Sunday, February 5, 2012

One Ahead System

「事件の真相を暴くのは法廷の仕事。私達の仕事はね、推理じゃない。見てきたことを、お金を貰って喋るだけ」
『時給探偵~17時までの名探偵』
"Finding out the truth is the job of the law. Deductions, that's not our job. We just talk about what we saw for money"
"Detective Paid By The Hour ~A Great Detective Until 17:00"

And another Short Shorts, that limbo-like place where I write about detective fiction-related things that couldn't fill a proper post on their own. So I just stick them together to make it seem less awkward. Or is forcefully putting unrelated items together more awkward?

Today's topics: a short story by Yokomizo Seishi, the theater-play-turned-into-an-app Jikyuu Tantei and the PlaySation videogame THE Sound Novel. Like I said, they are pretty much unrelated. Heck, I don't even bother to write connecting sentences/bridges between the different parts.

Jokai ("Female Monster") is a Kindaichi Kousuke short story by Yokomizo Seishi, collected in Akuma no Koutansai ("The Devil's Christmas"). Normally, I would do a review of the complete collection, but it only consists of three stories and the other two stories (Akuma no Koutansai and Kiri no Sansou) are rewritten versions of stories I have reviewed in the past already (in The Return of Kindaichi Kousuke; Kiri no Sansou was originally Kiri no Bessou). As those two stories weren't very interesting, I decided it wasn't worth the time and effort to see if the rewritten versions were any better. So back to Jokai. After the events in Yoru Aruku and Yatsu Haka Mura, Kindaichi Kousuke decides to take a little break together with his writer friend Yokomizo Seishi (also the narrator of the story). They arrive at a little town, where the two see how a strange monk steals away the skull of a buried man. The man turns out to be the dead husband of Nijoko, the owner of a bar in Ginza and also the woman whom Kindaichi Kousuke is harboring romantic feelings for. Wanting to help his love, Kindaichi starts investigating the strange theft. But let's be honest, it is not hard to guess how this story will develop, considering the title of female monster and the fact that the detective is in love with the widow. There is nothing surprising to be found in this story (except maybe for the fact that Kindaichi actually harbors feelings for someone else than that girl from Gokumontou). This story is thus another of many, many disappointing Kindaichi Kousuke short stories.

Jikyuu Tantei ~17 Ji Made no Meitantei ("Detective Paid By the HourA Great Detective Until 17:00") was originally a small-scale comedy play by the Suzuki-ku Theater Group. I haven't seen it live, but Suzuki-ku did something awesome with the play: they made a free Itunes app of the play, allowing people to read the script accompanied by photos and music of the play itself. In short, they made a sound novel of their own play. I have to admit that the idea itself is much more brilliant than the play itself, though it is entertaining if you have some free time. It seems that there are two Jikyu Tantei plays (the other with the subtitle Kieta Tantei Joshu / The Lost Detective Assistant), but that play has no app.

The protagonist Karasawagi Kokogorou is a private detective, assisted by the young Komakomai Tomato. An usual day for them consists of looking for lost pets and such (even though that is hampered by Tomato's allergy for animals) and as they are not particularly succesful detectives, they have trouble keeping up with their rent payments. One day, Kokogorou discovers a corpse when he enters his office. A corpse with a knife stuck in his head. Very probably murder. What's a body doing in his office? Normal people would panic, but as Kokogorou is a financial pinch, he delays reporting the body to the police, hoping that someone will come to him with a request for an investigation into this body. Two little problems: people from the apartment building keep coming in and out of office. Two: Tomato only works until five, so they have to receive a request and solve the case by then.


Jikyuu Tantei is a really light-hearted slapstick comedy, with some really weird characters running on and off the stage. It has some funny scenes and I was quite surprised to see that there was actually a bit of clueing and an actual denouement scene in the play, though the investigation into the mysteriously dumped corpse is definitely not the real driving force behind the story developments. I doubt I would have gone to the play had I even known about it, but the idea of turning these plays into sound novel apps is just awesome. There is also a short digest recording of the play available.

And having gone in a sound novel mood, I tried out THE Sound Novel for the PlayStation. Gamers who don't know Japanese might not know about D3's THE SIMPLE series: a budget game series published by D3, that basically copies popular game themes. SIMPLE titles include generic games like THE Mahjong and THE Chess, but also 'copies' of more popular games like THE My Taxi (of Crazy Taxi). There are also some surprisingly good games that have gone on to spawn their own series, like THE Oneechanbara (bikini-clad zombie slaying game) and THE Chikyuu Boueigun (apocalyptic monster-swarm shooter) (especially the latter was an awesome game).

THE Sound Novel (volume 31 of THE SIMPLE series) actually has a proper title, Kuraki Mori no Hate ni ("Beyond the Dark Forest"), but that title is only seen during the opening credits. The story starts with Takahashi Seiichi, a young man on his way to the Genjou mansion to pick up his not-girlfriend-so-why-did-she-ask-me-friend Yui, who works there as a private tutor. On his way, Seiichi picks up some other people on their way to the mansion. When they finally arrive at the mansion, Yui comes out of the house, hoping to leave with Seiichi when a stray bullet fired by a maid, meant for the rats, hits the tire of Seiichi's car, forcing Seiichi and Yui to stay one night extra in the mansion, which has some strange inhabitants. The hellish stay at the Genjou mansion doesn't really start until that Seiichi's car is blown up though...


THE Sound Novel is basically a 'copy' of Chunsoft's sound novels and most specifically, Kamaitachi no Yoru. Graphically, this is very clear from the use of blue (male) and red (female) silhouettes in the background images, but also the font used is eerily similar to Chunsoft's games. From a game-design point of view, it mirrors the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-esque story-telling, with choices made by the player having profound influence on how the story develops. There are about ten different endings in THE Sound Novel, most of them branched storylines that end up as bad endings, which is a bit few, but considering that this is a budget title, acceptable. The problem is that the game does not include a flowchart (the one thing they didn't copy from Kamaitachi no Yoru!), which makes it very frustrating and difficult to see how the player-choices influence the story developments. I first got the very first bad ending possible in the game, but I had really no idea which choice I made earlier got me into this path. For these games, a flowchart is simply a must, as there are just too many nodes to keep in my head.

The story is also very standard, I mean, a boy and a girl locked inside a Western mansion where stuff happens? So the game is not getting points for originality, but then again, that is seldom the case with THE SIMPLE games. As a 'cheap copy' I would say that THE Sound Novel works relatively well. There is a proper mystery plot here going on and while not mind-blowing, I would say that the story is written nicely and includes at least one (and maybe two) tricks that I really found interesting. It was a bit disappointing though that the player, unlike in Kamaitachi no Yoru, doesn't have to deduce much himself. As long as you make the right choices and get into the right storyline branch, Seiichi will solve the case for you. Which takes away part of the fun.


The graphics and the writing managed to evoke the horror-like closed circle atmosphere of the mansion fantastically, but the game is hampered by the fact that it has very few characters (one of them almost a carbon copy of a Kamaitachi no Yoru character) and that there is almost no music present during the game. Especially the latter is very disappointing. There were maybe three or four music tracks in the whole game, only used at select scenes, but total silence for the rest of the game (save some 'incident' sounds like screams). Sound novels works so well because there is music, so this was a really weird design choice. I mean, would Kamaitachi no Yoru have been as scary without music like Gishinanki?

Yes, the only reason I would want a PlayStation Vita at the moment, is the new Kamaitachi no Yoru.

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 「女怪」 / 劇団東京都鈴木区 『時給探偵~17時までの名探偵』 / 『THEサウンドノベル』

2 comments :

  1. Wow!!! This blog is AMAZING!!! I'm researching about Modern Japanese detective novels and ethic. For me, this is just 最高!!!

    Luca

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi,

      Glad you like the blog! Interesting research topic too! I'm doing early new orthodox detective novels (from a more literary point of view), but it's always great to see more research done on the genre in Japan!

      Delete