Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Red...White...Blue"

「缶ジュースの自動販売機、どうしても欲しいものが2つあったとします。ホットコーヒーと烏龍茶、どっちを飲もうかって迷ってしまう時ってありますよね。 そういう時はこうやって2つのボタンを同時に押す。すると無意識のうちに本当に欲しい方のボタンを先に押してしまうって言うんですが…まあ、お試し下さ い。二者択一と言えば…」
『古畑任三郎:赤か、青か』

"Suppose you're standing in front of a drinks machine and you really want to drink something. Sometimes you just can't choose: hot coffee or oolong tea. At such a time, you push both buttons at the same time. They say you will push the button of the drink you really want most first unconciously. Please try it some time. Talking about having to choose..."
"Furuhata Ninzaburou: Red? Blue?"

I've always wondered why some comics are released on the same day. Take Detective Conan and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo for example. You wouldn't believe how often these rival detective series are released on the same day. Of course, now that both series are serialized, it's not very strange new volumes are released close to each other (as their publication schedules obviously overlap), but even during the years Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo was an irregular series, it occured often that these series would arrive in the stores on the same day. You'd think that it would make more sense to have these two detective series, from two different publishers, released on different days...

Today: a Short Short featuring the two newest volumes of these series, released about two weeks ago.

Detective Conan 84 starts with Prologue of the Scarlet Detective, a flashback case about a murder in an aquarium. Shinichi (before he changed to Conan) and Ran happened to be there (not on a date, Ran emphasizes) and after some preliminary deductions by Shinichi, the police manages to get the suspects lists down from everyone in the aquarium to just three persons. But they all appear to have a solid alibi, because each of them had been taking pictures and movies with their phones. The alibi trick is ridiculous actually, in a sorta funny way, and it's a miracle it worked. Also, this case is supposed to be set in the past, but why is everyone using smartphones?  There was a time when Conan had to use a earring-shaped phone and bentou box fax!

The second story, The Person Behind the Devil's Voice, has the Detective Boys participating in a kite competition. During the competition, one of the contestants falls in the river as he backed up holding his team's kite. At first, this appears to be an accident, but Conan suspects someone told the man to back up all the way to the river. Problem: all witnesses say none of the suspects could have spoken to the victim because he was standing quite a distance from everyone. I actually liked the main trick behind the story quite much, but the rest of the story is disappointing, and it's not even because of the Detective Boys! The case is solved by an incredible stroke of luck, which kinda kills an otherwise okay story. Herb Tea, the Scent of Death on the other hand has a disappointing trick, but an interesting enough premise: a group of friends holds a tea party to cheer up their hospitalized friend, and one of them is poisoned during the party. But how? It's a simple story and setting, but it has a Christie-esque vibe to it. Too bad the trick depends on Obscure Knowledge That Wasn't Hinted At.

But the previous story and Bourbon's Piece to Solve the Puzzle are actually set-ups for a bigger story. There is the story about a teacher being attacked by an unknown assailant at school and it's a fairly good story (though a bit hard to do without some cultural knowledge, though not nearly as obscure as the previous story). But the story is also about the Black Organization spy Bourbon, who has been hanging out around the heroes of story for a long time (even though his cover was blown ages ago), who is investigating a certain important event that happened back in volume 58! In fact, these stories are branded as the Prologue to Scarlet and it appears that the next volume will feature a long story resolving several storylines that have been going on for years, similar to the volume-length stories in volume 42, volume 58 and volume 78.

Detective Conan 84 was an okay volume, but it was probably just a 'silence-before-the-storm' volume and I can't wait for the next!

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R 2 first gives us the conclusion to The Snow Demon Legend Murder Case (which started in the first volume). Now that I've read the complete story, I think it's an okay story within the annals of Kindaichi Shounen. Like I mentioned in the review of the first volume, the first half is quite unique in the sense that you don't actually get the confirmation that anything has happened to the people who disappeared because of the Snow Demon. There is a pretty daring trick used by the murderer that seems a bit hard to pull off, but that has been often the case in the series (in fact, the solution to one of the disappearances reminds strongly of a certain early case). At times The Snow Demon Legend Murder Case does feel like a repetition of earlier stories at certain points, but it I definitely like it more than most of the 20th anniversary series.

Volume 2 also brings us the start of The Murder in the Phantom School Building, which is going full throttle into nostalgia lane. Hajime, grandson of the great detective Kindaichi Kousuke and his childhood friend Miyuki participate in a treasure hunt tour on the isolated Kogane Island, still the home to ruins of an old mining town. Inspector Kenmochi and his superior Akechi are also present, because Takatoo Youichi, a professional 'planner of crime' and Hajime's nemesis, has hinted at some event happening on the island. And of course, one by one the participants of the treasure hunt are killed by seemingly the ghost of a teacher...

An isolated island? Check! Treasure hunt? Check! Maps and conveniently unusable passages? Check! A large number of the cast students? Check! Excluding Hong Kong, the last time Kindaichi Shounen featured a story on an island, or a water-related place was actually back in 2010. The Murder in the Phantom School Building actually feels fresh, despite it being a fairly classically built story. The use of Takatoo in the story also attracts attention, especially considering his last appearance, but Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R 2 only features half of the story, so we'll have to wait for the next volume to see how this story turns out.

And yes, I will probably discuss Conan and Kindaichi Shounen together in Short Short posts as long as they are released close to each other. Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R 3 is already scheduled for half September, so let's hope Conan 85 will also be published around the same time!

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第84巻; 天城征丸(原)、さとうふみや(画)『金田一少年の事件簿R』第2巻

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rhythm and Police

Ik vrees dat dit ook op Bertin van toepassing is. hij lost een vraagstuk op, verbluffend snel en brillant (sic), of in het geheel niet. Dan verveelt het hem en schuift hij het van zich af. Zijn roem heeft hij hoofdzakelijk te danken aan het spoedig doorzien van raadselachtige situaties, die door anderen langs de weg van logische redenatie niet tot een oplossing konden worden gebracht. Met wat overdrijven zou je kunnen zeggen dat Bertin begint, waar anderen ophouden en omgekeerd.
"Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn"

I'm afraid that is the case with Bertin too: he either solves a conundrum, astoundingly fast and brilliantly, or not at all. Then he is bored with it, and pushes it away. He acquired his fame by swiftly seeing through enigmatic situations, which others couldn't solve through logical reasoning. One could say, with a bit of exeggeration, that Bertin starts, where others stop and vice versa.
"Panic on the Miss Brooklyn"

Sometimes, it takes months before you've finally found that one old book. And sometimes, it's a lot easier. For some reason, I managed to find about four old Dutch mystery novels within the span of two weeks, even though I had been checking for them regularly for about half a year.

Books by Jan Apon
Raoul Bertin series
Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn ("Panic on the Miss Brooklyn")
Een tip van Brissac ("A tip from Brissac")

Non-series
Een zekere Manuel ("A certain Manuel")

A small party to celebrate the engagement of Lord Bill Takony and Sheila Craighton is held on the private yacht the Miss Brooklyn, somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. Among the LP records brought aboard to spice up the party, is a mysterious LP which was taken along by mistake. It was a record made by famous anthropologist Dr Bonavita, recording the incantation of a curse by the African M-bu-ti tribe. It seems that everybody involved with the expedition has died under curious circumstances after their return to the civilized world, including Bonavita. Interested by this story, the party decides to listen to the record. In the dark of course, to set up the mood. But a cry later, the party regrets its sinister party activity: one of the guests claims to have seen a ghost and what's more important: Sheila has disappeared from the yacht. Because there are clues that Sheila was not taken by an African curse, the narrator decides to ask his old friend Raoul Bertin, former member of the Sûreté, to help find the missing fiance in Jan Apon's Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn ("Panic on the Miss Brooklyn")

Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn (1934) was Dutch writer/translator/radio script writer/actor Jan Apon's first attempt at writing mystery fiction and also the first book starring his series detective Raoul Bertin. A lot of the characteristics of Apon's other mystery novels can be found in this origin point.

If anything, Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn is definitely a thrilling adventure. Starting with the cursed LP record and the mysterious disappearance of Sheila, the story moves at a great pace. New developments (among which murders) keep piling up and the story never bores the reader until the very last page. Especially the plot point of the cursed LP record is fun, as I'm not familiar with many Dutch mystery novels with a supernatural tone. But Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn is also a story with a lot of coincidences helping the plot. In many ways, I'd say this novel feels a bit like Christie's The Secret Adversary, with a spy-thriller format that is definitely fun to read, but things don't always make sense when you take a time-out and think about it (by the way, I actually quite like The Secret Adversary).

I do find it frustrating Apon's novels always disappoint at the end. I won't say all of his novels have horrible endings, but for some reason Apon's detective always seem to pull out decisive evidence and crucial pieces of information out of nowhere during the denouement. The ritual with Apon I have now is: 1) detective points out he found a hint that points to murderer X, 2) I turn the pages back to where the detective said he found the hint, see it's not written anywhere 3) Aaaaaargh!. The thing is, these pieces of evidence and hints the detectives conjures out of nowhere would have been totally fair, even if a bit obvious, hints to the identity of the murderer. So why not, I don't know, actually write them in the story instead of just refering to them as if they were written there. Because Apon's detectives always obtain these decisive hints at the end of the story (the reader never sees them before the detective refers to them...), it always seems like Apon added the hints and evidence as an afterthought in the conclusion, and then forgot to write them in the main story too...

Of course, not all detective stories need material evidence / hints. A lot of Christie stories for example work despite of a lack of 'evidence', because they work by turning one's view upon a certain situation up side down. What seemed black, turns out to be white and vice-versa, which in turn is the answer to the problem. And for some of Apon's stories (this story and Een zekere Manuel), I think Apon tried to do something like that, especially if you consider the description of detective Raoul Bertin's way of thinking as quoted at the start of this post. But the feeling of turnabout is never pulled off really well (as in the 'suddenly-everything-falls-into-place-as-soon-as-you-realize-everything-was-the-other-way-around' feeling you get with some Christie stories), and the retconned evidence in the conclusion doesn't really help these conclusions either.

Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn was not as good as Jan Apon's later efforts, but certainly fun enough if you've read other Apon novels: it shares a lot of both the strong and the weak points of his other novels.

Original Dutch title(s): Jan Apon "Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn"

Sunday, July 27, 2014

ReturN: File 2

One of the main reasons why I decided to do reviews of the new Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files NEO") TV live-action series was because it would allow me to discuss older stories in the series that I hadn't reviewed yet. At least, that was my intention, but this week's episode and that of next are based on stories I've already reviewed...

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO 
Episode 1 (July 19, 2014): The Murderer of the Silver Screen 
Episode 2 (July 26, 2014): The Game Mansion Murder Case



Hajime, grandson of the great detective Kindaichi Kousuke, and his childhood friend Miyuki miss the last bus back from an entertainment park, but manage to get into a different bus. A bus that offers knock-out gas as a special service to its clients. Hajime, Miyuki and the other people in the bus find themselves in a strange white room the next time they wake up, each of them wearing a strange mask. A strange voice from a TV tells them that they are all guests of the Game Mansion and the only way to escape from the mansion is by playing games. Fun games like quizzes (and if you don't solve them in time, you die), and wire puzzles (and if you don't solve them in time, you die). Anyway, games and death. Can Hajime and Miyuki escape the mansion and stop the Game Master?

The second episode of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO is based on 2011's Game no Yakata Satsujin Jiken, which I already reviewed back at the time of the original release (read that review for more thoughts about the story). This episode is a fairly faithful adaptation and I think that my feelings for the story haven't changed much. The series often features closed circle situations (the first episode of NEO not, strangely enough), but the more exciting and 'structured' (sequential games) Saw-esque set-up does give Game no Yakata Satsujin Jiken something to set itself apart from the rest of the series (note: I have never seen a Saw film). And despite the horror-esque first half of the story, it's still a classical murder mystery, and I can still appreciate how the hints are hidden within the sadistic games. I also think this story made for a good TV adaptation: it was originally a short long story, so it fits perfectly within one hour (nothing  of importance was lost from the original story) and the more dynamic plot also fitted the medium good, I think. I probably enjoyed the story better as TV adaptation, than the original comic version.


I do have to say I was kinda disappointed at how easy the story has been made. I can appreciate the scriptwriters added one scene, which serves as a crucial hint (this scene was not present in the original story and actually made it slightly unfair), but the way it is added to the plot is incredibly crude. In fact, whereas I kinda liked how the first episode gave emphasis on important scenes by 'framing' them in special borders saying "how done it", it's gone too far already in the second episode, I think. They are literally saying "THIS IS IMPORTANT AND JUST TO SHOW HOW IMPORTANT IT IS, WE FRAMED THE SCENE". I don't mind if they do want the viewer to pay attention to certain scenes (for example, the discovery of the crime scene), but doing close-ups on every single thing that is important sucks away the fun of trying to deduce the case yourself.

It took me kinda long to associate this story with real-life escape-the-room games that have become quite popular the last few years. I have never played one of them, so I am not completely sure how they go, but from what I understand, you go around (in real-life) in rooms and stuff, solving puzzles and quizzes, gathering 'evidence' and eventually 'solve' a case / ecsape from the room / whatever the goal of the game is. Several of these games have been held in Japan with a Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo theme the last few years (and also of Conan and Gyakuten Saiban, to name a few more). These games allow the participant to actively take on the role of a detective in real-life, so it's kinda funny to see that Game Yakata no Satsujin renders the escape-the-room device back to a passive medium.

Next episode is based on the novel The Murder Case of Will-'o'-the-Wisp Island, which I have already reviewed too. Let's see how a revisit to that story turns out!

Original Japanese title(s): 『金田一少年の事件簿N』 サブタイトル 「 ゲームの館殺人事件」

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Last Trick

I am GOD'S CHILD
この腐敗した世界に堕とされた
How do I live on such a field?
こんなもののために生まれたんじゃない
「月光」 (鬼束ちひろ)

I am GOD’S CHILD
Put upon this decayed Earth
How do I live on such a field?
This isn’t why I was born...
"Moonlight" (Onitsuka Chihiro)

Full disclosure: I am a Trick fanboy.

Trick was one of the first Japanese TV series I ever watched, but it is still one of my favorite series ever. It started out as a late-night mystery series in 2000 with a distinct sense of bizarre comedy directed by Tsutsumi Yukihiko (also known for the original Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series, Keizoku and the 20th Century Boys films). Over the course of the first season, the (incompetent) physics professor Ueda Jirou and the unsuccesful magician Yamada Naoko worked together worked against each other somehow managed to unmask fake psychics / supernatural phenomena / strange cults and solve the most bizarre impossible murders. It also drew heavily from the Kindaichi Kousuke series, with many episodes set in remote mountain villages with closed communities, with a bit of Higashino Keigo (scientific mysteries), a bit of Awasaka Tsumao (magic tricks) and John Dickson Carr (the supernatural). But more importantly, this was not a serious show.

Trick has always a playground for everyone involved in the production. From the actors to the people behind the camera, everyone is encouraged to try to make the show as funny and hammy as possible and the result is that Trick, as a series, has developed a very distinct 'grammar' during its run. From intentional overacting to copious amounts of wordplay, pop culture references to non-sequitur jokes, from off-angle camera shots, 'waving' camera shots to abrupt scene cuts, every Trick production is just one gigantic gag for everyone. This was arguably less apparent in the first season, but in the subsequent two TV series, and a series of theatrical releases and TV specials, it had became very clear that Trick was not a mystery show featuring comedy, but a comedy featuring mystery.

Trick series
Trick (TV) [2000]
Trick 2 (TV) [2002]
Trick - The Movie (film) [2002]
Trick ~Troisième partie~ (TV) [2003]
Trick - TV Special (TV) [2005]
Trick - The Movie 2 (film) [2006]
Trick - TV Special 2 (TV) [2010]
Trick -  Youth Chapter (novel) [2010]
Trick DS (game) [2010]
Trick - Psychic Battle Royale (film 3) [2010]
Trick - TV Special 3 (TV) [2014]
Trick - Last Stage (film 4) [2014]

After the third season of the TV series, Trick returned several times for TV specials and theatrical releases, but 2014 marks the end of the quirky adventures of Ueda and Yamada. I reviewed the third Trick TV special in January, which served as the companion piece to the final Trick production, the fourth theatrical release aptly titled Trick - Last Stage. Ueda Jirou, well known as a debunker of the occult, is asked to help mediate in a conflict between a trading company and a small village in the Republic of Equatorial Sungai. The company has bought the mining rights for rare earth elements there, but the local villagers, led by a powerful shaman, refuse to move away. Ueda is to show the villagers that the shaman is just a fake and convince the locals to move. His "assistent" Yamada Naoko is dragged along too of course, but this time, Ueda and Yamada seem to be facing someone with true powers. And what about Yamada's dreams of the end of the world she's been having lately?

The last movie is hard to rate. First of all, I have to admit I was quite disappointed by the main mystery plot of the shaman. While Trick has never been about super-hard-to-figure crimes and murders, the ones shown here were very easy, especially considering this is supposed to be the final entry in such a beloved series. Heck, some of the tricks used for the murder were just rehashes of some old episodes! Also, Trick has always been about strange cults and their leaders, but this time the shaman and the local villagers were very... normal, which almost felt unnatural for this series.


The comedy also seemed to be toned down a bit compared to the releases of the last few years. While still a funny movie, Trick - Last Stage never reaches the parody chaos of Trick TV special 3 for example and it sure isn't even close to the outlandish psychic all star cast like the third Trick film had, or even a catchy phrase like the second film (yoroshiku ne!). In a way though, I do have to say I sorta appreciated the fact director Tsutsumi went a different direction than the full-out comedy of those productions, which fits with Last Stage being the last Trick production and the film's tone does kinda resemble the slightly more humble, serious tone the original TV series had. That said, I thought the first fifteen, thirty minutes were great with tons of new visual gags we had not seen earlier in any Trick production. It just lost momentum when focus switched to the mystery plot proper.

Buut the wrap-up of the mystery plot does connect to themes and questions raised in the very first season in a meaningful matter. While Trick always has a dark ending to each case with a bad aftertaste, the overall themes were not as important for the tone of the series in recent productions, so I was glad Last Stage revisited the more 'meaninful' themes of earlier TV series.


As a ending to the complete series, I have to say I was very content with Trick - Last Stage though. There were little references to earlier series and films (and even the spin-off TV series) spread all over the film, which helped construct the idea of this being the last Trick, but like I said, I thought the film was kinda boring as the (disappointing) mystery plot unfolded. But then the last twenty minutes kick in, and wow! This is how you do an ending to a great series. I wonder how much director Tsutsumi had thought about ending this series, but I absolutely loved what he came up with for arguably his most representative work. The ending works so well in the context of the series and it's almost cheating they used Gekkou, the original ending theme, to play with our emotions. My feelings for this movie went [first twenty minutes= ah, this is funny] -> [bulk of the film = it's kinda bland, isn't it?] -> [last twenty minutes = this is the greatest thing ever I think I need to cryyyyyyyy].

But as you can guess, Trick - Last Stage only works if you have invested the time / emotions by watching preferably everything in the franchise, so that is three TV seasons, three TV specials, a novel, a videogame, two spin-off TV series and the four films. Then you'll get a satisfying ending to the series. You won't even get half of the satisfaction out of this movie if this is the first time you watch Trick, as the bulk of the film is really quite bland.


I do recommend Trick - Last Stage to every fan of the franchise, but I guess I wouldn't need to tell them to watch this series finale. It is for a large part slightly disappointing as a mystery-comedy film, but the little references and throwbacks in the film, as well as the last scene really makes this a must-see. For those who want a funny, but more focused mystery plot, you're better off with the companion piece to this film. But I am perhaps finally ready to say goodbye to the wonderful team of Ueda and Yamada and who knows, Trick has always been known for its quirkiness, so maybe, in a future...

And never forget. "Don't fear supernatural phenomena. Don't be afraid! Come on! Supernatural phenomena!"

Original Japanese title(s): 『劇場版トリック ラストステージ』

Sunday, July 20, 2014

ReturN: File 1

「ジッチャンのことは誇りに思うけど、俺は俺だからさ!」
『金田一少年の事件簿:銀幕の殺人鬼』

"I'm proud of my grandfather, but I am myself!"
"The Young Kindaichi Case Files: The Murderer of the Silver Screen"

Last Saturday, a new live action TV series based on Kindachi Shounen no Jikenbo (The Young Kindaichi Case Files) started. Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO features the same cast and production team behind the recent two TV specials (like January's Gokumonjuku Satsujin Jiken), which I liked quite a lot overall. I have been looking forward to this series, so I decided I will try to do reviews on every story as the series is running, like I did with the Detective Conan live action series. My main reason for doing these reviews is because now I have a good excuse to discuss some older Kindaichi Shounen stories, as I seldom do reviews on materials I've already read.

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO
Episode 1 (July 19, 2014): The Murderer of the Silver Screen


Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files NEO") started with a two-hour TV special (ninety minutes without commercials) based on Ginmaku no Satsujinki ("The Murderer of the Silver Screen"). Miyuki is scouted as the lead by genius director Kurasawa for the newest production of the school film club. Kurasawa won a prize with one of his earlier films, The Murderer Scorpion and is convinced his new one will be a hit too, with the help of Miyuki. It is however rumoured that everyone connected to the production of The Murderer Scorpion is doomed to die and behold, indeed film club members start to pop up in a rather murdered state (and wearing the trademark Scorpion mask). Can Kindaichi Hajime, grandson of the great detective Kindaichi Kousuke, protect his best friend Miyuki before she too falls victim to the Scorpion?

The original comic version of Ginmaku no Satsujinki was first released in 1998 and is a pretty minor story within the canon of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo. When I first read it, I thought it was a rather mediocre story: a lot of the story relies on coincidence, the trick behind the main problem of a double locked room murder is extremely easy to solve because the presentation makes it rather obvious and while most Kindaichi Shounen stories are very formulaistic, I found that Ginmaku no Satsujinki had very little to differentiate itself from other stories, as it had no memorable characters / tricks / setting.


And to be honest, most of my feelings for the mystery plot still holds. I will admit though that for a production meant for TV (i.e. an audiovisual experience), the crucial plot points do really fit the medium and this is strengthened by the film club setting (i.e. showing actual footage). And as I said, it is not a particularly complex story and most viewers do like mysteries they can actually solve from the sofa. But even though I think this is a minor story, I do think it is a great story for the pilot of the new series.

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo has traditionally featured many, many, maaaaany murders involving students, most of them students of Fudou High. And often school clubs form a setting for these stories. So it would make sense to start Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO with a story involving students. And situated in Fudou High. And about a school club. The very first episode of the original TV series and the original animation series, The Seven School Mysteries Murder Case, had the same goals and intentions and as I mentioned in that review, it makes absolute sense in the context of the series. In Ginmaku no Satsujinki, there is also a good part where someone questions whether Hajime isn't feeling any pressure from being the grandson of the famous Kindaichi Kousuke; the answer is classic Hajime and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO proves that live action Kindaichi Shounen doesn't need any excessive brooding and grandfather traumas any more as featured in the 2001 and 2005 live action productions.


And overall, I think this was a solid pilot for the series. Of course, most of the people involved, including lead Yamada Ryousuke, already had a lot of time to get used to their roles, as the team had already produced two full-length TV specials. Also, stylistically, Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO borrows a lot from the original 1995-1997 TV series, including the wacky Tsutsumi Yukihiro camerawork, a lot of the better known soundtracks (like Mysterious Mallets) and sound effects and even little things like the design of the school uniforms (though technically, NEO has no ties to the original series because there are some small inconsistencies with certain characters).

One new feature they added in the series, compared to the TV specials, is a special close-up shot of evidence which are framed as 'how done it' scenes. During the conclusion, all of these 'how done it' scenes naturally all appear  as Hajime explains how the murder was commited. These shots kinda makes the mystery-solving a bit easier, as you are informed very obviously that you saw somethin important, but it does make the game-element of such a TV drama more obvious and fair, I guess. I gotta see more to see if I like it or not.


And random trivia: Kamiki Ryuunosuke guest starred as Kurasawa, but in a distant past, he actually co-starred together with Yamada Ryousuke (Hajime) in the TV drama of Tantei Gakuen Q, which was created by the same writer/artist team behind Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo.

Anyway, great start of the series and I'm looking forward to next week's episode, which will feature an adaptation of The Game Mansion Murder Case. Oh, and if a case is spread over multiple episodes, I will wait with posting a review until the complete story has been broadcast.

Original Japanese title(s): 『金田一少年の事件簿N』 サブタイトル 「銀幕の殺人鬼」

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Silent Death

"Het werk van een detective, " zei Van der Spyck, "heeft dit gemeen met ieder ander soort werk, dat het alleen op resultaat kan hopen, wanneer het grondig en methodisch wordt verricht; dat wil zeggen, zoo gedetailleerd en volledig mogelijk, zoodat het uitgesloten is, dat eenig punt van belang van de aandacht ontsnapt. Om kort te gaan: het is werk, dat den eisch van wetenschappelijk exactheid stelt!"
"Het lijkt mij altijd veel meer een kwestie van intuitie, zei Ellen.
"Dat," zei Van der Spyck, "zeggen alle vrouwen!"
"Discrete dood"

"The work of a detective", said Van der Spyck, "has this in common with all other kinds of work, one can only expect results, if the work has been done thoroughly and methodologically, I mean, as detailed and comprehensive as possible, so there is no question of any point of importance escaping our attention. In short, it is a work that requires scientific exactness"
"I always thought it was a matter of intuition," said Ellen.
"That is," said Van der Spyck, "what all women say!"
"Discreet Death"

I don't read older Dutch novels (say, from before WWII) often, so when I do read one, I'm always surprised at how much the language has changed since then. Well, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised at the changes in spelling, as for some reason Dutch spelling seems to get revised once in a few years (one of the mysteries of the Dutch language). But sometimes you'll hear people now talking about anglicisms in the Dutch language too, but man, some of these older books have way more anglicisms than contemporary writings!

Jurriaan Focken is an elderly retired laywer who spends his time perusing judicial magazines and the latest court decisions. At least, he did so until his eyes mostly gave up on him, and nowadays his assistant/secretary Ellen spends her time reading out loud the above mentioned judicial magazines and the latest court decisions to her boss. Until the day he was murdered. Someone had slipped a poison pill in old man Focken's medicine case, the murderer knowing quite well that the man wouldn't have been able to see a switch had been made. The murderer has to be one of the family, that is, his two sons, the eldest daughter and the twins and their family, but who? Ellen and Professor René van der Spyck, ex-son-in-law of old man Focken, start an investigation to see who would have gone the trouble of killing a man who couldn't have lived much longer anyway in Dieuke Boissevain's Discrete dood  ("Discreet Death") (1940).

An Dutch oldie, and one with a Japanese link: Discrete dood was once scheduled to appear in as the sixteenth volume of a Japanese anthology of Western detective fiction, in turn based on the German AM-Auswahl selection of international crime fiction. The Japanese version of Discrete dood was never released though, but considering the title almost made it into Japan, I was quite curious to what for story it was. And this time, I didn't even had to get a German translation!

But Discrete dood turned out to be a disappointment. For me, the biggest problem of the book is that it's a bit dull... About 80% of the plot consists of Professor van de Spyck and Ellen just investigating the motives of each family member, with next to no plot developments after the initial murder of old man Focker. I am not against plots that revolve around finding motives within complex family relations (or else I wouldn't have read as much Yokomizo Seishi), but I'd like something to happen in a 200 page story. But Discrete dood is a mostly static story and it never feels like the book is really trying to keep me interested.

The ending is also a bit contrived: a big coincidence here, a piece of information that hadn't been given  to the reader there... Which makes the part I quoted as this review's opening quote even more confusing: Boissevain had ample chance to write Discrete dood as a more fair puzzle story, by simply giving the crucial piece of information some time before it was presented at the conclusion. Yes, the solution requires detailed examination of the facts and I do think it was a fairly okay idea.... if the writer had least given me the facts to examine to start with, instead of throwing them in my face and saying I could have solved the murder if I had looked at them better. The conclusion was the first time I was made aware of those facts!

And as I seem to be talking about the question of amateur detectives / professionals in all of my Dutch mystery reviews... I guess Professor Van der Spyck and Ellen are amateur detectives, though one could argue you could see them as semi-professionals considering they're both lawyers (and one even a professor). Yet their profession isn't really of importance to how they work (both of them could have been anything, actually), so maybe more amateur than professional detectives. You'd almost think Dutch mystery novels are full of amateurs. Almost.

I mentioned in my review of Kawaramachi Revoir that I always get a bit excited when I read books set in places I know. I think this is the first time I had that with a Dutch mystery novel, as it is actually set near the town I live, as well as the city where I attended university. I wouldn't go as far as dub Discrete dood a topographical mystery (it really isn't), but it's always fun to see familiar names and locales.

Boissevain's entry in Dutch mystery fiction history is a bit disappointing, especially if you consider the fact this novel was once selected to be one of the few Dutch detective novels translated to Japanese. I am most of all confused with Boissevain's intentions: was Discrete dood meant to be a fair puzzle plot? If so, why not give me the necessary information? If not, why all the allusions to fair play puzzle plot mysteries? But that's a thing I guess I'll never find out.

Original Dutch title(s): Dieuke Boissevain "Discrete dood"

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Mistake of the Machine

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Nobody likes people who cut in line, but I decided to move this review forward in the schedule because it's a recent release (it released on June 20th). I actually have enough reviews written and standing by to last me until well into October at the moment...

Machina looks and sounds precisely like you'd expect from a high school girl with long black hair. Except, she isn't one. In fact, she isn't even human. Machina is one of a small group of detective robots made by professor Sakamaki with superior analytic and investigative skills. The professor has kept his inventions a secret for most of the world, but he occasionally sends his robots out on investigations for friends and fellow scientists. His grandson Masayuki is one of the people who knows about the robots. One day however, three of the detective robots go haywire and escape from the laboratory. Machina and Masayuki have to retrieve the robots and figure out what the bugs are in their AI brains in Morikawa Tomoki's Handoutai Tantei Machina no Miteigina Bouken ("The Undefined Adventures of Semiconductor Detective Machina").

And while you might think of Blade Runner, the cover kinda gives away this is not a gritty science fiction thriller about ethics of living beings and all. It's just a cute story.

Handoutai Tantei Machina no Miteigina Bouken was released not long after Morikawa Tomoki won the 2014 Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize with Snow White. I loved the wonderful fantasy-filled, yet undeniable orthodox mystery novel and I've been reading his books since. And for those who have been following Morikawa's detectives along with me, must have noticed that all of his novels are heavily influenced by fantasy and/or science fiction elements, but are yet always completely fair mystery novels. Snow White gave the detectives a magic mirror that could tell the answer to any question, and yet it gave enough room for the reader to interact with the story at a deductive level. Shapeshifting cats or all mighty golems? It's still as fair as anything Christie or Queen wrote. So I wasn't too worried when I heard that Morikawa's newest book featured detective robots.

Handoutai Tantei Machina no Miteigina Bouken's premise of a hunt for, not a crime, not a criminal and not even the truth, but detectives is quite interesting, even though the fundamental dynamics don't seem to change much from most of Morikawa's novels. In all of his novels until now, the reader was confronted with multiple parties who try to outsmart each other (some in possession of magical, but predefined powers): you'd be fed conclusions of such battles of the brain, which might seem unbelievable at first, but when it is explained why or how something came to be, you realize that everything was fairly hinted at. In Cat Food for example, shapeshifting cats kept trying to outsmart each other in the hopes of saving / killing a group of humans and it was always possible to logically deduce how actions the other party would take based on the given information.

Handoutai Tantei Machina no Miteigina Bouken does bring something new here, because this time the antagonist robot detectives aren't acting logically per se. That is, they do act according to logic, but that logic has an inherent flaw, because of the bugs in their programming. Each of the robots has a different fault in his/her AI brain, and it is up to Machina, Masayuki and the reader to deduce what that bug precisely is, based on the actions of the robots. Reverse engeneering of logic.

The book reminds me most of those scenes where Watson and his literary descendents wonder what the heck the detective is talking about / doing now now. The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime? Beating a dead pig? These events may seem mysterious and strange, but there is always a certain logic behind these actions. Usually, this logic is something that we all share (even if we don't realize it immediately), but in Handoutai Tantei Machina no Miteigina Bouken, the logic of the detective robots is flawed. But it is always possible to deduce what that flaw precisely is, and that's what makes this book a fun read: it shifts the focus from an event to be detected, to the brains of the detectives themselves as focus of detection.

And on the whole, I'd say that  Handoutai Tantei Machina no Miteigina Bouken is another fun, lighthearted mystery that shows Morikawa's love for the 'great detective' trope. For some, it might feel a bit too lighthearted and the execution of its premise, while good, never reaches the great heights it did with Snow White, but I had a lot of fun reading this. And that's the most important, right?

Oh, for those interested, these are the reviews on this blog of other Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize winners: Otsuichi's GOTH (2003), Norizuki Rintarou's Nakakubi ni Kiitemiro (2005), Higashino Keigo's Yougisha X no Kenshin (The Devotion of Suspect X) (2006), Arisugawa Alice's Jooukoku no Shiro (2008), Ooyama Seichirou's Misshitsu Shuushuuka (2013) and Snow White - Meitantei Sanzunokawa Kotowari to Shoujo no Kagami wa Sen no Me wo Motsu (2014).

Original Japanese title(s): 森川智喜 『半導体探偵マキナの未定義な冒険』