Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Finishing Stroke


"The owner of this shop used to say this. 'Just like how the human body is composed of proteins and vitamins, the human soul is composed of time and memories. That's why looking back at yourself in the past, is to get to know who you really are in the present." You have to remember it. 'What made me what I am?"
 "The Kingyo Old Book Shop"

Bara no Labyrinth ("Labyrinth of Roses"), a short story collection starring his main detective, Nikaidou Ranko. Having read an earlier book starring her, the awesome House of Vampires and some non-Ranko short story collections by Nikaidou, I was expecting much of these stories. Just looking at the titles of the stories made me excited. The Phantom of the Circus? The Face-Eating Monster? The Blazing Devil? How could it not be great, I thought.
Contuining my Nikaidou Reito reading spree, I first took up

Which was a big, big mistake. With only mediocre stories and even a bad story (rabies?!), I was genuinely shocked. I actually had trouble making my way through this book and with every story was hoping it would improve, but it was not to be. Not even once did I get the feeling Nikaidou was really trying with this collection. While nowhere near Murder in Monkeyland-horrible (which would be an accomplisment, I guess...), it was just disappointing how different it was compared to other stuff I read written by him.

Not too fond of the protagonist either. I can't remember how it was handled in House of Vampires, but Ranko is so bland (besides being a super-smart university student), I don't understand why Nikaidou is using her. Heck, if Nikaidou wasn't writing about how beautiful her hair was and how Ranko could've been a model (Every. Single. Story.), you wouldn't even know she was a girl. She might as well be a man. Or a ghost. Or a computer. She is just...there.

Luckily, he made up for it with Kikounin (Collector) no Fushigi ("The Wonders of Collectors"). It was the book I would have written had I been a writer. And had I not been genre savvy enough to see how blatantly self-referencing this book was. Being the story about a) a group of Tezuka Osamu fans who b) also collect rare manga and c) and one of them gets robbed of his rare books and murdered in a locked room, it was like Nikaidou looked straight in my mind when writing this.

And what if the locked room was nothing special? What if the detective was once again Mizuno Satoru, the super Otaku bishounen, who never really gets developed enough. The dialogue, which show how much a Tezuka expert Nikaidou Reito himself is, is full of information on Tezuka, manga releases, the world of rare book collectors and just plain fun to read. For manga/bibliophiles. Visiting bookshops in groups in hopes for that rare find? Done that in real life. Looking for obscure releases? Done that. I have read detectives which touched the subject of bibliophiles, but as this was actually about manga, Collector no Fushigi was even closer to home. Seldom have I read a book which was so recognizable and so much fun. I would have Gary Stue'd myself in this story, had I been the writer. Although I could indeed recognize myself in that victim. Besides the being dead part. 

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『バラ迷宮』/ 「サーカスの怪人」 / 「変装の家」 / 「喰顔鬼」 / 「ある蒐集家の死」 / 「火炎の魔」/ 「薔薇の家の殺人」; 『稀覯人(コレクター)の不思議』