Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Matter of Honor

"You rang?"
"The Addams Family"
 
The funny thing is that everybody thought that IQ246, a show in the 2016 fall season, was going to be today's topic when it was first announced, as that show was about an aristocrat detective too...

Takatoku Aika, disciple of private detective Takami Kiriko, has recently started working as a detective on her own, when one day she runs into a mysterious man who calls himself the Aristocrat Detective. While at first the Aristocrat Detective and his three servants seem like they walked out of a costume party, it appears that this person is indeed as rich and well-connected he says he is, as even the police has no choice but to listen to his whims. An aristocrat's main business should be entertaining the fair sex, he maintains, but his personal hobby is detecting crimes, which is why he likes to stick his head in criminal cases. However, 'work' is below his social rank, so he leaves everything up to his capable three servants, from collecting evidence and questioning witnesses, to actually explaining who the murderer was. For you don't credit the building of a house to the hammer and saw: they are merely tools, which is no different from the Aristocrat Detective using his 'tools' (servants) in the most optimal way to solve the crime. Aika refuses to recognize the Aristocrat Detective as a collegue-detective as he doesn't do anything, but with every chance meeting at the most baffling crime scenes, her interest is getting piqued more and more, especially as the Aristocrat Detective seems to be intent at hiding a connection to Aika's mentor Kiriko. Aika thus has her hands full with both the crime of the week, as well as the mystery behind the Aristocrat Detective in the 2017 TV drama Kizoku Tantei ("The Aristocrat Detective").

When it was first announced that Maya Yutaka's The Aristocrat Detective series would be adapted as  a 2017 spring season TV drama, mystery fans were flabbergasted. Reason one: it was going to air on Fuji TV's Monday-9 slot (Monday at 21:00), which is as mainstream prime-time as you can get. The Monday-9 slot is reserved for the TV drama the station wants to push the most that season, and goes paired with big marketing campaigns and very popular actors. Some mystery shows I've discussed here that also aired in the Monday-9 slot were the series based on Higashino Keigo's Galileo and Kishi Yuusuke's Security Consultant Enomoto Kei. Monday-9 is the red carpet treatment, but this time it'd be for a mystery author who had not been adapted for the small screen before. And that brings us to reason two: while Maya Yutaka's a respected author within the mystery fiction scene, I think few readers will regard his works as easily adaptable for a mainstream TV production. Maya's stories are very heavy on meta-discourse on classic mystery fiction, and so they are not only bursting with classic tropes, he also loves playing with those tropes for suprising effects. Which is great for mystery fans, but can be a bit in-jokey for the general public. His protagonist characters also tend to be very over-the-top takes of classic "gentleman-detective" archetypes, with some of them so overly foppish and arrogant they make Van Dine or early Ellery Queen seem like the most humble of men around. Anyway, Maya was certainly not an author who'd you associate immediately with the Monday-9 slot.


I wasn't even planning to watch the show originally actually. The series is based on the Kizoku Tantei series, which consists of two short story collections (of which I have reviewed the first volume some years ago). You might remember I was not super enthusiastic about the first volume: I wasn't a big fan of the Aristocrat Detective character, and while most of the stories were okay-ish, I didn't consider them exceptional. But I picked up some very praising words about the drama early on in the season, so I decided to take a look and was really pleasantly surprised. The production team really managed to take the best parts of the original stories, and rearrange them to make their own, unique product that manages to stand on its own.

I'm not going to write something on every single episode, though I can say they're all based on the stories from the books, and that they're filled with classic mystery tropes, from locked room mysteries and other impossible crimes to stories about perfect alibis and dying messages. There's quite some variety, so I think most viewers will be more than content with this. In terms of solving the puzzle, I'd say you can definitely feel the influence of Queen and the Kyoto University Mystery Club here, as you'll need to watch carefully for clues that betray characteristics of the culprit and then use them to eliminate suspects until you're left with the final suspect (i.e. this clue tells us the murderer did this, which proves they knew fact A, and only a few people knew that. And this clue tells us that the murderer did this, etc.). But while I'm not going to pick any particular episode for special attention, I do want to take a good look in this review at the way the original stories were adapted for the small screen. Each episode basically follows the same two-layered structure: both Aika and the Aristocrat Detective find themselves working on the same case. Aika investigates the case herself, while the Aristocrat Detective's three servants do the work instead of their master. Aika then reveals her deductions, but ends up pointing out the wrong murderer. The three servants then reveal their theory, fingering the correct culprit, with the Aristocrat Detective taking all the credit as his servants did the work.


This means that each episode consists out of one false solution (Aika's solution), which is followed by the true solution (the Aristocrat Detective's solution). What makes this structure so impressive is that this is not from the original stories, or at least not from the stories in the first volume. That means the screenplay writers for this show had to adapt the original stories for TV, and also rewrite the story in a way to allow for a false solution every single time. Last month, I wrote a piece about false solutions and Foil Detectives, and I think Kizoku Tantei is an excellent example of how to do false solutions. Aika's solutions always turn out to be incorrect, but they are never bad solutions. They are absolutely sound deductions, based on the clues as shown on the screen, sometimes with multiple layers to them. I'd say it'd be quite a feat for most viewers to even arrive at Aika's solutions. It's only because she didn't grasp the importance of a minor clue that she turns out to be incorrect. The fact that the Aristocrat Detective's solutions top even Aika's solutions is impressive, especially as this occurs every episode. This drama shows exactly how a true mystery story is based on clues and logical deduction, and how each clue can change the outcome of the equation. The fact they also show this in such a understandable manner is also commendable, as stories with false solutions have a tendency to become too complex for TV. There is also a bigger storyline about Aika trying to figure out who the Aristocrat Detective is and what his link is to her mentor Kiriko, but I have to say that was kind of predictable, even if it did give us some absolutely brilliant moments on the way to the disappointing ending.


What makes this show in particular a delight to watch are the "reconstruction videos" made by the Aristocrat Detective's three servants. Tanaka (maid), Satou (chauffeur/bodyguard) and Yamamoto (butler) are the quintessential servants, straight-faced, loyal to their master and highly proficient in their own fields, but for some reason they always produce a home-made video to explain their own deductions, with the three servants playing the roles of culprit and victim themselves. These videos are absolutely hilarious, with the servants finally 'breaking character' as they're basically just playing around while reconstructing the crime. In the original stories, you'd usually only see one servant per story, who'd do the deducing instead of their master, but in the drama we always see the same three, and it's incredibly fun to see them on the screen each time.

To be honest, the overall casting is quite well (especially the three servants), save for the most important role. I really didn't like Aiba Masaki's take on the Aristocrat Detective. I;ll admit, I didn't really like the character from the original stories either, but that combined with Aiba's acting... Aiba is one of the five members of idol boyband Arashi, which you must know if you have ever watched Japanese TV, as the members host several TV shows, appear in every other commercial and also act in drama/films (and much more). Other Arashi members have also starred in mystery shows, like in Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de, Kagi no Kakatta Heya, Orient Kyuukou Satsujin Jiken and one of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo live-action series. This was the first time I ever saw Aiba as the main star, but I' d say he's the least versatile actor of the five Arashi members, and he really stood out (in a bad way) in Kizoku Tantei among an otherwise very strong cast.

But on the whole, I can only see Kizoku Tantei as an excellent adaptation of the source material. It takes the best parts of the original stories, then adds in enough new material to entertain and surprise everyone. People who don't know the original stories will be presented with solid mystery plots presented in a very entertaining way. People who do know the original stories however will be surprised to see how some of them have been overhauled for the double-solution structure, and this keeps things interesting also for them. The result is a show that should have something to offer everyone.

Original Japanese title(s):  麻耶雄嵩(原) 『貴族探偵』

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