Sunday, January 24, 2016

再生 -Rebuild-: the Writer Alice series

Last week a TV adaptation of this particular series started on Japanese TV, so I thought this was a good time for a new Rebuild post, which serves as an introduction to some of the longer series I discuss here. Links to all related reviews, short introduction, discussion on general series tropes, it's all here.

Writer Alice / Himura Hideo series (Author: Arisugawa Alice)
46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room") [1992]
Dali no Mayu ("Dali's Cocoon") [1993]
Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russian Tea Mystery") [1994]
Sweden Kan no Nazo ("The Swedish Mansion Mystery") [1995]
Brazil Chou no Nazo ("The Brazilian Butterfly Mystery') [1996]
Eikoku Teien no Nazo ("The English Garden Mystery") [1997]
Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken ("The Castle of Screams Murder Case") [2001]
Malay Tetsudou no Nazo ("The Malay Railroad Mystery") [2002]
Swiss Dokei no Nazo ("The Swiss Clock Mystery") [2003]
Kisaki wa Fune wo Shizumeru ("The Queen Sinks The Boat") [2008]
Nagai Rouka no Aru Ie ("The House With The Long Hallway") [2010]
(Because the series is quite long, I've only listed the titles I've actually reviewed)

The Writer Alice series, alternatively known as the Himura Hideo series, is about mystery writer Arisugawa Alice (a male) and his friend Himura Hideo. Himura teaches criminology at Kyoto's Eito University, but his keen mind is also recognized by the police, who often ask him for help with difficult cases. Himura considers his cooperation the police to be 'fieldwork' for his research. Alice is his close friend, whom he first met when they themselves were students at Eito University. Himura often asks Alice to accompany him during his fieldwork, because occassionally Alice being a mystery writer actually comes in handy, but mostly because he is a friend he trusts (despite the many jokes at Alice's expense) and can use as a sounding board.

Note that the narrator shares the name Arisugawa Alice with the (pen name of the) writer of the books, like Ellery Queen. To keep them apart, I refer to the actual writer as Arisugawa on the blog, while I use Alice for the character (I similarly use Ellery for the character, and Queen for the writer-duo).

Whereas previous Rebuild posts looked at major series tropes, I'd say that the Writer Alice series is actually quite diverse, with no real major series tropes. Sure, the series is of course loosely based on the Sherlock Holmes model with a brilliant detective and his writer sidekick (Himura still lives in his student apartment room, with the elderly landlord granny taking care of him), but the cases themselves are about all kinds of mysteries: sometimes it's about solving traditional locked room murders or serial killings, but at other times Himura and Alice are wrecking their brains on secret codes or other less criminal mysteries. Because of his work, Himura is often asked by the police for help with criminal investigation, but occassionally his students bring (less criminal) problems to him, and even Alice himself has a tendency to come across little problems while writing his books. The Writer Alice series probably has something to offer to every fan of the genre, in both novel form as short story form. On the other hand, I'd say that the quality of the series isn't always consistent: there are some really great stories that invoke the Ellery Queen spirit for example, but some stories don't show as much ambition. Hit or miss is too harsh, but sometimes it's hit or meh. It's also a very long series.

One interesting trope might be the setting of most of the stories though. Himura's homeground is in Kyoto, as he teaches at Eito University (which is based on the actual Doshisha University). Alice lives in nearby Osaka, so most of the stories in the series are set in the Kinki (Kansai) region of Japan. Many mystery novels are set in Tokyo, but in the Writer Alice series, you're more likely to see a scene set at Namba Station than at Shinjuku Station. Note also that Alice speaks in Osaka dialect (even though the narration in the books is always in standard Japanese). The series therefore has a distinct Kansai feel to it.

The relation between Himura and Alice is also a focal point of the series. The constant teasing between the two also betrays how close the two are, and it has attracted a fairly large female fanbase, from what I gather. Sherlock has done the same in more recent years with its portrayal of the Sherlock & Watson dynamic, but the Writer Alice series has been doing this for many, many years. It's definitely no coincidence that the audio dramas of this series were produced by Momogre / Momo & Grapes, which mostly caters to the female fanbase with a love of coupling men. The bickering between Himura and Alice is also a part that betrays its Osaka roots however, as well, people from Osaka are known / stereotyped as rather talkative and easygoing.

There is no real overarching storyline for this series, so you can pick up any book and start from there. Personally, I think the first novel, 46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room") was a fun novel, so you might as well start there, but it really doesn't really matter which book you pick up.

Note that Arisugawa actually has two series that both have an Arisugawa Alice as its protagonist. Besides the Writer Alice series, there's also the Student Alice series, which stars a student with the same name (See also this Rebuild post of the Student Alice series). Interestingly enough, each Alice supposedly writes the other Alice. So the Alice from the Writer Alice series writes the Student Alice series, while in the Student Alice series, that Alice is writing the Writer Alice series. Confusing? It sure is! What's interesting though is that while this series does take on a Sherlock Holmes model, Alice isn't writing about his adventures with Himura. Most detective + writer sidekick stories usually have the writer basing his stories on their adventures, but in this series, they have little to do with each oether.

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