The word forever is too painful
I can't even talk about tomorrow
But when the day I can sleep silently comes
I will also be able to say goodbye to the faraway past.... right?
"Phantom" (Murata Ayumi)
And as I was writing this post, I wondered, what are some of the better known urban legends in mystery fiction? I don't mean urban legends in mystery fiction, but urban legends about novels / writers et cetera. I have to be honest and I can't think of any at the moment, though I am pretty sure they exists... (and if I am told one now, I'd probably go "oh yeah, I heard that one...")
I heard this from a friend of a friend... you know the Metropolitan Police Department? That building in Tokyo? Well, I was told that there is a secret fifth basement floor. Oh you have heard about that? So you know about the rumors, about dead people having appeared there, and about the voices coming from the rooms? But I bet ya you hadn't heard that on the fifth basement floor, in the Police Historical Archives room, there is a secret police unit working! Well, working isn't the right word, maybe. I heard the higher-ups assigned two policemen to the Police Historical Archives, who have no idea about the truth behind their unit, but they are assigned to cases that seem to be connected to urban legends, supernatural powers and all that is occult. What, there is no thing as the occult? Maybe you're right. Maybe there's a logical explanation for the strange cases in Hayarigami Keishichou Kaii Jiken File ("Hayarigami - MPD's Occult Case Files").
Hayarigami is a sound novel game series, like Kamaitachi no Yoru and 428. For those not familiar with the concept; the story is presented to the player through plain text (accompanied with background images and music), and the player is occasionally forced to make choices, that influence the flow of the story. In short, choose-your-own-adventure books, but in game form. In Hayarigami, you take the role of Lieutenant Kazami of the Police Historical Archives, making the correct decisions in order to unreveal the truth behind the seemingly occult cases. Make the wrong decisions, and the case might go unsolved forever. There are three Hayarigami games, with the first being available on PS2, PSP, DS and even iOS.
The interesting thing to Hayarigami is that you have two distinct ways of tackling the case; scientific or supernatural. As every case is connected to urban legends and other occult phenomena, one can choose to actually believe in the supernatural (i.e. make choices that show you're open to supernatural explanations), and the case will unfold in a way that poses that occult powers were responsible for the incident. Choose the scientific route, and the case will unfold in a way that poses a rational explanation to the events. And so every story basically gives you two solutions, one that fits a classic, rational detective model, one that fits ghost stories. But they're actually both interesting to go through, and it actually pays to go through both the scientific and supernatural routes, because the routes complement each other, each filling in the little gaps of the other route.
The cases are fun, though a bit short. They all deal with (Japanese) urban legends like Kokkuri-san and cursed chain mails and through the dialogues and such, you actually learn a lot not just about their contents, but also about urban legends as a field in folklore and social studies. I've already mentioned in the reviews of Norizuki Rintarou's Toshi Densetsu Puzzle and Kyougoku Natsuhiko's Hyakki Yakou series (amongst others), I'd always had an interest in urban legends, but playing Hayarigami has really made more interested in the material, and I have found myself going through Brunvand's books on the topic for example.
Of course, myths/(urban) legends and ghost stories have always been a part of mystery fiction, but most of them use and refer to them as simply a background story ("the man was killed in an impossible way, just like in that ghost story I just told you"). Hayarigami (but also Kyougoku's novels on youkai for example) does that too, but also discusses these constructs in the context of folklore and other social studies, how urban legends come to existence, how they evolve and how they are used in a wide variety of ways. It's also why Hayarigami as a game, promoting both a supernatural and a scientific mode at the same time, works without feeling too shizophrenic or contradictory: for a supernatural object, can be used in a rational way. It shows that communication, thoughts and memes can be used in mystery fiction, which is something I'd like to see much more.
As a game, Hayarigami is sadly enough not nearly as long as something like Kamaitachi no Yoru (which has an amazing number of bonus scenarios). Yes, you can basically go through each scenario twice (and there are two bonus scenarios), but it's still a relatively short game. The sound and art direction are top notch though; especially the art is doing a great job in conveying a slightly unsettling atmoshere.
For those interested in (Japanese) urban legends, Hayarigami Keishichou Kaii Jiken File is a great way to start. It is a bit short and might only present a small selection of urban legends, but the way the material is handled is great and bound to pique your interest in the study of urban legends. As mystery fiction, Hayarigami is also fun, providing slightly creepy stories that may or may not have a supernatural tone to them. It all depends on what you choose to believe.
Original Japanese title(s): 『流行り神 PORTABLE 警視庁怪異事件ファイル』