Thursday, May 26, 2011

『ミュージカル演出家殺人事件』

「どう?さすがに席ついたらテンション上がってきた?」
「全く・・・やっぱりミュージカルは苦手ですね」
「食わぬ嫌いだから。見たら絶対好きになるよ」
「普通に会話してたのに突拍子もないタイミングでうったりするじゃないですか。あれはどうも」
『33分探偵: ミュージカル演出家殺人事件』

- "Well? Excited now we're in our seats?"
- "Not at all... I just don't like musicals."
- "That's because you never tried it! You'll love it when you see it!"
- "They just have an normal conversation and then suddenly go around singing and stuff, right? I don't really..."
"33 Minutes Detective: The Musical Star Murder Case"

Books.... Check.
Movies.... Check.
TV shows.... Check
Games.... Check
Radio drama.... Check

Oh, I haven't done stage productions yet!

Takurazuka X Gyakuten Saiban ("Turnabout Trial"). When it was announced that a collaboration between the two would be performed in 2009, I was quite surprised. An all-female musical based on a mystery courtroom battle videogame?

What. Were. They. Thinking.

It wasn't like I had something against the Takurazuka Revue, but it just seemed so... unlikely a combination. Professor Layton VS Gyakuten Saiban is at least a fairly logical crossover, while a live action movie based on the Gyakuten franchise doesn't sound that strange either (I don't really like Miike as the director though). But Takarazuka X Gyakuten Saiban?

What. Were. They. Thinking.

In Gyakuten Saiban - Yomigaeru Shinjitsu ("Turnabout Trial - The Revived Truth"), everyone has become a bit more feminine and they all developed the tendency to suddenly dance and sing, but the premise here remains the same as in the Gyakuten games: a courtroom battle mystery. However, the setting of the story has been changed from Japan to California, with everybody going by their American names (because Takarazuka musicals are supposed to be 'make-believe' worlds for the viewers to escape to, so no musicals are set in modern Japanese society). Phoenix Wright (Nick for friends) is a young lawyer, who takes up the case to defend Leona Clyde, his old girlfriend. She has been arrested for the murder of a Diet member, but with photographs of the deed being done and Leona's own confession to the murder, it doesn't seem like there is much room for doubt. Nick however refuses to give up on Leona and swears to find out the hidden truth. In court! In America!

The musical is mostly based on Yomigaeru Gyakuten (US version: Rise from the Ashes), a chapter which was retroactively added to the original game in 2005. It was written by the creator of the original stories, Takumi Shuu  and a very lengthy addition too, which resulted in a somewhat convoluted story. But it had several interesting ideas too: the same man being murdered twice, at the same time, at completely different places! The Queen-esque double/triple/quadruple solutions piled on each other! The final ace up Nick's sleeve in court! The Blue Badger!


Too bad they cut out all those awesome parts for the musical adaption (so no double murder at two seperate places). I have no problems with the inserted love story (which is probably a must for a Takurazuka musical), but it's so bad to see that a pretty smart story has been dumbed down to this. I understand that much had to be cut to keep the length of the musical in check (so I have no problems with cutting away the middle part of the story), but but the final 'evidence' is nearing the absurd and basically just a very, very bad rewrite of what happened in the original story. A person watching this as a) a Takarazuka fan or b) a normal Gyakuten Saiban fan wouldn't be too disappointed, I think (ignoring people who are definitely going to whine about how the character relations have been changed), but looking at it as someone who not only likes Takumi Shuu's original characters and humor, but also his detective plots, I can't help myself being disappointed with the bad rewriting.

Everyone being played by females didn't feel strange at all actually and the random singing and dancing... was not that intrusive (although I guess calling singing and dancing in a musical intrusive would be kinda strange). I was kinda hoping they would sing and dance in the courtroom during testimonies or something (spoilers! they don't).  I have seen bits and pieces of the sequel musical and that one seemed to have an original story with seemingly more clever tricks, so maybe they improved on the mystery part in the sequel.

Original Japanese title(s): 『逆転裁判 蘇る真実』 (loosely based on 『蘇る逆転』

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"A, B, C. We're certainly relying on basics tonight. But proceed."

「全く芝居じみている」 俺はいった 「アガサ・クリスティの世界だな。容疑者を集めて探偵が推理を披露をするわけだ」
「クリスティの世界なら、もう少し話が派手になるでしょう。容疑者も多い。この部屋の壁沿いにずらりといすを並べる必要があるほどにね。しかし容疑者が三人だからといって、犯人を絞るのが楽だというわけでもないのが、捜査の難しいところです」
『私が彼を殺した』

"This is all quite theatrical," I said.  "Like something out of Agatha Christie. With all the suspects gathered and the detective who is going to unveil his deduction".
"This story would be a bit more grand if this was Christie. With more suspects. Enough so we would have needed to line up chairs along the wall of this room. But the difficulty in these investigations is that even with only three suspects, it's not easy to narrow it down to the one murderer.
"I Killed Him"

The Challenge to the Reader is something I've enjoyed since... always? Dutch comic book readers might remember comics like Inspecteur Netjes (with the legendary "Weet jij het ook?!!" ("Do you know too?!!") - challenge) or even Disney's Sul Dufneus (Shamrock Bones) and Mickey Mouse detective comics, which always ended with a challenge to the reader. Manga like Conan and Kindaichi Shounen do it more indirectly, as the protagonists of both series usually announce when they have solved the riddle (and thus suggest that you should have been able to solve the case too by now).

Higashino Keigo's Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita ("One of the two killed her") played with this: the novel revolved around two suspects, but it is not made clear the novel itself who the real culprit is: it is up to the reader to deduce it. It works out precisely like a normal detective, with clever hinting and all, but the conclusion just avoids any words that point to specifically to one of the two suspects (using words like 'that person' or 'the murderer' to refer to the culprit in its denouement). You have all the necessary clues in your possession, so solve it yourself. The ultimate challenge.

Kaga Kyouichirou series
Sotsugyou ("Graduation") (1986)
Nemuri no Mori ("Forest of Sleep") (1989)
Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita ("One of the Two Killed Her") (1996)
Akui ("Malice") (1996)
Watashi ga Kare wo Koroshita ("I Killed Him") (1999)
Uso wo Mou Hitotsu Dake ("One More Lie") (2000)
Akai Yubi ("Red Fingers")  (2006)
Shinzanmono ("Newcomer") (2009)
Kirin no Tsubasa ("The Wings of the Kirin") (2011)
Inori no Maku ga Oriru Toki ("When the Curtains of Hope Come Down") (2013)

Watashi ga Kare wo Koroshita ("I Killed Him") is the spiritual successor to that book and the fifth book in the Kaga Kyouichirou series. Like it's predecessor, the identity of the real culprit is not made clear in the novel itself, instead giving the readers the ultimate challenge: deduce it yourself. The story starts the day before the wedding of popular writer/movie director Honami Makoto and poet Kanbayashi Miwako. A little gathering at Honami's house is disturbed by a woman dressed in white; Honami's former lover Namioka Junko, who now knows that Honami has betrayed her. They get rid of Junko quickly (in the non-criminal way) and preparations for the wedding proceed as planned. The wedding the next day itself is kinda ruined by Honami dying just when he entered the chapel; being poisoned by strychnine. As Junko has committed suicide the day before (also with strychnine), the police at first suspects that the ex had poisoned Honami and then commited suicide as forced love suicide.

Kaga of course doesn't agree with this and finds three persons who had access to the strychnine and the opportunity to switch Honami's medicine with the strychnine-laced medicine: Kanbayashi Takahiro, brother of Miwako who had an incesteous relation with her. Suruga Naoyuki, Honami's manager who was in love with Junko and hated how Honami had treated her. Yukizasa Kaori, Miwako's agent who once had been Honami's lover herself. The murderer is one of the three, but who?

The novel is written from the perspective of the three suspects, switching between them as the plot develops. This makes for some interesting reading, as you actually know that one of the three must be the murderer. So you already know that the narrator=murderer trick is being used. The murderer doesn't outrageously lie to the reader, but just manages to avoid mentioning crucial parts (like saying "and this is when I did it..." or something like that).

The novel ends with the single line "the murderer is you" uttered by Kaga and I can imagine that many people could have missed the solution. I missed it myself, so I had to look it up on the internet to check. It was not as devious as in Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita, which was really well done, but a decent one. It's a bit of shame that the solution hinges on the final revelation by Kaga (so you really can't solve it until the last page and you can never win from Kaga), but with that final clue in your hands, it's actually quite logical and I think I would have solved it if I had re-read the book again (of course, that's easy to say now). It seems by the way that the murderer in the seralized version and the hardback/paperback versions differ. In the paperback version, the novel is followed by a set of sealed pages, which contain hints to the murderer, but I really, really don't want to cut in my books...

And it seems that Higashino Keigo already has an idea to follow up this series of One of the Two Killed Her, I Killed Him with a third part, You Killed Somebody, so I'm looking forward to that!

Original Japanese title(s): 東野圭吾 『私が彼を殺した』

Monday, May 23, 2011

「まァどちらだっていいだろう。新聞語には、首なし美人てことばもある」

「おれたちは新聞屋(ブンヤ)だ。刑事じゃないぜ。白ばかりの中から犯人を探し出すのは刑事にまかしとけ。おれたちは黒の中から、潔白な民衆を救い出そうじゃないか」
『風船魔』

"We're reporters. Not detectives. Leavethe search for the criminal between all the innocent people to the police. We are the ones that save the innocent people from the criminals"
"Balloon Demon"

Last year, in a Japanese movies class, we watched Climber's High. The 2008 movie is about a small local newspaper covering a big plane crash. It's really one of the more interesting movies of recent years, focusing on how a newspaper works, the fight against deadlines, deciding what to report and how and finding out how to outsmart the other newspapers. Add some great acting (Tsutsumi Shinichi!) and you have a really good movie.

It was probably because of Climber's High that I bought Shimada Kazuo's Shakaibu Kisha ("City News Reporter"). Because I can't think of another reason for me buying this. I didn't know the writer, never heard of the book and the title kinda suggested that this would be a social school detective. Even the fact that it won the 6th Japanese Detective Writers Assocation Price didn't really make the package seem any better. The Japanese Detective Writers Assocation Price book series has some great gems, like Honjin Satsujin Jiken and Geneijou, but Kao wasn't that great, so the prize isn't a guarantee for a great book. In the end, I just hoped for the best. And the fact that it was only 105 yen, so it wasn't really worth thinking about.

I turned out to be lucky though. Shakaibu Kisha is a fun little short story collection, chronicling the adventures of the city news department of the Tokyo Nippou newspaper, led by editor-in-chief Kitazaki. He and his underlings are always searching for new scoops, so what do they do when they cover a murder case? Well, solve it before anyone else does of course, and report on it! Shimada drew on his own experience as a newspaper reporter, writing the stories in very dynamic way with many developments. So in a way, the concept is very reminiscent of Leroux' Rouletabille's adventures. Surprising was that these stories are not part of the social school of detective fiction, but true orthodox detective stories with alibi tricks and double identities and stuff. 

Gozen Reiji no Datsogoku ("Prison Escape at Midnight") tells the story of Shibayama, an ex-Yakuza who had killed his superior and was sent to prison for that. He has served his time, but is too scared to leave the prison, as he is sure be lynched by his former gang. The Tokyo Nippou agrees to help him escape (so that they can make a cover story about the gang's activities) and after a near escape from one of Shibayama's old friends (who is ordered to kill Shibayama), the Tokyo Nippou and Shibayama seem to be safe. The next day however, Shibayama's friend is found dead in a river and suspicion falls on Shibayama. The ending is a surprising one, with the Tokyo Nippou going out on a limb to trap the gang's leader.

Yuugun Kisha ("Reporter in Reserve") starts with the discovery of a dead student in a burnt down art academy. The Tokyo Nippou digs around a bit and finds out that the student was involved in several love triangles and that many people had their reasons for wanting her dead. Her autopsy also shows that she was already dead before the fire, apparently being hit on the head. Was she hit by a falling object, or was it foul play? The Tokyo Nippou plays big and reports on a 'mysterious death' and suggests murder, but is very surprised when their biggest rival, the Miyako Times, reports that the girl was just a victim of the fire. Both papers work hard to find out what the truth is behind this case.

In Shimbun Kisha  (Newspaper Reporter"), a new play about murderous mental patients ends in a tragedy when one of the actors gets killed back-stage. The only person with some kind of a motive seems to be the writer of the play, a former member of the troupe who had been sent to a mental institution himself after he had attempted murder on another member of the troupe. He had be been released from the institution some time ago and the director still claims that he was perfectly normal when he left the place, but the director's daughter (and attending doctor at the institute) says that the man still had a long way to go. Tokyo Nippou uses its vast net of informants to locate the man and comes to a surprising conclusion.

Fuusenma ("Balloon Demon") has a wonderful opening scene, when the dead body of a lady tied to balloons floats by the office. Reporters everywhere rush on the roofs to catch a glimpse of the body, hoping to identify her and get a headstart on the others. Who is this woman and why was she flying around the city?

With that many high school detectives, writer-detectives and amateur detectives discussed here, it was fun to read stories about a line of work that actually is related to some sort of detecting. I'm also a big fan of these 'behind-the-scenes-of-a-big-organisation stories. For example, I love Odoru Daisousasen ("The Great Dancing Investigation"), which follows the happenings at Wangan Police Station and the tension between the little precinct station and the Tokyo MPD, offering a view on the Japanese policeforce you normally don't see. Here, the workings of a newspaper (like in Climber's High) were very interesting. It was a bit hard to read though because of the jargon/industry-specific words used by journalists, but I think I might look for more of these journalist-detective novels. 

Original Japanese title(s): 島田一男 『社会部記者』/「午前零時の脱獄」/「遊軍記者」/「新聞記者」/「風船魔」

Sunday, May 22, 2011

「ちなみに聞いてみただけです」

「捜査もしていますよ、もちろん。でも刑事の仕事はそれだけじゃない。事件によって心が傷つけられた人がいるのなら、その人だって被害者だ。そういう被害者を救う手だてを探しだすのも、刑事の役目です」
『新参者』

"I'm investigating the case, of course. But that isn't a detective's only job. If there are people who got hurt because of the case, then those people are victims too. Finding a way to help those victims, that's the work of a detective."
"Newcomer"

Hmm, I might as well do these reviews back to back...

Shinzanmono, discussed yesterday, ended in the summer season of 2010, but it was followed up by a prequel TV special early this year. Akai Yubi ~ Shinzanmono Kaga Kyouichirou Futatabi! ("Red Fingers ~ Newcomer's Kaga Kyouchirou Returns!") is based on the novel Akai Yubi ("Red Fingers") by Higashino Keigo and is set two years before the events of Shinzanmono, when Kaga was still working at the Nerima Ward police station.  It's the seventh part in the Kaga Kyouichirou series (Shinzanmono being the eight) and the direct sequel to Uso wo mou hitotsu dake.

Kaga Kyouichirou series
Sotsugyou ("Graduation") (1986)
Nemuri no Mori ("Forest of Sleep") (1989)
Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita ("One of the Two Killed Her") (1996)
Akui ("Malice") (1996)
Watashi ga Kare wo Koroshita ("I Killed Him") (1999)
Uso wo Mou Hitotsu Dake ("One More Lie") (2000)
Akai Yubi ("Red Fingers")  (2006)
Shinzanmono ("Newcomer") (2009)
Kirin no Tsubasa ("The Wings of the Kirin") (2011)
Inori no Maku ga Oriru Toki ("When the Curtains of Hope Come Down") (2013)

The story starts when salaryman Maehara Akio gets a phone call from his wife Yaeko, begging him to come home at once. When he arrives home, he discovers that the body of a young girl, a second-grader, is lying strangled in his garden. His wife tells him that their hikikomori son Naomi, who had some violent streaks in the past, has strangled the girl. At first, Akio wants to report it the police, but after some pleading by his wife (and an attempted suicide), he agrees to dump the body somewhere else to protect his son. The body is found the next day in a public bathroom and the MPD suspects it's a sexual deviant that commited the crime. However, it doesn't take long before Kaga Kyouichirou zeroes in on the Maehara's. Seeing Kaga snooping around, the Maehara's try to outsmart the police with a big gambit.

While it's not a necessity, an inverted detective is usually more fun if you have at least some sympathy for the culprit. I want to root for the criminal a bit. It was sadly enough practically impossible to do so in this story. The son Naomi, hikikomori or not, is so unlikable that you wonder why the mother (and by extension, their father) do their best to hide his murder (especially if you watch this right after the Shinzanmono finale). Naomi plays games while his parents are doing the upmost best to destroy all evidence, he eats a meal while his father is carrying the body away and freaks out everytime anybody tries to confront him with anything. The mother was horrible too (threathening to commit suicide if her husband told the police about their son's crime) and while I sorta sympathized with the father, the gambit he takes in the later half of the story is just too horrible to accept.

If you have a sympathetic murderer in an inverted detective, or at least an interesting antagonist (a very smart person, someone with a very good plan, or a cop or something like that), than the game between the detective and culprit can be a delight to watch. Here I really wanted Kaga to stop with his psychological games as soon as possible so he could get the kid in jail.

The plot itself is rather straight-forward and is Higashino-style more focused on human drama than the mystery, though he manages to slip a nice plot-twist near the end. The story is a lot more dramatic than Shinzanmono though, which was like a feel-good-story-of-the-week (despite it being a murder investigation).

Furuhata Ninzaburou is already over and I never really got into Aibou ("Partners"), also featuring a detective who likes to 'harrass' people, so more Kaga Kyouichirou series with Abe Hiroshi would be great. How awesome would a series of Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita be!

May 26 Addendum: It seems that Abe Hiroshi is going to star in a 2012 Shinzanmono movie, based on the newest book in the Kaga Kyouichirou series: Kirin no Tsubasa ("The Wings of the Kirin"). Yay?!

Original Japanese title(s): 『赤い指〜「新参者」加賀恭一郎再び!』 based on 東野圭吾 『赤い指』 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

「嘘は真実の影」

「嘘には3種類ある。1、自分を守る嘘。2、他人をあざむく嘘。3、他人をかばう嘘だ」
『新参者』

"There are three kinds of lies. 1. A lie to protect yourself. 2. A lie to deceive others. 3. A lie to protect others."
"Newcomer"

I've reviewed books in Higashino Keigo's Kaga Kyouichirou series before, but I actually didn't get to know this character through the books. It was through a television drama that ran last summer, based on the (then) newest Kaga Kyouichirou novel. I only finished watching the series this week though. No, it's not that long, I'm just slow.

Kaga Kyouichirou series
Sotsugyou ("Graduation") (1986)
Nemuri no Mori ("Forest of Sleep") (1989)
Dochiraka ga Kanojo wo Koroshita ("One of the Two Killed Her") (1996)
Akui ("Malice") (1996)
Watashi ga Kare wo Koroshita ("I Killed Him") (1999)
Uso wo Mou Hitotsu Dake ("One More Lie") (2000)
Akai Yubi ("Red Fingers")  (2006)
Shinzanmono ("Newcomer") (2009)
Kirin no Tsubasa ("The Wings of the Kirin") (2011)
Inori no Maku ga Oriru Toki ("When the Curtains of Hope Come Down") (2013)

Police detective Kaga Kyouichirou had been working mostly in Nerima ward, but a transfer to Nihonbashi, Ningyouchou makes him the titular Shinzanmono ("Newcomer") in town. And his first big case also concerns a newcomer in Ningyouchou: the murder of Mitsui Mineko, a divorced translator, who was strangled in her own apartment. She had only come to live in Ningyouchou just recently, so who would have any reason to kill her? It is up to Kaga Kyouichirou to investigate what lies behind the Mitsui murder.

You know when in a mystery story everyone seems to have something to hide? And that the detective seems be forced to chase after countless of red herrings before he finally reaches the truth? This series actually turns this idea around and makes it the focus of the story. Every episode focuses on a different suspect who lies to the police. Some might be hiding a terrible family secret. Some might be lying to keep up appearances to their family. Some lie to protect their family. Like Kaga says: people lie to protect themselves, to deceive others or to protect others.

Kaga Kyouichirou is still very much like Furuhata Ninzaburou and Columbo; he picks up little discrepancies and doesn't let go till he has gotten an explanation. Annoying his victim in the process. The difference between Kaga and the others is that the latter two usually close in on the true culprit rather quickly, while Kaga has to wade through a sea of suspects, everyone of them a little pile of secrets. Every episode turns out to be like a short human drama story in which Kaga shows up to reveal why people lie to the police and each other, clearing up many misunderstandings between people. Is Kaga a detective of the heart? No, not really. He is a nice guy and all, but he is out to uncover every little contradiction in the case and it just so happens that most of these contradictions arise from lies made by innocent people. And he does slowly closes in on the culprit behind the Mitsui murder by his meticulous investigation.

An aspect that I really liked about the show was the focus on Nihonbashi, Ningyouchou as not just an background, but as an entity. Shinzanmono tells a story of old craftsman, popular cake stores, ningyouyaki,  and local customs of Ningyouchou. It's a romantic depiction of a small town as an environment with its own personality. You usually see this kind of 'characterization' with popular areas like Shinjuku or Shibuya, but not so much with smaller towns in Tokyo.

I liked Abe Hiroshi's Kaga by the way, even though it was quite different from the books. In the novels, Kaga is like a beast in the shadow; you never get to see him clearly (the books are written from the viewpoint of the suspects) and he always strikes when you least expect him. Here the story follows Kaga, and Abe Hiroshi plays him the best way he can; by playing himself. Inserting a healthy dose of humor in the character and giving him real presence has made TV!Kaga quite different from Novel!Kaga, but not in a bad way.

Once again, Higashino Keigo came up with a story that mixes human drama with mystery in an interesting way. Shinzanmono is not a pure detective, but pretty fun nonetheless.

Original Japanese title(s): 『新参者』, based on 東野圭吾『新参者』

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Adventure of the Yellow Face

「桃色の長いスカートを雪道にひきずっている姿は確かに女のようにも見えるが、その身長は六尺(約百八一・八センチ)をゆうに超えているとおもわせる。したがって、シルクハットで擦れ違う身なりの良い紳士はたちも皆彼女の肩までもない。(...) 擦れ違う人は皆目を伏せ、道をあけるようにしてさっと擦れ違う。擦れ違ってから後ろ姿をしげしげと見ている。まるで灯台である。灯台のような女が、人波の上ににょっきりと立って、それがしずしずとこっちへやってくる。だいぶ距離がつまってので見ると何とホームズさんである」
『漱石と倫敦ミイラ殺人事件』

"The figure dragging her long peach-colored skirt through the snowy path surely looked like a lady, but it seemed like she was well over 1.80 meters long. And so all the fine gentlemen with their silk hats didn't even come up to her shoulders. People passing by left the path open and turned their gaze away. Almost all of them would look back after passing her. She was like a lighthouse. The lighthouse stood out of the wave of people and slowly came closer and closer to me. When the distance was closed and I looked up, the figure turned out to be Mr. Holmes."
"Souseki and the London Mummy Murder Case"

The room is dark. You can make out some shapes near the wall.
>> Look Around
>> You See A Light Switch
>> Use Light Switch
>> The Room Lightened Up

I think that Sherlock Holmes has worked with or against every big name by now. Jack the Ripper, Arsene Lupin, Count Dracula, Cthulhu, Batman, Scooby-Doo, Edogawa Conan.... Usually, I stay away from them though. Most of them aren't very interesting anyway, or not very convincing. I like the Lupin ones for example, but only when I read them with a Lupin-mindset, and not a Holmes-mindset. I can't even imagine how a confrontation between Holmes and Dracula would go.

So I'm not sure why I bought Shimada Souji's Souseki to London Miira Satsujin Jiken ("Souseki and the London Mummy Murder Case"). A crossover between Sherlock Holmes and... Natsume Souseki, eminent figure in the history of modern Japanese literature. At first, this seemed like a very unlikely idea. At least, I couldn't really imagine Souseki as half of a crime-fighting duo. He was more like... the man on some of my 1000 yen bills. It seems however that when Souseki was studying in England (1901-1903), there was a strange incident of him moving quite around a bit in London, changing lodgings four or five times, before he settled on his main lodgings. People have wondered why he moved that much. And here that mystery is finally revealed.

Souseki to London Miira Satsujin Jiken is a parody split in two distinct parts. All the uneven chapters are written by Souseki, while all the even chapters are written by Dr. John H. Watson. The story begins when Souseki decides to consult Holmes at 211B Baker Street, because he has been harrassed by strange voices during his sleep for some time now, every time saying he has to move out of his lodgings. Which he has done now several times. Explaining him moving around London. But it's getting a bit irritating, so he would like for the voices to stop. And who better to consult than that brilliant detective? Holmes quickly assures Souseki that the voices should stop now that he has consulted Holmes. Right after Souseki's visit, Holmes is consulted on a totally different case though: a man has mummified within a single night, within a room which the victim had sealed himself with nails on the door and windows. The victim had been cursed when traveling in China and it seems that the curse has finally caught up with him. As there are few Far-East Asians in London, Holmes decides to ask Souseki's assistance with this case for his expect knowledge.

You'd think that a locked room mystery by Shimada would be more interesting, but the main problem was a very basic one with no real particulars. Well, except for the fact that a man changed into a mummy over the course of one night. And he had a piece of paper with seeminly Japanese writings in his month. And it was a locked room. Oh, and lizard were walking around the room and a Chinese (actually Japanese) armor and a Buddhist statue were also lying around. But no other particulars.

But that didn't really matter, because this story was hilarious. The book is split in two parts: all the uneven chapters are written by Natsume Souseki, while the even chapters are written by Dr. John H. Watson. It's the differences in the accounts of the two that is fantastic. Watson, our trusty chronicler, brings us our familiar Holmes, a brilliant man with fantastic powers of observation and deduction who solves the locked room mystery with his usual flair.

Souseki brings us the story of the madman Holmes, who says things that make no sense at all and who needs a doctor besides him every minute of the day in order to keep him in check. A once brilliant detective who is now mentally broken. Holmes had been receiving treatment for some years now (The Final Problem - The Empty House are cover-up stories), but still hasn't recovered. So he deduces that Souseki is a Mr. Clark (Souseki had taken the wrong hat with him), he walks around dressed like a rather unconvincing woman, suspects Souseki of being Moriarty and he has developed the tendency to scream and become very violent when it becomes apparent that his deductions are wrong. Souseki's depiction of himself differs widely too between the two records; he is received in a normal way by the servants of the house of the victim in his account, while Watson's records show that Souseki was called a Yellow Demon by the butler. Both accounts are of course written in the proper way and Souseki's chapters are pretty amusing, written from the viewpoint of one of the first Japanese persons to visit modernized England.

The locked room was a bit disappointing, coming from a big name like Shimada, but the story is so much amusing that I forgive him. I wouldn't call Souseki to London Miira Satsujin Jiken a masterpiece, but I had a fun time reading this.

Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司 『漱石と倫敦ミイラ殺人事件』

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whose Body?

"Words are such uncertain things, they so often sound well but mean the opposite of what one thinks they do"
"The Clergyman's Daughter"

Ok, 'guaranteeing' I wouldn't update today was mostly because I assumed I wouldn't finish a book on time. Because I would need a subject to write about. Which usually means I need to read a book. Or watch a movie or something. And I was pretty sure I wouldn't finish anything yesterday.Yet somehow, I managed to finish two books between yesterday and now. Things never go as planned.

Kelley Roos' The Frightened Stiff starts with Jeff and Haila Troy moving into their new garden level apartment. The first day in their new home doesn't turn out too well, as a) they overhear a telephone call in a nearby restaurant that mentions their new address, b) they get home after dinner and discover that someone must have entered their appartment while they were gone and c) a naked dead body is found in their garden the following morning. As if moving isn't troublesome enough.

And I can't be the only one that expected the frightened stiff to turn up in the bathtub when he saw the cover. A skeleton. In a bathtub. It sorta suggest something. And no, I hardly ever read the text on the back of a book. Or else I would have known, I confess.

Major suspects of the murder: the Troys. Well, you can't really blame the police for looking at them with suspicious eyes, as it was their garden where the body was lying. The stiff was also drowned in their bathtub. The Troys suspect that  one of the other tenants in their building must be the killer though and in good old fashion, all of these tenants have something to hide from the Troys and the police. Add in some attempts on the Troys' lives and the mystery of how an apartment room could have been cleared completely from its contents without anyone noticing, and you have a fun little adventure for our pair of wedded amateur detectives.

Have I mentioned already that I love Christie's crime-solving couple Tommy & Tuppence Beresford? The Tommy & Tuppence stories are a delight to read because of the dynamic between the loving couple and it's this fun dynamic that I would like to see more often in detectives. I said as I looked wearily at Meitantei Conan (seriously, the only couple that is kinda normal there is Takagi/Satou there, and that took like 40 volumes?). I don't think the Troys are as fun as the Beresfords, but they are really not bad either (ok, they're quite fun actually). The story itself is really amusing, with a nice little impossible situation that is clued very deviously throughout the story, interesting characters lurking around in the appartment and nice banter between the Troys.

I think the best about this book is how easy it is to just pick up and read. Just start with it, and before you know it you're all caught up in the Troys' adventures and you'll probably won't lay the book down until you're at the last page. It's a very entertaining, well structured and plotted story. I can't really add more to this.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Treasure Hunt

「謎を掛けられると、人間というのは弱いらしい。だから、推理小説が書店の店頭をにぎわしており、私も生活できているのだ」
『英国庭園の謎』

"Mankind can't say no to riddles. That's why detective novels are livening things up in shop windows and I'm making a living"
"The English Garden Mystery"

Hmmm, I seem to update this blog quite often lately. Too often maybe. I can at least garantee that I won't update tomorrow. And because I don't like making editorial announcements in seperate posts, I'll do it here: 1) I've generously been asked for a guest post at Detection by Moonlight, a blog you should have been reading anyway if you're interested in Golden Age detective fiction. Frequent updating with critical reviews make Detection by Moonlight a delight to read, so please take a look. 2) I had already added a link to the side-bar earlier this month, but you'll also find me blogging about twice a month on Japanese detective fiction at Criminal Element. And now on with today's topic.

Which is Arisugawa Alice's third story collection in his Writer Alice series (as opposed to his Student Alice series). A little book called Eikoku Teien no Nazo ("The English Garden Mystery"). Like the previous two volumes (Russia Koucha no Nazo and Brazil Chou no Nazo), the stories take their cues from Ellery Queen-style short stories. "Clinical Criminologist" Himura Hideo and detective writer Arisugawa Alice once again join forces to assist the police with tough-to-crack cases, all in the name of science and fieldwork. Himura's tongue is still so sharp as ever in his discussions with Alice (Alice: 'Thanks for trusting me with this'. Himura: 'I'd have asked a dog if he happened to be here'), resulting in manzai-esque conversations. It's actually quite refreshing to have someone from Osaka as the protagonist, or more specifically, Kansai as a the main stage for the stories, because most modern Japanese crime stories take place there. Still waiting for a great detective's rise in Fukuoka.

The opening story Uten Kekkou ("No Postponement Even In Rainy Weather") is a decent short story, that reminds of Queen with its long deduction-chain based on a single item (or in this case; the fact that an item isn't there) as well as a dying message-like discussion on the interpretation on what the deceased had said shortly before her death. It's so specifically Japanese though that it's nigh impossible to translate in a way that makes sense to people without knowledge of the language. 

Rindou Kouichi no Giwaku ("Rindou Kouichi's Suspicion") is a rather disappointing story, which any reader would solve the moment the culprit appears in the story. Rindou Kouichi is a writer who for the last couple of years is suffering from a writer's block. Rindou suspects that his family is trying to get rid of him. It isn't likely Rindou is going to write something new, and they might as well kill him to get the royalties from his (still very popular) older books themselves directly. A very simple story that ends almost the moment it begins and the only saving grace is an interesting motive, but not something I hadn't seen before. In a totally different genre, strangely enough. 

Mitsu no Hitsuke ("The Three Dates") is a bit like a lot of Arisugawa's lesser stories, in the sense that it is too ingeneous for its own good. Here Arisugawa Alice himself is questioned by the police, asking him whether he can confirm that three years ago he was with a person in a cafe. This person is the suspect in a murder case, but he claims that at the time, he was in that cafe and had his picture taken with Arisugawa. The final problem is solved by some very specific knowledge, which us mere mortals usually don't have readily in our head. It reminds a bit of Queen's The Glass-Domed Clock, which was perfectly solvable though, but that story too hinged on something that required some specific knowledge. With these stories, it really differs per reader I think whether they feel satisfied with the story or not. 

Kanpeki na Isho ("The Perfect Suicide Note") for example, is another of these deviously set-up stories, but one I feel more positive about. Here a man has killed a woman who had rejected his advances for the xth time now. Not planning to get arrested, he decides to make it seem like suicide, by using a note she had sent him earlier. It was meant to reject his advances ('it's all over' etc.), but by adding two pages (lamenting over the world etc.), he makes it seem like a suicide note. Yet, it seems that his suicide note wasn't perfect enough, for writer Arisugawa holds the key to the mistake our murderer made when making the fake note. Once again a story that hinges on specific knowledge, but it's something I have, something I come across every single day and then I admit it makes sense and that I should have been able to solve it myself. 

Jabberwocky though, is the other side of this story. A madman, who was caught in the past by Himura and Alice, is free again and calls the duo, suggesting something (bad) will happen in the near future. He has the tendency to play the Riddler, i.e. there is a lot hidden within his seemingly mad sayings. The solution is once again so specific that you might get a kick out of it if you know it, but I can't really praise the story. Except for the fact that it has been an interesting read and I learned something out of it.

I had high expectations for Eikoku Teien no Nazo ("The English Garden Mystery"), it being the titular story and a Queen reference and all. Wealthy man gets killed during a treasure hunt he had organized for some friends and family in his English garden. The police, and Himura and Alice, suspect that it has something to do with the treasure hunt. The guests hadn't expected a treasure hunt actually and were quite surprised they got a coded message that morning. The solution is a interesting one, but I don't think it would be possible to do it as well in English, or at least, I'm afraid the solution wouldn't be camouflaged as well compared to the Japanese version. It's a decent story, but way too long considering the contents. Learned a lot about English gardens though.

Arisugawa Alice is a very prolific writer and he had written at least one book a year ever since he began the Writer Alice series (this selection dating from 1997), but it seems that was a bit too much for him; the quality starts to suffer. He's sometimes too ingeneous, he uses knowledge that is just out of reach for normal people, and that makes his stories feel a bit unfair at times. I know he can write gems, so it makes this short story collection a bit of a disappointment. The book's not totally bad and I know Queen can be just as esoteric as Arisugawa at times, but this particular collection has so many of these stories that it's kinda hard to ignore.

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『英国庭園の謎』「雨天決行」/「竜胆紅一の疑惑」/「三つの日付」/「完璧な遺書」/「ジャバウォッキー」/「英国庭園の謎」

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

「なにかコナンだ!!外国人じゃあるまいし・・・」

「こんな本に囲まれて育ったから新一が推理バカになっちゃうのよ・・・」
『名探偵コナン』

"It's because he grew up among all these books that Shinichi became a deduction freak..."
"Detective Conan"

Sherlock Holmes might deduce someone's character through his clothes and manner, I prefer to do so by looking at a person's bookcase. Seeing what someone reads in what kind of languages, what sort of books he/she likes, how the books are stacked, bookcases provide a wealth of information on the owner. 

Not sure what to think about myself though, as I am kinda surprised myself at how many duplicate books I have actually. Well, they're not really duplicates, because they're actually versions in different languages, but still. At first glance, it might seem a bit superfluous.

I have professed my love Meitantei Conan here often. But it might be a bit surprising to see that I have Conan volumes in Japanese, Korean, German, French, Dutch and English. Of these, Japanese is the best, obviously. Don't really like the English version because of the name-changes in the translation and the overall design of the books, while the French and Dutch version are solid releases, but sadly miss the trademark brick-wall-and-picture design of the Conan series. Compared to those two releases, the German release is more authentic in the design department, but misses the slipcover and is slightly enlarged. The South-Korean version is a pretty good copy of the Japanese version, but for some reason has been enlarged a bit. Might be related to the fact they don't have the smaller pocket bunkobon books there, some kind of strange affection to bigger sized books?

It might be surprising to hear that I actually have perfectly good reasons for having the series in all these languages. And yes, reasons in plural form, because I have different reasons for different languages/volumes. It's complicated.

I don't have that many good reasons for the following double books though.

Yokomizo Seishi's Inugamike no Ichizoku / The Inugami Clan. I bought the original Japanese after the translation, so I might pretend that I'm going to read the original in the future, but I don't see that happening any time soon, to be honest. I don't particularly like the Japanese cover, expept for the drawing of Kindaichi.

Both a Japanese and an English version of Maurice LeBlanc's 813, but not a French one. Once again, I bought the Japanese version later, but I really liked the cover, so that's my excuse.

Shimada Souji's Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken / The Tokyo Zodiac Murders. Once again, I like to pretend like I'm going to read the original too in the future. I really, really like the Japanese cover though.

A Japanese Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (a selection of stories). They got me with a limited edition cover by mangaka Hoshino Katsura (D.Gray-man).

A selection of Edogawa Rampo's short stories.... This I can defend, because the stories in Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination aren't real translations, so I actually do have the intention of re-reading some of the stories in Japanese. In fact, I have already.


Higashino Keigo's Yougisha X no Kenshin / The Devotion of Suspect X. Actually the first novel I read in Japanese, the English translation I read afterwards. Why? Reviewing purposes (not for this site).

I should stop with purchasing books twice though, even if they're translations. Except for Conan. If I'm this far, I might as well collect all the world's Conans, right?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf?

「悪しき過去を埋葬し、よき未来を生み出すのが探偵の仕事よ」
 『人狼城の恐怖 第四部=完結編』

"To bury the evil past and bring forth a bright future, that's the work of a detective",
"The Terror of Werewolf Castle Part Four: Conclusion

The complete Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle") review series:
1. What a Night for a Knight (Part One: Germany)
2. Hassle in the Castle (Part Two: France)
3. Nowhere to Hyde (Part Three: Detective)
4. Who's afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf? (Part Four: Conclusion)

It has been a long month, but I've finished Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of The Werewolf Castle"). Realizing I've finally conquered this giant in Japanese detective fiction feels kinda weird. To crank up the sentimental tone: it actually took me quite some trouble to find all four volumes in Japan as they were out of print and so my quest for the books brought me from the good old Hakata Book Off all the way to a random Book Off in Osaka (other side of Japan...) where I completed my set. Which was over a year ago. I have never invested so much time, energy and effort in finding and reading a book. And now it's done! 達成感満々!


This review will be both on the final volume as well as the complete story, but it's highly recommended to read the previous reviews before proceeding with this one, just to see the whole picture.

Great Detective Nikaidou Ranko had been leaking out information on the case to the media in the previous volume, saying that the Werewolf Castle had been the scene of two series of horrible murders (see Germany and France) and also suggesting some sort of connection with a certain count Ribbentrop, head of a pharmaceutical company and current castle lord of.... the Werewolf Castle (both The Silver Wolf Castle and the Blue Wolf Castle). In Conclusion (the cover says: La Terreur Château du Loup-garou La Quatrième Partie Accomplissement), Nikaidou Ranko, together with brother Reito, their old teacher (whose name I can't spell) and inspector Rudendolf have been kidnapped ('invited') to the Blue Wolf Castle by Ribbentrop's solicitors, challenging the group to find evidence that any such murder occured in the twin castles. Whereas in many novels, a conclusion of 20-50 pages can be considered long, Ranko indeed uses almost all of this volume (650 pages) to reveal the whole truth behind the murders in the Silver Wolf and the Blue Wolf Castle, the many mysterious locked room murders and the horrible, hidden motive behind the slayings. And it's awesome.

Well, mostly. I'll start with the negative point first, that way I can end on a positive tone. The motive to the murders makes no sense at all. At least not to me, a mere mortal. I do like how Nikaidou Reito (the writer, not the character) strings together little threads of historic esoctoric subplots and underlying themes to an, admittedly, very interesting plot twist. I personally really like these kinds of stories. Only it doesn't really work in a detective novel. It makes no sense, nobody is convinced by it and it therefore makes the whole series of murders seem rather meaningless. And I doubt that was Nikaidou's intention. There are so many other, far more easier ways to accomplish the goal of the murderer(s). Now all the murders just seems like the work of a madman. And I know, Nikaidou has kinda created a way to talk himself out of it, but it isn't convincing. Oh, and the final part of the book was totally unnecessary and indeed left a bitter aftertaste. I can choose to ignore it, as it doesn't influence the story, but I'm kinda disappointed Nikaidou threw this in.

And now back to the good! Because it's good! Very good! People who have read the reviews on Germany and France already know that many people die in the respective castles in awesome locked rooms (though some of them are very similar) and the solutions Ranko proposes to them are as ingenious as shocking. I personally liked the Madame Charisse locked room the best (also selected by Arisugawa Alice for his illustrated guide to locked room mysteries), truly a trick worthy for a book called The Terror of Werewolf Castle. That is not too say that the other locked rooms are bad or anything, in fact, the whole level is quite high and many of them could have been used as the main trick for a normal length novel.

I was actually surprised that Nikaidou didn't include a Challenge to the Reader here actually, which almost seems mandatory nowadays, but in fact most of the riddles can be solved by a close reading of the accounts written in Germany and France, which is of course how Ranko came up with the solutions to the murders in the first place. Those two volumes are very much like the game Trick X Logic: everything written there is in fact true (ignoring mistaken assumptions by the narrator himself); it's up to the detective to carefully pick out the little contradictions and come up with the solution.

But the most impressive of the story is how Nikaidou Reito (again, the writer) managed to bring all of these mysteries together to create one gigantic mystery. Many writers of course do this, for example Rim of the Pit,  but the difference in scale and detail is immense. With some cryptic hints by Ranko, I managed to (partially) solve some of the murders, but certainly not everything. I do think it's perfectly solvable though, hints are spread abundantly throughout the first two books and Ranko makes several very meaningful comments in Detective too. Jinroujou no Kyoufu is not just a long book, it really makes optimal use of its page count and indeed brings a certain scale to the detective story I had never seen before. The katharsis you experience when everything is solved is also multiplied by many factors. The length of the book was needed to create the effect Nikaidou was aiming for and I say he succeeded.

The book does has some references to other Nikaidou Ranko adventures (most specifically Akuryou no Yakata ("Mansion of Evil Spirits") and Sei Ursula Shuudouin no Zangeki ("The Tragedy of Saint Ursula Monestery")), that might make this book somewhat hard to translate on its own. I myself haven't read Akurei no Yakata yet, but it does seem better read everything in order in the Ranko series. Still, if I had to name one book that has enough credits for it to deserve to be translated ('world record', new orthodox masterpiece, a very European/Western setting), it's this, I guess.

It's been an awesome ride, but I really long for a good short story collection now! 

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『人狼城の恐怖 第四部=完結編』

Sunday, May 15, 2011

그리고 아무도 없었다

Four little Soldier boys going out to sea
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

No, no, no, I'm not going to discuss South-Korean detective fiction from now on. The biggest hurdle being that I can't actually read Korean, despite having followed Korean language courses for 1.5 semester. I still want to visit the Detective Literature Museum in Busan someday, which still seems so much fun despite probably most books being in Korean, so maybe I should try a bit more. Or open my own museum here. Hmmm....

For some reason, a lot of Korean movies seem to have an international title, so I'll just refer to Geukrakdo Salinsageon ("Paradise Island Murder Case") as Paradise Murdered. A friend had given me this 2007 movie, saying it was something like a detective movie. A quick search on the internet told me it was a reasonably popular movie with an And Then There Were None plot that was reviewed mostly positively, so it seemed interesting enough at least. To watch it almost a year after I got it. Yes, I'm horrible.

The movie is set in 1986 and starts with the discovery of a decapitated head by some fishers on the mainland of South-Korea. It seems the head came from the nearby island Geukrakdo, where all 17 inhabitants have disappeared. As the authorities come to the island to investigate this mass disappearence, a flashback starts and tells the events of some days before. While seemingly an island true to its name of Geukrakdo ("Paradise Island"), with all 17 inhabitants living a simple yet good life there, the island soon turns into a living hell when one day two technicians working on the island are murdered brutally at a gambling party. With the local lunatic, who seems the most plausible suspect, missing and the island's only radio being destroyed, things become quite stressful on this paradise. Add a local legend of a ghost and a big pile of money that seems to disappear and appear at the worst moments possible and you can be sure that more and more people get murdered, until there were none left.

I'm not all too sure what to say about the movie. At one hand, the denouement and the main plot-twist was done reasonably well, being fairly hinted and actually the one I was expecting. And the other hand, the main plot-twist can be a bit unfair if you expect a true Golden Age detective, because Paradise Murdered isn't that. It's nowhere as neatly plotted as And Then There Were None, mostly hanging together by coincidences. Most events can be taken at face-value, because there really is nothing hidden behind smoke and mirrors. Rather than Christie's masterpiece, Paradise Murdered might be compared more reasonably to Edogawa Rampo's more pulpy works. With a healthy dose of violence, a bit of misdirection, the final plot twist that reminds very much of Edogawa's pulpy themes and a strange blend of humor and the occult mixed in the story, I think Paradise Murdered can be quite fun if you're into 1920's Japanese henkaku themes actually.

A masterpiece, this is not. It's not awful either and it probably appeals to the masses because of the slash horror theme combined with an And Then There Were None setting and an actual denouement scene, but on the other hand, you don't really miss out on anything by not watching this. 

Original Korean title(s): 극락도 살인사건

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Nowhere to Hyde

「学問を一途に愛する人間はありがちなタイプですわね。私に言わせれると、一種の社会的逃避行動なのでしょう」
 『人狼城の恐怖 第三部=探偵編』

"There are a lot of people who then devote themselves to their studies. If you ask me, I'd say that's like running away from society.
"The Terror of Werewolf Castle Part Three: Detective"

The complete Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle") review series:
1. What a Night for a Knight (Part One: Germany)
2. Hassle in the Castle (Part Two: France)
3. Nowhere to Hyde (Part Three: Detective)
4. Who's afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf? (Part Four: Conclusion)

Last time on Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle")! All members of a party visiting the Blue Wolf Castle in France, 1970 were killed one by one by some mysterious force. A ghost? A Nazi-Werewolf? The Devil?! Meanwhile, in the Silver Wolf Castle in Germany, a twin castle to the Blue Wolf Castle, a similar series of murders is commited! Are the murders spread across these two castles related to each other?! You'll find out in the new chapter of  Jinroujou no Kyoufu!

Ok, you don't really find out in this book. There is still one book to go.

The third part, Detective (the cover says: Dei (sic) Furcht in der Burg des Werwolfs Dritte Teil; Detektiv), starts on a somewhat mystical tone, as Nikaidou Ranko (and her brother/narrator Reito) seem to be getting a lot of signs lately all pointing to Germany, indicating that there is something for them to solve there. This feeling is also confirmed by a mysterious request by the Church, who asks the Nikaidou siblings to go to France to solve a case for them, hinting at some sort of connection between their request and Germany. When they find a small newspaper article about a certain mass disappearance case in Germany though, the two are pretty sure that this is what is calling for them.

Through a friend, Ranko gets hold of the terrifying report of a mental patient who is supposed to be the only survivor of the mass dissapperance, claiming that that the whole party was all killed in a place called The Silver Wolf Castle (see Part 1 Germany). Ranko and Reito make up their mind and take up a long-standing invitation of the French government to visit the country (for services rendered in the past) in March, 1971, as this would allow them to go to Germany more easily to look into the case. In the course of their investigation, it seems that someone has been cleaning up the loose ends of the case, as almost anyone who knew anything about the case seems to have died rather suddenly in the half year since the incident. The Silver Wolf Castle also seems non-existant. It’s almost a wonder that Ranko does get hold of a very important clue in the form of the diary of a certain laywer, who tells of a similar series of horrifying murders in the Blue Wolf Castle (see Part 2 France). With all the events in The Silver Wolf Castle and The Blue Wolf Castle known at this point, Ranko and Reito start to make progress in their deductions on the happenings in the Werewolf Castle, but it also seems that someone is watching them.

With two And Then Were None scenario’s discussed in the previous two books, we finally start detecting here. Most of this book is made up by discussions by the main characters on how the events could have happened. Both Ranko and Reito are enthousiastic mystery readers, and indeed, I have to admit that the two constructed their theories in exactly the same way I did, by looking at what the events were and trying to compare it to similar events in other novels (which are referenced to often). Many of the theories proposed thus passed my mind too, but like them, at this point, I still can’t find an all encompassing explanation. It’s still bits and pieces, theories that work for this, but not for that. It’s just too big; locked rooms, the setting of the two castles, mysterious comments on the architecture of the castles, the similarities (and more importantly) the differences in the events In the two castles, the motive… the scale of this story is just unbelievable.

I still don’t really like Ranko as a character though. She has more personality compared to Bara no Labyrinth ("Labyrinth of Roses") but I think the ‘problem’ I have with her is that is a lot like a Van Dine,  really smart and good at everything that she does, but narrator Reito does little more than to confirm that. A sarcastic tone would have helped a lot on how Ranko is presented in the story. While Reito does, very occasionally, make a sarcastic comment about Ranko, most of his observations of her dwell on how absolutely fabulous her hair looks or what kind of dress she is wearing or how she crossed her legs before she spoke. Reito and Ranko are not blood-related (Ranko is adopted), but I am really sure how I’m supposed to read Reito.

But there is only one book left! I’m still not totally sure how this is going to turn out (this part ends with a sort of a cliffhanger), but I’m quite confident that Nikaidou will finish this in a way worthy of the title longest detective novel in the world. I’ll try make the final review a more overall review of the whole series; I’m pretty sure that these single reviews don’t do justice to the scale of the whole story. And I’m mostly writing these partial reviews to serve as a reminder to myself on what happened anyway.

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『人狼城の恐怖 第三部=探偵編』

Saturday, May 7, 2011

「全部分かったで」

「そんなに時間はかからん。女心と違うて犯罪心理はわかりやすいから簡単や 」
『名探偵コナン蒼き宝石の輪舞曲(ロンド)』 

"Won't take long, that! Unlike a woman's heart, criminal psychology's easy to understand, ya know!"
"Detective Conan Rondo of the Blue Jewel"

Suddenly realized that the 15th anniversary of the Meitantei Conan anime is awfully a lot like the 10th anniversary of Trick: we have a movie, a television special and of course, a video game. And me getting caught up with all of it. The Conan game is a long awaited one actually, as it had been a while since an detective adventure Meitantei Conan game was released. Well, except for 2009's the crossover DS game Meitantei Conan & Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo. But that was a crossover, so it doesn't count.

The team responsible for that last, rather fun game is also the developer of this year's Meitantei Conan Aoki Houseki no Rondo ("Detective Conan Rondo of the Blue Jewel"). Mouri is asked to find out who the stalker is of actor Katsuragi Touma, star of the tokusatsu show Onimar. Onimar is a rival show of Kamen Yaiber and its popularity has grown recently because a real life Onimar has been delivering corrupt politicans to the police. Mouri and the kids are invited to the set of Onimar, but tragedy strikes when Katsuragi falls of a high wall during a stunt, dying instantly.

Mouri clearly didn't succeed in his job of protecting Katsuragi, but it seems there is more going in on the set of Onimar and it's all connected to the real-life Onimar (who has delivered a dead man to the police in the mean time) and the mysterious jewel Blue Dahlia. The Blue Dahlia is an Macguffin within the Onimar series, but it seems that an actual jewel named the Blue Dahlia exists(ok, it's a Macguffin within the game too). While Conan investigates the Onimar case in Japan, Kansai high school detective Hattori Heiji is invited by the brother of the king of Andel, together with other famous detectives and treasure hunters, to come to Andel. Here Hattori discovers that there is a connection between the royal family of Andel, the story of Onimar and the Blue Dahlia. It's up to the two detectives to solve this international case. Oh, and Kaitou KID is also on the cover, so yeah, it's not really a spoiler to say he makes an appearence too.

Like the Gyakuten series, or its spiritual predecessor, this game has several chapters, each featuring its own storyline (murder), but are also strongly interconnected through the overall storyline. Also like its predessor, this game switches between chapters starring the two protagonists (Conan & Hattori). Starting with the incident at the movie set, we are also treated to a locked room murder in a pharmaceutical research center, a dead body hanging from a castle tower, a murder within the Shinkansen, a murder seemingly commited in the room of the king of Andel and it all comes together in the Tokyo Sky Tower (=Tokyo Sky Tree). Most of these stories are quite decent actually. While you won't find groundbreaking new tricks here, it's pretty much on par with the (short) stories you'd usually see in the manga.


The stories are just kinda hindered by clumsy story-telling/implementation into the story flow of a video game. Meitantei Conan & Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo had the same problem actually; the individual stories, as well as the overall story were quite decent to actually good, but it was a bit hampered by clumsy game design. The game very seldom allows you to walk around on your own, instead keeping you on a very rigid path. It was like the developers weren't able to translate the story well to a game, so it almost always forces you into a certain direction. You also notice it from the context-sensitive button in the menu, that changes from Conan's suspenders to Conan's skateboard, his wristwatch and more depending on what the story requires it to be. The arbitrary use is very annoying and we don't need a full explanation every time the context-sensitive button changes. The partner selection system seems also a bit abritrary; as I can't imagine that the story would change much, depending on your partner it seems the only things that changes with your partner are a couple of throw-away sentences.

Anyway, the game is like most Japanese adventures; you walk around from screen to screen, interacting with characters to procure information (Three types: character profiles; testimonies; evidence). Sometimes you're forced to combine two pieces of information to create a new one, but it's mostly reading. And then you go into a grand finale of course, explaining what kind of tricks have been used and who the murderer is.

The 'confrontations' with the murderers are quite similar to ones in the Gyakuten series; you usually start an attack by finding a lie in something the suspect says (based on evidence) and reconstruct what happened, slowly filling in a big flowchart that shows the truth behind the case. While I like the idea of a flowchart, the implementation in a video game is a bit dubious: even if you only have an empty flowchart, you can still see that certain relations must exists between items; making it rather easy to just guess what should go into the empty spaces. On the other hand: if you do it like they did it in this game, where it's only possible to see the flowchart when it's filled in completely, then I question the use for it; I know what it says 'cause I filled it in just moments ago. So when is a good time to implement a flowchart in these kinds of games?

All in all it's a decent detective game, but it really feels like that with a bit more polishing this game could have been a great game. The game just has all kinds of design and story-pacing issues that aren't game-breaking per se, but it all adds up. The game is technically and graphically really like its predecessor, from the music to the way of telling the story and even the menus, but it seems the team hasn't improved on it at all. These are all the same problems I had with Meitantei Conan & Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, so it feels like a missed chance.

And the game's a bit easy. I understand that these Conan games are aimed at a rather broad public, so they usually turn out on the easier side of things, but it'd be nice if they would make a more difficult Conan game once in a whole. I mean, even kids of six who started reading Conan from the beginning, would be adults now (ah, eternal youth!).

For the Conan fan, this game also offers some bad mini-games (the same as in Meitantei Conan & Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo actually)15 jigsaw puzzles of the movie posters and (actually fun!), a Conan quiz. Which in contrary to the main game, is really hard! I mean, questions like What's the name of the old lady Kogorou and the others picked up on their way to the Twilight mansion? and Which day of the week did Mitsuhiko skip radio taisou? and What class did Conan transfer to at elementary school?. That's pretty hardcore. Even I say that, someone who has Japanese, English, German, French, Dutch and South-Korean versions of Conan.

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン蒼き宝石の輪舞曲(ロンド)』

Thursday, May 5, 2011

「悲しい恋人たちの伝説を秘めた悲恋湖が今また繰り返された伝説を悲しんで」

「はじめちゃんならどうする? あたしとはじめちゃんが同じような目にあったら・・・」
「うーん そーだなあ 俺だったら・・・ 考えるだろうな・・・」
「考えるって何を?」
「2人とも助かる方法をさ!!」
『金田一少年の事件簿 悲恋湖伝説殺人事件』

"What would you do, Hajime? If you and me were in the same situation..."
"Hmmm, I would... I would probably think..."
"Think of what?"
"Think of a way to save the both of us!!"
"The Casefiles of Young Kindaichi The Tragic-Love-Lake Legend Murder Case

Does it mean I'm not cut out to be a detective, if I don't attract murder while traveling with the train/night bus/plane/boat? I mean, I'm pretty sure there are some equations like: 

A) IF: detective is in a closed circle situation AND: other people are present THEN the probability of someone dying nears 1.

B) IF: detective is in a moving closed circle situation AND: other people are present THEN the probability of someone dying nears 1 at a faster rate than A.

Or something like that. Imagine my disappointment when I flew to Japan, or when I took the boat to Busan without any incidents. In contrast, Kindaichi Hajime seems to have it quite easy. Going on a schooltrip? Someone dies. Going to the wedding of a friend? Someone dies. Work? Someone dies. Heck, he can't even go to school without someone dying. And we haven't even put Kindaichi in a moving object!

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo: Yuurei Kyakusen Satsujin Jiken ("The Casefiles of Young Kindaichi: The Ghost Ship Murder Case") is the second original novel by Amagi Seimaru and actually quite OK. With Kindaichi and Miyuki on the last trip of a super-cheap cruise (accompanied by Inspector Kenmochi and his wife who happened to book the same cruise as a wedding anniversary trip), you can be quite sure something is going to happen. And indeed, commanding crew is disappearing from the ship one by one. It doesn't take long for Kindaichi and Kenmochi to discover the disappearances are foul play (well, blood on the wall *kinda* suggests foul play), but how the men disappear? Or should they believe the rumors that this ship is a ghost-ship?

Of course not. But a certain ship of the past does make a return in this story. In one of the earlier stories of the manga, the wrecked cruiseship the Orient was the event that served as the motive for a series of murders. This novel tells the whole story behind the Orient incident and is therefore interesting for people interested in the Kindaichi Shounen lore. It's not as big as in Conan, but it's there.

The story follows the ordinary Kindaichi Shounen formula, which was to be expected. This was the first novel however to feature a Challenge to the Reader by Amagi though, which was quite welcome (even though Kindaichi's catchphrase "The mysteries have been solved" has the same function within the story). And the main trick used in this novel is quite neat actually, as it's a trick that really makes use of its ship-setting, rather than a trick that can be used anywhere and just happened to be used on a ship. Yet I can't help but think that it's slightly unbelievable with the technology this day and age. I'm not too familiar with ships though.

And before I forget it, I LOVED the bookmark I got with the book. In Japan, you usually get a little bookmark with every book. Most often, the publisher inserts a piece of paper with their logo or something. Sometimes bookstores offer them when you buy a book. Bookmarks designed specifically for a certain book are not super-rar, bu certainly not common. What was so awesome about this bookmark is that it features a dramatis personae (including character portraits). Many novels still include a dramatis personae in the beginning of the book, but including it on the bookmark is so simple, yet so ingeneous. You don't have to flip through the pages everytime and it makes the bookmark actually useful! Well, besides that bookmarking function it also has naturally. Bookmarks <3

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸、さとうふみや 『金田一少年の事件簿 幽霊船客殺人事件』

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hassle in the Castle

「坊や。お前は、悪魔(サタン)や死神、子鬼(ゴブリン)、不死者といった奇怪な化け物をどう思う?そんな悪魔や怪物どもが、この世に存在することを、無条件に頭から信じることができるか?」
『人狼城の恐怖 第二部=フランス編』

"Kid, what are your thoughts about monsters like Satan, the Grim Reaper, goblins and the undead? Are you able to believe unconditionally in devils and monsters like that?"
"The Terror of Werewolf Castle Part Two: France"

The complete Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle") review series:
1. What a Night for a Knight (Part One: Germany)
2. Hassle in the Castle (Part Two: France)
3. Nowhere to Hyde (Part Three: Detective)
4. Who's afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf? (Part Four: Conclusion)

Nikaidou Reito sure wasn't kidding with that longest detective novel thing. Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle") is long. Really long. Really really long. Like, really, really, really long.


Well, at least I've passed the halfway mark! I'll refer to the review of the first book for an introduction to Jinroujou no Kyoufu and the review of Germany, the first part of the story, but to make a long (long!) story short: twin castles, the Silver Wolf Castle in Germany, the Blue Wolf Castle in France. A lot of people are murdered in the German Silver Wolf Castle in June 1970.

The second part France (or as the cover says: La Terreur Château du Loup-garou La Second Partie: France) urrrm... is set in France. Exactly like the title says. No surprises there. And indeed, like its twin castle, the Blue Wolf Castle is the stage for a wonderful massacre of lots of different people gathered at the castle. Add in a bunch of locked room murders, the suggestion of supernatural beings, underlying motives of the occult and odd architecture and you have all the ingredients of an interesting story. Or more precisely, part of a story.

Our narrator this time is a laywer called Laurent somethingsomething (I really wouldn't know how to write that name down in real French. Or even faux-French), who acts in the interests of a high-society club that wants turn Alsace back to German territory. One of the club's major sponsors is the current castle lord of the Blue Wolf Castle and a small party of the club is invited to visit him at his castle to discuss business.

So far, so good.

A couple of days before the trip, Laurent is contacted by an old friend, who introduces him to inspector Salamon (totally guessing the spelling of that name). Salamon tells Laurent the story of a secret Nazi project, an experimental astral body army. The people in this army are able to enter the bodies of dead people and then pass themselves off as the people they inhabit (they also have the power to temporarily recover from wounds and stuff, so the bodies won't rot while they live inside them). In their gaseous astral body form, they resemble wolves, thus their nickname "werewolf". After the war, three of these Nazi experimental weapons survived and continued their murdering spree, jumping from one body to another. Salamon has hunted down all but one of them, and he is sure the last werewolf is currently inhabiting the body of one of the people who are scheduled to go the Blue Wolf Castle. Laurent arranges things for Salamon to join the party to visit the castle, so they can hunt down the last werewolf together. And kill it with a silver bullet.

I raised an eyebrow. I wasn't sure what to expect from this.

When the party arrives at the Blue Wolf Castle (in June 1970), the story greatly mirrors the events seen in the previous book, like this was an alternate universe retelling of it. Like in the Germany chapter, the keys to the castle are stolen early on and everybody gets locked up in the castle. Both stories feature a professor who seeks the Spear of Longinus. People get shot down by a crossbow while trying to dig out of the secret hallway. Bodies disappear. The same locked room situation is mirrored completely from the previous chapter; the Blue Wolf Castle and the Silver Wolf Castle are twin castles and in both castles a double locked room murder is commited in the cellar, with the murderer leaving a decapitated body (and the head neatly placed on a wine table). And near the end of the story, a walking suit of armor is quite succesful in killing off any survivors.

There was also some new stuff though. France was a lot... bloodier than Germany, with more decapitations, de-handifications, de-legifications and stuff. There was a lot of chopping involved here. Interesting is the locked room murder on a woman, who is seemingly decapitated in mere seconds as soon as the doctor had closed the door on her. Or the locked room murder in the prison cell, where a body was lying as if trying to crawl towards the door. The crawling was probably kinda hard though, because his limbs were on the other side of the locked door. And unlike in Germany, the castle lord was indeed at home this time, as was his son (who wears a creepy mask all the time because of a skin-disease).

Oh, and don't forget about the mystical Nazi-Werewolf-Astral-Body-thing who can possess dead bodies! How much that adds to the fun!

Yeah, I wasn't too keen on that plot point. Seriously, Nazi-Werewolves?

But France was mostly something like an alternate universe of the events that happened in Germany. Like the previous book, it's quite exciting with all the people dying in locked rooms, following every step of every person using the map of the castle (eight pages!), the themes and stuff, but it was also a bit tedious to go through the events again. The same locked room is used in both castles and there are many parallels in the characters that are in both castles during the events. I understand that's the point behind it all, the castles being twin castles and it probably all tying up to one grand trick and all, but that doesn't make the read less tedious. Luckily, the next book should cover the arrival of great detective Nikaido Ranko who will solve this grand case! Well, at least, she makes a beginning, I guess, as I can't see her solving everything in the third book in a series of four. That would be a bit silly.

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『人狼城の恐怖 第二部=フランス編』