Wednesday, March 12, 2014

再生 -Rebuild-: the Student Alice series

Readers of the blog might have noticed that I often read books from the same series/authors. I often refer, and build upon what I wrote in previous reviews, but I figured that a single post introducing a certain series might be easier to read. So here, the first post in a series I have called Rebuild, which serve as general introductions to the more lengthy/interesting series I discuss. Expect a short introduction, some observations on characteristic tropes of the series and of course a bibliography list. For more indepth reviews and observations, please refer to the individual reviews.

Student Alice series (Author: Arisugawa Alice)
Gekkou Game - Y no Higeki '88 ("Moonlight Game - The Tragedy of Y '88") [1989]
Kotou Puzzle ("The Island Puzzle") [1989]
Soutou no Akuma ("Double-Headed Devil") [1992]
Jooukoku no Shiro ("The Castle of the Queendom") [2007]
Egami Jirou no Dousatsu ("The Insights of Egami Jirou") [2012]

The Student Alice series is about the adventures of the Eito University Mystery Club (EMC), as experienced by Arisugawa Alice, a Law student of Kyoto's Eito University. Other members include Mochizuki Shuuhei (economics, Ellery Queen fan), Oda Koutarou (economics, hardboiled fan) and founding member Egami Jirou (philosophy, several years overdue for graduation). Arima Maria (law) joins as the first female member of the EMC during her (and Alice's) second year at Eito University. The members of the EMC have a tendency to get involved with mysteries (most of them of the criminal kind), but Egami Jirou always manages to explain everything with his impressive deductive powers.

The series has three major characteristics. First is the setting of students and the mystery club. Like many writers of the so-called New Orthodox movement from the late '80s (which revisited, and reconstructed classic puzzle plots), Arisugawa Alice (the writer) debuted while he was a student and member of his university's mystery club, and these are elements that are mirrored in his own work (compare also with Ayatsuji Yukito's Jukkakukan no Satsujin). The Student Alice series is often described as young adult fiction, with its focus on student life.Also, the fact the characters are all well versed in mystery fiction is quite important, as they act as a device for discussions on all kinds of mystery fiction, and they can also make insightful observations from a meta-point of view, by refering to famous novels.

Secondly, the novels all deal with closed circle situations. For some reason or another, the EMC members always get involved with murder cases while cut-off from the outside world. Vulcano, island, they have seen it all. It's never 'just' a murder, but there's always another element of danger that drives the story.

Finally, as one can guess from the device of having the protagonist sharing a name with the author, Arisugawa Alice is strongly influenced by Ellery Queen. His novels also have Challenges to the Readers, like you'd expect from the older Queen novels. The deduction style is also similarly very complex, dealing with who-knew-what-when-how-which-allowed-them-to-do-what. Prepare for long deduction chains when you read the novels. Special mention goes to The Island Puzzle, of which the conclusion is an incredible tour-de-force in deduction all based on just one object.

Chronology of the EMC

Chronology is fairly important to the series. A bit more than two years have passed since the start of the series. For example, when we first met Mochizuki and Oda they had just survived their first year at Eito University, but by The Castle of the Queendom, they're already preparing for their graduation.
 
1984: The Eito University Mystery Club (EMC) is founded by Egami Jirou and Ishiguro Misao.
1987: Ishikuro graduates. Mochizuki Shuuhei and Oda Koutarou enter the Economics faculty, join the EMC.
1988: Arisugawa Alice and Arima Maria enter the Law Faculty. Alice joins the EMC.
1989: Arima Maria joins the EMC.
1990: Final year Egami Jirou is allowed to be enrolled in Eito University.
Extra: The short story The Pale Stars (which I have translated here in English) was a story written before Arisugawa Alice's formal debut as a writer. It features all the familar characters from the series, but here the university the characters are enrolled at is called Imadegawa University instead of Eito University.

As of now (March 2014), four novels and one short story collection have been published. There are also a handful of uncollected short stories. The series is planned for five novels and two story collections, so we can expect another two releases in the future. The final novel will probably deal with Egami's graduation.

Note: Arisugawa Alice (the writer) has two series, both starring a Arisugawa Alice. Also, both of these protagonist Alices write detective stories. And to make things even more complex, each of the Alices writes the adventures of the other Alice. So the Alice of the Student Alice series, writes the Writer Alice series, while the Alice of the Writer Alice series, writes the Student Alice series.

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