Sunday, July 31, 2011

Captured in Her Eyes

"ἐμὲ δὲ χλωρὸν δέος ᾕρει,μή μοι Γοργείην κεφαλὴν δεινοῖο πελώρουἐξ Ἀίδεω πέμψειεν ἀγαυὴ Περσεφόνεια."
"Ὀδύσσεια"

"And pale fear grabbed me lest wondrous Persephone would send forth from Hades the head of the terrible monster Gorgon"
"Odyssey"

Following an Ancient Greek course in Japan was kinda weird, but I did really enjoy reading stuff like Perseus again after so many years. Especially as Ancient Greek is not a language I read often. Which is a shame. The only use Ancient Greek nowadays has is when I am asked to fill in languages I know on forms and such (which did result in a funny scene when a friend and I had to register for a Chinese course in Japan). Or when I need introducing quotes.

Norizuki Rintarou's Nakakubi ni Kiite Miro - The Gorgon's Look ("Ask the Decapitated Head - The Gorgon's Look") (2005) is the most recent novel-length entry in the writer Norizuki Rintarou series. And it was received quite well in Japan actually: taking the first place at both the 2005 kono mystery ga sugoi! ("This mystery is great!") rankings and the honkaku mystery taishou ("The orthodox mystery price") rankings. Which raises expectations, right? Actually, I knew nothing about this novel except that it won those prices when I started with this novel. I didn't even bother to read the description on the back of the book. I just started knowing only that 1) it shouldn't be bad as it won some influential prices and 2) the cover was really creeping me out. Seriously, like she's looking into the depths of my souuuuuuul~

The contents are less creepy though. One day, when Rintarou is visiting a photo gallery held by his kouhai, he meets Kawashima Echika, a young smart girl who is the daughter of the famous sculpter Kawashima Isaku. He was once a big name in the art world, shocking the world with his daring Mother-Daughter Statue, a statue made by plaster-casting on his wife, at the time pregnant with Echika. He went into a slump several years ago though, but as he feels that his health will not keep up any longer, he decides to make his final work of art: a new plaster cast statue, this time using Echika as his model. Quickly after Echika and Rintarou's meeting however, Isaku dies of heart failure. The family then discovers something horrible: someone has entered the locked atelier and cut off the head of the statue of Echika. Fearing this might be some kind of warning, the family asks Rintarou to investigate.

And then people lie to Rintarou, Rintarou keeps falling for those lies, keep this up for 250 pages and then finally the cut-off head of a real person appears. And then another 200 pages of lies which Rintarou keeps believing for some reason, and then the conclusion.

The first 250 pages were really, really hard to go through. In the beginning, Rintarou is just investigating the disappeared head of the statue, going around following his leads. But pretty much everyone lies to him, and what's worse, he keeps believing those lies. Most of the book, it's: A lies to Rintarou -> Rintarou believes A -> discovers at a later stage that he had been lied to -> A tells truth (?) -> B lies to Rintarou -> etc.  You would think that a writer detective with quite some adventures on his resume would be a little less naive. Rintarou really keeps bumbling around and in fact could have solved the case much faster if he wasn't so gullible. I know Norizuki went for a Wrightsville-Queen, the imperfect great detective, when he created his character, but the Rintarou here does feel different from the Rintarou from the short stories. And it doesn't help that the murder in the book doesn't occur until halfway through, as all those people lying about a statue's head seems a bit silly.

The lies of course all tie in to the murder, eventually, but by then I was really bored by the novel. It does pick up after the murder, with little pieces slowly falling into place and I have to admit, the solution was pretty good. It reminds of the previous novel in the series, Ni no Higeki ("The Tragedy of Two"), but done better here. Whereas Shimada is at his best when he uses a grand trick to fool everybody, Norizuki is at his best when he comes up with a solution that can be solved by pure logic. Just by looking at what people know and looking at the gap between taken actions and actions they should take based on their knowledge, Norizuki arrives at the solution. Rintarou here is clearly following a latish-Queenian approach with his detecting. The solution did save the novel for me, which is saying much as I was really not having fun for most of the book.

I think the biggest problem I had with the beginning of the story is that the quest for the statue's head seems a a bit too open. The head is gone, yes, but it is not clear whether this is connected with any (upcoming) crime or not, or whether it is just a prank or something like that. There is no feeling of urgence to the matter. It feels too much like an aimless investigation in the beginning, which only gets a clear goal when the murder is commited. Which makes for a bit tedious reading. Germany and France (Jinroujou no Kyoufu) were also a bit boring in the beginning, as both books starts with a lengthy introduction of the characters and the history of the castles, with the murders happening in the latter part of the stories. A story which lacks a clear direction, is just hard to get into for me. Compare to Soutou no Akuma ("Double-headed Devil"), where the murder(s) also started rather late in the story, but the beginning was a lot more exciting with an investigation and infiltration of a quant village. For me, the faster a murder, the better.

Of course, subject matter also plays a role. Jinroujou no Kyoufu may have a slow start, but I did really like the medieval legends and such in the beginning of Germany. While I like the part on Medusa /Gorgons in Nakakubi ni Kiite Miro - The Gorgon's Look, art is really not my thing. Or at least not sculptures. For me, the best mix of an interesting topic and detectives is still Kuitan. Because you can't go wrong with food.

This was the last Norizuki novel I had actually (well, 'cept for Ni no Higeki, but I already know the radio drama, so I know the story already). As I placed a purchase restraint on myself for Japanese novels this summer, I will have to wait at least a month before I will get some new books. Which might or might not include Norizuki. I'm having fun with Queen's Calendar of Crime, so Norizuki's Horoscope of Crime might be interesting...

Original Japanese title(s): 法月綸太郎 『生首に聞いてみろ』

Saturday, July 30, 2011

「オレには見えてきたよ。この事件のたった一つの真実ってやつがね」

「ラブは0だと?笑わせんな!芝の女王に言っとけ!0は全ての始まり! そこから出発しねぇと何もうまれねぇし、何も達成もできねぇって・・・そう言っとけ!」
『名探偵コナン』

"Love is worth zero points? Don't make me laugh! Tell the Grass Court Queen this:  everything starts from zero! Nothing will happen, nothing can be achieved if you don't start from there!"
"Detective Conan"

Oh, look, Keyhole TV still works despite the change to exclusively digital broadcasting in Japan. The quality of the stream is still horrible though... And in other news: why is it taking me ages to finish a book? Maybe because it took almost half the book before anything of interest happened? As episodes on the Conan live action series are pretty short, people usually die rather fast luckily. Anyway, on with the review of this week's episode of Meitantei Conan - Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou ("Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi").

Meitantei Conan - Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou (Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi)
Episode 1 (July 7, 2011): Before he turned into Conan, the high school detective solved the mystery of the adultery murder!
Episode 2 (July 14, 2011): The locked room murder commited on air! Reveal the secret cursed by the psychic
Episode 3 (July 21, 2011): Murder Case in a Locked Courtroom! Reveal the Trick of the Hostess Murder
Episode 4 (July 28, 2011): Perfect Crime! Murder Notice at a Wedding, Reveal the Locked Room Poisoning Trick
Episode 5 (August 5, 2011): The Glamorous Murder Trick of the Actress who lost her Memory - Perfect Murder at the Summer House
Episode 6 (August 11, 2011): The Magnificent Murderous Kiss of Twenty Beauties! The Murderous Intent Hidden in the Murder Equation!
Episode 7 (August 18, 2011): Inheritance Murder Among Bloody Relatives! Reveal the Mystery of the Kidnapping Trick!
Episode 8 (August 25, 2011): A Woman's Determination, Revenge on the Molester! The Murder Trick hidden in the Security Camera
Episode 9 (September 01, 2011): Hattori Heiji and the Mystery of the Invisible Locked Room Murder Weapon! Deduction Battle between the Detectives of East and West
Episode 10 (September 08, 2011): The Mystery of the Body that Moved 200 KM Within An Instant! Reveal the Perfect Crime Scheme of the Evil Woman
Episode 11 (September 15, 2011): A Kiss Is the Reason for Murder, A Revenge Murder After 20 Years! The Mystery of the Perfect Alibi
Episode 12 (September 22, 2011): I Killed Her! 3 Single Murderers? Reveal the Mystery of the Fake Murder!
Episode 13 (September 29, 2011): Ran Dies! The Final Challenge of the True Criminal to the Genius Detective - Reveal the Mystery of the White Room


The case Shinichi, Ran and Kogorou are asked to remember in episode 4 (subtitle: "Perfect Crime! Murder Notice at a Wedding, Reveal the Locked Room Poisoning Trick") is a poisoning case during a wedding reception Kogorou was organizing for his acquaintances. Shinichi was forced to help Kogorou behind the scenes with the party (because of a batsu game, Shinichi couldn't refuse any requests that day) and quickly discovered some underlying tension between the the bridge, the groom and a (female) friend of the groom. It was pretty clear that there was something going on with the groom and his friend, though Kogorou seemed rather oblivious to it. Until it hit him hard in the face, as the friend suddenly died during the reception after drinking a cocktail. It was murder of course.


Ah, the search for the method of poisoning, a true Conan staple! In the nearly 20 years Conan has been active (which accounts to like almost one year within the series?!), he has encountered many, many, many ways of poisoning people. Some of them very ingenous. The method in this episode is not particularly exciting though. Actually, the trick itself is pretty good and clearly integrated into the story-setting. However, why did the murderer went through that much trouble to execute the trick?  The trick, in its most basic form, can be done without leaving that much evidence  / witnesses. Which is, I assume, what you want if you are a murderer who does not wishes to get caught. So why make the trick worse by adding in stuff that actually leaves evidence / witnesses? As if the writer of this episode came up with a decent enough trick, but couldn't find out how to come up with clues that would point to the culprit.  The trick / setting however is indeed something you wouldn't normally see in Conan (the manga), I think. I wouldn't say that Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou is a truly adult series (it really isn't), but I can kinda see what they meant with the 'nightly Conan' premise (the same with the concept of love hotels in the last episode).


The ending of the episode is rather exciting though. Up until now, Shinichi, Ran and Kogorou moved from one room to another, entering passwords that correspond with the cases Shinichi encountered on the dates asked. This time however, they are asked to answer with a date on a question. Something goes wrong during this and the room goes all danger! danger! with red lights flashing and moving cameras and other cliffhanger ending cliches. Does that mean that the story in the next episode is important and will tie up with the overall storyline of our heroes being captured?

Oh, and I just noticed that the cases are not presented in chronological order.  Maybe some code-cracking with putting all the passwords associated with the dates in order later on in the series?[/speculation]

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 工藤新一への挑戦状』 サブタイトル「完全犯罪! 結婚式で殺人予告、密室毒殺トリックの謎を暴け」
Date & Password:  2010.05.31, キス

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

『Unlucky Men in the Rain』

「空想の翼はますます広がるようですね。まるで、自分が乗った車はとうに崖から飛び出しているのに、それに気がつかずに懸命に運転しているよう」
「お子様アニメのギャグですね。その場合、車輪の下に地面がないことに運転手が気づかなければ、車は走り続けることが可能だ、という約束ごとがあります」
「あなたは気がついてない?」
「前しか見ていませんから」
「下をご覧なさい」
「目的地についてから見ます。そこに地面があれば、途中でも地面の上を走っていたことになります」
『双頭の悪魔』

"You're spreading your imaginary wings even more. It's like you focused on driving a car, without noticing that you have driven off a cliff already"
"You mean like a gag from a cartoon, right? But it's a rule that as long as the driver doesn't notice that he isn't driving on firm ground anymore, the car will continue moving"
"You haven't noticed it yet?"
"I am only looking in front of me"
"Please look beneath yourself"
"I'll look when I have arrived at my destination. If there's ground there, then it means I have been riding on firm ground"
"Double-Headed Devil"

No. Nothing has changed. Even having read Jinroujou no Kyoufu, I still think that 700 pages for a book is quite long. Especially if it takes a long time for people to actually die.

Arisugawa Alice is a familiar name here, but this novel is not part of the Arusigawa novels I usually read actually. Arisugawa has two main series, with me usually discussing the Writer Alice novels. In those novels, criminologist Himura Hideo and mystery writer Arisugawa Alice work together and solve crimes. Arisugawa other main series is the Student Alice series. In this series Eito University Mystery Club members Egami Jirou (head of the club) and Arisugawa Alice (a normal student and aspiring writer) work together and solve crimes. To make it more confusing: student Alice writes the Writer Alice novels, while writer Alice writes the Student Alice novels. So each Alice is just a fabrication of the other Alice.

Yes, it can be quite confusing.

Soutou no Akuma ("Double-Headed Devil") is the third novel in the Student Alice series (because I never read anything in order, it seems). Events of the previous novel have seemingly made a big impact on Eito Mystery Club member Maria, as she takes a long break from university and goes back to her parents in Tokyo. After a while, she sets out on a trip through Japan, hoping to get over the events and she winds up in Kisara village in the Kouchi prefecture on Shikoku. The mountain village is actually quite famous all over Japan as it's a very queer village:  the wealthy Kisara had bought the village (and named it after himself) as an outer heaven for soldiers artists. Artists were invited to live with him in the village, giving them the chance to cultivate their arts without having to worry about work and money. Kisara himself has died, but his widow still runs the village, with a bit over 10 inhabitants according to her husband's wishes. The village is also very keen on privacy, not allowing anyone to enter. Maria herself just happened to strain her leg just as the inhabitants wanted to throw her out of the village, but the people were kind enough to help her and allow her to stay until her leg healed.

But this was two months ago. And while she had contact with her parents in the beginning, letters and phone calls slowly started to stop, making them very anxious about what's happened with Maria. Her father therefore requests the other Eito Mystery Club members to go to the village and find out what's happening there. The four remaining members, including Egami and Alice, of course want to help. Stuff happens though, and it results in: Egami and Maria get stuck in Kisara Village, with the other EMC members in the neighbouring village, because the connecting bridge collapsed due to a storm. And it's during the same storm that dead bodies are found on both sides of the river!

First thing that I noticed: Egami Jirou is a much more likeable character than Himura Hideo. Whereas Himura Hideo verbally abuses (writer) Alice whenever there's a chance, Egami is much more like a normal person. He is much more like the senior you want to have. I was a bit disappointed though that the EMC members, despite being mystery club members, didn't really talk about detective novels / writers. I don't know about the other Student Alice novels, but you'd think they would talk a bit more like... the students in Jukkakukan no Satsujin or the dialogues Ranko and Reito have in the Nikaidou Ranko series. You know, referencing both famous and lesser-known stories as they investigate the murders. The EMC members aren't dumb (not at all!), but you'd think they'd be more genre-savvy.

Like I said in the beginning, this novel is long. But I have to admit, it manages to keep your attention quite well for practically the whole story. The story develops at a steady pace due to the double investigation on both sides of the river with Egami as the main detective on one side, and the three remaining EMC members on the other side (with Maria and Alice being the narrators for the respective sides). In fact, there are so many developments in this story that Arisugawa didn't insert one, not two, but no less than three Challenges to the Reader in this novel! It reminds a bit of The Greek Coffin Mystery:  the story develops further even after several important plot-details have been revealed by the deductions of the detectives. The difference of course being that three challenges are genuine challenges and not false solutions. The three challenges don't feel gimmicky and actually aren't gimmick and truly fit with the story Arisugawa is telling.

The puzzle-plot is pretty interesting (with a murder in a cave-maze, 'creative artists' as the suspects and a Queen-ish investigation into a letter that has disappeared), but a bit on the easy side, I thought. Arisugawa should have used the myth of the two-headed river-dragon better though. The story as it is though, is still very good and it's not very surprising that (at some time) Arisugawa Alice chose this novel as his own best work (I prefer 46 Banme no Misshitsu released a year earlier though) The logical structure of the deductions on both sides show the Queenian influence on Arisugawa and he certainly manages to come up with a puzzle plot that holds that tradition high.

Like most of the Student Alice novels, this story has actually been made into a movie, a direct-to-VHS release. Can't find any video sources though. But now I come to think about it, this story would make for a pretty entertaining movie.

The writing style in Writer Alice and Student Alice series seem quite different too. Whereas writer Alice can be quite sarcastic in tone (not in Himura's face though), student Alice does feel like a student with his own set of problems. As I have only been reading Writer Alice stories until now, the writing style in this novel feels surprisingly fresh. Maybe switching between the two series is the best way to read Arisugawa? What totally bugs me in both series is the fact both Alices speak Osaka dialect, but don't write/think in it. Why? (yes, I am interested in role language. Probably nobody else cares about this...)

Now to procure the other Student Alice novels...

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『双頭の悪魔』

Saturday, July 23, 2011

「これでピースは揃った。後は真実を証明するだけ」

"The truth will always find a way to make itself known. The only thing we can do is to fight with the knowledge we hold and everything we have. Erasing the paradoxes one by one… It's never easy… We claw and scratch for every inch. But we will always eventually reach that one single truth. This I promise you"
"Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All"

As TV goes exclusively digital in Japan from tomorrow on, I guess I can't watch the Conan drama live anymore through Keyhole TV? *sigh* The third episode in the series feels a bit better than the previous two episodes: it's still troublesome at some points, but it's going the right way.

Meitantei Conan - Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou (Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi)
Episode 1 (July 7, 2011): Before he turned into Conan, the high school detective solved the mystery of the adultery murder!
Episode 2 (July 14, 2011): The locked room murder commited on air! Reveal the secret cursed by the psychic
Episode 3 (July 21, 2011): Murder Case in a Locked Courtroom! Reveal the Trick of the Hostess Murder
Episode 4 (July 28, 2011): Perfect Crime! Murder Notice at a Wedding, Reveal the Locked Room Poisoning Trick
Episode 5 (August 5, 2011): The Glamorous Murder Trick of the Actress who lost her Memory - Perfect Murder at the Summer House
Episode 6 (August 11, 2011): The Magnificent Murderous Kiss of Twenty Beauties! The Murderous Intent Hidden in the Murder Equation!
Episode 7 (August 18, 2011): Inheritance Murder Among Bloody Relatives! Reveal the Mystery of the Kidnapping Trick!
Episode 8 (August 25, 2011): A Woman's Determination, Revenge on the Molester! The Murder Trick hidden in the Security Camera
Episode 9 (September 01, 2011): Hattori Heiji and the Mystery of the Invisible Locked Room Murder Weapon! Deduction Battle between the Detectives of East and West
Episode 10 (September 08, 2011): The Mystery of the Body that Moved 200 KM Within An Instant! Reveal the Perfect Crime Scheme of the Evil Woman
Episode 11 (September 15, 2011): A Kiss Is the Reason for Murder, A Revenge Murder After 20 Years! The Mystery of the Perfect Alibi
Episode 12 (September 22, 2011): I Killed Her! 3 Single Murderers? Reveal the Mystery of the Fake Murder!
Episode 13 (September 29, 2011): Ran Dies! The Final Challenge of the True Criminal to the Genius Detective - Reveal the Mystery of the White Room


Episode three (subtitled "Murder Case in a Locked Courtroom! Reveal the Trick of the Hostess Murder") starts again with Shinichi, Ran and Kogorou locked in the white room. They learn nothing new about their situation, but at the least the case their kidnaper wants them to remember is a good one. July 09, 2010. The day defense laywer Kisaki Eri was summoned to court. Not as a lawyer though, but as an important witness. A hostess called Reika (one of Kogorou's favorites) is accused of stealing money, but Reika claims she was at a totally different place on the time of the crime. She claims to have been in the love hotel area in the Haido ward and that she saw Kisaki Eri entering a love hotel there with a man (enter an exploding Kogorou who cries about adultery and stuff) . Thus, if Kisaki testifies she was there at the time of the crime, Reika goes free. Reika is not a particular likable defendant though, even going as far as making Eri angry as Reika makes comments on the old man Eri accompanied to the love hotel. Eri makes a finger gun motion, saying that Reika should back off, or else bad things might happen.


Like Reika being shot through her head. Nobody can believe their eyes, but it seems like Eri just killed the defendant with her finger. Kogorou laments the fact that two women fighting over him led to murder (and is promptly taken away), while Shinichi comes to a surprising conclusion before the eyes of everyone: he says that it's clear the Kisaki Eri was the killer! (Cue Ran making a mom-speech)


Eri isn't the killer of course. The episode was a mix of good and bad ideas: the whole concept of a person dying through a finger gun motion is fantastic, but the trick behind is rather predictable. Furthermore, the trick relies way too much on coincidence. So the solution was sadly enough not as inspired as the image of the murder. I did like how the episode actually had quite some misdirection built into it, leading into something that almost seems a layered solution. The episode on a whole feels better than the first two episodes though. The whole image of Eri killing a defendant with her finger still overpowers the disappointing solution and the story feels a bit more complex compared to the much simpler previous two episodes.

The episode is a bit strange though in the Conan continuity: Shinichi shouldn't have met Eri in long time since Eri and Kogorou started to live seperately, so that makes this episode (and the special) err... non-Conan-canon? The fact Satou and Takagi interact with Shinichi on a friendly basis also bugs me a bit, but not as much as the Eri-thing, as that was actually a crucial plot-point for her introduction story in the series.

The other strange thing was that this episode was totally different from what I expected it to be. With a) Kisaki Eri being a laywer, b) this being a detective show, c) the episode set in a courtroom and d) the anime having special Kisaki Eri, laywer episodes, I was expecting this to be more like an orthodox courtroom mystery. However, as the detective =/= laywer in this episode (the role being reserved for Shinichi of course), it felt more like a normal mystery. It feels like a nice setting has gone a bit to waste.

The next episode doesn't like particular excting actually. So no real expectations from my side for that, but I wouldn't mind a bit more expansion on why Shinichi, Ran and Kogorou are locked in the white rooms by now.

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 工藤新一へのう挑戦状』 サブタイトル「密室法廷で起きた殺人事件! ホステス殺害トリックを暴け」
Date & Password: 2010.07.09; クチベニ

Friday, July 22, 2011

『The Coincidence of the Two Events on a Night with a Full Moon』

「えー、じゃーあなたもホームズファンだったの?」
「ちゃうちゃう。このツアーに応募したんは工藤に会えるかもしれんと思ったからや。それにオレはコナン・ドイルよりも、エラリー・クイーンの方が・・・」
『名探偵コナン』

"So you are a Holmes fan too?"
"Nah. I just applied for the tour 'cause I thought I might meet Kudou again. I like Ellery Queen more than Conan Doyle anywa..."
"Detective Conan

Two things got me into Ellery Queen: his Nationality novels, which are great pieces of orthodox detection. And his short stories, which are great pieces of orthodox detection. Hmm. Anyway, since I've read all the Nationality novels, I'm now concentrating on the remaining EQ short stories before moving on to the remaining EQ novels. Of which there are not many left.

I had come across Q.B.I: Queen's Bureau of Investigation -style stories in Q.E.D.: Queen's Experiments in Deduction already and I thought they were brilliant! Yes, the stories are very short, some barely 5 pages, but leave it up to Ellery Queen to fill those 5 pages with a great puzzle plot. Most of the stories could have been extended easily and they would still have made wonderful detectives stories, but it's the extreme brevity of the stories that make them so impressive. Not a single word gone to waste. Everything is plotted carefully, and distilled to the core of the problem, without comprimising the readibility, as the witty writing is still very much intact. In fact, much of Queen's humor derives from abrupt contridictions of earlier statements, so the short, to the point style of the stories really complement Queen's humor. The carefully plotted story-structure combined with this wit make the Q.B.I. (style) stories rank amongst my favorite detective stories.

In Money Talks (Blackmail Department), an Sicilian woman is being blackmailed over an indiscretion commited in her youth. The mother isn't particular well off, but her daughter is an upcoming opera star who would suffer gravely from any scandal. The mother suspects one of three lodgers is the blackmailer (conveniently with initials A, B and C) and asks Ellery to help her. Which he does, by having a keen eye for detail and a bit of inspiration.

In A Matter of Seconds (Fix Department), a boxer is kidnapped just before his most important match. The kidnappers are very careful though, they work solely through proxies, demaning one proxy (who happens to be Queen) delivering the money to another proxy (a famous newsreporter), who will then hand the money over the kidnappers. If done as told, the boxer will be returned in time for his match. Queen however wouldn't be Queen if he would just do as he was told.

In The Three Widows (Impossible Crime Department), a widow gets poisoned in a seemingly impossible way. Room was locked, food and everything was prepared by the victim herself, the works. Main suspects are her two stepdaughters (who happen to be widows too). It's a pretty classic-style story, but a very ingenious one. It's also a Queen-ish solution for that. Conan has a lot of howdunnit poisoning stories, but they seldom, if at all, have this kind of solution.

"My Queer Dean!" (Rare Book Department) is every thing Queen: an ingenous short story featuring three suspects, a dying message and rare books (though the suspects aren't conveniently named A, B and C). Dying messages were a Queen specialty and they are almost always fun. Like this one.

Driver's Seat (Murder Department) reminds of Halfway House, with an investigation concentrating on the coming and going of cars to the crime scene. The three (living) Brothers brothers all have a reason for wanting their sister-in-law dead, but which of the three was it? Like always, Queen manages to excel in these which-of-the-three stories.

A Lump of Sugar (Park Patrol Department) is a dying message story, with a man dying with a lump of sugar in his hand. The solution? A surprising one. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine actually made a short radio-drama podcast of it, so listen to it

For some reason, I find the introduction of Cold Money (Open File Department) is very memorable.

THE HOTEL CHANCELLOR in midtown New York is not likely to forget the two visits of Mr. Philly Mullane. The first time Mullane registered at the Chancellor, under the name of Winston F. Parker, an alert house detective spotted him and, under the personal direction of Inspector Richard Queen, Philly was carried out of Room 913, struggling and in bracelets, to be tried, convicted, and sentenced to ten years for a Manhattan payroll robbery. The second time -ten years later- he was carried out neither struggling nor manacled, inasmuch as he was dead.

What was Mr. Phillly Mullane doing in Room 913? Where did the money of the payrol robbery go? Who killed him? A lot happens in this story, making events feel even faster than other Q.B.I. stories. I don't why, but this story feels a bit... different from others. Maybe because it's less clear what the puzzle is until late in the game, maybe because the solution seems so obvious.

The Myna Birds (Embezzlement Department) is another story that has been dramafied by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The first one actually. A Myna bird snitches on a trio of no-goods, with one of them having killed a man. Ellery picks up on the birds words and interpretates it like only Queen can. And maybe Phoenix Wright. Who also has a history of using birds as witnesses.

In A Question of Honor (Suicide Department), a Scotland Yard officer has messed up a blackmail transaction of the utmost importance to be conducted in the States and commits suicide. Or did he? Things are seldom what they seem in Queen, or they might be exactly what they seem, but nothing more.

The Robber of Wrightsville (Holdup Department) is the longest story in the collection and in some ways, the most satisfying. It is the story that reminds that appeals the most to that Queen-trope of deducing the criminal's characteristics and comparing it to the list of suspects. A robbery of a payroll check is what Queen is asked to investigate in Wrightsville, and the story is a very well structured one. 

An impossible disappearance is what bothers Inspector and son Queen in Double Your Money (Swindle Department). 'Double-Your-Money' Grooss had been making a fortune scamming people in his investment plans (in fact a pyramid scheme), so Inspector Queen, Velie and Queen came to scare him a bit, hoping to find proof of his swindle. Grooss however manages to disappear from his office, with only two exits. The window, which was locked (and they were several stories high), and the door, which was watched by the Queens and Velie. With Grooss' investors / victims getting into a panic as they realize their money is gone, Ellery is forced to work at full speed to find out how Grooss got away.

Miser's Gold (Buried Treasure Department) is precisely what the title suggests it to be: a treasure search money. To be precise: the money left to Eve and Dr. Ben by Uncle Malachi, an old miser. It should be on the premise somewhere, but they just can't find it. The only clue is some vague hinting made by Malachi when he was still alive. Queen luckily has a gift for finding things that don't want to be found.

More impossible situations in Snowball in July (Magic Department). A train from Canada with an important witness who can put Diamond Jim Grady behind jail on board disappears between stations, despite the enormous effort made to avoid this (including several fakes). They say Grady can work magic, but can he really make an entire train disappear? A classic, but difficult problem to tackle, but I think that Queen has come up with my favorite solution for this conundrum!

In The Witch of Time Square (False Claimant Department), two men appea  claiming to be John Gaard, nephew of miss Wichingame, a well-off lady who wishes to leave everything to her only relative. As the real John Gaard lived most of his life in Korea and China, with the war and political ties not helping in background enquiries, Wichingame has a hard time finding out who the real John is. Enter Ellery. The solution is a rather familiar one (was it in another Queen short too?), though the clueing was pretty good.

In The Gambler's Club (Racket Department), members of an anonymous gambling club have trouble deciding whether the newest tip is a genuine or not. The writers of the letters hasn't been wrong until now, but asking the members to just bury a lot of money and to expect returns on that is kinda strange. The three members who have the letters ask Queen for some advice, who surprsingly says it's a sound investment. Has Queen gone mad?

By the time I arrived at GI Story (Dying Message Department), I had seen several dying messages in this collection, why is this the only story in the dying message department? Anyway, the two letters GI pretty much can mean anything or nothing at all, but Queen using his superior logic to come up with the one interpretation that unanimously points to the killer of old Clint. 

In The Black Ledger (Narcotics Department), it's Queen who does the impossible. Ellery is supposed to bring a black notebook from New York to Washington D.C., in it every name and adress of the important drug dealers in the country. The owner of the notebook wants it back (for obvious reasons) and snatches Ellery of the moment he leaves the police department, searching him completely. Not even Ellery's insides are safe. Yet, they can't find any sign of the notebook or other writings on him and decide that Ellery was just a diversion. Ellery of course did had the black ledger with him, but how did he accomplish the impossible?

The title pretty much tells you everything. Child Missing! (Kidnaping Department). A kid has disappeared, but a look at the ransom note tells Ellery pretty much everything. One clue is pretty much impossible to get for non-inhabitants of the USA (and even then, it's doubtful they'd know, I think), but when Ellery gets the ball rolling, it's a nice enough story.

A lot of stories, but they are all fun. Like said, these stories present complex puzzle plots despite their length and because none of them are bad and there are quite some stories collected here, the collection as a whole feels simply wonderful. A must-read.

And as I'm writing anyway, Queen's Full! Also a short story collection, but very different from set-up. Here we have three novelettes and two short stories, rather than a series of very short stories. The three novelettes remind of the short stories in The Adventures and The New Adventures of Ellery Queen, which is never a bad thing. The two short stories are more in the vein of the Q.B.I. stories, yet distinctly longer. It's an amusing collection overall, but I do have to say that this collection is the most... mundane of all the Queen short story collections I've read. It misses the real complexity of the two Adventure collections and it also misses the rapid-fire bursts of ingenuity found in Q.B.I. and Q.E.D. (as well as the Puzzle club stories in The Tragedy of Errors).

The Death of Don Juan is like a condensed novel-length Queen story, with an interesting crime scene (the leading actor of a stage play is killed during the break in his dressing room), a dying message which seems to point to the heroine of the play and the type of killer we quite often see in Queen novels. A very nice short story.

E=Murder is a short dying message / impossible crime story, with a scientist working on a top secret government project being killed in a room under guard. The only clue left is something that resembles the letter E. Queen comes up with his trademark 'multiple interpretations for the message, but only one makes sense in the context' solution. But a bit too open for interpretation for my taste.

In The Wrightsville Heirs, Bella Livingston is killed, leaving her fortune to her stepchildren Sam, Everett and Olivia. Or so everyone thought. To everyone's surprise Bella's solicitor announces that Bella had changed her will in favor of her companion Amy. Queen can't prevent that attempts on Amy's life are made (even though she manages to survive luckily), but redeems himself by finding out the murderer on Bella and the would-be murderer of Amy.

Diamonds in Paradise is another dying message story, but provides more satisfaction than E=Murder. A diamond thief is caught redhanded and in his attempts to escape falls of the stairs. As Ellery asks him where the stolen diamonds are, the thief says 'diamonds in paradise' and dies. An enigmatic utterance, but Queen comes up with a perfectly fine interpretation of the thief's final words.

The Case Against Carroll is in fact very much like a certain The Adventures of Ellery Queen (the TV show) episode. Ok, in a totally different setting, with totally different characters and a totally different plot, but the main idea is the same. Anyway, Caroll Hart is arrested as the main suspect of the murder on his senior associate, having motives (multiple!), means and opportunity to do it. He has one ace up his sleeve though, a witness who will vouch for his alibi, but he does not want to reveal this unless he has absolutely no other choice. Things don't go as Carroll want though (with the signed statement of the witness missing and the witness herself skipping town). Ellery has taken an interest in the case, but doesn't seem able to help Caroll. At least, not in the way Ellery wants. I like the story quite a bit, though I have to admit it's mainly because it reminds so much of that Ellery Queen TV show episode (which is one of my favorites).

Queen's Full is a good story collection by any standards, but it somehow pales in comparison to the other collections. Which is saying something about the quality of the Queen short stories. At first I was thinking of also discussing Calendar of Crime too, but that would make this post even longer than it is already. And let's be honest, it's too long the way it is now already.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Burning Court

「火を以って火を制す」
『劇場版トリック霊能力者バトルロイヤル』

"Control fire with fire"
"Movie TRICK Psychic Battle Royale"

Yes, I still read books. Occasionally.

Shimada Souji's Kakei Toshi ("The Burning Metropolis", 1989) is, to me, a very peculiar novel. Up until now, all the Shimada novels I've read either featured a master-detective one way or another. The stories featured impossible crimes, locked rooms, detectives who uses their heads instead of their feet and mouth. That was the only Shimada I knew. Kakei Toshi is quite different. It's practically a detective novel of the social school, yet with a distinct classic touch to it. A hybrid mystery, if you will. It totally caught me by surprise at any rate (proving that I hardly read the description on the back of books when I purchase books in Japan. I do little research beforehand too).

The year: 1982! The place: Tokyo! Inside a burnt down building near Yotsuya station, the dead body of the security guard is found. At first it seems like he was just a victim of the fire, but the police discovers that the man was knocked out with sleeping pills, which were probably put in his late night snack. Police detective Nakamura thinks the fire might have been a smokescreen for the murder on the guard and starts to check into the victim's background. Nakamura discovers that the victim had been living with a woman, his fiance actually, but it seems she has cleared out of the apartment. No clothes, no pictures, not even fingerprints. Nobody knows who the woman was, not even her name. Nakamura starts a search for the woman, but how do you look for a woman you know nothing about in a metropolis like Tokyo? Things get worse when more cases of arson occur in the city and it seems they have a serial arsonist running around.

The story is mostly like a police procedural in the spirit of Matsumoto Seichou, with a detective doing his work on his feet, checking out every single clue that might lead to his prey. Nakamura by the way, is a police detective who occasionally appears in other Shimada stories as a secondary character (for example in Shissou suru Shisha). The way Nakamura looks for the mysterious woman is really social school-like, as Nakamura slowly finds out where she comes from and how she has lived her life over the last few years, moving all over the big metropolis Tokyo from one apartment to another. The way Nakamura goes around every single place she lived and worked (and the occasional social commentary) is something you'd never expect in a Shimada novel if you'd only read Mitarai novels, I think. Like I said, I was surprised.

On the other hand, Kakei Toshi also reminds of those orthodox missing link detective novels like The ABC Murders and Cat of Many Tails. As more and more arson incidents occur, Nakamura tries hard to find how the arsonist is picking his targets. He's sure the arsonist isn't just setting fires randomly, but what is he trying to accomplish? What's even more surprising is that almost all fires start out... in a locked room. The fires couldn't have been set in those rooms, yet they are. The locked room problem is not as big as you'd think it is though (I think most readers will pick up the clue), but it was a nice surprise. The missing link however is very impressive. I really really want to discuss it as it concerns a topic that interests me, but alas, the rules of the game forbid me mentioning it. Even though pretty much every single review on the novel seems to mention it (usually in an oblique way, but still).

As the story is set in Tokyo, the arsonist is quite busy and the mysterious woman has lived all over Tokyo, the reader is treated to a very extensive trip throughout the city. Unlike Cat of Many Tails, where Manhattan, despite the class differences within the city, seemed to move like a single entity, the wards in Tokyo never lose their individuality and the story makes for a very nice vehicle for Shimada to comment on Tokyo as a city and its individual wards. The story makes for a very amusing reading for people interested in urban sociology. Kawamoto's Misuteri to Toukyou ("Mystery and Tokyo"), a book on the image of Tokyo as it appears in mystery novels, actually starts with a chapter on Kakei Toshi (note that at least that chapter isn't that good though; it's mostly a summary of the story, so full of spoilers and the points Kawamoto makes are actually made fairly clear in Kakei Toshi itself, so he adds very little to the conversation on the novel; see also the attic).

It took some time for me to switch over the hybrid-detective-reading-mode, but Kakei Toshi is a pretty interesting detective story. I do have to say that I doubt this novel could become succesful outside Japan: so much of the novel's strong points depends on its description of Tokyo, I doubt it would appeal to people who have never been there / don't know the social image the city and its wards have / don't have some knowledge of the history of the city.

Addendum: oh, there's a drama-version. That might be interesting.


Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司 『火刑都市』 / 川本三郎 『ミステリと東京』

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Next Stage, Resume and Revive"

"It is peaceful. The sun shines. The sea is blue. But you forget, Miss Brewster, there is evil everywhere under the sun"
"Evil Under the Sun"

I doubt I'm the only person who takes a look at adaptations of mystery fiction, as there is much good to be found there. For example, both Yougisha X no Kenshin ("The Devotion of Suspect X") and Inugamike no Ichizoku ("The Inugami Clan") are great movies. Some episodes of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo anime are done very well and while I don't always like the Conan anime, there is no denying that the Detective Conan main theme is one of the most awesome instrumental themes ever. Every single time (my favorite is the Countdown version by the way).

But I digress. Adaptations! Now that I think about it, it can become quite silly actually. I like Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun. I really like the story. But as of now, I have 1) read the book, 2) seen the Ustinov movie, 3) seen the Agatha Christie's Poirot episode, 4) listened to the BBC4 radio dramatization and 5) played the PC/Wii videogame by The Adventure Company. I have seen the murder on Arlena Marshall a bit too often by now. And yes, I know it's even worse with Murder on the Orient Express. Anyway, I finished the game over the weekend and it was.... interesting. Note that I use interesting as an euphemism for quite bad. Note how I emphasize that negative tone by explicitly mentioning it.

The game starts off suprisingly for the people who know the original story: it actually starts during World War II, with Poirot and Hastings having a talk in Poirot's office, waiting for the air raid sirens to stop. To pass the time, Poirot decides to tell Hastings about the Marshall murder case. In fact, Poirot tells the story in such a fashion, that Hastings feels like he himself is Poirot and is solving the case on his own.The story of the Marshall murder case is still mainly the same as the original novel: a group of tourists gather on a small island off the coast of Devon. Add in a lot of underlying tension and finish it off with the strangulation murder on actress Arlena Marshall. Who was the killer? Her lover? Her lover's wife? Arlena's husband? Her stepdaughter? Or someone else in the hotel? It's a classic, so I doubt I need to tell more about it.


So the player actually controls Hastings, who 'role-plays' as Poirot. It's a pretty neat plot-device actually, as it allows for several things: 1) if  'Poirot' makes a mistake, it's actually Hastings who makes the mistake, thus preserving Poirot's image. 2) It explains why some locations are so empty, or why so few people are on the island (Poirot only tells Hastings the details necessary to solve the case). And 3) it makes for some delightful banter between Hastings and Poirot. Whenever Hastings tries things that make no sense, Poirot makes wonderful comments about Hastings' actions. It's almost like manzai. The voice-acting for these two is pretty decent too.

Too bad most of the game is mediocre to bad though. I'll start with the easy parts: the graphics are horrible, as are the animations (I understand that the models on the Wii are not as detailed as on the PC, but seriously. This is terrible and the clunky animation doesn't help either). The music is OK, but there is actually very little music, and all the pieces are very short, so very often there is no background music, and parts that do have music have pieces that loop too fast. The voice-acting is all over the places: the main parts of Poirot and Hastings are pretty good, but most of the other voices are pretty bad.


And then we get to the important part: how was the novel translated to a game? I have to say that the writing was pretty decent: the story was extended at several points (i.e. the other strangulation cases, the smuggling ring) in a very decent way that worked very well with the original story. I applaud the writer for this. A couple of nods to other Christie games (that have game adaptions) were pretty funny too (I actually laughed when I found Love's Captive by Arabella Richardson in someone's luggage). The story was just told in very boring and at times very troublesome way.

As a gamer, I understand the structuring of the story in chapters and having a set of quests/sidequests to be completed for every chapter. Like [Chapter 1: get clue 1, 2, 3] -> [Chapter 2: get clue 4, 5, talk to A] etc. The problem is, these quests have to feel meaningful. I want to understand why I am getting clue 1, 2 and 3 and why the chapter ends at this point (and not for example, after clue 5).

Early in the game, there is no murder yet, so quests for every chapter mostly amount to getting to know everybody in the island. How is this archieved? Most people you can just talk to, but for some sidequests have to be done. Cleaning birds? Building a bird-blind? Finding wedding gifts for the Gardener couple? These sidequests feel very artificial, as I can hardly see the real Poirot doing this. Nor do I see Poirot snooping around other people's rooms (and stealing items!) without any reason to do so. Practically everything you do in the first few chapters feel arbitrary. It's not meaningful. There is no goal I'm working towards to and makes for very tedious sidequests that just make no sense in the context. At times, you also need to obtain certain items to end the chapter, but it's never explained why you have to get them during that specific chapter and not earlier or later. The murder occurs halfway in the game and then the game becomes a bit more streamlined, but even then the way chapters end is very enigmatic.

To take some good examples: the Gyakuten Saiban games, though those are kinda special, as they consist of specific investigation and court chapters and story-wise, the switch between the two segments is always perfectly logical. A great example would be year two of Grim Fandango (AWESOME GAME): at the beginning you hear what your main objective is (get out of Rubacava) and you hear how to accomplish that (fullfil [condition 1], [condition 2], etc.). Even though there is a lot to do in the chapter, you always know why you are doing everything, so you never wander around aimlessly hoping you haven't missed some kind of object that doesn't feel important. The Tantei Jinguuji Saburou games have very streamlined stories, so it's mostly a one-way road to the chapter-ending, but even then they never feel meaningless, as you know why the chapters end there (cliffhanger that leads into the next chapter's objective)

So... in hindsight, I only liked the textual additions and nothing of the gameplay and audiovisual additions to the story. Heh. That's pretty bad if we're talking about videogames right? Even if it's a game that relies heavily on text.

Oh, and why does the Wii version of the cover feature a hand with a wineglass?! I mean... there is not...uuugh.

And yes,  I still need to write something on the narrative structure in detective games and the workings of deductions systems in detective games.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Stitch in Crime

「えー完全犯罪とかけて、日曜日にお父さんが作る晩ご飯と解く。その心は、必ず失敗します。お後がよろしい様で」
『古畑任三郎: 若旦那の犯罪』

"Errr, talking about perfect crimes, you interpret the words as a comment about the dinner Dad makes on Sunday. The answer: it always results in failure. Please enjoy the rest of the show"
"Furuhata Ninzaburou: The Young Master's Crime"

One day, I'll have used all of Furuhata Ninzaburou's introducing quotes in my posts! And I'll even try to make sure that the quotes are actually related to the main post!

Een Lampion Voor een Blinde of de Zaak van de Hollandse heelmeesters ("A Lantern for the Blind or the Case of the Dutch Surgeons") is a 1973 Judge Ooka novella, written for the Book Week (annual week to promote Dutch literature). The protagonist is still a fictionalized judge Ooka Echizen, but we are introduced to a new location. Instead of the Edo where Ooka resides, we are brought to the neighbourhood around the city of Nagasaki and the Dutch factory on the small island of Dejima. I'm not going to hold a history lesson here, but let's say that from a certain point in history, Japan closed it borders and the Dutch were the only Western people allowed in Japan (only on the island of Dejima) to trade. The Japanese acquired all their information on the outside (Western) world through the Dutch, resulting in the so-called Rangaku ("Dutch learnings"), a corpus of knowledge on Western society, languages and technology.

Anyway, Judge Ooka is sent to Dejima to accompany the Dutch troupe on their 'hofstoet', a visit to Edo to pay tribute to the Shogun. As Judge Ooka is a learner of Rangaku himself, he has no problem communicating with the leaders of the Dutch Factory and he soon hears from the current Opperhoofd (head) of the Factory that he is in a pickle. The last ship from Holland to arrive in Dejima brought two 'heelmeesters' (surgeons). One of them is supposed to stay in Japan as the Factory's surgeon, while the other is supposed to move on to Siam (Thailand), as they are in need of a surgeon there. The problem is, both heelmeester Badings (an experienced surgeon who was the heelmeester in Dejima some years before) and heelmeester Oranje (a young, but talented doctor and master in warfare and strategems) want to stay in Japan. What's making things worse is that they both claim they had a letter proving that they were appointed the Dejima surgeon, but that the other had destroyed the letter on their way to Japan. Which of them is lying? Tension rises as the Dutch party set out to go to Edo. Early in the trip, Judge Ooka makes a horrible mistake by inputting the idea of a perfect crime in the heads of the two heelmeesters though, and as a result the Opperhoofd is killed. The only witness to the murder, is a blind girl...

Heh, despite my bizarre way of writing the summary, the story is in fact an inverted detective story.  And pretty cool too! I liked this story a lot more than any of the stories in Een Ladder tegen een Wolk ("A Ladder against a Cloud"). Those stories were just too short to really make an impact, while this novella was great with both the atmosphere and the main problem. The setting is actually pretty sober, lots of indoor scenes, mostly with Dutch persons. Which was done on purpose actually: the novella was also to be filmed as a TV show, and there were few Asian actors in the Netherlands, so the focus was on the Dutchmen (and Ooka as the sole Asian). But this setting doesn't hinder the story at all; the happenings within the Dutch factory in Dejima are, despite the length of the story, pretty suspenseful and the inverted murder was a lot more interesting than I had expected.

In fact, I enjoyed the story thoroughly and I hope the other Judge Ooka stories by Aafjes are more like this. It's just hard to write something substantial about these stories, because they're so short. I might go on deeper on the whole Dutch in Sakoku Japan and stuff, as I'm supposed to know about that as a Dutch student of Japanese studies, but... I don't feel like it. Though I have to admit that the trick used in Een Lampion Voor een Blinde is interesting from a sociolinguistic point of view, or more specifically, using role language theory, which is something I wrote my thesis about...

But no. Let's not.

Original Dutch title: Bertus Aafjes, Een Lampion voor een Blinde

Dial M for Murder

「7万人からは逃げられませんよ」
『7万人探偵ニトベ』

"You can't run from 70.000 people"
"70.000 People Detective Nitobe"

Reading how Lt. Columbo used a cellphone in The Columbo Collection, was a small surprise, but it didn't feel strange. Columbo is just a timeless character. I was also one of the persons who rejoiced at how Holmes and Watson used their cellphones in Sherlock. Because it was quite logical: nowadays everybody seems connected to each other, through phones, the net, SNS like Facebook and the like.

So in hindsight, the concept of the 2009 TV drama 7 Mannin Tantei Nitobe ("70.000 People Detective Nitobe") is actually quite realistic. Young student Nitobe Tsugumi (played by Kutsuna Shiori) doesn't have many real-life friends, but she does have a very popular cellphone blog, Octopus Net, with over 70.000 readers. She usually takes pictures of anything that interests her, is funny, annoys her, etc. One day, she gets involved in a murder case inside a bus and it seems like she was the only person capable poisoning the poor victim. In her desperation, Tsugumi uses her cellphone to ask for help on her blog, uploading pictures of the murder victim and the crime scene, and what do you know, the combined knowledge of 70.000 readers is a force to be reckoned with! By collecting the comments people leave on Octopus Net, she manages to solve the case and prove her own innocence. Well, that is, until the next episode... Rinse and repeat for several episodes, that include locked room murders, impossible crimes and other crimes that one person might not be able to solve, but 70.000 can.


The series itself is a run-of-the-mill comedy-detective, with over-the-top and at times cringeworthy acting. It seems that Japan has a lot of these comedy-detectives, which seem to focus a lot on slapstick comedy (a bit like Monk at times), but I'm always surprised at how these series still manage to present classic murder problems. They are hardly masterpieces, but not really bad either. This is only about the standard comedy-detective that seems to run every season in Japan by the way: Trick is absolutely awesome. In everything.

But I like 7 Mannin Tantei Nitobe despite its cringeworthiness, because I absolutely love the concept. We all know the great detectives with super-intellegence, photographic memory, knowledge about everything esoteric etc., but let's face it, in real life very few people are like that. Few people have all these abilities. But what if you harness the power of many? The manga/anime/TV drama Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q") already did this with Q class, with the five members having specific fields they excelled in (deductive power/pure logic/photographic memory/IT/martial arts). 7 Mannin Tantei Nitobe is a bit more realistic, as it's much more likely that one person might know this, and another person might be able to crack a code. A third might notice something on a picture that is uploaded, while another might be able to help Tsugumi in real life as he's in the neighbourhood. 'Cause you can't run from 70.000 people. Considering the speed at which information is exchanged on SNS like Facebook and other sites, I could almost see this happen in real life.

I would love a more serious remake of this. Imagine, someone with a detetive-related site gets involved with some kind of superspecialawesome locked room murder, and uploads pictures and information, asking for the help of his fellow genre connoisseurs! How long would it take them to solve the case?

Oh, and audiovisual clues, pictures and the like. I really need to write something about them one of these days...

Original Japanese title(s): 『7万人探偵ニトベ』

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Myna Bird Mystery

「この悪魔を向こうにまわして闘うものは、小林少年を団長とする少年探偵団です。『怪人二十面相』をお読みになった方は、少年探偵団がどのようなものであるかを、よく御承知でしょう。あの十人の勇敢な小学生によって組織せられた少年探偵団、団長は明智探偵の名助手として知られた小林芳雄少年、その小林少年の先生はいうまでもなく大探偵明智小五郎です」
 『少年探偵団』
 
"It is the Boys Detective Club, led by young Kobayashi, that will fight with this demon. Those who have read "The Fiend with Twenty Faces" are probably well aware of what the Boys Detective Club is. The Boys Detective Club that consists of ten brave elementary school students, with detective Akechi's famous assistent young Kobayashi Yoshio as its head and the teacher of young Kobayashi is of course that great detective Akechi Kogorou."
"Boys Detective Club"

As I focus mostly on (Japanese) detective fiction here, I don't often write about comics here. Well, of course, Conan and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo are mentioned enough here and I might one day write about lesser known gems like Shoujo Tantei Kaneda no Jikenbo ("Girl Detective Kaneda Hajime's Casebook") or the almost Mythbusters-esque reversed-engineering hybrid-detective The Accidents, but I read enough manga that's not directly detective-related. One of my favorites is still Tezuka Osamu, who is probably on everyone's list (if you have any taste, that is). From his earlier works, to his full-blown series, from Astro Boy to Human Metamorphosis, I read everything. Which is also why Nikaidou Reito's Collector no Fushigi was so awesome. A detective about collectors of Tezuka Osamu manga? Now that I think about it, as series detective Mizuno Satoru is an otaku, would that mean that this novel could somehow bridge the gap between detective readers and manga readers?

Anyway, Tezuka Osamu pretty much wrote everything, so yes, he has some works in his collection that feature the words detective. I am a bit careful not to call them detective manga, as I equalize that to the Japanese term suiri manga ("deduction comic"), which more or less implies the orthodox model of fair play. One of the more often quoted "detective" manga by Tezuka Osamu is Ken-1 Tanteichou ("Chief Detective Ken-ichi"), a short series that ran from 1954 ~ 1957. Protagonist of the series is Kenichi of course, the original protagonist in Tezuka's star system. Like the title of the manga implies, Kenichi, a young boy, is the head of a big detective agency with 26 branch offices all over Japan. Kenichi is a master in disguises, karate and is always assisted by the Myna bird Donguri, who is able to imitate any voices it hears (and record and replay dialogues, gather up birds for big attacks, etc.). As head of the agency, Kenichi travels all over the world, solving cases like locked room murders, mysterious kidnappings and even bizarre happenings like radioactive fish popping up on a mountain.

I'm not going to summarize the stories, as the official Tezuka Osamu site has an absolutely excellent summary page for the series. So I don't see any need for me to try to write something that will turn out to be inferior anyway. I do have to say that my pocket edition doesn't have the final story (Incident of the House Spiders) included.

The stories in form are a bit like Edogawa Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan series. Which isn't too strange: the Shounen Tantei Dan series became really big after the war, so Ken-1 Tanteichou was released in a time when children's detective fiction was quite popular. Kenichi certainly reminds of young Kobayashi, as young capable detectives. Who carry guns (seriously, WHO ALLOWS THESE CHILDREN TO CARRY GUNS? IN JAPAN OF ALL PLACES?!). And their disguises. And the use of birds as partners. The Baker Street Irregulars were used because they didn't attract attention, but both Kenichi and Kobayashi are actually known all over Japan as great detectives and were clearly written as characters children could look up too. Kenichi also has his own nemesis in phantom thief Mouseboy, a master in disguises who reminds of certain other phantom thieves (more the latter than the former though).

In execution, Shounen Tantei Dan and Ken-1 Tanteichou are very different though. Shounen Tantei Dan was written as kids' adventure novels, but they were still written by Edogawa Rampo. Who was an authority on detective fiction. He knew what he was doing. Tezuka on the other hand, was a master in story-telling, but certainly not an authority on detective fiction. Ken-1 Tanteichou is an amusing series, but most of the stories are really just old-fashioned Tezuka SF spy adventures Metropolis and Lost World or 'normal' spy adventures like Herge's Tintin. Stories like Treasures of Gandhara and Showa Shinsen-gumi are very much stories in the vein of Tintin. The Case of Landownership on Mars and The Case of President Pero's Hidden Treasure are much more like 'normal' detective stories, but clearly written by the very creative mind of Tezuka, with the more fantastic elements overpowering the 'detective' elements. A lot of fantasy (Evil Indians escaping by climbing away on a rope; giant magnets etc.), evil societies and the like, it's really an early Tezuka work and it shows in both the story-telling as well as the art.

Which for the most part is pretty boring for Tezuka's standards. Many pages that only have four or 6 big frames and practically nothing that would suggest that Tezuka would come up with brilliant framing like in Phoenix. Sometimes movie/cartoon-like effects are used, like when someone tumbling changes in an image of a airplane propellor turning, or (classic Tezuka) slapstick moments to break off the tension, but I would say that something like Crime & Punishment was way more experimental than this.

The series is pretty fun for someone interested in Tezuka's early adventure stories, but I don't recommend it to someone who got attracted to this manga just because of the word 'detective' in the title.
  
Original Japanese title(s): 手塚治虫 『ケン1探偵長』

Friday, July 15, 2011

「この真相は、絶対俺が解いてやる」

「私に言わせれば、すべてのホラー現象はほらに過ぎない。超常現象を恐れてはならない。DON’T BE AFRAID! どんと来い、超常現象!」
『どんと来い、超常現象』

"If you ask me, horror phenomena are all nothing more than big talk. You musn't fear paranormal powers. DON'T BE AFRAID! C'mon, paranormal powers!"
"C'mon Strange Powers

The second episode of the Conan live action series. It's still early, but at this stage, I doubt this series will become as popular and famous like the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo live action series, not having a real Conan-feeling, nor its own unique feeling. But it's entertaining enough, so we'll see how this series develops.

Meitantei Conan - Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou (Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi)
Episode 1 (July 7, 2011): Before he turned into Conan, the high school detective solved the mystery of the adultery murder!
Episode 2 (July 14, 2011): The locked room murder commited on air! Reveal the secret cursed by the psychic
Episode 3 (July 21, 2011): Murder Case in a Locked Courtroom! Reveal the Trick of the Hostess Murder
Episode 4 (July 28, 2011): Perfect Crime! Murder Notice at a Wedding, Reveal the Locked Room Poisoning Trick
Episode 5 (August 5, 2011): The Glamorous Murder Trick of the Actress who lost her Memory - Perfect Murder at the Summer House
Episode 6 (August 11, 2011): The Magnificent Murderous Kiss of Twenty Beauties! The Murderous Intent Hidden in the Murder Equation!
Episode 7 (August 18, 2011): Inheritance Murder Among Bloody Relatives! Reveal the Mystery of the Kidnapping Trick!
Episode 8 (August 25, 2011): A Woman's Determination, Revenge on the Molester! The Murder Trick hidden in the Security Camera
Episode 9 (September 01, 2011): Hattori Heiji and the Mystery of the Invisible Locked Room Murder Weapon! Deduction Battle between the Detectives of East and West
Episode 10 (September 08, 2011): The Mystery of the Body that Moved 200 KM Within An Instant! Reveal the Perfect Crime Scheme of the Evil Woman
Episode 11 (September 15, 2011): A Kiss Is the Reason for Murder, A Revenge Murder After 20 Years! The Mystery of the Perfect Alibi
Episode 12 (September 22, 2011): I Killed Her! 3 Single Murderers? Reveal the Mystery of the Fake Murder!
Episode 13 (September 29, 2011): Ran Dies! The Final Challenge of the True Criminal to the Genius Detective - Reveal the Mystery of the White Room


The second episode (subtitled "The locked room murder committed on air! Reveal the secret cursed by the psychic") starts where the last episode ended: with Shinichi, Ran and Kogorou in the second white room. A floating spoon (which was just hanging from a string) and the date on the password-entry display refer to a case the three of them were involved with: the murder on TV host Harada Takayuki commited during a live broadcast!


The Taiketsu is a TV program that is about paranormal phenomena. In the newest episode, the main guest is the psychic Washimi Jirou, while high school detective Kudou Shinichi has been invited to check if Washimi really has paranormal powers, or whether he is a fraud. Kudou says he doesn't believe in paranormal powers of course, but Washimi still claims his powers are real and demands Kudou to apologize on air if he can't prove he is a fraud. Shinichi however quickly sees through Washimi's parlour tricks and the host, Harada, picks up on that, verbally abusing Washimi and even challenging him to kill him on air, if he really has paranormal powers. Washimi takes up the challenge and to Shinichi's surprise really manages to strangle Harada with his powers, from a distance!



Well, of course it's just a parlour trick. And to be honest, the case is really too easy, as it consists only of very well known tropes of the genre (and it's not completely fair). It would hardly take the likes of Kudou Shinichi to solve this case. Which is a bit of a shame, because the theme of this episode is like Furuhata Ninzaburou's Kuroda Seinen no Yuutsu episode, which is a very good one. Both episodes deal with psychics on TV, who are on the verge on being revealed as mere frauds, when they pull off a big trick in front of a live audience. The Furuhata Ninzaburou episode is more original than this story though. I also felt that the episode was kinda short (they are actually!), which results in rather easy stories. There is just too little time to really work out a deep story. With anime, it seems that story-telling can happen at a much higher pace than with live-action, so even if an episode of the live action series is as long as an anime episode, it seems like the anime is capable of conveying more information in less time (thus also capable of offering deeper plots).

(Totally random, but halfway through the episode I finally remembered where I had Kutsuna Shiori (Ran) before)

And the big storyline? No new information whatsoever. After the main story, Shinichi inserts the new password and opens the door to the next white room. It sorta bothers me that Kogorou put the spoon in his pocket as they moved to the next room though. Will the spoon be used in a future episode? And I'm really looking forward to the next episode though! I know the anime of Conan has original episodes featuring Kisaki Eri as a laywer-detective, but as I don't watch the anime, I don't know any of these stories. The previews suggests that Eri seemingly kills someone during a court case with just a finger-gun motion! 

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 工藤新一への挑戦状』 サブタイトル 「生放送で起きた密室殺人! 超能力者の呪われた秘密を暴け 」
Date & Password: 2010.09.02; ドッキリ