10) / Jolly Roger in the Deep Azure (11)
Part 7: Volumes 61~70; Full Score of Fear (12) / The Raven Chaser (13) / Lost Ship in the Sky (14)
Part 8: Volumes 71~80; Quarter of Silence (15) / The Eleventh Striker (16) / Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17)
(You will find the links to the reviews of volume 70, 72~76, 78, 82~87 and the films Quarter of Silence (15), The Eleventh Striker (16), Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17), Dimensional Sniper (18) in the library)
The series of Sunflowers paintings Dutch painter Van Gogh made are perhaps his most famous works, so it's no wonder Suzuki Jiroukichi, general advisor to the Suzuki Zaibatsu, had to pay a fortune to get his hands on the recently discovered second painting of Sunflowers, which originally was thought to have been lost in a fire in Japan at the end of World War II. The purchase of the painting was the last move he had to make to complete a dream of his: to hold a special exhibit of all seven Sunflowers paintings in Japan. To protect the paintings, Suzuki Jiroukichi has also gathered his own "seven samurai," consisting of art and security experts, including the great "Sleeping Detective" Mouri Kogorou. And security is definitely needed, because the phantom thief KID appears to have an interest in the paintings. Or is it really KID? Because this time, the phantom thief is rather ruthless in his ways and doesn't even hesitate about using explosives... While Edogawa Conan, the brilliant high school student detective turned into a child, is trying to foil KID's attempts at theft, he also needs to figure out what KID's real motives are in the theatrical film Detective Conan: Sunflowers of Inferno (2015).

Trivia: this is the first Detective Conan film in over ten years that doesn't feature an English word in its title.

Detective Conan: Sunflowers of Inferno is the nineteenth film in the Detective Conan film franchise, released in April of this year. It continues the direction the annual Conan films have been taking since 2013's Private Eye in the Distant Sea, which was a break with the films released between 2002 ~ 2012 by featuring a different director and a distinctily different tone. Sakurai Takeharu, scriptwriter of Private Eye in the Distant Sea (and regular Aibou scriptwriter) returns for Sunflowers of Inferno, for a plot that is a lot less political than 2013's Private Eye in the Distant Sea and last year's Dimensional Sniper.

As a big Detective Conan fan, the annual theatrical releases are something I always look forward too, but an appearance by phantom thief KID is always good for bonus points with me, and with a slight Dutch angle through Van Gogh's Sunflowers, I knew I had to see this film. And I was... disappointed.

The film definitely has some good ideas. A mystery story surrounding art (history) was something that hadn't been done yet in Detective Conan films (and even in the manga, it's a topic used seldomly). There's an interesting background yarn about the Sunflowers and the concept of a planned theft of a painting of course has potential of providing an interesting (impossible) heist plot. In a sense, the film also reminds of the third Conan film, The Last Wizard of the Century, with a KID-related plot about a priceless piece of art.

But where does it go wrong? Well, for one, by now, every viewer of Detective Conan knows what kind of character phantom thief KID is, so there's no way anyone would believe that KID would use explosives and willingly endanger other people while stealing something. I'm not even sure whether the film really wants me to believe KID has gone rogue, because it does little to no effort to try to convince me, even though the dialogue apparently assumes we're all trembling in our seats because KID might've become more wild.

And because the film is mostly structured around the actions of KID, it results in a very boring film, because the film wants you to believe KID is a ruthless crook now, but you know it can't be. At the end, the whole mystery about KID's actions in this film is revealed, but this has to be one of the worst mystery plots in a Conan film ever, with basically no hints for the viewer and extremely weak either way. Even the anime original episodes of 25 minutes have better planned mystery plots than this film. And now I think about it, a KID story with a fairly similar reveal has already been done in the manga before.

Oh, and a major, minor gripe I have had for the last ten films or so: Please. Stop. Using. Guest. Voice Actors. I noted in my review of Private Eye in the Distant Sea that "nothing can be as bad as the guest voice acting in Quarter of Silence and The Eleventh Striker" but Sunflowers of Inferno also features an impressively bad performance by actress Eikura Nana. Was she as bad as Quarter of Silence's "" war photographer Watanabe Youichi, The Eleventh Striker's professional J-League soccer players who voiced themselves or The Raven Chaser's DAIGO basically being DAIGO? Perhaps not, but every year, it's incredibly easy to pick out who the guest voice actor is doing because of the immense difference in voice acting skills and it actually distracts.

Oh well, at least the soundtrack featured some nice remixes of the Detective Conan theme...

Anyway, Detective Conan: Sunflowers of Inferno was disappointing. Not only in comparison to the previous two (great) films, but in general as a Detective Conan film, as it features a rather flimsy mystery plot that doesn't work from the fundamentals on. Usually, I'd say that fans of the franchise might appreciate this film, but with Sunflowers of Inferno, it might actually be better if the viewer is less familiar with the series and characters. Ah, as as always, the credits were followed by a short after-credit-scene and a teaser for next year's Detective Conan film. It appears they're going for something big for the twentieth film, because the teaser err... teased Black Organization names, so this might be become a The Raven Chaser-esque film! Which is something I'd LOOOOVE.

Original Japanese title(s):  『名探偵コナン 業火の向日葵』

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Egyptian Cross Mystery

stay すべての始まりと終わりの場所に
今も立っているよう 放たれる日を待ち
『Stay』(Garnet Crow)

Stay Like standing even now at the place
where everything begins and ends 
Waiting for the day when all is set loose
"Stay" (Garnet Crow)

I remember we started learning the Greek alphabet in the Ancient Greek course we had at school (first year middle school), but we only got to τ (tau) in that first class. The remaining letters we learned the following week, but up until this day, I can easily say the Greek alphabet from alpha to tau, and then I have to think about what that 'last little bit' of the alphabet is because we learned it separately.

The architecture students Kabeya Megumi, Yamabuki Satsuki and Kurage Kyuusuke are hired by private detective Akayanagi Hatsurou as temporary data entry grunts. The files are stored in a mansion deep in the forests between the Aichi and Gifu prefecture and only accessible by foot. The mansion is inhabited by Kamii, a "psychic" and two of his believers/servants. When the Akayanagi party arrives at the mansion, they discover that another party of journalists is also visiting the mansion for an interview with Kamii. Kamii shows off his powers once to his visitors by entering a room with Megumi and disappearing into "another world", only to reappear again. At night however, the photographer of the journalist party discovers that every exit of the mansion is closed shut (even though those doors have no locks) and when they try to report this to Kamii, they find him murdered in a locked room. The same room that was connected to "another room". With no way to escape the mansion and a dead body, the party start looking for a way to contact the outside world in Mori Hiroshi's τ ni Naru Made Matte, which also bears the English title Please Stay Until τ.

τ ni Naru Made Matte (2005)is the third novel in Mori Hiroshi's G series, a sequel to his more famous S&M series. While the previous two volumes were set in urban areas (a residential area in φ wa Kowareta ne and across town in θ wa Asonde Kureta yo), this time, the setting is eerily classic: a creepy mansion hidden away in the forest, only accessible by foot. With the cast locked up in the mansion and a murder in a locked room on a (self-proclaimed) psychic, you sometimes think you're reading anything but a Mori Hiroshi story. But then again, Subete ga F ni Naru (starting point of Mori Hiroshi's fictional world) might feature high-tech security, VR conference rooms and other technological gadgets; at the core it's still about a locked room murder in a creepy complex on an isolated island, now I think about it.

The lack of windows in the building reminds of other stories with memorable mansions as their setting like Ayatsuji Yukito's Ankokukan no Satsujin or the videogame Kamaitachi no Yoru 2. Interesting is the fact that the protagonists Kabeya, Yamabuki and Kurage are architecture students is actually utilized in a meaningful manner in in τ ni Naru Made Matte, for perhaps the first time in the G series: their insights as 'experts' on architecture help the reader understand the specifics, and the oddities of the mansion. Up until now, the students-setting was only used to have them meet at the university library or at a research lab.

The locked room mystery is actually quite disappointing; it is supposed to be hard to spot the solution because of a blind spot, but that smokescreen doesn't really work as a smokescreen, I think. Also, while one certain aspect of the puzzle I saw through quite easily, another crucial part of the solution is hinted at rather poorly and had me rolling my eyes as I thought: "waaaaait, is that really possible?'.

But the biggest disappointment is that τ ni Naru Made Matte just isn't complete. I ended my review of θ wa Asonde Kureta yo, the previous book in the series, with hoping that this third volume would work better as a standalone mystery: θ wa Asonde Kureta yo left a lot of questions unanswered. However, τ ni Naru Made Matte is even worse. From the identity of the murderer to the motive and other mysterious happenings in the story: you are left with a lot of questions when you close the book.

Usually, I can appreciate minimalistic approaches. I'm more interested in how the crime was committed, or the logic leading to the solution, than in who and why. But that is only with planned minimalism (which you often see in short stories). In the G series however, Mori Hiroshi is obviously working towards a goal. I hadn't really noticed it with the first book in the series, but the cases in the G series are somehow connected. Though that's only a guess, because each time the murderer, as well as the motive, stays vague. The only connection is that Greek letters appear in relation to each case (which is why it is called the G series). But there are parts in each book that hints at something going on and someone trying to find out what is going on. And I like the idea of myth-building across books, but I'd like it if each individual book in the series can be read as a standalone work too. θ wa Asonde Kureta yo and τ ni Naru Made Matte feel as nothing more but a part of a larger narrative and incomplete as standalone books. But considering that the series isn't completed yet and each book still sells at full price, I'm not sure what to think about these books. But as they are now, I just feel like I'm missing a lot that shouldn't be missing. If there is a line between 'keeping things vague to invite you to read the rest' and 'things are so vague it hurts the story', then I'd say book two and three in the G series are leaning towards the latter. And I do like the characters and writing of the G series, so I am really torn about it.

τ ni Naru Made Matte was disappointing. Not only as a mystery plot, but also because it so obviously needs the rest of the series to fill in the gaps of the story. If you're like me and like the writing and characters, then it's an okay and easy read, but I wouldn't recommend τ ni Naru Made Matte as a standalone mystery novel: it was obviously not meant as one. If you want to read τ ni Naru Made Matte, it means you should read the rest of the series too. And that's a large commitment to ask of a reader.

Original Japanese title(s): 森博嗣 『τになるまで待って PLEASE STAY UNTIL τ』