Thursday, November 29, 2018

N Or M?

A while back, I made a post about floorplans and diagrams in mystery fiction, and I mentioned how excited I could become just by seeing them at the beginning of a book. Often, the floorplans are only presented at the relevant part of the story, for example when there's an investigation of a room, but I always love it when I see the plans in the first few pages of the book, even if only because it suggests location will play a big part in the story. But then I also remembered that there's another thing I love to see in mystery novels between the cover and the actual start of the story: a character list!


The dramatis personae is of course nothing but a list of the names of the principal characters in a work, often accompanied with a short one-line description of said character. The detective or Hated family patriarch who is totally going to get killed for the inheritance or something like that. Occassionally we even have authors who manage to write a witty dramatis personae. But I can feel my glee-levels rise even if it's just a plain list of names and roles. In essence, it's not much different from seeing the names of the actors of a stage play in the pamphlet, and there is indeed something overly theatrical about seeing a list of names before you have even read one word of the story. Seeing the names and their roles and relations presented in bullet point form helps create an preliminary image of the story, and it can be fun seeing your expectations be proven right or wrong. As someone who often sees the mystery story as an intellectual game, the dramatis personae also feels like a fair gesture towards the reader, by giving a proper and clear list of all the concerned parties.


Also, I'm simply horrible with remembering names and characters! I am a fan of the short story form, where the dramatis personae is not often utilized as they're not really needed practically speaking, but man, sometimes I really need one when reading longer novels. Some of my favorite reads of this year like Shijinsou no Satsujin, Toshokan no Satsujin or Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono for example luckily feature a dramatis personae, because all of them feature easily more then twenty, thirty named and significant characters! Add in the fact I often read multiple novels at the same time, and I can say I can only be grateful for character lists, as they help me remember who belongs in what story.

By the way, I am also a big fan of how names and characters are presented in the anime adaptations of Detective Conan and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo. Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo for example has a very iconic avant-title screen, where they show all the important characters of the story in a grid. What makes this character screen especially creepy is that they grey out the characters who die each episode, so with each episode, you see more and more greyed-out panels, leaving fewer and fewer suspects. Seeing all the characters on the screen at the start of each episode also helps when a story takes four episodes to tell. What both Conan and Kindaichi Shounen also do are the floating name panels whenever a new character makes their first appearance. Name, age and profession are projected beneath the character in question, immediately explaining who they are. It's incredibly artificial and theatrical, as you have text floating in your screen suddenly near a character, but it's also incredibly handy for remembering new characters, as you see the name spelled out. Some might think it's too artificial, but I think it works wonderfully in puzzle plot mysteries, where characters are important puzzle pieces of the "game"  and it doesn't hurt to clearly label them.

By the way, I can't think of any mystery stories I've read at the moment that really make use of the dramatis personae as part of the mystery plot. I've seen mystery stories avoid them to be fair, for example, because one character is actually playing two characters at the same time and it wouldn't be fair to write down both personas in the list. But not really one where you need the dramatis personae to solve the mystery, so it'd be nice to come across one once.

Next time in my aimless musings: family trees, and how complex should they be? (*I'm not serious)

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Crawling with Zombies

"They're just dead flesh, and dangerous."
"Night of the Living Dead"

Most of the Japanese books I have, are in the so-called bunko format: A6-format pockets which are both small and relatively cheap, yet still printed on reasonably good paper. While there are also novels which are printed right away in the bunko format, new novels are usually first printed in large hardcover or softcover format at a higher price point, and after three or four years, the novel is reprinted/replaced in the bunko format, which is usually half the price and the physical size. So often, I hear all kinds of great things about newly released novels but I still choose to wait a few years for the bunko release. I had been eyeing Aosaki Yuugo's Taiikukan no Satsujin since its release in 2012 for example, but waited until it was released as a bunko in 2015.

Sometimes, this wait can be excruciating however. Case in point: 2017's Shijinsou no Satsujin ("The Murders in the Villa of the Dead"). If you had to name one novel that made enormous waves in the world of Japanese mystery fiction, it would be this debut novel by Imamura Masahiro released last year. For Imamura managed to accomplish something nobody had done before, with his very first novel: take the number one spot in the Kono Mystery ga Sugoi, Weekly Bunshun Mystery Best 10 and Honkaku Mystery Best 10 rankings. This was the first time anyone had managed to grab the grand spot of these three annual mystery fiction rankings. These awards are all backed by different publishers, and each determine their rankings differently based on votes of critics/authors/readers, so it was no wonder nobody before had ever managed to come in at no. 1 in all three rankings. The novel alsomade off with the Honkaku Mystery Award by the way, meaning it was extremely well-received among all kinds of readers of mystery ficton. And yet I was planning to wait patiently for the bunko release, no matter how much I wanted to read the book. That is, until I came across a generous cashback campaign this week which returned half the price in store credit. And I am glad to say that Shijinsou no Satsujin is indeed one of the most entertaining mystery novels I've read this year!

Narrator Hamura Yuzuru is a college freshman who is drafted by Akechi Kyousuke into the Shinkou University Mystery Fiction Club (not to be confused with the Mystery Fiction Research Club). Akechi is not only the president of the club (which now has two members), he's also an aspiring detective who has solved a case or two on campus, earning him the nickname of "the Holmes of Shinkou". The two learn that the university's Film Club has received a mysterious note with the message "Who will be the next sacrifice?", which seems to be related to the club's annual trip to a countryside hotel, where this year, they'll shoot a short Blair Witch-type horror film as part of their club activities. Hamura and Akechi are quite surprised when they are invited by Kenzaki Hiruko to come along with this trip. Second year student Hiruko has solved several criminal cases in the past and has even been awarded by the police for her exploits, though she has kept that all a secret and it's only through his connections that Akechi knows about this. Hiruko isn't a member of either the Film or Drama Clubs, but as many members didn't want to go this year because of the mysterious letter, she's been invited to make up for the female numbers (the annual Film Club trip is also an excuse to get hooked up), and Hamura and Akechi are her tagalongs.

The Violet Villa used to be a private holiday villa overlooking Lake Sabea, owned by the parents of one of the graduated members of the Film Club. They later had it renovated into a little hotel, and now the Shinkou University Film Club can stay there for free for their summer trip, while the son of the owners and his friends also come down to meet the current Film Club members (and try to get lucky with the female members). The first day is supposed to end with a barbeque dinner and a 'test of courage', where they'll visit a creepy shrine in boy-girl pairs, but this game is horribly interrupted when the group is suddenly assaulted by... a horde of zombies! Not everyone makes it back alive to the Violet Villa, and the group of survivors has no choice but to flee up to the upper two floors of the hotel and barricade themselves against the waves of zombies waiting for them below. Cut off from the outside world, the survivors make plans on how to keep the zombies downstairs until they're saved, but while the news on television warned people to look out and be on their guard for the "strange" epidemic that started at a local music festival, the survivors couldn't have known that the zombies weren't the only danger in the hotel. In the early hours of the following morning, the Film Club's president is found dead in his room and the way his face and body had been mutilated by horrible biting marks, leaves little doubt that his death came by the hands of a zombie, but there are also several problems to this conclusion: while only a zombie could've committed the murder in such a horrible way, only a human could've performed feats like somehow opening the locked hotel room and leaving mysterious handwritten threatening notes in and outside the room! Even supposing a zombie did commit the murder on its own, how did they get through the barricade and out again without anyone noticing!? And this isn't the only violent murder to occur inside the Violet Villa while the zombies are coming closer and closer in Imamura Masahiro's Shijinsou no Satsujin ("The Murders in the Villa of the Dead", 2017).

So I knew of this novel since last year, but I hadn't actually read up on the story, so imagine how surprised I was when I came to the part zombies appeared in the story! Imamura comes up with a unique way to created a closed circle situation, as in this novel, the characters aren't cut off from the outside world due to storms or broken bridges, but zombies (and jammers and media blocks by the authorities to prevent people from spreading panic and false information on social media). There are some short segments that "explain" the how and why of the zombie attack, but don't mind that too much: it's all an excuse to create a unique closed circle situation for a mystery novel, and one that works really well too!


The book opens with the three-storied floorplan of the hotel and I think it kinda symbolizes how dynamic this story actually is. When you first open the book, you might read through the character list and try to memorize where everyone is sleeping in the hotel, but once the zombies come, you can forget everything. Corridors are barricaded and closed off, people are eaten by zombies, others are murdered and everyone has to move to other rooms or to other floors as the zombies slowly break through the various lines of defense and available space becomes less and less. In your mind, you're constantly updating the 'map' as circumstances change. A lot happens in Shijinsou no Satsujin and you certainly can't accuse it of being a boring mystery novel with long investigation scenes in the middle, because this is a novel that uses the form of the zombie panic movie to not only bring thrilling scenes from start to finish, but also to force frequent changes on the circumstances that help deepening the core mystery plot, for example by creating siutations where characters have to move to other rooms or by making some parts of the villa inaccessible after a while, which are all elements that will later be used in determining the culprit.

It's in this ever-changing locale that we see multiple impossible murders occur. These murders too make fantastic use of the zombie setting: one of the main problems the detectives face in this novel is the question of how and why these murders were committed, as all the murders show signs of both zombie, and human action: the horrible way in which the murders are committed could only be attributed to the zombies, and yet there's also a human hand detectable, but how could one person direct the zombies without endangering themselves or the other people? Besides an "orthodox" locked room murder, there's also a murder where the victim was dragged outside of their room, which was obviously locked from the inside, so a different type of impossible murder. What makes this novel so fun is that all the murders only work because the story's set during a sudden zombie attack. These murders could not possibly have worked if the story had been set in a "normal" world, without zombies. While the zombies are not completely explained within this work, Imamura carefully hints at certain conditions and characteristics of the zombies in this novel which you'll need to solve the case, and Imamura skillfully utilizes the zombies to create unique murder situations. As an example of how to do a good supernatural/fantasy mystery novel, Shijinsou no Satsujin gets very high marks (though I have to add that Shijinsou no Satsujin does not feel really fantasy-like, it's fairly realistic. Save for the zombies).

And while some might be turned off by zombies in a mystery novel, the way the murders are solved in Shijinsou no Satsujin show it's definitely a true, puzzle plot mystery that is intricately planned out and fair to the reader. Despite the unrealistic plot device of zombies, Imamura does a great job at both clewing and defining the capabilities of the zombies and nobody could ever accuse of him of being unfair to the reader. The mystery solving is quite Queen-like, in the sense that the deductions revolve much around physical evidence and "this culprit did this, which means they must have also been here or done that, and therefore..." lines of thought, but keeping in line with the dynamic of the zombie panic story, these deductions are never too long, and quite to the point, and while Shijinsou no Satsujin certainly isn't a simple mystery to solve, it's certainly solvable without having to keep precise notes. There is one moment that contains a very damning piece of evidence in regards to the identity of the culprit that might feel a bit unfair, I admit, but that's more in the sense of "I'd have wanted some psychological explanation for that" than really "Wait, that came out of nowhere", as it is something is definitely properly hinted at, and the implicitions are clear, even if you don't want to believe it at first.

Shijinsou no Satsujin is thus a very entertaining debut work by Imamura, that manages to mix the zombie panic genre in a wonderful manner with a classic puzzle plot locked room mystery. The unique closed circle situation and the inspired way in which zombies are utilized in the mystery plot are fantastic and I can't wait for Imamura's sequel to this novel, which was announced a while ago! Definitely a contender of one of my best reads this year.

Original Japanese title(s): 今村昌弘 『屍人荘の殺人』

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Case of the Distressed Lady

「大変失礼ながら、お嬢様の単純さは、まさに幼稚園児レベルかと思われます」
「聖なる夜に密室はいかが」

"I might be speaking out of line, ma'am, but you're simplemindedness is basically the level of kindergarten"
"How About A Locked Room On Holy Night?"

I very seldom read books by the same author one after another. No matter how much I might like a writer, or for example when I suddenly become hooked on a certain series, I almost always wedge another book in between. I guess I just like to have some variation, and not stick with an author for more than one book at a time.

Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de series
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 2
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 3
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de (first impressions TV drama)
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de (theatrical release)
Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de (audio drama)

Today's book is therefore a rare exception. Last time, I reviewed Higashigawa Tokuya's Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de, an excellent short story collection of which I knew the contents already from the 2011 TV drama adaptation. I had bought the book long, long ago, but it remained on the to-be-read pile because I wanted to forget most of the details of the drama before reading the original stories. After reading that book however, I decided to continue with the sequel, which I had bought together with the first volume back in 2012. Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 2 ("Mystery Solving Is After Dinner 2", 2011) continues the adventures of the female police detective Houshou Reiko, who unknown to her fellow officers, is in fact also the insanely rich heiress of the Houshou Group. Each day after work, while she's enjoying a luxurious dinner, she likes to lament about her well-meaning, but not particularly competent superior Inspector Kazamatsuri and the difficult cases she's saddled with, but her mysterious butler Kageyama always manages to solve the cases simply by listening to his mistress' stories. Unlucky for Reiko is that Kageyama also has a very sharp tongue and he doesn't hold back his (polite) comments about his mistress'  intelligence as he explains how it was done. This collection features another six of these mysteries to be solved after dinner.

It shouldn't surprise the reader that this second volume is simply 'more of the same'. Each story follows the same rough outline of Reiko and Kazamatsuri coming across a new murder and them questioning everyone involved, and at the end of the day, Reiko tells Kageyama everything, who solves the case like the armchair detective he is (even though he remains standing of course, as he's a butler). The stories do have a tendency to feel a bit alike after a while (especially as I read the first two volumes after another), and often revolve around a crime scene with something out-of-the-ordinary (a naked body; a victim who had her hair cut after the murder; a victim who had her boots on in her apartment even though that's not done in Japan). Usually there are three suspects, and the key to solving these stories is figuring out why the crime scene turned out the way it did, and from there deduce who it was. For those who saw the drama: I think every story here was also adapted for the series (together with the stories from the first volume), but if I remember correctly, some of the stories were mashed together for the two-part finale.

Alibi wo Goshomou de Gozaimasuka ("Would You Like An Alibi?") has Reiko and Inspector Kazamatsuri working on the murder of a 35-year old woman, who was found in the staircase of a largely empty tenant building. The coroner's report, and a sighting of a neigbor who saw her leave the apartment building, put her death between 19:45-21:00, giving the victim enough time to get from her apartment building to the place where she was killed. The main suspect is her ex-boyfriend, who dated her for seven years, but suddenly dumped her so he could date, and soon marry, the daughter of an executive of his company. The man has an alibi though, as he spent the early night with an old colleague, after which he spent two hours in a cafe, as vouched for by the owner of that coffee shop. Kageyama's explanation for how this alibi was created has some really good ideas, and some less inspired ones. The way Kageyama explains why it is very likely that the suspect is indeed the murderer is absolutely brilliant: the hint for this is hidden both in your face, but also subtle enough for anyone to read across it (I know I did). But once pointed out, you realize how obvious it should've been. The way the alibi was actually done however is far more crude, and a bit disappointing considering how good the set-up was.

Koroshi no Sai wa Boushi wo O-Wasurenaku ("Don't Forget Your Hat During A Murder") has Reiko and Kageyama vistiting Reiko's hat shop, as she's working on a case that is connected to hats. A woman had been killed in her bath tub, and it was discovered that not only the victim's phone and computer were missing, but also her hats from her closet. But who would want to steal a woman's hat collection? This is a very tricky story, but the moment Kageyama explains why the murderer would want to take the hats with them is fantastic: the explanation is logical, convincing and one can see that Higashigawa did his best at setting everything up, though it still requires a bit of imagination on the part of the reader. Once you know why, the story turns into a whodunnit, and while it's a simple one, it's expectly plotted, even complete with a false solution! Definitely one of the best stories in this volume.

Satsui no Party ni Youkoso ("Welcome To The Party With Murderous Intent") starts with Reiko arriving at the hotel where the sixtieth birthday party of the father of her friend/rival Ayaka is held. Ayaka, Reiko, as well as two other heiresses, were all members of their university's seasonal sports club, and have kept their friendship/rivalry alive all the time. During the party, the daughter of the owner of the hotel (who was also acquaintances with Reiko and her friends) is assaulted in the glass house on the roof garden of the hotel. The only thing the victim could say before she was taken to the hospital was that was assaulted by a woman in reddish dress, who she didn't know, but looked familiar. Besides Reiko and her three friends, there were only three other women who answered to the description of the attacker, but who of them was the assailant? Again a story that has strokes of true genius, but also elements that feel a bit underwhelming. One part of the mystery is basically only solvable if you know a certain piece of trivia. A different clue in regards to the identity of the attacker is very tricky, and perfectly executed here. The setting of this story is used to its fullest to make this trick possible, and it's quite easy to imagine how this would've gone. It requires the most careful of readers to even get an inkling of what is being played here.

Seinaru Yoru ni Mittsutsu wa Ikaga ("How About A Locked Room On Holy Night?") has Reiko in a somewhat bad mood on the morning of December 24th, especially after Kageyama asked what her plans were for the night. She takes the bus to her work, but runs into a woman who says her friend was killed. The victim was living in a small house, which save for the entrance was encircled by a concrete wall, with everything covered in the snow of the night before. The only tracks leading to the entrance were the foottracks to and away from the house made by the friend who discovered the body, and a bicycle track made by the victim when she came back last night. At first sight it seems the victim might've fallen from the loft, but the neighbor's testimony of having seen someone's shadow after she heard the fall that would've killed the victim, seems to suggests it was murder. But how did the murderer escape the house without leaving any traces in the snow? Like Koroshi no Sai wa Boushi wo O-Wasurenaku, this story can be tricky, as it requires you to deduce the existence of an object that has not been mentioned explictly before, but I think it's much easier in this story. Once you get to that point, it's almost a straight line to figuring out how the murderer escaped the house. The whodunnit is simple and short, but surprisingly well done, with subtle hints that allow you strike you out the people who certainly couldn't have done it.

Hanayagi Electric Appliances was a household name, even before the scandal, and then the tragedy became the talk of the town. Hanayagi Kenji having a mistress was a scandal: him dying in a traffic accident was a tragedy. But tragedy never comes alone, we learn in Kami wa Satsujinhan no Inoch de Gozaimasu ("Hair Means the Life of a Murderer"), as one morning, the housekeeper of the Hanayagi household wakes up to find something burning in the living room, where she finds a dead body. At first, she mistook the body for one of the family, but it turns out the victim was Yuuko, Kenji's niece, who often came to visit the Hanayagi home to visit her cousins. Usually, the housekeeper would recognize her of course, but for some reason, Yuuko's beautiful long, black hair had been cut and burned in the fireplace. Strangely enough, I've read a couple of stories about bodies of whom the hair was cut (here and here for example), and this one is another interesting one. Deducing why the hair had been cut can be a bit difficult, I think, though there are a couple of nice clues that hint at something big behind the missing hair. This story is definitely not plotted as tightly as previous ones, but still an okay story.

Kanzen na Misshitsu nado Gozaimasen ("There Is No Such Thing as a Perfectly Locked Room") is about the death of an artist: on the day of his demise, his niece and a freelance writer were about to enter his atelier, when they heard him cry out and something loud fall: inside the atelier, of which the wall was covered in a gigantic fresco, they found the artist with a knife in his back and a stepladder which had fallen over. At first sight, it seemed like he was working on the wall with the knife when he fell over, but it seems unlikely he could've stabbed himself in the back then. But if it was a murder, how did the murderer escape, as the two who first discovered the victim were standing in front of door of the building when they heard him scream, and there are no other windows in the atelier through which the murderer could've escaped. A story on which your mileage will probably vary a lot: I really liked the way the escape route of the murderer was hinted at, but I didn't like the escape route itself.  So the way Kageyama arrived at the solution, I thought much more interesting than the solution itself.

So while Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de 2 was not surprising in terms of story format, this volume was quite entertaining once again. Despite the short length of each of these stories, Higashigawa manages to come up with very intricately plotted whodunnit plots, with excellent clewing and also alluring crime scenes. Some of the things he manages to pull off here are really tricky, with some hints that are almost screaming in your face in hindsight, but always go undetected by the reader the first time. For people who have seen the drama, I'm afraid only the third volume has stories you don't know yet.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉『謎解きはディナーのあとで2』:「アリバイをご所望でございますか」/「殺しの際は帽子をお忘れなく」/「殺意のパーティにようこそ」/「聖なる夜に密室はいかが」/「髪は殺人犯の命でございます」/「完全な密室などございません」

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Case of the Rich Woman

「この程度の真相がお判りにならないとは、お嬢様はアホでいらっしゃいますか?」
「殺人現場では靴をお脱ぎください」 

"As you don't even see through the truth of something as simple as this, I assume, ma'am, that you are a fool?"
"Please Take Your Shoes Off At A Murder Scene"


A while back I decided to read, and review Kishi Yuusuke's short story collection Kagi no Kakatta Heya even though I already knew the contents more-or-less. I had seen the TV drama series which was partly based on the collection, but as quite some years had passed since I saw the series, I figured now was as good as any time to read the original book. Reading Kagi no Kakatta Heya reminded me of a similar case, of a book I had bought, but not read as I had seen the TV drama adaptation already.

It was in 2011 when I first read a work by Higashigawa Tokuya, and a few months later, I caught the TV drama Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de ("Mystery Solving Is After Dinner"), which was based on one of his novel series. The show was absolutely brilliant and I soon started to read a lot more of Higashigawa's works, though I didn't write much about Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de back then: a short first impression of the TV drama, a review of the theatrical film and a review of an audio drama were basically all I had, until I reviewed the third Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato volume in 2015. But today, I go back to that very first short story collection of Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de ("Mystery Solving Is After Dinner", 2010). Houshou Reiko is a young female Homicide detective who unknown to most of her colleagues (and especially her arrogant and womanizing superior Inspector Kazamatsuri), is in fact the insanely wealthy sole heiress of the Houshou Group, which has a hand in pretty much everything. Each night, after a hard day of work, she likes to enjoy her luxurious banquet, as she ponders out loud about the cases she's working on. Her butler Kageyama seems to have a knack for detecting too, as he is always able to solve the most mysterious cases just by listening to his mistress. Kageyama however also doesn't hold back with the verbal insults towards his mistress, as most of the cases seem so simple to him, that it appears his mistress must be 'dense', 'even more stupid than the lowest-level amateur around', or something worse.

While I think all of the six stories collected in this volume were also featured in the TV drama, I had forgotten just about enough of them for most of these to feel fresh to me. The overall mood of Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de series however is something nobody is likely to forget, and it is one the TV drama also managed to capture perfectly. Higashigawa specializes in comedy mystery, with almost comic-like characters and funny banter, but don't let his jokes fool you: Higashigawa is really good at hiding clues and other important elements in his comedy, and that combined with a good sense for constructing mystery plots, from locked room mysteries to the more deduction-based stories, makes his work always a joy to read. The Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de series is distinctly different from some of his other series like the Ikagawashi series and the Koigakubo Academy Detective Club series, as Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato takes on an armchair detective format, with Kageyama helping his mistress (accompanied with some verbal abuse) with her cases at home. Interestingly enough though, it's Reiko who sits in the armchair, while Kageyama, as her butler, is of course the one standing.


The opening story, Satsujin Genba de wa Kutsu wo O-nugi Kudasai ("Please Take Your Shoes Off At A Murder Scene"), is the one story I have mentioned several times on this blog, as it was also the source material for both the audio drama and the first episode of the TV drama. I still consider it one of the more memorable stories, even though the story seems so simple: a young woman was found murdered in her room, but what seems so mysterious to Reiko is the fact the victim was found wearing her boots. Wearing your shoewear inside your home is a big no-no in Japan (as it'd ruin the flooring), so while it seems like a trivial matter, it's still extremely weird for the victim to be found like this. The chain of deductions Kageyama manages to create based on this fact and other testimonies from the victim's neigbors' is convincing however, and quite satisfying, especially with a hint that builds on another aspect of Japanese culture.

Koroshi no Wine wa Ikaga Desu Ka ("How About A Killer Wine?") has Reiko working on a case that at first seemed like a suicide, but might actually be murder: a wealthy elderly man was found dead in his room, and poison was detected from his glass of wine. As the bottle itself didn't contain poison, and the victim was notoriously fuzzy about clean glasses, it doesn't seem likely anyone but himself could've poisoned his glass. His children had protested heavily against his intended marriage with his housekeeper, which might've driven him to suicide, but some small matters have Reiko suspect this was foul play. The trick behind how the glass of wine was poisoned isn't that impressive: it seems like rather straightforward way to poison the wine for me. More impressive is the way Kageyama then proceeds to deduce the identity of the murderer, by focusing on the actions the murderer must've taken. The hinting is a bit crude and one could argue that the reasoning is a bit too easy in rejecting some other possibilities, but it's an okay story.

Kirei na Bara ni wa Satsui ga Gozaimasu ("Murderous Intent Is Present in Beautiful Roses") starts with the discovery of a dead woman in the rose garden of Fujikura Kousaburou. The victim had been brought to the Fujikura home by Kousaburou's son, who intended to marry the woman, despite protests of his parents and Toshio's brother-in-law. Kyouko was now dead however, placed on a rose-covered pedastal in the rose garden. The one question that's on the detectives' mind is of course why the woman's body was in the rose garden. This story is fairly similar to the previous one, as it wants you to deduce why a certain action was taken, and then use that knowledge to deduce who the murderer was. This story is much better plotted, with both a good reason for why the body was found where it was found and an excellent structured whodunnit plot that allows you identify the murderer. The story does require you to deduce the existence of a certain object not mentioned before, but it is actually fairly well-telegraphed.

In Hanayome wa Misshitsu no Naka de Gozaimasu ("The Bride Is Inside The Locked Room"), Reiko is initially not involved as a police detective, but as the heiress of the Houshou Group, and as a personal friend, as her friend Yuri is getting married. The ceremony is held at the bride's (large) home, and while Reiko is not exactly happy that Yuri got married first, she still wishes her friend the best. When Yuri doesn't come back from her short rest, Reiko decides to look for her in her room, but it is locked from the inside, with no answer at all. When the door is finally opened with the spare key, they find that Yuri was stabbed in her back. Reiko's fast actions save Yuri's life, but the question is how the assailant managed to escape this second floor room, as the door was locked, and there were no footsteps found beneath the open balcony door. As a locked room mystery, people might be a bit disappointed by this one, but man! the clue towards the identity of the bride attacker is absolutely brilliant! I don't remember having seen this in the TV drama (I probably just forgot), but this clue is devilishly subtle and yet daringly in your face. In fact, this might be one of the best clues I've seen this year.

Futamata ni wa O-Ki wo Tsuke Kudasai ("Please Be Careful For Cheaters") brings the strangest crime scene in this collection, as the victim was found completely naked in his room! His clothes are nowhere to be found, so it stands to reason the murderer took them, but why? As he was seen in the flat elevator with a woman by his neigbor minutes before his death, and another witness saw a woman leave the apartment soon after, the police suspects a woman in the life of the victim was the culprit, but it appears the man was having relations with multiple woman, so which of them did it? The puzzle revolves around disagreeing descriptions of the woman who was last seen with the victim, but once you realize why those testimonies differ, the story leads to a very satisfying reason for why the victim was found naked, and it also gives the reader a nice final puzzle in figuring out which of the women was the murderer. Excellently clewed and executed,  and also one of the funnier stories to visualize.

Shisha kara no Dengon wo Douzo ("Here's A Message From the Dead") is about a rather particular dying message, as the message was erased before the police could get to it! The president of a money lending company was murdered, her head bashed in with a trophy of one of her sons, but the circumstances that led to the discovery of the murder are what made it so extraordinary: around nine in the evening, the bloody trophy was thrown from the garden into a room on the second floor, breaking the window. It had everyone in the house gather in the room, save for the victim who was then found. But why was the trophy thrown into that room, and what did the erased dying message say? This is perhaps the most complex of the stories in this collection, but within the same page count (and these are pretty short stories), so it feels a bit rushed at some points. Like seen in some of the other stories in this collection, Higashigawa likes to hide clues in utterances and interpretations of the used language, though it's not as elegant here as in the earlier stories. Still, it leads to a good set-up that allows the reader to reasonably deduce what the dying message said and who the murderer is.

Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de is thus a more than entertaining volume of well-constructed mystery short stories. Higashigawa excells in mixing comedy with a good mystery plot, and the short format, combined with the fast dialogues and funny scenes really work great. In terms of mystery plotting, Higashigawa shows he's very good at classic whodunnit plots, where he challenges the reader to deduce who the murderer is (usually from three suspects), based on actions the murderer must've taken while committing the deed. Once you recognize the pattern, you have an idea what to look for, but Higashigawa shows in these six stories he's also very capable of coming up with original variations that you aren't likely to see through in time. So a fun read, even if I already knew the plots from the TV drama.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉 『謎解きはディナーのあとで』:「殺人現場では靴をお脱ぎください」/「殺しのワインはいかがでしょう」/「綺麗な薔薇には殺意がございます」/「花嫁は密室の中でございます」/「二股にはお気をつけください」/「死者からの伝言をどうぞ」

Monday, November 12, 2018

Everlasting

いくつもの糸もつれあう中
僕たちは繋がっている
 「Everlasting」(B'z)

Even among these entangled threads
We are still connected
"Everlasting" (B'z)

I hope to do at least one other mystery videogame review before the end of the year, as the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou prequel Daedalus: The Awakening of Golden Jazz will release in December, but I can't make any promises (depends on how long the game is.

The private investigator Amagi Kojirou hasn't seen a single client in the three months since he had to open his own office, but a friend brings the womanizing detective in contact with Stoleman Kou, director of the Yale International School. Kou wants Kojirou to locate a small painting for him, which he needs for a service to commemorate his wife who died three years earlier. The painting has gone missing, but Kou has no idea whether it was stolen or simply mislaid in his house while he was abroad. Meanwhile, government agent Houjou Marina is assigned to a special undercover mission: she is to protect Midou Mayako, daughter of the Eldian ambassador to Japan. The Republic of Eldia is a small, multi-ethnic Middle-Eastern country that has developed tremendously lately, but is also torn by internal struggles between pro-monarch and pro-democracy factions. It seems Mayako has become the target of some group to put pressure on her father the ambassador, so Marina goes undercover as Mayako's personal tutor to protect her from danger. As Kojirou and Marina work on their own respective jobs however, they uncover an international plot involving the future of the Republic of Eldia and a mysterious serial killer "Terror" who always seems to be one step ahead of the two detectives in the PlayStation Vita/Windows/Nintendo Switch game EVE burst error R (2016).

EVE burst error is a famous graphic adventure game developed by C's Ware originally released in 1995 for the PC-9800 system (a kind of PC for the Japanese market). As you can gather from the summary above, it's a mystery adventure game, but it should also be mentioned that the original EVE burst error is an adult graphic adventure. Which means the game also contained nudity and explicit sex scenes. Explicit adult content is a big no-no for home console releases though, so in later ports and remakes for home console systems like the SEGA Saturn and PlayStation 2, the adult content is removed or rewritten. EVE burst error has been remade several times, and EVE burst error R is the most recent version, released on PlayStation Vita, Windows and Nintendo Switch (EVE burst error A, a version of R which does include the explicit adult content is also available on Windows). There exists an official English translation of the older Windows 98 release of EVE burst error by the way, though I played the Nintendo Switch which was released recently. As far as I know the main story is the same across all the versions (though newer versions may contain scenes not found in the original 1995 version), and while the non-adult versions don't feature the sex scenes, you have still have plenty of flirt scenes featuring skimpily dressed women shot from rather suggestive angles that horribly interrupt the pacing of the main mystery story.
 

As an adventure game, EVE burst error R is most of the time quite classic. You'll be using commands like "Move", "Check" and "Talk" to interact with other characters and the environment as you move between locations in search of clues and people to talk to to move the story forward. As long as you try all options, it's impossible to get stuck, and most of the time, you'll just be chasing after the story, finding the right characters to talk to. And like in most classic Japanese command-type adventure games, it can be quite irritating to figure out what to do to move the story forward. Luckily, EVE burst error R has an optional mode that gives a visual cue where you have to go next, and I really recommend this, as come on, how am I going to guess I have to first go to the school dorm to activate an inner monologue about something completely unrelated, go back to Central Avenue, and then go to the school dorm again to have character X appear in order to proceed!? EVE burst error R features nice redrawn art, but it definitely feels really like the 90s adventure it is.


Interesting however is the so-called Multi Sight System, which is unique to the EVE series. In the game, you control both Kojirou and Marina in their respective scenarios, and you can switch between the two stories at any time. So you're following two stories simultaneously. While most of the times, the two detectives pursue their own goals, at times we see the two stories intersect, and it's pretty interesting to see some events from both perspectives and it's only by seeing both sides that all the questions are answered, as both Kojirou and Marina will learn things that the other has no inkling about (though there are also times you just see the same events twice, and that can be a bit boring). The Multi Sight System is also used as a rudimentary "zapping" system as seen in games like Machi and 428: sometimes you can't continue in a particular scenario, unless you reach a specific point in the other scenario too. For example, early in the game, you'll hit a stop in the story with Marina unless you swap over to the Kojirou story, and play with him until the point where he discovers a murdered man, after which Marina in her scenario is informed of that same murder and heads out to the crime scene. In games like Machi and 428, you had "zap" between the various characters and make story-changing choices to help the others out (for example, choose to open a certain door with character X so later character Y can use that door), though in EVE burst error R, it's not about making the correct choice to help out the other protagonist, all you have to do is simply reach a certain point in the story, so in a way, it's only a mechanic to make sure you get too far ahead in either scenario. 


Is EVE burst error R an interesting mystery game though, with these systems? Err... I have to voice some reservations. First of all, both Kojirou and Marina are rather passive players in their respective scenarios, with most of the events happening to them, and giving them little space to really go out investigate the various events themselves. Once in a while, both detectives will learn fragments of useful information, but they never really manage to become active agents in their own stories. The Tantei Jinguuji Saburou games are also fairly straighforward in chasing after the main mystery, but at least in those games, you feel more like a detective actively investigating a case, rather than just someone who's the target of event after event. Several murders occur over the course of the story of EVE burst error R, and you slowly learn it all has to do with the Republic of Eldia, but the furher you come, the more the story becomes like a somewhat ridiculous spy story with secret agents and conspiracies etc. At the very end of both the Kojirou and Marina scenarios however, the game suddenly takes on a different form and gives you two options: one is to replay some of the significant parts that involve the various murders (in case you'd forgotten the details), and the other option is to accuse a murderer for each of these murders. Here EVE burst error R presents a rather "classic" take on the detective game, simply asking you to name the murderer(s). As a mystery plot, EVE burst error R has some merits, but also big flaws.

What is entertaining is definitely the use of the Multi Sight System: in order to figure out who the murderer(s) are for each of the murders, you have to combine the facts you learn from both sides. The way these hints and clues are spread across both scenarios is done competently, and gives meaning at the use of two, simultaneously developing stories. On the other hand though, the solution treads into the science-fiction genre, and is not completely fair. Yes, there are events that happen in both scenarios that hint at the solution, but for example the most incriminating clue is shown on the screen literally one second before the game asks you to name the murderer(s), without any context or comment on what you just saw, and that is definitely something from science fiction we had never seen before in the story. Comparing it to WorldEnd Syndrome, which I reviewed a few months ago, I'd say EVE burst error R has more clues that actually point towards the solution, but still WorldEnd Syndrome is more satisfying as the underlying rules were clearer and did a better job at preparing the player for the supernatural background setting of a game, while in EVE burst error, you're suddenly confronted in the solution with something that up to that point, had not been shown as possible in that world in that form.

EVE burst error R is therefore a game I find difficult to recommend as a mystery adventure game. Yes, it is a classic in the history of Japanese adventure games, but it definitely also feels like an old game in terms of storytelling. As a mystery story, the game definitely tries something interesting, making good use of its Multi Sight System, but the story is also hampered by the over-the-top foreign-spy-agents-and-conspiracies backdrop and the ending that's basically science fiction, which would have actually worked perfectly if only the set-up had been better for this reveal, as the main clue as to the actual answer to all the murders now depends on a physical clue that has not been explained enough in the main story.

Original Japanese title(s): 『EVE burst error R』

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Ruined Map

"Everything you were looking for was right there with you all along."
"The Wizard of Oz"

I always try to read at least one mystery set in Fukuoka each year, which isn't actually as easy it sounds. Kyoto is another story though, as there are tons of them out there.

I'll be perfectly honest from the start, and admit I have somewhat of a bias against Yamamura Misa's work. She was of course an institution in Japan, a symbol of the popular genre travel mystery, where the protagonists travel to popular tourist spots and solve murders or other crimes there while enjoying the local food or hot springs. The little that I've read of Yamamura, and especially the couple of TV dramas based on her work I watched solidified her image within my mind as that of The Stereotypical Two-Hour Suspense Drama, with a lite mystery plot that never really impresses. So I didn't start with too high expectations in her short story collection Kyouto Satsujin Chizu ("A Map of Kyoto Murders", 1988), which is about the coroner Enatsu Fuyuko, a beautiful 29-year old woman who was recently transferred from Tokyo to the Kyoto Prefectural Headquarters. The fact that the Coroner Enatsu Fuyuko series had been dramatized for television several times wasn't a good sign in my mind either.

And I was therefore quite surprised that most of the stories included in this collection are reasonably entertaining and sometimes pretty smart. There is however one major flaw that holds for all the stories here, and it's real shame, as this collection could have been much more than it is now. The problem is that while often these stories have pretty good ideas, like a locked room or something like that, but Yamamura for some reason doesn't really give the reader a chance to solve the puzzles themselves: Fuyuko is of course the detective, but almost every single time, she refers to a clue or something like that, that allowed her to solve the case. However, we as the reader never get to see before Fuyuko talks about them! Take the opening story for example, Shoujo wa Misshitsu de Shinda ("The Girl Died Inside A Locked Room"). A girl is found asphyxiated in a small cabin outside in the garden of her home, which she used as a study room, preparing for her entrance exams. With the doors and windows locked, and her head in a bag with paint thinner, it looks at first like a suicide, but Fuyuko realizes that not only was the girl pregnant, she was also strangled very carefully as to not leave any marks on her neck. Suspicion soon falls on the boy who she was dating, but the police can't do anything unless they can prove how it was done. Yamamura here comes with an okay locked room puzzle, but also with a very neat clue that leads to the solution of that locked room mystery. The clue is original, believable and.... could have been so satisfying had we as the reader actually seen it in advance, rather than first hearing about when Fuyuko explains how the job was done. Had this been written in a fair manner,  this would have been a pretty good story, now it's more focused on the 'shock' factor, but it simply doesn't sit well, as the decisive clue really comes out of nowhere, even if it's a pretty good one.

And that's pretty much the story for the whole collection. Gisou no Satsujin Genba ("The Faked Crime Scene") is about a newly wed couple of which the wife was murdered in the study, and the husband gone. Fuyuko makes some interesting observations in regards to to the room, which allows her to solve the case, but again, we don't actually get to read about those points until Fuyuko mentions them, even though these were some pretty original clues: the one big observation she makes by comparing photographs made at the discovery of the body, and more recent ones is quite smart, and another clue that helps her identify the true culprit would've been fun to work out had it been introduced properly. In Kieta Haiguusha ("The Missing Spouse"), Fuyuko catches a program on the television about a man and a woman that has run away together: their respective spouses (a pregnant woman, and a husband and child) are hoping they will return to their homes, but the runaway husband says it's all over and refuses to come back home to his wife. Later, the runaway wife is found dead, apparently overrun by a train, but Fuyuko realizes that the evidence seems off. Like the previous story, Fuyuko manages to solve this based on a clue that would've worked pretty smart in a visual medium, but now you only have Fuyuko mention it after the fact.

Suisen no Hanakotoba wa Shi ("The Daffodil Means Death in Flower Language") is about the death of a teacher in ikebana (flower arrangement), and focuses on the alibis of two suspects: a rivaling ikebana teacher in the same neighborhood who wasn't doing as good as the victim, and the fiancé of the victim, who was in fact not only a womanizer, but also seriously dating a younger woman at his work. Again a story that would've worked better in a visual medium perhaps, but most importantly, this story not only uses a clue that is left unmentioned until the last moment, but also builds on ikebana trivia which is of course only mentioned when Fuyuko explains everything. Kichoumen na Satsujinsha ("The Methodical Murderer") starts out with the kidnapping of a child, but he is soon found murdered. Evidence left on his body, like a tire track on his apron, suggests he was run over by a car after he was dropped off by the schoolbus near his home. The clue Fuyuko conjures out of nowhere this time however is not as inspired as earlier stories.

Oboreta Onna ("The Drowned Woman") is about exactly what the title says: a woman is found drowned in her home. The mystery? She was not only naked, she was drowned in her home with the water of Lake Biwa. A more conventional mystery story, with a problem that seems interesting at first sight, but not nearly as tricky or surprising as the earlier stories in this collection. Surprising however is the start of Kubi no Nai Shitai ("The Headless Body"), as it's about the discovery of a cut-up female body, of whom the head was missing. Eventually, the police manage to identify the victim as a woman who was reported missing by her husband, but the whole premise is a bit silly as there is absolutely no way this plan could've gone undetected. The final story, Hone no Shougen ("The Testimony of the Bones"), is hardly a mystery, as side-story-esque segment early on in the story gives away the motive, which is basically the only mystery in this story: why was an elderly man killed and why was he robbed from the remains of his son, who had died in World War II in Saipan and whose remains were only recently brought back to him?

So Kyouto Satsujin Chizu ended up as somewhat of a disappointment, but not because of the reasons I had first expected. As a mystery short story collection, this is a decent one, but it could've been easily much better had Yamamura written these stories in a more fair way. The clues she uses are actually quite good, but for some reasons she chooses not to mention them until the denouement. I guess that some readers might like the 'surprise', but I at least felt that while often the core plot's good, I felt cheated, or at least slightly annoyed, these clues weren't given due attention earlier. Perhaps these stories work better in a visual format, as many of the clues are kinda visual, or elsewise easier to show inconspicuously in a show, but as a book, Kyouto Satsujin Chizu is something that could've been much more.

Original Japanese title(s): 山村美紗 『京都殺人地図』:「少女は密室で死んだ」/「偽装の殺人現場」/「消えた配偶者」/「水仙の花言葉は死」/「几帳面な殺人者」/「溺れた女」/「首のない死体」/「骨の証言」

Friday, November 2, 2018

Overwrite

「私が見聞きした殺人の動機は過去の罪や、根深い怨念が多かったけど、あなたの場合はもっとシンプルだ」 
『金田一37歳の事件簿』

"Most motives I know of here about crimes committed in the past, or some deep-rooted hatred, but it's much simpler in your case."
 "The Case Files of the 37-year Old Kindaichi"

Oh, wow, it's been more than three years since I last did a double Detective Conan and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo review!

Like I mentioned in all of my Detective Conan-related reviews of this year, author Aoyama Goushou had a short break from the end of last year (around the release of volume 94) until one or two weeks before the release of Detective Conan: Zero the Executor in April this year. This of course meant that the weekly serialization of Detective Conan had also stopped for those four months. Usually, about three or four volumes are released each year, and at the very least, one volume is released in April to coincide with the annual theatrical release, but with no serialized chapters for four-five months, this was impossible of course and even after Aoyama resumed his work, it would take months to create enough material for a new collected volume. So Detective Conan 95 was finally released in the second half of October and it's not only the first Detective Connan volume to be released in 2018, but actually also the only volume of this year, as the next volume is slated for an April 2019 release! Guess I'll have to be grateful with the little Conan I did get this year....

Volume 95 starts with the final chapters of The Scarlet School Trip, which started in the previous volume. Thanks to some help of his friends and the experimental antidote, Conan is able to (temporarly) change back to his true Shinichi form, and participate in the Teitan High school trip to Kyoto. Shinichi and Ran run into the actress Kurachi Keiko (and old friend of Shinichi's mother Yukiko) at Kiyomizu-Dera. Keiko wants Shinichi to make sense out of a coded message left by a friend who committed suicide at Kiyomizu-Dera only a few weeks earlier. Her latest film is also set at Kiyomizu-Dera, and is a remake of a film her friends as a graduation project for art college, and like Keiko, her college friends have all become famous people in the industry as actors/directors/screenplay writers etc. Not even half a hour has passed after Shinichi and Sera have left Keiko and her friends to think about the code, when they are called back to the hotel room of one of them: the screenplay writer was found stabbed to death inside his hotel room, and bloody footsteps left on the ceiling suggest something pulled the man up to the ceiling, stabbed him mid-air and dropped the victim on the floor, and then walked on the ceiling to the window to fly away. Almost as if the Tengu from their film has come to life! While Shinichi, Sera and even Hattori ponder about this case, more attacks are made, with bloody footsteps appearing out of nowhere on walls and other places.

I already mentioned last time that this is a packed story, and for a reason: the opening chapter of The Scarlet Story was chapter 1000 of this series, so Aoyama went all-out with the characters. Lots of fan service and guest appearances in this story, and a lot of the typical rom-com you'd expect from a school trip story with Shinichi and Ran, but the core mystery plot is... not as entertaining as everything around it. The culprit stands out like a sore tooth, and the various "strange" incidents aren't really that impressive: one murder committed behind a restaurant for example seems more like an afterthought than anything. The main murder of the screenwriter with the footprints on the ceiling has an interesting idea behind it, but would not ever, ever work practically speaking. The trick of how the footprints appeared on the ceiling is not original per se, but what it uses for that end is definitely something new, and a perfect example of Detective Conan using modern-day objects to find new possibilities for mystery stories, but no way everything that had to be done to create this specific murder would go as planned, and that goes for most of what's going on in this story: the basic ideas might work, but it can not work in those particular forms, under those circumstances. The murderer basically re-uses the same idea from the first murder for the final murder, but that is utterly impossible to do at that specific location. I mean, you'd physically not have the space to do that without everyone noticing you, and even then it'd be hard to do! So The Scarlet School Trip is best enjoyed as a special story to celebrate the fact the series reached a milestone and there's plenty of character development here, especially for the Shinichi/Ran fans, but it won't really satisfy as a standalone mystery story.
 
...I had totally forgotten Yaiba has a sister...

The True Identity They Found is a transition story, dealing with the aftermath of The Scarlet School Trip, combined with a cute Detective Boys story. The story about a treasure hunt the deceased grandmother had laid out in her home for her granddaugher (one of the Detective Boys' classmates) is nothing special mystery-wise, fairly simple stuff that kinda invokes the earliest Detective Boys stories (which Genta actually comments on). This story however is also about a certain post on SNS, that says the poster saw Kudou Shinichi solving the case of The Scarlet School Trip. Which is very troublesome, as "Kudou Shinichi" has disappeared from the public eye ever since he was turned into Edogawa Conan, and he is thought dead by the Black Organisation that turned Shinichi in a kid. If they would learn that Kudou Shinichi is in fact alive, his life and those close to him would be in immediate danger. While efforts to surpress the rumors are made, it seems this will turn into a story-driving force for the moment. Oh, and the obi explicitly mentions this, but this is also the volume Conan finally learns the name of the boss of the Black Organization!

In Don't Come To The Black Bunny's Club, Mouri Kogorou is hired by Moro'oka, a wealthy man who has received a threatening letter, telling him to stay away from the Black Bunny's Club (where the waitresses dress like bunnies. And no, you can't touch them). Kogorou is not only joined by Ran and Conan, but also his "disciple" Amuro, who seems to have his own agenda too to accompany the three. During dinner, Yuri (a bunny who was becoming close to Moro'oka) is poisoned, and it seems three persons had the opportunity to add poison to Yuri's wineglasss: Moro'oka himself, his butler and a rival bunny. The way Conan and Amuro rule out two of the suspects seems a bit hasty, but I do like the solution to how the poisoning was done: it builds somewhat on an old trope from whodunnit puzzle plot mysteries, but is again a good example of Detective Conan using modern day objects to create original solutions to what would seem to be "classical" mystery plot. The ending of this story also shows that Aoyama is busy moving his chess pieces for an event which might very well be the ending of this series.

Volume 95 ends with the first few chapters of The Targeted Female Police Officers, where a few of Yumi and Sanae's female patrol officers are killed by a horrible serial murder, who is luring the women away and killing them off one by one. But we'll have to wait for volume 96, to be released in April 2019, to see how this'll end.

Detective Conan 95's release was followed a few days later by Kindaichi 37-sai no Jikenbo 2 ("The Case Files of the 37-year Old Kindaichi 2), the second volume in the new Kindaichi Shounen series which is, as the title suggest, not about the 17-year old high school student Hajime anymore, but a 37-year old Hajime who now works as a single, low-ranking employee at the firm Otowa Black PR. In the first volume, we learned that 37-old Hajime is quite tired of solving mysteries and he just want to live his life, but fate has something else in store for him. His firm is organizing a new dating tour: five eligible men and five eligible women will spend a few days in a resort hotel on a faraway, small island, where they'll get to know each other and hopefully find a partner. Hajime and his cute subordinate Hayama are to supervise the tour and make sure everything goes well. Hajime's Spider Senses however go nuts when he notices the "faraway small island" for his tour is in fact Utashima, the place where Hajime as a teenager solved no less than three seperate murder cases, which were all connected to The Phantom of the Opera. Despite Hajme's best intentions to run the tour as best as possible, his fourth visit to the island seems to be cursed, as one of the bachelorettes is killed, with he body first disappearing, and then re-appearing hanging from the bell in the chapel tower, and later another bachelor learns why you should NEVER EVER trust the chandeliers in buildings on Utashima. For yes, they have a tendency to kill people, the past has told us. With his tour (and by connection, his job) at stake and a storm cutting the island off from the outside world, Hajime has no choice but to play the detective again like he used to and figure out who the murderer is.

The Utashima Resort Murder Case started in the first volume of this new series, but the remainder of this story still takes up most of volume 2. As a mystery story, it's not exceptionally brilliant compared to other stories in the series: we've seen the "perfect alibi" type of trick very, very often in this series, where it seems all the suspects have an alibi when a certain incident happens, and most of what occurs in this story are variations on this plot device. The tricks used in this particular story aren't really original on their own either, so you end up with a mystery story that isn't really outstanding, but does everything kinda the way you'd expect it would, without ever really falling beneath the standard of expectation. The story also doesn't play fair with the motive at all: Hajime is told something by Kenmochi that basically solves everything, but we are not told the details. Sure, we can  figure out who the murderer is without that, but why do we need to do that if Kenmochi basically just told Hajime!? Also: the physical change in that one character was extreme. Nice touch with the nature/motive of the murders though, as it's not something often done for the whole series of murders and it definitely sets this murderer apart from other murderers in this series.

The Utashima Resort Murder Case did manage to entertain me a lot by the plot device of having a 37-old Hajime now though. Most of the time, the story does feel like a "normal" Kindaichi Shounen story, and you wonder whether it's really necessary to make him twenty years older than the other series, but at times, it really manages to hit the right (comedy) marks by subverting the expected tropes of this series. We already know that there's some kind of incident, or at least something on his mind, that made Hajime turn away from his teenage detecting days, but the timeskip is also used to reflect a bit on the old stories. One of the best moments of this story for example is when Hajime asks everyone to gather at his room so he can explain who the murderer is, like he did in the old days, and he finds nobody has come except for the murderer themselves. Heck, even Hajime notes that the motive is something he hardly came across in his teenage detecive days. Things don't always go like in the old stories, though it's still obviously the Kindaichi Shounen we know.

The end of the story also sets up the overall storyline for this series, as it seems Hajime will have to face multiple grown-up "seeds" planted by his greatest nemesis and we might get a more storyline-focused series like Tantei Gakuen Q. Volume 2 ends with the first chapter of The Apartment Tower Madam Murder Case, which seems to be shaping up to be a kind of inverted story like we occasionally saw in the old series, with Hajime helping his (single) neighbor with her catering service at a party at an apartment tower organized by some of the women who live there who seem to hate one certain woman a lot.

Both Detective Conan 95 and Kindaichi 37-sai no Jikenbo 2 were not particularly impressive as mystery stories, though for long-time fans of both series, both volumes had a lot to offer: Conan 95 is one of the clearest signs Aoyama is thinking of the end of the series, while Kindaichi 37-sai no Jikenbo 2 is in essence a very familiar sight, but with a few funny surprises here and there. Anyway, the next volumes of both series won't come until next year, so I guess we'll have to wait and see what direction both series will turn to now.

Original Japanese title(s):  青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第95巻
天樹征丸(原)、さとうふみや(画)『金田一37歳の事件簿』第2巻