"Shall I tell you about my first love?"
After posting the AKB48 Satsujin Jiken review, I remembered I hadn't even reviewed the newest Conan yet (which I had already read almost two weeks earlier)! But three manga reviews in a row is a bit too skewed for my taste, so back to books for the moment!
Until three years later. Rongo suddenly decides to study medicine anyway, breaking the promise. With all bets off, Rongo is now to be trialed at the Gathering of the Twin Dragons, a private trial that has been a secret tradition in Kyoto for ages. Acting as the Yellow Dragon (prosecution) is the infamous Tatsuki family, whereas Mikaga Mitsuru (nicknamed the Red Karasuma), assisted by Midou Tatsuya (the Universal Collector), is to act as the Blue Dragon (defense). There is only one way to prove Rongo's innocence: three years ago, on that fatal day, a mysterious woman calling herself Rouge had been in Jion's mansion, who definitely showed signs of wanting to kill Jion. The only problem, she destroyed all evidence of her existence. Will the Blue Dragon be able to pull off a miracle and what will the outcome of the Gathering of the Twin Dragons be?
As a relatively young 'graduate' from the Kyoto University Mystery Club, Van Madoy (or Madoi Ban, the former being his prefered romanization, it seems), is a writer who still has strong ties with the club, as there are still active members who used to be in the club at the same time as him. Which is how I first heard about him. Marutamachi Revoir is his debut novel and was originally published under the Kodansha Box label, mostly featuring adolescent fiction with a high pop-culture tone to them (NisiOisiN also has a series there). I admit that Marutamachi Revoir fits there, as it is also a sad story of Rongo's first love and the dialogues here at times remind of the amazing dialogues and wordplays found in NisiOisiN's Zaregoto series, but this novel could also have easily been published as a 'normal' mystery novel. I think a lot of people might have missed this book initially because of the publishing line, but that would be a shame, because Marutamachi Revoir is really worth a read (and released as a normal, cheaper paperback now, though this release doesn't has the awesome original cover art!).
The first impression I had after finishing the book was that fans of the Ace Attorney / Gyakuten Saiban series would definitely like this novel. The bulk of the story is made up by the Gathering of the Twin Dragons and the logical battle between the Blue and Yellow Dragons, trying to shoot down the other side's evidence and deductions is really exciting and reminiscent of the best scenes in the Ace Attorney games. The characters in Marutamachi Revoir are also slightly exaggerated, resulting in a somewhat manga-esque presentation. Which isn't bad at all. I for one love the notion of the Yellow Dragons having 'special attacks', like Tatsuki Rakka's Revival of the Fallen Blossoms (coming up with evidence that can't possibly exist), or Yamato's Dark Sword Killing (overwhelming the opponent with absolute evidence). It might be a bit flashy, but the whole atmosphere in the novel is just slightly unreal, a bit movie-like, which actually gives it a very unique flavour.
But one must not forget the fact that the Gathering of the Twin Dragons is a private trial. In the end, the law has nothing to do with this trial, and while there are still rules to the game, a lot more is allowed here than in an actual trial, making things a lot more difficult to predict, which in turn results in more excitement.
But, you would say, is the thrill in a courtroom drama not derived from having a person judged by law? The danger of being sent to prison, or worse? A mock trial negates the inherent importance of a trial, the sense of wanting to save someone's life, right? So how is Marutamachi Revoir going to keep up enough of a tempo for the reader to want to read until the end?
In fact, to be honest, while I really liked the Gathering of the Twin Dragons, at times you feel like the story is not moving towards the truth behind the case at all. With both Dragons shooting down the other side's evidence, it is like the story only moves sidewards or even backwards at time. There isn't an actual detective figure in the story either, with Rongo, Mitsuru and Tatsuya all acting as a kind of detective at one point in the story or another, leaving the reader without a character to really focus on. And while there are some great plot twists during the story, the main puzzle (Rouge) is actually quite easy to guess. Sure, Van Madoy has left some (great) hints for the reader to pick up for almost all of the plot twists actually, but the 'final truth' feels a bit light, a bit unimportant.
Which could be a really bad thing, but it isn't here. I actually had trouble getting this into words, but then I read Maya Yutaka's commentary to Marutamachi Revoir and I could only nod. So to quote Maya:
"In short, this author is purposely suggesting that the fun in orthodox mysteries does not lie in deductions that equal the truth, but in the deductions themselves, whether they are just hypothethical or the truth. That is why he weakened the importance of the truth itself. In orthodox mysteries, it isn't about truth that befits 'detection', but coming up with an interesting deduction. Detection is important, a detective is not crucial element."
(Maya Yutaka, 2012, Commentary to Marutamachi Revoir (paperback))
The journey to the truth, the Gathering of the Twin Dragons, is fantastic and that is what keeps you reading. The second part of the novel, where Tatsuya is investigating the case to prepare for the Gathering, is in hindsight full of hints, but really boring in comparison to the rest, because this is also the part where the reader isn't really presented with all kinds of deductions. Even in the first part, where Rongo tells about his meeting with Rouge, is full of excitement with Rongo and Rouge trying to deduce all kinds of information about each other.
In short, I really liked Marutamachi Revoir. I am hesitating now whether to buy the sequel right away, or wait some years for the paperback version. I would also want to recommend this novel to fans of the Ace Attorney series, but seeing as this novel is only out in Japanese at the moment and this is actually a difficult book to translate...
Original Japanese title(s): 円居挽 『丸太町ルヴォワール』