Tuesday, December 29, 2009



Radio dramas can go as far as mankind's imagination, that's what I think. I love it, you know. Radio dramas."

"Welcome Back Mr. McDonald"

While I wrote earlier that I watched the drama Meitantei Asami Mitsuhiko: Saishuushou ("Great Detective Asami Mitsuhiko: The Final Chapter"), I have to admit I have never, ever watched a whole episode of it. I fell asleep halfway through every single time. While the stories aren't that bad, early classes meant I was already dead by the time the drama finally began. And to be honest, you don't watch Asami Mitsuhiko for its story, you watch it for great location shots of every part of Japan.

Which is a big thing of detective drama in Japan. Especially the lighter mystery dramas (based on works by writers like Nishimura Kyoutarou and Yamamura Misa) are not as much about the story, but just excuses for location shots. Heck, sometimes the story even moves to South-Korea. Which is in fact quite close to Fukuoka. JLCC students who are from Busan could theorically go back home every day with the ferry.

But the king of travel detectives has to be the Asami Mitsuhiko series by Uchida Yasuo. Protagonist Mitsuhiko is a freelance writer on food and history and he travels to a new place in every book. And of course, Always Murder. So I tried the first book in the series, Gotoba Densetsu Satsujin Jiken ("The Go-toba Legend Murder Case"), which was an OK book, making no real faults, but also not containing elements to make it a classic. Weird though, was how Gotoba Densetsu Satsujin Jiken initially starts as a police procedural, until halfway the book the author suddenly seems to have a change of heart and changes a minor character from several chapters earlier into the great detective. That and the legend of Go-toba was surprisingly not very relevant to the case. You'd expect otherwise from a book named The Go-toba Legend Murder Case. But in any case an entertaining book.

And then there were the new podcasts/radio dramas of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. As I haven't read Q.B.I.: Queen's Bureau of Investigation yet, I was looking forward to these modern radio-drama versions of Ellery Queen's The Myna Birds and A Lump of Sugar. Especially the first one, as I was wondering whether something else besides Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney could pull of bird-as-a-vital-witness succesfully (Cross-examining a PARROT while still maintaining your dignity is hard to pull off!).
However, The Myna Birds certainly didn't succeed. The biggest problem is that the radio dramas are way too short, leaving no time for any development. The original war-time radio plays usually are around 30 minutes, leaving enough time to flesh out everything. Even with the bad sound quality and overacting, they're great to listen to even in this age. Heck, you could even just do with reading the scripts. These two radio plays by EQMM were just too short with too little substance.
\But they had nice music. Which is something.  

Original Japanese title(s): 内田康夫 『後鳥羽殺人事件』

Sunday, December 27, 2009

『死亡の館、赤い壁 (空城の計)』


Phantom thieves are artists who magnificently steal their trophies with the most brilliant tricks, but a detective is nothing more than a critic who looks at the results and tries to find faults."

"Detective Conan"

One of the first things that surprised me when I first visited the local Yamada Denki was that they sold books. And then the second surprise was that they were selling an immense Arsène Lupin boxset (placed next to an (Edogawa Rampo's) Shounen Tantei Dan boxset), which I still want to buy every time I walk past it. Then I realize I already own most of the books in a language I can read a lot easier.

So instead, I bought Nikaidou Reito's Meitantei no Shouzou ("Portrait of Great Detectives"), which featured pastiches on Maurice LeBlanc's Arsène Lupin, Ayukawa Tetsuya's Inspector Onitsura and John Dickson Carr's H.M. Merrivale (whom I'll admit I always confuse with Carr's Fell. In my head, they're the same). Prior books by Nikaidou I read where good, so expectations were high. If only I could remember when and where I bought this book. It was just sitting on my shelf here, but heck if I can remember where it came from.

But setting the mystery of the appearing books aside, expectations were fulfilled. 'Cept for one story (of which I can't determine whether it was a pastiche or not), they were all enjoyable. While I shamefully admit I actually like Ellery Queen's A Study in Terror, I usually don't read detective pastiches (parodies, I love though). Occasionally coming across titles like Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula explains why. But Meitantei no Shouzou was great, so I was quite happy. Especially the Arsène Lupin pastiche, Lupin no Jizen ("The Charity of Lupin") couldn't be more Lupin even if LeBlanc himself had written it. Sekishisou no Satsujin ("The Murder of Smallpox Manor") with its disappearing people and a cursed manor was an enjoyable Merrivale pastiche, which Nikaidou clearly enjoyed writing, seeing all the references to other Merrivale adventures.

One story in this collection wasn't a mystery or a pastiche though, but very relevant. Kaasuke no Seiki no Taiketsu ("Kaasuke's Match of the Century") is the ultimate homage to bibliophilic mystery readers. A "restaurant" that serves no food, but instead detective novels, ranging from the newest books to vintage books in original print? A Yomu-lier (Read-i-lier (Sommelier)) who will suggest the best books to read? A duel which is decided by determining the title and vintage of a book just by a single sip passage of the book? While it still appeared strange to me to bring your date to such a restaurant, the rest of the story was plain awesome. They should make manga about bibliophiles. 

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『名探偵の肖像』/「ルパンの慈善」/「風邪の証言」/「ネクロポリスの男」/「素人カースケの世紀の対決」/「赤死荘の殺人」

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"I am terrified of moving pictures. They are the dreams of an opium addict."


"This is great, fantastic! Ha ha ha... I think there's something like that among Carr's locked room tricks, but this is even more stupid."

"Detective Movie"

Vacation means I finally have time to read the books I keep buying. Which are mostly detectives. Lately, "Juggling between reports of life and writing about (Japanese) detective fiction while studying in Fukuoka, Japan" has not been the best description. So going to try to make up for that and first up is Tantei Eiga ("Detective Movie") by Abiko Takemaru. Never read any of his works and could tell you nothing about him. But for some sinister reason I had his name written on a list of writers I want to read. I just can't remember where I first came across this name. Most of the names I wrote down are new Golden Age writers, so I was at least expecting him to be that. However, I don't think Tantei Eiga is one of his better known works, I just bought this book, because it was the cheapest with a slightly interesting title.

The plot of the book is very interesting though. A star director is making detective movie, a hard-to-market movie in this age (in the long-lost past of 1990). But he has one trick up his sleeve: nobody except for him knows the solution to the story. Which of course sparks interest everywhere. Releasing scripts on a need-to-know base, filming progresses fast till they finally can start filming the last part of the movie. And then the director disappears.

Panic ensues. And hilarity. Because the movie is to be released quite soon, the crew decide to deduce the solution to the movie themselves. And then a two-layered story begins, where the book alternates between the search for the missing director and deduction sessions on the movie ending, and the events of the detective movie itself.

The book was quite entertaining, with especially the deduction sessions a highlight. Almost surreal (but hilarious) is the scene where every actor is trying to propose a solution in which they themselves are the killer, because in a detective movie, the killer is the most important role. The quest for the missing director is boring though and the final solution works only to an extent. It's really a trick that works in a) movie and b) real-life, but it just feels somewhat underwelming in book-form. This book would actually work great as a movie, now I think about it. Add in loads of movie trivia and it's a fun book for those who enjoy movies and detectives. And Detective Movies.

Not too sure about Abiko though. While certainly not bad, my first impression is kinda lukewarm, whereas my first encounters with writers like Norizuki Rintarou and Shimada Souji where superspecialawesome. Though I am interested in the scenario Abiko penned for the game 428 ~ Fuusa sareta Shibuya de, which at this point is incredible. I hate Abiko's name though. It's a Japanese name I've never seen before and I keep typing Akibo (every single time for this post), because it sounds (just slightly) less awkward.  

Original Japanese title(s): 我孫子武丸 『探偵映画』

Sunday, November 8, 2009



"Even if you don't believe yourself, I believe in you."

"The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: Chief Inspector Kenmochi's Murder"

Writing on detectivey-stuff is not going really well lately, mostly because I hardly read here. It at least is not a problem of not having enough material, because shelving problems are slowly appearing. I had started writing about how Japanese detectives are often like mini travel guides, as if they are not set in Tokyo or Osaka, they are often set at touristic spots all across Japan. Which was mainly inspired by a Wednesday TV drama I am watching, Meitantei Asami Mitsuhiko: Saishuushou ("Great Detective Asami Mitsuhiko: The Final Chapter") , which is about a journalist traveling all across Japan writing about touristic attractions, solving crimes and basically is an excuse to have every story set in another part of Japan. But then I realized this traveling aspect is also to be found very easily in Western (English) detectives, with the Orient Express and the Nile or just all across England, so it was not that interesting (though apparently the Asami Mitsuhiko series is quite popular here because it's so much like a travel guide with stuff on local legends).

But I digress. I don't do much reading except for homework now. Of course, I am actually required to read Edogawa Rampo stuff, as I have to hand in a book report next month for my research paper here, but even books with titles as The Era of Rampo: Ero Guro Nonsense can't help this reading-slump. Heck, even reading manga is not going as fast as it should.

Games are progressing quite good though. But while I enjoy detectives and games, they seldom work really good together. Case in point: the recently released Nintendo DS game Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo: Akuma no Satsujin Koukai ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: The Devil's Killer Voyage"). As releases in the Kindaichi Shounen series are not frequent anyway, I was kinda looking forward to this game, but as soon as I started up this game, I knew it would disappoint me, having played another game by the same developer. Please, developers at Tomcat, senseless clicking on every part of the map in the hopes the story progresses is not fun. Nor is diffusing bombs. Especially your bombs. Didn't you learn with Galileo DS?!

It's a problem I see often in detective games, where developers don't seem to be able to streamline the story. Either the story goes too fast, not allowing the player a chance to think or do anything at all, or the developers don't streamline the story at all and you are left clicking on everything, hoping you find the trigger for the next story event. A detective novel usually flows from one event to another, whether it being new information or the analyzing of information, but somehow, developers never seem able to really translate this to a working game system. And then you have the problem of developers wanting to make a detective game more like a game, so they insert bomb diffusing segments in the game. Which. Suck. Just because I am playing on a DS doesn't mean that you have to insert bad touchscreen gameplay.

Luckily, I had two new Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo volumes to wash away the memories of that game. They may only release two volumes of the manga a year, but it's always something to look forward too. And Pokémon HeartGold has found a great home in my Nintendo DS. After so many years enslaving poor critters is still addicting. And Butterfree, after so many years, you still are my favorite. Till I find a fishing rod to get me a Staryu. To get me a Starmie. 

Original Japanese title(s): 『金田一少年の事件簿 悪魔の殺人航海』

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Reality is a dream, your dream at night is reality", Rampo

While I like Edogawa Rampo's stories, I really need a lot of time to read his stories. I haven't really read many pre-war stories so I don't know whether this is a general thing or not, but the usage of kanji in Edogawa's work is very aggrevating at times, with of course many pre-war kanji and strange ways to write words from a modern point of view.

So while I actually wanted to translate The Murder Case of D-Hill, the first Japanese locked room mystery, I've put that plan on hold for the time being and instead did the simpler, short One Person, Two Identities. Which is an OK (non-detective) short story of Edogawa, but what is more interesting is how the theme of one person, two identities plays a big part in Edogawa's stories. People taking on other identities, people taking on other people's identities, blurring lines between reality and dream, no knowing anymore what is the original, it's a theme I enjoy very much in Edogawa's work. Silver actually makes an interesting point in Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowings and Japanese Crime Literature when he mentions how Edogawa's work can be read as stories that were both emulating the Western model, as well as atempts to try to move away from them, as Edogawa might have been afraid to forever remain nothing but 'an impersonator', never to be an original himself. But of course, who is to tell what original is in this world, what seperates the daydream of reality and when Morpheus' world ends ?

Friday, September 25, 2009


「名探偵。皆さん名探偵といえば誰を想像しますか?…シャーロック・ホームズ、エルキュール・ポアロ。エラリー・クイー ン…。日本にも様々な探偵がいます。日本の名探偵に共通する特徴なんだかご存じですか?実はみんな名字は洒落 てんですけど名前がどうも田舎臭いんですね。例えば…、明智…小五郎。金田一…耕助。そして、古畑……任三郎…」
『古畑任三郎: ゲームの達人』

Great detectives. If we're talking about great detectives, who do you think of? ... Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen... There are all kinds of great detectives in Japan too. Would you know the common feature between the Japanese great detectives? While they all have stylish family names, their given names somehow sound... provencial. For example, Akechi... Kogorou. Kindaichi... Kousuke. And Furuhata... Ninzaburou..."

"Furuhata Ninzaburou: The Game Master"

Paris The Netherlands in the fall. The last months of the year and the end of the millenium. This city holds many memories for me. Of cafes, of music, of love, and of death. Ok, scrap that Broken Sword reference. Anyway, the last days in the Netherlands and Murphy kindly decided to pay me a visit by cursing my computer with fairly mild to very drastic problems, which is kinda scary. Other hurdles that had to be dealt with was finishing a review for the Dutch magazine AniWay (on Japanese popculture) (I am always doing reviews last minute). While I thoroughly enjoy writing reviews on manga, games et cetera and have written some years now, I find writing in Japan to be extremely difficult. Writing for a magazine has been quite fun though, as I could promote underrated and unknown series to the general public. Including detective manga. And somewhere I am kinda proud I actually got pictures of kids being crucified for rain published in the magazine.

So I wrote my final review on Maruo Suehiro's Panoramatou Kidan ("The Strange Tale of Panorama Island") and a habit of more recent years has been to do way more background research than required for such a review. With a draft review on Tezuka's MW, I even had referenced the big (BIG) book from the International Relations of Japan course, because it was quite relevant from a historical viewpoint, but in the end, you only have only just so many words you can put on one single page. So that was scrapped. And probably information overkill for the average reader anyway.

Panoramatou Kidan is based on the novelette by Edogawa Rampo and tells the story of a writer who fantasizes about an utopia. His utopia. He impersonates a recently deceased wealthy man, pretends to have come back to life and uses the money of the family to build his dream, the titular Panorama Island (and commits murder along the way). While it was not very well received at first, the story gained popularity in years and is now one of the better known stories by Edogawa, having also been the main source for the movie Horrors of Malformed Men and also filmed as one episode in the popular Akechi Kogorou tv-series ("The Beautiful Lady from Heaven and Hell").

Having read the original story and the manga, I am sorta surprised I like it as much as I do. It's not as creepy as The Blind Beast or the Human Chair, nor as interesting for a detective reader as The Psychological Test or Beast in the Shadows. But the story just works. It somehow manages to convey the dreamy aspect of Edogawa's writings perfectly and with just enough a bit of crazy crime, just enough a bit of gaudiness (I am truly wondering whether Edogawa was one of the first to think of a underwater tunnel like you see often in aquaria nowadays), just enough a bit of horror, resulting in a fine novellete. I am also pleased to say the manga is excellent, as the crazy visuals of Maruo Suehiro add a lot to the experience.

As an early work of Edogawa, it's also interesting to see that the detective who appears at the end is interestingly not his series detective Akechi Kogorou, but a very similar named Kitami Kogorou with a similar occupation, a scholar (the early Akechi was a scholar, later a famous detective). It seems to serve no purpose at all to have a different (but the same) detective in the story (even considering how the story ends). And it is even stranger considering Edogawa had been using Akechi Kogorou as a series detective for several stories now, so why use a character who was clearly an expy of Akechi?

Having read the original story, I also wanted to include background information regarding modernism in Japan (which is important in Edogawa's work) in my review of the manga through a reading of Silverberg's Erotic Grotesque Nonsense (which is an interesting book on its own) and rereading other books like Silver's Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowings and Japanese Crime Literature (which has a very interesting section on Edogawa Rampo). Of course, then I noticed I would have needed more pages to incorporate all that information, so I decided to scrap most of it. I should've known.

I might not get as much exposure writing stuff here, but I can write as much or little as I want on anything, which naturally has its good points. Of course, it means getting less pictures of kids being crucified for rain published in magazines available all across the Netherlands. Which is a pity. Maybe I should try to pitch a Left Hand of God, Right Hand of the Devil review one of these days (these are literally just the first few pages of the manga, it gets a lot messier).

(Ugh, I want to bring the books mentioned earlier
(and more, like Kawana's Murder Most Modern) to Japan, but they're so heavy~)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Ah, one more thing, sir."


"Erm, it's been a long while. How have you been? I've been fine. Erm, everyone was young at a time. Of course, so was I. And everyone in that sensitive period, had someone who influenced them. Of course, so had I. The person who I am now, was all because I met that person. Even now, when I close my eyes, the face of that person is visible behind my eyelids.... Let's try closing our eyes."

"Middle School Student Furuhata"

Lately, I have been watching some old episodes of that classic detective show Columbo again. Ever since I was a kid I have loved this show and while occasionally some of the more recent movies are shown on Dutch television, the original series has not been broadcast here for years now. But even now as I watch the series, I feel it has lost nothing of its charm. Heck, in the 40 years since its debut few series were made that were so entertaining in my opinion.

And this is despite the fact that pretty much every episode is the same: you see the murderer-of-the-week (celebrity actors like Leonard Nemoy Dr. Spock) commit his/her murder, usually in a clever way to avert suspicion. Then scruffy-looking lieutenant Columbo arrives and the rest of the episode, consists mostly of cat-and-mouse scenes between just the lieutenant and the killer, with Columbo asking trivial question after question and telling stories about his wife and simply looking a lot more stupid than he actually is. The point of every episode is figuring out how Columbo is going to prove the murderer is guilty.

The show is just two people talking. About a murder you have seen already. Dialogue about something you know everything about for an hour. But it works. Every. Single. Time. The great plots, the great acting, it's all top-notch and every episode is as exciting as the previous one, despite being basically the same. Columbo pulls off the use of a formula brilliantly.

I actually don't like the name howcatchem (c.f. whodunnit), nor inverted detective (techically it's inverted, but from a chronological view, the inverted detective runs completely straight, so the term feels strange to me). But it's been a style in detective fiction since at least Freeman's The Singing Bone (1912). Interestingly, Edogawa Rampo had written one himself too (The Psychological Test (1925), included in Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination) and in his 1934 essay The Four Types of Detective Stories, he had identified the inverted detective (the toujo tantei shousetsu: "chronological reversed detective" which feels even more wrong than inverted detective) as his fourth type, but as he had only 3 examples (including his own story), he wasn't sure whether he should include it as a proper detective story type. Time proved Edogawa right though.

A more recent Japanese example would be the Gyakuten Saiban (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney) game series, as in many cases you usually know who did it, you just have to prove it in court. As an attorney using the foolproof Columbo way of pouncing on every contradiction, how insignificant it may seem, you eventually manage to solve the case.

But if you're talking about the inverted Japanese detective, one name should come up immediately: Furuhata Ninzaburou (yes, I shamelessly stole the logo design for this blog). It's pretty much a clone show of Columbo, with lieutenant Furuhata being the one asking many many seemingly trivial questions to the murderer-of-the-week with his polite way of talking. And like Columbo, Furuhata Ninzaburou managed to make every episode worthwile. Running for more than 10 years in Japan, it has been one of the most popular shows there, featuring many high profile celebrities (like Ichiro, SMAP, Sanma and Matsushima Nanako) as murderers. Also amusing are the seemingly non-sequitur introductions of every episode (that in the end turn out to tie up with the theme of the episode neatly), which I occasionally use as introducing quotes myself. But what makes Furuhata Ninzaburou really interesting, is the formal challenge to the watcher in every episode. Inspired by the 1975 Ellery Queen show, Furuhata actually breaks the fourth wall near the end of the episode and asks the viewer whether they can prove the murderer did it, as he certainly can. It's one of those shows I am proud to own on DVD.

Ah, one more thing, sir, the proper way of finishing this post would be a Columbo-ian "one more thing, sir...", of course, but as I can't think of something worth mentioning, this will do. え~、古畑任三郎でした。

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"No Chinaman must figure in the story."

『古畑任三郎: ピアノ・レッスン』

"Ehm, people who are concerned whether they are disliked or not, don't worry. In such cases you usually really are disliked. But a problem are those people who don't see they are being disliked..."
"Furuhata Ninzaburou: Piano Lesson"

"No Chinaman must figure in the story". Thus says the fifth commandment for the Golden Age detective as set by Robert A. Knox. It sounds just a bit more racist than meant to, as the rule meant that the evil mysterious opium-den master Fu Manchu-like stock character Chinaman which was in popular use in cheap thrillers in Knox' time should have no place in a formal mystery novel. Of course, pretty much all the rules set by Knox were broken in several of the best mystery novels ever, so Chinamen were indeed also featured in detective novels.

One of the better known examples is the Chinese detective Charlie Chan who operates in Hawaii. I picked up a omnibus of the first 3 Chan novels (with the Worst. Cover. Ever.) at the Bookfest (which is probably the nearest we'll get in the Netherlands to a Book Off) and recently finished the first novel, The House Without a Key. The Chan books and writer Biggers are often praised for their positive portrayal of Chinese persons in literature (contrary to the practice of those days), but even then, the clutches of Orientalism are hard to escape, so instead of a evil mysterious opium-den master Fu Manchu-like stock character, we get a benevolent mysterious overly polite stock character who at least not speakies pigeon talk, but does talks the English in a way the most peculiar and quaint. Of course, we know that the Belgian Hercule Poirot has an excellent grasp on the English, but talks sometimes in broken English to let people underestimate him, but I doubt that's the case with Chan. The plot of the book was nothing special, but I did like the Hawaiian setting. 'Cause it reminds of me a quite tasty meal I had in Japan once. Twice.

A lot more entertaining are the Judge Dee books by Robert van Gulik. While different from the classic model, detective-like novels have been around in China for centuries, usually in the form of criminal court records, with the judge (who was also responsible for the prosecution...) as the detective. Van Gulik translated one of these court records, Dee Gong An ("Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee") most excellently, providing a role model for (crime) translators everywhere in my opinion. Afterwards van Gulik wrote his own mystery novels using the characters of the Dee Gong An. Set in the Tang dynasty, the books are both entertaining as (very!) informing, as van Gulik was a celebrated Sinologist and incorporated loads of interesting facts regarding the culture and judical system in the novels. Like a detailed explanation regarding the legal use of torture by judges.

Van Gulik translated another court record by the way, Tian Yin Pi Shih ("Parallel Cases from under the Pear Tree"), which also makes an interesting read for people interested in the ancient Chinese judical system. 72 double cases are presented, many of them reminiscent of the judgment of Solomon. Some cases described in the book were also used by Van Gulik in his Judge Dee novels, if I remember correctly.

These kinds of court records were also available in Japan. These premodern detectives seem to be quite interesting to me as a historical source as well as narratives. I think it would actually make a great research topic somehow, sometime in the future. Far away future.

Yes, I know I still have to read Sherlock in Shanghai.

Friday, September 18, 2009



Even if the statute passed
A crime is a crime
  "Statute of Limitations Police"

To connect right to the end of the previous post, it really is a small world after all. As I was playing through Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Aoi Me no Ryuu ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou: The Blue-Eyed Dragon"), I was quite very surprised to find out that my assailant whom I was tracking down, was to be found in a bar in... good old Ekoda. While locations in Tokyo like Scramble Crossing and in front of the Alta screen are famous sights in media, you wouldn't expect a place like Ekoda to show up... anywhere. Of course, one conversation in Tokyo that seemed to repeat itself every once in a while was that the dance studio in the movie Shall We Dance? was in Ekoda, viewable from the platform at the Ekoda Station.

So as the detective Jinguuji arrives at the virtual Ekoda, you get the following description:


Following the story of the tattoo studio's boss, I went to Sakaguchi's usual joint. Swaying to and fro in the train from Ikebukero, I arrived at the place where Sakaguchi's usual bar was, Ekoda. The sight of the streets and shops somehow gave off a nostalgic feeling. You could see the many figures of young people, maybe students."

Seeing the pictures of the south gate of Ekoda station made me feel somewhat nostalgic too. Especially when the text continued and it described how to get to the bar.


Would you know of a bar called 'Toraji' in the neighbourhood?"
Yeah, if it's 'Toraji' you want, if you go right at that bookstore at the corner, it will be at your left side. The owner is a good person and I really recommend it. I'll be going there too in a while."

Tokyo Pilot people will probably be able to place the bar (it's really there). The impossible-to-miss bookstore also played a role in the game and it seems the developers of the game actually took pictures of the shop. Don't know if the owner really looks like that though.

The only thing that would have make this more awesome (and slightly creepy) was if that little Chinese restaurant at the other side of the tracks had been incorporated in the game.

And totally unrelated, but Kamiya Akira quitting as the voice actor of Mouri Kogorou in the Detective Conan anime? I am actually shocked, as Kamiya is my favorite Japanese voice actor and one of the best in the business. Now I feel obliged to buy The Raven Chaser on DVD as his last great work...

Today's song: 神谷明&伊倉一恵 (Kamiya Akira & Ikura Kazue) 町中 Sophisticate ("A Whole Town Sophisticate")

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Player on the Other Side

「え~皆さんの前に登場してはや5年、これまでさまざまな犯人と出会ってきました。え~、発作的にしろ計画的にしろ彼らには犯罪 を犯すだけの理由がありました。今回登場する犯人はそう言った意味ではもっとも危険なタイプな犯人と言えるかもしれません。ん~、すなわち、犯罪をゲーム としてしか考えていない人物・・・・・手強そうです。」
『古畑任三郎: 最も危険なゲーム・前編』

"Ehm, in the five years I have stood before you all, I have come across all sorts of criminals. Eehm, whether it was done impulsively or planned, they all had some reason to commit their crime. And that's why this episode's criminal could be considered the most dangerous type of criminal. Hmmm, what I mean is, a person who sees crime as nothing more than a game... It's going be tough.",
"Furuhata Ninzaburou: The Most Dangerous Game - Part One"

(Yes, I'm really grasping now with these introducing quotes.)

If you don't want to read the book, you watch the movie. And in Japan, you apparently play the game. As I was having problems getting into Yokomizo Seishi's Yatsu Haka Mura ("The Village of Eight Gravestones"), one of the books in the Kindaichi Kousuke series, I actually bought the Nintendo DS game based on the book to cheat my way out of the book. Of course, this sort of backfired, because it was the most boring game I've played in ages. I love playing adventure games and I really don't mind the lack of interactivity in game series like Phoenix Wright, but at least I have to think there. It makes you wonder why in heaven's sake the developers of Yatsu Haka Mura added a scratch-scratch system (hint system that involves scratching your head till... dandruff falls. Yes. It's a Kindaichi thing), because no hints were needed. Ever. The game also abridged the story slightly, making me want to read the book anyway. So Yatsu Haka Mura failed as a game and as a book. But it did have cool graphics. Of course, anything that resembles Okami in art is just awesome.

The story though, is one of the defining Japanese mysteries and really enjoyable, involving a curse laid down by a party of 8 slain samurai on a small rural mountain village (with Cave Labyrinth(TM)), strange happenings surrounding the heir of the rich Tajimi family and It Was Based On A True Story. The True Story of a massacre in the village of Tsuyama. Be it in a movie or a TV-special, the 32 killings murder spree in the book has brought us one of the spookiest scenes ever involving a man running around with flashlights tied to his head. One phrase from the '77 movie, "Tatari jaa!" ("'Tis the curse!"), apparently ended up being one of the defining words of that year (just like how this year Japan has been defined by konkatsu, 'marriage hunting'). I honestly can't even begin to imagine how a sentence like 'Tis the curse!", a line from a detective, actually made it to being such an important word, but that's Japan for ya.

A much more enjoyable game was Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Shiroi Kage no Shoujo ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou: The White Phantom Girl"), the GameBoy Advance entry of a long-running, but outside of Japan hardly known detective game series. It's actually a hardboiled detective story, but like I said before: for me, if hardboiled detectives are presented with some music to listen to and not just as plain texts, but with something more to look at, I suddenly love it.

I don't think the detective novel is a very good medium to address social problems, but it happens.
Of course, the hardboiled detective can be an excellent vehicle to come across such problems because of his natural habitat (The Less Fortuned Part of Society). Chandler has been known to address social problems in his novels and from the 1950's on, starting with Matsumoto's work, the most important subgenre in Japanese mysteries has actually been the social detective. As such, I was not very surprised to see such problems as bullying, child abuse, homeless people and coin locker babies back in the Jinguuji games. And I really don't mind.

But of course, the Jinguuji games also offer great jazzy tunes and great stories which actually give me the chance to think at times and are at times plotted more like traditional puzzle detectives than a hardboiled detective, so Jinguuji's a bit more of like the best of all worlds. Oh, and no story about Jinguuji Saburou should ever be made without the mention that every game in the series features a button solely, solely for smoking. Yes. You can smoke in Jinguuji. And you will. Just because it's hardboiled.

And yes, even the games I buy to play when I'm not reading books are detectives.

Addendum: Discworld Noir is a great game! I have a bad habit of never finishing games and this was one of those games of which I hadn't seen the ending. I actually started it yeaaaaars ago, but I never got around to actually finishing it, till now that is. Anyway, very witty film noir hardboiled writing and some great sleuthing moments (the use of a notepad instead of a normal inventory system is genious as well as that other system halfway through the game) makes this one very good detective game, firmly set in the world of the City Watch Discworld books.

And yes, the only reason I started with the Discworld books is because of this game. And it's also why I only enjoy the City Watch novels. 

Original Japanese title(s): 『八墓 村』、『探偵神宮寺三郎 白い影の少女』

Thursday, September 3, 2009


"Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine."
"A Study in Scarlet"

When you're reading a detective by a writer called Norizuki Rintarou, who writes about the adventures of a writer called Norizuki Rintarou (who also uses a character called Norizuki Rintarou...), you know this is all one big Ellery Queen tribute. Heck, even the name of the book, Norizuki Rintarou no Bouken ("The Adventures of Norizuki Rintarou") is taken from The Adventures of Ellery Queen (which in turn mirrored The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes...). Luckily, it upholds the tradition of the name, because Norizuki Rintarou no Bouken is just as awesome a short story collection as his famous predecessors.

The stories are very Queen-like, with the first one, Shikeishuu no Puzzle ("Puzzle of the Death Row Inmate"), with its prison setting, being clearly based on The Tragedy of Z and even includes a similar conclusion, where by summing up all the attributes of the killer, the identity of the murderer is deduced. Other stories like Kurogo no Ie ("House of the Black Figure") tend to focus more on motives. And even very grotesque motives in Cannibalism Shouron ("Short Article regarding Cannibalism"). Personal favorite point of the collection and actually very Queen-ish, is the role of books in these stories. Four of the seven stories feature books heavily, like Kirisakima ("The Cutting Monster"), the story of a library, where somebody keeps cutting the title pages of famous detective novels. It's all great stuff (just like its sequel, Norizuki Rintarou no Shinbouken ("The New Adventures of Norizuki Rintarou")). While there is already one story of Norizuki available in English (An Urban Legend Puzzle in: Passport to Crime (editor: Hutchings)), more of this modern Queen should be translated. At once.

The first two stories in Nikaidou Reito's Meitantei Mizuno Satoru no Daibouken ("The Great Adventures of Great Detective Mizuno Satoru") are also kinda Queen-ish in spirit, while the last two stories, with its locked rooms and suggestion of the existence of aliens, remind more of Carr. The protagonist, travel agent Mizuno as a character, isn't very interesting though. Mizuno is somewhat similar to the manga Genshiken's Kousaka, in the sense that while he is handsome, trendy and a great succes with women, he is also actually one of the biggest otaku around, knowing thousands of anime songs, every kaijin in Kamen Rider and just being an enormous mystery buff. The premise could work, but it is handled rather predictable.The stories however are certainly interesting though, and the most interesting story in the collection is The Murder Case of "the Murder Case of the Daimyou's Inn", which offers an alternate solution to Yokomizo Seishi's classic locked room mystery Honjin Satsujin Jiken ("The Murder Case of the Daimyou's Inn"). Although, in retrospect, it does remind me a bit of Queen's A Study in Terror.

Norizuki Rintarou no Bouken also happened to be wrapped in a bookcover bookshops give so people can't see what you're reading, which I normally refuse. But those cassiers are unbelievably quick in doing stuff you don't need ("I don't need a plastic ba... oh..."), so I guess I wasn't quick enough when I bought it. The cover is apparently part of a smoking manners campaign. Inhaled. Burned. Thrown away. If it were anything but a cigarette, it surely would be crying. And a picture of a man making love to a sigaret. Things you can only get in Japan.

Monday, August 31, 2009


"Can't sleep... clown will eat me....", Bart Simpson, "The Simpsons: Lisa's First Word"

I don't like clowns. If there is one existence on this Earth I truly fear, it's clowns. And I haven't even seen Stephen King's "It". Nor am I ever planning to. Of course, coulrophobia is not a very rare phobia. Don't know about my fear for human-like dolls and that other fear though. Especially the last one seemed strange to my fellow Tokyo students apparantly.

And when I innocently started up the 1976 movie Watcher in the Attic ("Yaneura no Sanposha"), based on the short story by Edogawa Rampo, I never, ever would have thought the director would add a clown to the story. Not the figure-of-speech type of clown, but the one with a red nose. That certainly wasn't in the original. Adding a clown to a story can never be a good idea. Never. The rest of the movie was enjoyable, a more explicit version of the story of a voyeur spying on people from the attic and also contemplating about murder. And bonus points for incorporating that other Batshit-Edogawa-Insane-Awesome short story, The Human Chair in the movie. But minus points for the clown. Note that I don't have the usual movie cover beside the text. For it features the clown.

In an interview with Edogawa's son which I very coincidentally found (involving buying random manga just because his name was on it), it was revealed that Edogawa actually wanted to direct movies and it makes me wonder how Batshit-Edogawa-Insane-Awesome his movies would've been.

But after so many of these kinds of stories of Edogawa, I really needed to go back to the essentials. Detectives. Edogawa is famous for his eruogurononsense mystery stories, no doubt about that, but few people know he has written loads of criticism on the detective genre. Most of his important essays can be found in Edogawa's Gen'eijou ("The Illusion Castle"). Which was also the name of his house (now sort-of-a-museum) in Ikebukero, where I could've gone to when I was in Tokyo, if not for the little fact I didn't find out about it till way to late. Gen'eijou (the book, not the house) features texts that almost seem blog-like on what he has read lately, to more abstract analyses on detective fiction in both Japan and the United States and the United Kingdom. Some of his essays have been translated in The Edogawa Rampo Reader, with An Eccentric Idea being an interesting essay about some specific murder tricks found in fiction. The big brother of this essay, An Itemized Catalog of Tricks however is way more interesting. It's a gigantic list of all sorts of tricks used in detective fiction, categorized in tricks concerning the identity of the murderer, the murder location, time of murder, hiding places et cetera. With examples. And it's a very, very good read. If you like detectives. A full list of tricks to use when planning a murder can never be a bad idea.

And it's when you read stuff like this, you know why Edogawa is immediately associated with detective novels in Japan and not just with erogurononsense. Stuff like An Itemized Catalog of Tricks deserve a translation. Clowns however, can disappear for all I care. Of course, combinations of intricate murder tricks and clowns as victims are also acceptable. Truly, a movie directed by Edogawa about the murder of a clown (or plural) would have been Batshit-Edogawa-Insane Awesome.

Saturday, August 29, 2009



"Even if you solve that problem, no happiness will come from it."

"The Devotion of Suspect X"

I watch Japanese television drama quite often nowadays, and while I had seen some drama before, I really started watching drama series with Galileo, based on the Detective Galileo books by Higashino Keigo (Meitantei no Okite). While certainly not a formal detective, the Galileo series certainly had some interesting points. Most of the stories involved seemingly supernatural phenomena like spontaneous combustion, astral projection and premonitions, usually connected to a crime in some way. Of course, at the end of each story, thanks to the insights of assistant professor Yukawa, nicknamed The Weirdo Galileo, these phenomena turn out to have a perfectly logical explanation to them. Because it's a scientific detective though, most of the mysteries are not really solvable for the normal reader as specific knowledge is needed. But the drama was quite entertaining. Especially the ridiculous over-the-top eureka scenes of Yukawa randomly writing on everything. Correction, ridiculous eureka scenes of Yukawa randomly writing on everything because he can solve everything through mathematics. Everything. Even things that can't.

The books, with Higashino Keigo's dialogue-heavy texts and good sense of kanji-usage, are also very easy to read to and the Detective Galileo books are actually the first books in Japanese I ever read. Certainly different from the It's not in the dictionary! rage I get from Edogawa Rampo's books. So I went through Galileo no Kunou ("The Agony of Galileo") pretty fast, one of the two Galileo books released last year. Two of the five short stories were already adapted as the Galileo Φ TV special, but all in all, a kinda disappointing short story collection. Similar solutions to earlier stories popped up, which is never a good sign. Nor was the suggestion of the supernatural as effective as in earlier stories.

Of course, supernatural phenomena aren't always needed for a good Galileo novel, as proven with the novel Yougisha X no Kenshin ("The Devotion of Suspect X"), which featured 0 supernatural phenomena, but was just a great story. The book was subject to quite some discussion in Japan whether it was a formal detective or not, but for me, it was and heck, I just love the theme of the book. The movie based on the book? Arguably even better. The movie didn't contain ridiculous eureka scenes with random writing though.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


"'You see,' he explained, 'I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.'", Sherlock Holmes, "A Study in Scarlet"

Packages from Japan finally arrived (filled with quite a bit more than this), which took around 7 weeks. As my reading stack was growing dangerously low lately, it came in just in time, bringing me manga, detectives (and non-detectivey books, CD's and DVD's). And there was much rejoicing.

The problem of my collection though, is that I don't have proper bookcases for a large part of my books and I occassionally have to air them out a bit and dust them. Especially because I have been away for months. Doing book maintenance always, always, means chaos in my room. Total chaos, I tell you. Especially when stacks of Meitantei Conan tumble (a complete Conan stack by the way, stands surprisingly tall). In a distant past, the books were quite managable too. Lately? Less and less. It has come to the unbelievable point I actually was surprised to find books at certain places, as I was convinced I had placed them elsewhere. Never a good sign. And people thought I had many books in my room in Japan.

Saturday, August 22, 2009



"He said murder cases are the modern myths. Myths are stories of gods, devils and men, and in the case of murders, detectives are the gods, murderers are devils and victims are humans", Akechi Kogorou, "Meitantei nanka kowakunai"

Crossover fiction tend to turn out either horribly wrong or superspecialawesome. Usually, there is no middle ground. Opinions on even the mediocrest of stories can dragged all the way to the positive side, merely due to the presence of characters of different series. Nishimura Kyoutarou's Meitantei nanka kowakunai ("Not afraid of something like great detectives") just had to be immensly entertaining, as it features four famous detectives, Ellery Queen's Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Simenon's Maigret and Edogawa Rampo's Akechi Kogorou. I hold a special interest in three of these characters, so I was really excited about this book.

But then again, I had read some other books of Nishimura Kyoutarou before. He is an insanely prolific writer, famous for his train mysteries in Japan. In pretty much every Book-Off I visited, a minimum of 30 novels of him were to be found. Heck, the small Book-Off in Ekota had at least 60 novels of him in the bookcases, and two large discount boxes filled with exclusively his books. Two stories of him are translated in English, The Mystery Train Disappears and the short story The Kindly Blackmailer (in: Ellery Queen's Japanese Golden Dozen), but both were not very impressing. Thus even though I was excited about Meitantei nanka kowakunai, I was afraid this might be one of those trainwreck crossovers.

Luckily, this was the best novel I had read of Nishimura. With a plot that revolves around the infamous 300 Million yen robbery it was an OK story on its own, but having those four detectives together makes it a worthwile book. It does spoil the solutions to some famous stories however (spoiling both Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Akroyd? Blasphemy!) and the discussion where Akechi Kogorou's hints at more than friendly relations with both his chronicler Edogawa Rampo and the kid Kobayashi, is kinda disturbing.

But overall, the book is entertaining and it even features a Queensian Challenge to the Reader, where the story stops to signify every clue needed to solve the mystery has been presented and thus the reader should be able to solve the mystery now. Fair play mysteries at its best.

Of course, having four great detectives on the scene is hardly fair to the murderer. Or to the normal people, who have to suffer quite a bit from the sarcasm and haughty behavior of those great minds. Luckily for those people, crossovers in detective fiction are not very common. 

Original Japanese title(s): 西村京太郎 『名探偵なんか怖くない』

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Vainly I had sought to borrow from my books surcease of sorrow"

"Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before"
"The Raven"

The blessing and bane of really getting into a hobby is that you're never finished. There's always something left to do. The detectives-to-read list is just endless, getting longer and longer as I find out about new books everyday.

One pleasant expansion to the list though was another English Edogawa Rampo translation, which is probably quite unknown, even though it's a fairly recent publication. Edogawa Rampo's Nisen Douka ("Two Sen Copper Coin") was Edogawa's first published work and the very first original modern Japanese mystery story. The story takes it cues from Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold-Bug, but presented in a Japanese context. For readers in the Western world it is perhaps surprising to see how 'clean' this story is compared to the more erotic grotesque stories Edogawa wrote later on in his career. While on its own merits alone, this story is certainly nowhere near gold-material, but just like with Edogawa's D-zaka Satsujin Jiken ("D-Street Murder Case"), the story is important as steps towards real Japanese detective fiction. Insert Neil Armstrong quote.

The story is to be found in Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938 (Compiler: William J. Tyler), an anthology of precisely what it says on the cover. Modernist fiction from 1913-1938. It also contains new translations of Edogawa's The Caterpillar and The Man Traveling with the Brocade Portrait, which were already available in the excellent Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Modanizumu is not a normal anthology, but meant for the more serious reader also interested in Japanese history/sociology, as it tries to show the influence of modernism in the early 20th century on literature, accompanied with history-heavy introductions. Other highlights in this book however are the scenario of the strange, strange movie A Page of Madness (part of the Japanese and Korean Movies course in Leiden), a haunting trip to the past in Streets of Fiendish Ghosts, a strangely entertaining Tale of Trouble from the Bar Roulette about the troublesome partnership between a Japanese and a Dutchman (with the German name Karl Richter...) as owners of a bar and Tanizaki Junichirou's The Censor, which makes a great read on the literature censoring system in those times.

The censoring system also makes its appearence in the 1994 movie Rampo ("The Mystery of Rampo"), which like a lot of other Edogawa-based movies gave me strange visuals which left me wondering what the heck I was watching. Beginning with an animated version of The Appearance of O-den (translated in The Edogawa Rampo Reader) and then offering a continuation on that story, the movie puts confusing layers upon layers of narrative, until it really, really lost me at the end about which narrative was about what and when. Of course watching movies while reading might not be the optimal way of watching movies, but it helps shorten the reading list. And as I sat there reading my book and watching the movie, I pondered, maybe the reading stack will once shorten to a normal length, like long before. Quoth the raven, "nevermore".

Sunday, August 9, 2009


"There was something eerie about the image of this lone man who, hav-ing no means to communicate his wishes apart from moving his eyes, stared unwaveringly at one spot in the dead of night. Although she felt his mind had lost much of its sharpness and grown dull, wasn't it possible that a completely different world now possessed the inside of the head of this man who had been so terribly disfigured - a world wholly different from the one in which she and others like her resided? It frightened her to think he might be wan-dering in such a place now."
Edogawa Rampo, "The Caterpillar

Buying many manga to read, but sending them back with seamail in the last week of course means it is going to take ages before I actually get to see those books again. Luckily though, I had brought back some manga in my own luggage.

I bought Arijigoku vs BaraBara Shoujo ("Antlion vs BaraBara Girl") when I attended a small signing event of Kago Shintarou to promote the release of this volume, as I needed something he could actually place a signature on. But Arijigoku vs BaraBara Shoujo is a pretty amazing book on it's own, even without Kago's signature on it. With signature? Even more amazing.

Kago Shintarou's work is full of erotic grotesque imagery like body mutilations, accompanied by a dose of comedy and satire. Arijigoku vs BaraBara Shoujo is an anthology of his typical comedy/horror stories (yes, that is a possible combination) and pretty much all of them are batshit-insane-awesome. At times as creepy as the works of Umezu or Itou, at times as unpredictable crazy as Boboboubo Boubobo. One of the more impressive stories, Rinne no Umi ("The Sea of Reincarnation") is somewhat similar to the classic shoujo manga Please Save My Earth. Only this one has loads of gruesome deaths. If Please Save My Earth was more like Rinne no Umi, I would have read more of it.
Kago Shintarou's clean artwork combined a strong sense of comedy work makes his work pretty accessible, if not weak to erotic grotesque imagery. I found the works of Maruo Suehiro, another manga artist in the erogurononsense field to be somewhat less accessible in general, because his works tend to focus even more on dreamy imagery, making his stories harder to follow. But then again, Kago's humor can be so nonsensical at times, it's just way over the top. Kago has also been producing short animations and live action shorts (he also has some up at his YouTube account). Having been shown two hours of these shorts at his signing event, I can say some of them are really entertaining, but the gap in quality between these shorts and his manga works are big.

Less accessible was F.C.R. by Hanakuma Yuusaku. Especially his artwork is very, very crude, which makes it hard to get into for most people. I got to know his work through Tokyo Zombie, which was plain crazy. The author said himself about Tokyo Zombie:

"I made sure to give fans what they wanted (or at least I tried). I crammed in zombies, trucks, pro wrestling, martial arts, factories, Mt. Fuji, pigs, intense battles, wealthy people, slaves, porno, gym teachers, a little dog, Calpis, tonkatsu, a prince, a professor and so on, to try and create a comic that was a sort of fin de siecle celebration of manliness."

Tokyo Zombie was either some kind of genius allegory for the Japanese mass consumption society or something created through the use of psychedelic drugs, but at any rate very entertaining. Apparently, there is even a live action movie starring Asano Tadanobu (and including a cameo by horror-mangaka Umezu Kazuo). F.C.R. is an anthology of short stories, which, while less entertaining in comparison, is just as weird as Tokyo Zombie. I won't even try to describe it. The book says: "The Men who bought and saved the free cockmen". That should say enough. Or not. Of course, having bought the book at Nakano's strange, strange store Taco Che, it had to be weird.

But I really, really want to read some less grotesque, more mainstream manga now. If there are bodily parts to be chopped of, let it be normal horror or functional dismemberment.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009



"Maybe people by nature hold both an ugly and a beautiful side. Every man lives showing and hiding bits of both sides." "The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: Deep Blue Massacre"

Some things you read or watch because you know what to expect, especially with longer running series. So when I started with Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo: Satsuriku no Deep Blue ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: Deep Blue Massacre"), I was expecting several things. Gruesome murders. A motive rant made by the murderer. Possibly followed by a 'Shut Up Mokuba Hannibal' by Kindaichi. And token catchphrases like "nazo wa subete toketa" ("All the riddles are solved!") and "jicchan no na ni kakete" ("In the name of gramps!"). Because catchphrases are superspecialawesome. And of course, all these things were present in the book. Especially the gruesome murder was quite... gruesome with hearts being ripped out from chests. Nyeh.

The story starts with a terrorist hostage situation, with Kindaichi as one of the hostages and a leader/murderer calling himself King Shiisaa (it took me half the book to realize it was not meant as King Caesar, which in Japan contrary to the English-speaking world, is apparently actually pronounced in the right way). And stuff happens. Blah Blah Blah, Attack mode, Blah. Mediocre story, probably due it being originally meant as a movie set-up. And of course, everyone knows Morse code and everything is online. It felt more like a Kindaichi story by early writer Kanari instead of a novel written by the superior current writer-in-charge Amagi.

But still, as long as I am not robbed of my catchphrases and bloody murders, I tend to be fairly mild with my Brooklyn Rage towards mediocre Kindaichi stories compared to other mediocre detectives. Screw consistency, I have money. Or something like that. The offer of new Kindaichi material has been minimal these last few years (this year it's two Nintendo DS games and one story), but at least it's consistent. Of course, a new drama series based on the newer stories would be superspecialawesome and bound to attract a new audience of fans, if not only because Kindaichi drama always feature Johnny artists as protagonist Hajime and are always widely popular (then again, Johnny's are everywhere.)

On a side note, the book Yokai Attack! - The Japanese Monster Survival Guide makes a very interesting read on youkai, Japanese monsters/spirits and the like. Series like Umezu's Cat-Eyed Boy, Takahashi's Inu Yasha, Tezuka's Dororo and Mizuki's GeGeGe no Kitarou all feature loads of youkai, both by incorporating classic ones or by making new youkai based on classics. From well known traditional youkai like kappa, tengu and onibaba to more recent urban legend-like ones like Kuchisake Onna ("Slit-mouth woman") and Toilet no Hanako ("Hanako of the Toilet"), there all here in one handy guide. If in the least interested in monsters, mythology, Japan and horror (in all possible combinations of the above) this is a must-read. In America.