Friday, September 12, 2014

Maze of Nightmare

Gegroet, vaarwel, wat gaat het leven snel
O, tranen maken een afscheid tot een hel
"Vaarwel voorgoed" ("De Speurneuzen")

Greetings, farewell, life goes by so fast
Oh, tears make parting into a hell
"Goodbye Forever" (Dutch version of "Goodbye So Soon" from "The Great Mouse Detective")

I buy most of my Japanese books used when I'm in Japan. You can usually find new books quite fast in used bookshops for a fair price. But as I was writing this post, I noticed that today's book was actually released in the same year I bought it. Well, that's not that strange a happening on its own, but I bought the book for a mere 105 yen, even though the book was 'just' released and selling for about 1500 yen new. The used book market in Japan is fast, I know as a reader and buyer, but for the value of a novel to fall to even less than ten percent of its original price in less than a year?!

Nikaidou Ranko series
Jigoku no Kijutsushi ("The Magician from Hell") (1992)
Kyuuketsu no Ie ("House of Bloodsuckers") (1992)
Sei Ursula Shuudouin no Sangeki ("The Tragedy at the Saint Ursula Convent") (1993)
Akuryou no Yakata ("Palace of Evil Spirits") (1994)
Yuri Meikyuu ("Labyrinth of Lillies") (1995)
Bara Meikyuu ("Labyrinth of Roses") (1997)
Jinroujou no Kyoufu - Deutsch Hen ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle - Germany") (1996)
Jinroujou no Kyoufu - France Hen ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle - France") (1997)
Jinroujou no Kyoufu - Tantei Hen ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle - Detective") (1998)
Jinroujou no Kyoufu - Kanketsu Hen ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle - Conclusion") (1998)
Akuma no Labyrinth ("The Devil Labyrinth") (2001)
Majutsuou Jiken ("The Sorcery King Case") (2004)
Soumenjuu Jiken ("The Two Headed Beast Case") (2007)
Haou no Shi ("Death of the Ruler") (2012)
Ran Meikyuu ("Labyrinth of Orchids") (2014)

Aoki Shunji had nothing left to live for. But one day, his eye fell on a curious advertisement: WILL PURCHASE YOUR WORTHLESS LIFE. HIGH PRICES. Having nothing to lose, Aoki visits the shady laywer Busujima, who has sinister plans with Aoki's worthless life he purchases. Busujima was hired to locate a distant relative of the influential Ouchi clan. Family head Ouchi Daisuke may soon be drawing his last breath and because his own sons have died, he tries to locate some distant relatives to see if they are worthy of becoming his successor. Busujima had found one relative, in a rather dead state, but the lawyer plans to present Aoki as the relative, and together take over the wealth and power of the Ouchi family. The Ouchis are said to be direct descendants of the legendary snake Orochi and the family is therefore the de facto ruler of the Makai Valley on the Noto peninsula, said to be the home of the Orochi. At the entrance of the Makai Valley lies New Holly Village, a small town comprised mostly out of American missionary workers. Some villagers claim to have seen a strange four-armed monster wandering in the woods lately, which also seems to be the only creature who could have committed the horrible double murder of two people impaled on a high tree. Other villagers also seem to have been mentally unstable, sometimes even resulting in deadly confrontations. And Aoki's arrival in the Makai Valley leads to more tragedy...

The beautiful detective Nikaidou Ranko was the only one capable of foiling the plans of the great criminal Labyrinth. Ranko however disappeared in Europe after solving the horrifying double-digit serial murders in Jinroujou no Kyoufu. Not even her stepbrother (and chronicler) Reito knew where she was. Haou no Shi ("Death of the Ruler") starts with the terrible experiences of the fake heir Aoki in the Makai Valley as described above: the story then jumps a year forward, when Ranko finally returns to Japan from Europe after a three year disappearance. She is not interested in detective work anymore, but when she hears her nemesis Labyrinth was involved with the happenings in the Makai Valley and New Holly Village, Ranko decides it's time to put an end to their longtime battle.

A somewhat chaotic summary of Nikaidou Reito's Haou no Shi "("Death of the Ruler"), but that it is because it is a rather context-heavy novel. This novel basically has three points of focus: first is the story of Aoki and the murders that happen in Makai Valley. This a is pretty straightforward part, but the other two focal points make the novel a bit more complex, as they deal with two major plot points of the Nikaidou Ranko series: for Haou no Shi is also the final chapter in the Labyrinth story arc of the series, as chronicled in Akuma no Labyrinth (2001), Majutsuou Jiken (2004) and Soumenjuu Jiken (2007). And not only that, but Ranko also finally returns from Europe after she disappeared at the end of Jinroujou no Kyoufu (1998). I don't recommend going in Haou no Shi without having read at least some earlier adventures of Ranko, because to be honest, Haou no Shi has almost no exceptional merits as a standalone detective story, so I think it's mostly interesting as a book that finally gives us closure on some storylines that had been going on for years.

The events that take place in Makai Valley make up for about three-quarters of the novel, with two parallel-running stories. The first one feels very Yokomizo Seishi-esque, with Aoki posing as a distant relative of the Ouchi family, and a complex inheritance ceremony where suitors vie for the hand of a beautiful heiress in an isolated, rural part of Japan (plus a bit of Edogawa Rampo's The Strange Tale of Panorama Island). The other parallel storyline focuses mainly on a gruesome double murder in New Holly Town, and the accounts of several villagers who are slowly, but surely going mad as they start to see aliens / monsters / cannibals / cursed children and other freaky creatures in town. This is familiar territory for Nikaidou: suspenseful horror stories with a touch of the occult that, even though extremely long, are easy and pleasant enough to read. Nikaidou Reito's books are always gigantic tomes with 600~900 pages, but when you get in the rhythm, the pages really fly by.

In the end, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong in Makai Valley, and one year later Aoki Shunji awakes in a hospital, having last an eye, an arm and a leg. But what happened exactly? Two locked room murders, and a double murder in New Holly Town where the victims were impaled high up in the trees, and the legendary murderer Labyrinth also showed up somewhere, but Aoki, who is also suffering from amnesia, can't make head nor tails out of it. The answers series detective Ranko has for Aoki are....  a bit disappointing. For a story billed as the end of the long lasting Labyrinth saga, and the return of Ranko, the puzzle plot can be considered mediocre at best: most of the events in New Holly Town are handwaved away with an answer that's almost as bad as saying 'it was all magic!', while the locked room murders also fail to impress. Well, I don't really think that Nikaidou even tried to surprise the reader with the locked room murders, because the tricks behind them are really, really basic. But you'd think that someone who had written the longest locked room murder story (and a fun one at that too!) ever, would come up with something better...

And while I said that Haou no Shi is best read for its ties with the overall storyline of the Nikaidou Ranko series, I'll have to say that even in that aspect, it's not very impressive. Ranko appears very late in the novel and she explains practically nothing about her stay in Europe (and Reito's slightly worrying admiration for his stepsister hasn't gone down a bit, despite having a girlfriend now...). And as the final chapter in the Ranko VS Labyrinth saga, I can tell you one thing: you were probably not expecting Labyrinth to go like that.

Besides Haou no Shi, I actually only read the first book of the Labyrinth saga (Akuma no Labyrinth, Majutsuou Jiken, Soumenjuu Jiken and Haou no Shi), but already in Akuma no Labyrinth, it was clear that Labyrinth was not just a human, but an almost superhuman criminal who could become practically anyone. And the series atmosphere also shifted more towards science fiction/fantasy, I think. Sure, the series always had occult tones (NAZI-WEREWOLVES, I will never forget you!), but those elements were never confirmed as 100% real. But in the Labyrinth novels, you suddenly have genetically engineered two-headed monsters going around killing people, as if monsters travelling across Japan is just normal business. I get that Nikaidou Reito is going for an Edogawa Rampo-vibe here, but I think he already got that right with his earlier novels (Jigoku no Kijutsushi is extremely Rampo-esque, for example) and now he's just gone too far.

I don't think I can really recommend Haou no Shi, except for those who just want to know how Ranko returns from Europe and who want to read about her final confrontation with Labyrinth. The novel is rather disappointing as standalone detective story and it doesn't even really work as one, because it has too much overall storyline luggage. One for the fans.

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『覇王の死』

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

ReturN: File 5

「夏の幻」 (Garnet Crow)

A summer illusion
When I close my eyes
You are the first I see
"Summer Illusion" (Garnet Crow)

I had forgotten that the currently running Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files NEO") had a scheduled broadcast break last week: episode seven was on just last Saturday. But I am actually happy I don't have to write these episode reviews every week. Anyway, let's move to today's review!

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO
Pre-series TV Special 2 (January 4, 2014: The Prison Gate Cram School Murder Case
Episode 1 (July 19, 2014): The Murderer of the Silver Screen 
Episode 2 (July 26, 2014): The Game Mansion Murder Case
Episode 3 & 4 (August 2 & 9, 2014): The Will-o'-the-Wisp Island Murder Case
Episode 5 & 6 (August 16 & 23, 2014): Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle
Episode 7 (September 6, 2014): The Yukikage Village Murder Case

In episode seven of the live action series, The Yukikage Village Murder Case, Kindaichi Hajime (grandson of detective Kindaichi Kousuke) and fellow Mystery Club members Saki and Makabe travel to the little village of Yukikage. Hajime visited the village once, three years ago, and is now back to reunite with his old friends in the village and to see a local weather phenomenon: the summer snow, which always falls in the early morning of the Bon Festival. At first, Hajime is happy to be with his friends again and see that nothing has changed, but appearances deceive. Everyone has changed in those three years. One friend might have given up on her dreams. Another has trouble finding work after having left school. One has even commited suicide last year. The only one who has not changed in three years, is Hajime. For Hajime, it becomes painfully clear things have changed, when one of his friends is found murdered on the morning of the Bon Festival. But the only footprints left in the summer snow, are those of the victim herself.

The original comic version of The Yukikage Village Murder Case has an unique position within the long running series. Not only is it a fairly short and simple story, but it is also the most personal, most intimate, most emotional adventure of Hajime. Whereas most stories are about spooky legends, greed and REVENGE!!, The Yukikage Village Murder Case dealt with themes of growing up, of change and of friendship. It was about Hajime realizing how people don't stay always stay the same, how friendship and human relations are quite fragile and about having to deal with a victim and murderer from his own personal circles. No other story of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo comic has ever been so emotional and even the rather similar adventure in the novel series (The Heretic House Murder Case) doesn't hit the buttons quite as right as The Yukikage Village Murder Case. A lot of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo stories have Hajime yelling against the murderer about how he's wrong and all of the stories try to feed you A Story To Cry By, but the link with Hajime himself, and the way he has to cope with everything made The Yukikage Village Murder Case one to especially remember.

The live action adaptation does most of it right. To start with what they did wrong: why have Saki and Makabe join Hajime in his trip to Yukikage Village? The original comic was fantastic because nobody else of the cast appeared in the main story. Heck, even childhood friend Miyuki didn't appear. It was just Hajime who visited his own past, with no extended cast, no ties to the 'present', but himself. It's what made the story so personal. In the TV episode, basically everyone comes along (except for Miyuki), which kinda distorts the focus on Hajime that is crucial for this story to work at maximum capacity. I get that for these shows, they want to get all regulars in, but still... I am fairly happy with the rest of the episode. There's some of the best acting until now in this episode (also a bit of the worst, sadly enough) and the whole nostalgic atmosphere is conveyed quite well. Points go to the absolutely heartbroken Hajime who first has to swear he'll find the murderer of his friends, and then has to denounce another friend as the murderer.

As for the impossible murder: the setting is quite classic (a field with only the victim's footprints), but I liked the trick behind it and the set-up for the hint (which is tied to the setting). I have seen variations on the same trick in other (older) stories in the meanwhile, but for me, this was the first time I encountered the trick. Another part of the mystery, that functions as a condition for the reader to fish out the murderer, is actually improved compared to the original comic version, as it is a looooooooot more believable now. Good job there. And because the original story was quite short, it actually fits nicely within the fifty-minute runtime of an episode.

I'm quite content with the episode on the whole. Save for the fact that I wish this episode didn't feature all of the regular characters, it's a great adaptation of a simple, yet memorable story. Next week (and probably the week after) will be an adaptation of The Rosenkreuz Mansion Murder Case, which was one of the best stories of the last few years, so expectations are high!

Original Japanese title(s):『金田一少年の事件簿N』 サブタイトル「雪影村殺人事件」

Sunday, September 7, 2014

番外編: The Lure of the Green Door

This is probably the second time in the history of this blog that a post features a title that isn't a reference and lacks an introducing quote. The first time was an announcement that I had written the introduction to Kurodahan's release of Edogawa Rampo's The Fiend with Twenty Faces.

And as you have probably guessed, this is another service announcement. Readers of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine might have noticed that the November 2014 issue (on sale now in September) features a story by Norizuki Rintarō in the Passport to Crime section. The Lure of the Green Door is a wonderful and fairly humorous locked room murder mystery featuring Norizuki Rintarō, a writer / amateur detective, who happens to be dragged into the case as he was researching a new book / trying to hit on the librarian. As many of the best locked room short stories, the solution is surprisingly simple, but elegant and The Lure of the Green Door is a very well regarded bibliophilic impossible crime story in Japan.

And I had the pleasure of being the story's translator. Some might remember that I had posted an older version of the translation here many, many moons ago. But after an extensive overhaul of the text by me and the force that is John Pugmire of Locked Room International (who came up with the idea of submitting the story to EQMM and also adapted the story), we finally got The Lure of the Green Door published. It's not the first story by Norizuki  Rintarō available in an English translation, but hopefully, it won't be the last either.

And yes, schemes are designed and plans are made for future releases. But that's a tale for another day.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Lesson in Murder

『金田一少年の事件簿: 吸血鬼伝説殺人事件』

"But by dividing each difficulty, the murderer made the impossible, possible!"
"The Young Kindaichi Case Files: The Vampire Legend Murder Case"

I once wrote a bit about Comic Shock, a used bookstore I frequented when I was Kyoto. I can still recognize which books I bought there because of the plastic covers the people gave every book there. And yes, today's book was bought at Comic Shock. I even think it was the first book I bought at Comic Shock: I was quite surprised to find it there, because while not rare, it is certainly not a really popular book, so I hadn't expected it to find it in an used bookstore.

Ever since his debut in 1947, Amagi Hajime's stories have widely been considered to be among the most best in the subgenre of impossible crimes in his home country, but his stories weren't available in a collected form until 2004. Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei ("Amagi Hajime's Curriculum on Locked Room Criminology") is a collection of both fiction featuring, and critical essays on locked room murders and other impossible crimes. The first two parts of this book are subtitled "Practice" and "Theory", in which Amagi Hajime presents his own locked room typology (like the locked-room lecture in John Dickson Carr's The Hollow Man), with several of his own stories as examples of the types of locked room murders he identifies. The third part collects several of Amagi's early impossible crime stories, but these are not presented as part of the lecture course on impossible crimes. Because of the two distinct 'goals' of the book, I decided to divide my thoughts in two parts too. In this review, I will only discuss the third part of Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei: the locked room lecture parts of the book (parts one and two) I will probably discuss in a seperate review on its critical qualities someday. Maybe.

Part three of Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei collects all the stories starring amateur detective Maya Tadashi, a brilliant philosophy scholar and friend of Police Lieutenant Shimazaki (who after becoming an inspector, would later star in Amagi Hajime's alibi-breaking stories). Maya is dubbed 'the Clown of the Crime Scene' by the police, because he always seems to be talking utter nonsense whenever he is facing an impossible crime, but while his statements always seem to be too stupid to be true, they always turn out to be the key to solving the mystery.

The Maya Tadashi stories are all extremely short, but plotted very well, making maximum use of the limited amount of pages. They are also set in the time they were written, so just after World War II and this is of importance: many of the stories deal with the social and economical changes the war had brought upon the country and many of Maya's philosophical musings can be taken as a critique on the manner in which modernity and industralization has changed the country's mode of thinking. I would therefore say that a lot of these stories are quite context-heavy stories, as I think some of these stories are kinda difficult 'to get' without a bit of knowledge on Japan's (socio-cultural) history.

Fushigi no Kuni no Hanzai ("The Crime of Wonderland") was published in 1947 as Amagi Hajime's debut story and is about a man killed in a small passageway, with both entrances at each end of the passage constantly observed by multiple witnesses. A very short story, as well as fairly simple problem: for me, I think the story's merits lies in its historical value (an impossible crime story just after the war, so it belongs next to Giants like Honjin Satsujin Jiken and Shisei Satsujin Jiken), as well as the way Amagi manages to work out the problem in just a few pages, but I wouldn't consider it among the best of the stories collected in this volume.

Kimen no Hanzai ("The Crime of the Devil's Mask", 1948), Kiseki no Hanzai ("The Miraculous Crime", 1948) and Yume no Naka no Hanzai ("The Crime Within the Dream", 1948) are stories featuring similar tricks and to be honest, I didn't really like them. Sure, the premises of a mask of an Oni killing people in a locked room (Kimen no Hanzai) and other disappearing murderers (Kiseki no Hanzai, Yume no Naka no Hanzai) may be alright, but the solutions are extremely basic, probably even when these stories were first published. And I doubt the trick in Yume no Naka no Hanzai could even work as it was described in the story itself: it can be done (I've seen it in other stories too), but those had different conditions that made the execution possible. Here, it seems highly implausible it could have worked.

Takamagahara no Hanzai ("The Crime of Takamagahara", 1948) is considered one of the best Japanese impossible crime stories and I can understand why, though this is really a very unique locked room murder that could only have happened under these very special circumstances.  The "god" of a new religion is strangled to death in his room, but the two men guarding the staircase to the room saw they saw nobody enter or leave the room. How then was the deicide committed? I guessed the solution quite quickly actually, because I have reviewed at least other three stories on this blog that feature a similar trick (I won't link them, because it may be a bit too spoilery), but I would say that the execution in this story is very good and it is indeed a very memorable story. But again, only under these special circumstances.

Ashita no Tame no Hanzai ("The Crime for Tomorrow", 1954), Potsdam Hanzai ("The Potsdam Crime", 1954) and Fuyu no Jidai no Hanzai ("The Crime in the Winter", 1974) are all three about footprints on the ground, or more precisely, the lack of footprints. Ashita no Tame no Hanzai has footprints that stop in the middle of a garden: the solution is simplicity at its best. Maya's short answer to the question how such a miracle was performed is short, but it explains everything in an instant and has the reader go 'why didn't I think of that!'. Fuyu no Jidai Hanzai has a naked, dead lady in the snow with no footprints around it: the solution is a bit like that of Ashita no Tame no Hanzai: they work with the same principle, but are executed quite different. Interesting to look at as a pair. Potsdam Hanzai has some interesting links with the Potsdam Declaration and is an okay impossible crime story, but every effort at summarizing the story sorta spoils the solution, it seems. There is a nice piece of misdirection there, but my attempts at summarizing this story kinda make the solution seem too obvious.

Kuromaku - Juuji ni Shisu ("The Mastermind - Die at Ten", 1955) features a murderer who disappears from an observed house which was searched immediately after the shot, but the solution hinges on 1) one very obvious trick and 2) one very silly trick that can't possibly have worked.

Nusumareta Tegami ("The Purloined Letter", 1954) is the most interesting story of the collecion together with Takamagahara no Hanzai, I think. Holmes always keeps complaining to Watson his stories are too sensational, that the records of Holmes' investigations should place emphasis on the thought process behind each case, right? Well , Holmes would have loved this variation on Edgar Allan Poe's famous short story. The story consists of a letter written by Maya Tadashi, who explains precisely how he manages to find the location of a hidden film with a photograph of a compromising letter. Starting with the definition of what 'solving the case' means, he moves to definitions of clues, and even discusses the role of philosophy and the sciences in modern police investigations, and just as you think his story has nothing to do with the case, he shows how all the previous arguments were crucial parts in the thought process behind locating the hidden film. Nusumareta Tegami is a fairly theoretical story though, something Edogawa Rampo had noted too when he had read one of the earlier versions, and while this is still a very scientifical piece even after several rewritten versions, I think it is a great story.

I am aware that this is an incomplete review, as I've only looked at the third part of Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei, but I feel that this part can stand perfectly on its own: while not all stories are as memorable as others, stories like Nusumareta Tegami and Takamagahara no Hanzai make this a worthwile read. But besides that, the way in which Amagi manages to depict these impossible crimes and their solutions in just a few pages is amazing. A final note: I have no idea when I'll look at the critical study parts of Amagi Hajime no Misshitsu Hanzaigaku Kyoutei. It might be soon, might take ages. And in the worse scenario, I'll just forget.

Original Japanese title(s): 天城一 『天城一の密室犯罪学教程』: Part 3 毒草 / 摩耶の場合 「不思議の国の犯罪」 / 「鬼面の犯罪」 / 「奇蹟の犯罪」 / 「高天原の犯罪」 / 「夢の中の犯罪」 / 「明日のための犯罪」 / 「盗まれた手紙」 / 「ポツダム犯罪」 / 「黒幕・十時に死す」 / 「冬の時代の犯罪」

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

City of Darkness

On every corner
The same old story
Somebody's tellin' a lie
Somebody's laughin'
Somebody's cryin'
Somebody's lonely tonight
"Give Me Your Love Tonight" (Suzuki Kiyomi)

As you have probably noticed, I write mostly, but not exclusively about Japanese detective fiction here. When it's not Japanese, it's usually English or Dutch, but I don't really care where it comes from as long as it's fun and I can read it. Today, a fairly important Korean mystery classic!

Kim Nae-seong (1909-1957) was a Korean writer and is commonly seen as the father of the Korean detective story. His first detective story Daienkei no Kagami ("The Elliptical Mirror") was published in 1935. Note that this was a story published in Japan, written in Japanese: the Great Korean Empire had been annexed by Japan the year after Kim's birth and Kim himself had studied at Japan's Waseda University. Kim wrote more detectives stories in Japanese after his debut and also translated some of them to Korean. After his return to the Korean peninsula in 1936, Kim continued writing detective stories in Korean (grand-scale cultural assimilation would take off with the Pacific War, leading to language censoring practices like described in Lee Jung-Myong's Pyŏ-rŭl Sŭch'i-nŭn Baram / The Investigation).

The fact that "Lady Peacock" Ju Eun-mong's birthday party was going to be the very first masquerade ball in Keijou (Seoul as it was called in Colonial Korea), no, the first in Korea was big news. The fact that Ju Eun-mong and her patron Baek Yeong-ho were going to marry was even bigger news. But the biggest news was that a clown dressed in crimson attacked Eun-mong during the masquerade ball and managed to disappear without a trace. And that wasn't the only strange happening that night, because another guest managed to disappear from a street leading to a dead end while being chased by the police as an important suspect in the case. Who is trying to murder Eun-mong? How did the clown disappear? Who was the other disappearing guest? The events of the masquerade ball are just the beginning of a long mystery, in which we follow great detective Yu Bu-ran as he tries to save the beautiful Ju Eun-mong from the clutches of the crimson clown in Kim Nae-seong's Main ("The Demon", 1939).

Main was first published in serialized form in 1939 from February until October in 170 installments and then released as a hardcover volume in December of the same year in Korea. It was a bestseller at the time and has later also been made into a film. I read the Japanese translation of Main by the way (Majin in Japanese), because I can't read Korean (well, I can read it, but I don't comprehend what I'm reading). As far as I know, Kim Nae-seong's detective stories are not available in English, despite his importance as the father of the genre in Korea.

To start with the conclusion: I enjoyed the novel! A lot, actually. I only discovered just as I was looking things up for this review that series detective Yu Bu-ran's name was a wordplay on Maurice Leblanc (similar to how Edogawa Rampo was based on Edgar Allan Poe), but Leblanc, or more specifically, Arsène Lupin was precisely what I had in mind as I was reading Main. It's a fun mystery adventure, with the thrills and melodrama like you'd expect in a book with the French gentleman detective. Of course, the fact we follow a man dressed as Arsène Lupin during the masquerade ball in the beginning of the story did help with that association, but the way the adventure develops, the use of newspaper articles and jumping between characters to present the story, it's all good old fashioned fun and I loved it (then again, Main does date from 1939...).

Sure, the story is quite easy to solve for the experienced reader (and probably the not very experienced reader too), but I have a weakness for the... honest, pure feelings that go into these kinds of stories. It's the same I have for a lot of the Arsène Lupin and Edogawa Rampo novels: they can be a bit easy and quite silly at times with their almost childish tricks and masquerades and all, but I can almost always see the writers in my mind, with indeed childish laughs on their faces as they were writing their stories. Main is a bit predictable, but it still manages to capture me as a reader through its passion.

Part of the charm lies with the protagonist Yu Bu-ran. Yu Bu-ran is presented as the Classical Great Detective, with a brilliant mind and a knack for disguises. But he isn't one really. I mean, he is a smart guy and all, but he is definitely not the perfect thinking machine, basically everyone in the novel eventually sees through at least one of his disguises and his relations with the fair sex invokes slightly Arsène Lupin. I wonder whether Yu Bu-ran is so human because he originally starred in several mystery stories aimed at children/YA (Rampo's Akechi Kogorou also starred in a whole series of children's mystery stories). Main is, as far as I can tell, the last in the Yu Bu-ran series by the way.

I didn't really notice it while I was reading Main, but this book is culturally really subdued. I guess that this was because of the colonization of Korea by Japan and growing censorship / advancing cultural assimilation, but it could also just have been Kim's style. Anyway, the story is mostly set in the capital Keijou (which Kim likes to dub the 'demon capital'), but Main could have basically happened anywhere, because there is so little in the story that ties it to something more than a vague "Asian" culture. I would definitely have believed it if someone had just changed the names of locations and characters and then told me it was a Japanese story. A bit disturbing if you think about it knowing when this was written.

Anyway, I had great fun with Main. People who like the Arsène Lupin novels or Edogawa Rampo's novels should take a look at this Korean mystery classic. And of course, people interested in the detective genre should keep an eye on the book, as it was a bestseller by the father of the Korean detective story and thus in its way an influential piece of mystery fiction.

Original Korean title(s): 김내성 (金來成) 《마인(魔人)》

Sunday, August 24, 2014

ReturN: File 4

『金田一少年の事件簿: 金田一少年の決死行』

"In the name of my grandfather... and my own honor!!"
"The Young Kindaichi Case Files: Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle"

Doing these Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO reviews of each episode as they are broadcast is luckily not as time consuming as I had initially feared: with these multi-episode stories, I can usually skip a week until the whole story is broadcast!

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO
Pre-series TV Special 2 (January 4, 2014: The Prison Gate Cram School Murder Case
Episode 1 (July 19, 2014): The Murderer of the Silver Screen 
Episode 2 (July 26, 2014): The Game Mansion Murder Case
Episode 3 & 4 (August 2 & 9, 2014): The Will-o'-the-Wisp Island Murder Case
Episode 5 & 7 (August 16 & 23, 2014): Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle

Kindaichi Hajime, grandson of the great detective Kindaichi Kousuke, his childhood friend Miyuki and club leader Makabe make their way to the Grand Dragon Hotel to watch a hypnotist show. Hajime allows himself to be hypnotized, but seems to be a bit drowzy even after the show. The Grand Dragon Hotel is also the center of a police investigation into the abduction of its owner by someone calling himself the Count of Monte Cristo. Hajime initially gets involved as a suspect in the case, but Inspector Kenmochi vouches for the high school student detective and asks Hajime to join the investigation. That night however, Miyuki, Makabe and Kenmochi's subordinate receive a message to go to a certain room: there they see how Hajime stabs a knife in Kenmochi's chest. Hajime claims he doesn't remember a thing, as he is still kinda dazy from his hypnosis session, but with several witnesses and the fact nobody else was present in the room, the police has little choice but to arrest Hajime. He promptly escapes though and discovers he has been set-up by Takatoo Youichi, a man who designs murder schemes for other people, whom he had met earlier in Malaysia. Can Hajime prove his innocence, discover the identity of the Mount of Monte Cristo and get his hand on Takatoo in Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle.

The original comic version of Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle was released in 2000 and served as the finale of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series (the series restarted four years later). As such, it was plotted as a grand scale story with a slightly different feel from the 'normal' series. Sure, Hajime had been on the run as a suspect in older stories too, but those were very early stories and this time, Hajime's big nemesis Takatoo was also involved. I loved the story as a series finale: it had a sense of dread because Hajime was on the run in a foreign country (the original story was set in Hong Kong), Takatoo was actively trying to get Hajime and his allies out of the way and basically every important recurring character, including those who had only made appearances in the novels, chipped in to help Hajime prove his innocence. It truly felt as the final story of the series, which is why I was very curious why this particular story had been selected to be adapted as episodes five and six of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO and whether it would work.

And I would say it didn't work. The elements that made the original story interesting, were not present and because the story had to be simplified to fit in the runtime of two episodes, the live action adaptation of Young Kindaichi's Road to the Final Battle just feels strange. It's not that I don't understand why things had to be changed from the original story (in fact, it can work out quite fine). For example, I understand quite well they can't shoot another episode on location in Hong Kong. But a lot of the original story's sense of thrill was derived from the fact Hajime was on the run in a foreign country, with (initally) no friends around. Heck, he couldn't even speak the language! So then I think, why choose to adapt this story at this stage of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO, if you can't possibly utilize all its potential?

The original story also worked because Hajime had been foiling Takatoo's plans for years in the comics: they were rivals, enemies who knew each other. In this live action series? They crossed paths just once. Gone is the tension between the two. Heck, the police officers in the live action series shouldn't even have heard of Takatoo! The original story also worked because Hajime's friends whom he had met during his adventures worked together to help him? In this live action series? It's the friggin' fifth episode, so of course he hasn't made trustworthy allies yet whom suddenly band together for Dramatical Performance, it's just the usual gang.

Of course, there is still an attempted murder mystery and while I do like the main trick behind the Kenmochi stabbing (the victim was Superintendent Akechi in the original, but he doesn't exist (yet?) in the live action series), I still feel a lot of the story depends on seeing Hajime trying to prove his innocence and his friends helping him. We as the viewer naturally know Hajime isn't the murderer and believe he is innocent, but the fact that all his friends within the story also believe in Hajime's innocence, despite what they saw with their own eyes, and help him is quite important for this story to work, also as a mystery. I'd say it's a lot easier to guess the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo because a lot of the good smoke and mirrors of the original story were removed for this adaptation.

In the end, I think I'm not sure why this story was selected for adaptation halway in the series. Its best elements only come to life as a series finale, so at least have Hajime made some important friends in the series, at least have Hajime have confronted Takatoo more than once before doing this story. I think this story would have worked great as NEO's series finale, but now it's just wasted potential. And it's not just the 'yeah-it's-the-finale-everyone-shows-up-again' theme.The mystery-plot loses quite a lot of its impact because of the smaller scale (and it becomes a lot more easier / obvious too), all because it's done at the wrong part of the series.

I've quite appreciated the way they did the adaptations in Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO until now, but this is the first time I really think they did it wrong. Production values were good as ever, but this was not the right story at the right time. Really a shame. And it makes me curious as to what story the team thought was going to be a better series finale than this story. Next week is an adaptation of The Yukikage Village Murder Case. I liked the original comic version for being a bit different from the rest, so looking forward to it!

Original Japanese title(s): 『金田一少年の事件簿N』 サブタイトル「金田一少年の決死行」

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tender Hearted


"Let's dance. This is also part of the job"
"Detective Story"

My backlog on video material is in general not as bad as my games and books backlog, but there are always exceptions: today's topic had been waiting for... four years now?

Rich heiress Arai Naomi is to move to the United States in a week, and her guardian has hired private detective Tsuchiyama Shuuichi to act as her bodyguard in her last week in Japan. Naomi naturally is not happy with someone watching over her every step, but she slowly starts to get interested in the stoic, yet nice Tsuchiyama. One day, Tsuchiyama's ex-wife Sachiko appears in a panic, saying her lover was murdered in a hotel bathroom, even though nobody else had entered the couple's hotel room. Her lover had some very shady connections, and because it seems like only Sachiko could have commited the murder, both police and gansters try to get their hands on her (for different reasons). After helping Sachiko hide, Tsuchiyama and Naomi try to figure out who managed to murder the lover in a locked hotel room in the 1983 film Tantei Monogatari ("Detective Story").

Tantei Monogatari (1983) stars Yakushimaru Hiroko and Matsuda Yuusaku and should not be confused with the same-titled 1979 TV series Tantei Monogatari ("Detective Story"), also starring Matsuda Yuusuke. This movie was based on a story by Akagawa Jirou which was apparently written with Yakushimaru Hiroko as the lead in mind, who was a popular idol-singer-actress at the time (she would also play the lead in a film of Natsuki Shizuko's W no Higeki the next year). Tantei Monogatari was quite succesful; its earnings ranked second in 1983.

As it's an idol movie, Tantei Monogatari's focus lies not in its mystery plot, but in the love story between the stoic Tsuchiyama and the unexperienced, but lively Naomi. There's the attracted odd couple angle to this movie, of course, which is accentuated by the difference in length between the two lead actors. It's pretty fun to see the banter and the way the two act around each other, and while it's nothing less than a cheesy love story, I guess I shouldn't expect much more of an idol-centred movie.

The locked room murder is basically an extra. It's almost confusing why a fairly simple love story is saddled with an impossible murder story of all things: you'd think a 'simple' murder plot would have suited the atmosphere better than a locked room murder. The solution to the murder is extremely simple, but I did like how the direct hints leading to the murderer were placed in the story. And as I am writing this, I realize there's actually an inversed impossible disappearance mystery there too, as Tsuchiyama, Naomi and Sachiko have to get out of an observed apartment complex unseen at one point in the story, but again, the solution is among the most basic you could imagine. The impossible sitations in this movie all just play second fiddle to the love story's main.

Nothing to like here? Well, Matsuda Yuusaku is definitely a great actor. Yep. And I love the eighties vibe of the movie. And the theme song, Tantei Monogatari sung by Yakushimaru Hiroko is actually quite nice. But yeah, I'd never go the trouble of actually recommending anyone to watch. Tantei Monogatari. Of course, unless you're a big Matsuda Yuusaku and / or Yakushimaru Hiroko fan.

I am actually not sure why I bothered to write a review about this movie... Ah well. It is, in a way, a fairly famous Japanese detective movie.

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵物語』