Monday, May 16, 2011

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf?

 『人狼城の恐怖 第四部=完結編』

"To bury the evil past and bring forth a bright future, that's the work of a detective",
"The Terror of Werewolf Castle Part Four: Conclusion

The complete Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle") review series:
1. What a Night for a Knight (Part One: Germany)
2. Hassle in the Castle (Part Two: France)
3. Nowhere to Hyde (Part Three: Detective)
4. Who's afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf? (Part Four: Conclusion)

It has been a long month, but I've finished Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of The Werewolf Castle"). Realizing I've finally conquered this giant in Japanese detective fiction feels kinda weird. To crank up the sentimental tone: it actually took me quite some trouble to find all four volumes in Japan as they were out of print and so my quest for the books brought me from the good old Hakata Book Off all the way to a random Book Off in Osaka (other side of Japan...) where I completed my set. Which was over a year ago. I have never invested so much time, energy and effort in finding and reading a book. And now it's done! 達成感満々!

This review will be both on the final volume as well as the complete story, but it's highly recommended to read the previous reviews before proceeding with this one, just to see the whole picture.

Great Detective Nikaidou Ranko had been leaking out information on the case to the media in the previous volume, saying that the Werewolf Castle had been the scene of two series of horrible murders (see Germany and France) and also suggesting some sort of connection with a certain count Ribbentrop, head of a pharmaceutical company and current castle lord of.... the Werewolf Castle (both The Silver Wolf Castle and the Blue Wolf Castle). In Conclusion (the cover says: La Terreur Château du Loup-garou La Quatrième Partie Accomplissement), Nikaidou Ranko, together with brother Reito, their old teacher (whose name I can't spell) and inspector Rudendolf have been kidnapped ('invited') to the Blue Wolf Castle by Ribbentrop's solicitors, challenging the group to find evidence that any such murder occured in the twin castles. Whereas in many novels, a conclusion of 20-50 pages can be considered long, Ranko indeed uses almost all of this volume (650 pages) to reveal the whole truth behind the murders in the Silver Wolf and the Blue Wolf Castle, the many mysterious locked room murders and the horrible, hidden motive behind the slayings. And it's awesome.

Well, mostly. I'll start with the negative point first, that way I can end on a positive tone. The motive to the murders makes no sense at all. At least not to me, a mere mortal. I do like how Nikaidou Reito (the writer, not the character) strings together little threads of historic esoctoric subplots and underlying themes to an, admittedly, very interesting plot twist. I personally really like these kinds of stories. Only it doesn't really work in a detective novel. It makes no sense, nobody is convinced by it and it therefore makes the whole series of murders seem rather meaningless. And I doubt that was Nikaidou's intention. There are so many other, far more easier ways to accomplish the goal of the murderer(s). Now all the murders just seems like the work of a madman. And I know, Nikaidou has kinda created a way to talk himself out of it, but it isn't convincing. Oh, and the final part of the book was totally unnecessary and indeed left a bitter aftertaste. I can choose to ignore it, as it doesn't influence the story, but I'm kinda disappointed Nikaidou threw this in.

And now back to the good! Because it's good! Very good! People who have read the reviews on Germany and France already know that many people die in the respective castles in awesome locked rooms (though some of them are very similar) and the solutions Ranko proposes to them are as ingenious as shocking. I personally liked the Madame Charisse locked room the best (also selected by Arisugawa Alice for his illustrated guide to locked room mysteries), truly a trick worthy for a book called The Terror of Werewolf Castle. That is not too say that the other locked rooms are bad or anything, in fact, the whole level is quite high and many of them could have been used as the main trick for a normal length novel.

I was actually surprised that Nikaidou didn't include a Challenge to the Reader here actually, which almost seems mandatory nowadays, but in fact most of the riddles can be solved by a close reading of the accounts written in Germany and France, which is of course how Ranko came up with the solutions to the murders in the first place. Those two volumes are very much like the game Trick X Logic: everything written there is in fact true (ignoring mistaken assumptions by the narrator himself); it's up to the detective to carefully pick out the little contradictions and come up with the solution.

But the most impressive of the story is how Nikaidou Reito (again, the writer) managed to bring all of these mysteries together to create one gigantic mystery. Many writers of course do this, for example Rim of the Pit,  but the difference in scale and detail is immense. With some cryptic hints by Ranko, I managed to (partially) solve some of the murders, but certainly not everything. I do think it's perfectly solvable though, hints are spread abundantly throughout the first two books and Ranko makes several very meaningful comments in Detective too. Jinroujou no Kyoufu is not just a long book, it really makes optimal use of its page count and indeed brings a certain scale to the detective story I had never seen before. The katharsis you experience when everything is solved is also multiplied by many factors. The length of the book was needed to create the effect Nikaidou was aiming for and I say he succeeded.

The book does has some references to other Nikaidou Ranko adventures (most specifically Akuryou no Yakata ("Mansion of Evil Spirits") and Sei Ursula Shuudouin no Zangeki ("The Tragedy of Saint Ursula Monestery")), that might make this book somewhat hard to translate on its own. I myself haven't read Akurei no Yakata yet, but it does seem better read everything in order in the Ranko series. Still, if I had to name one book that has enough credits for it to deserve to be translated ('world record', new orthodox masterpiece, a very European/Western setting), it's this, I guess.

It's been an awesome ride, but I really long for a good short story collection now! 

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『人狼城の恐怖 第四部=完結編』


  1. The only problem I have with most of your reviews is that I never have anything substantial to throw at you in the comment section. :/

    Oh well, I can always do my routinely wailing on how unfair everything is and continue laboring on my blackmail scheme.

  2. I don't suppose you'd be up for translating this if the demand is there? ;)

  3. i wish we could see a translation of this series soon. i was learning japanese but had to stop due to being broke and search for something stable. books and mostly locked rooms are what i enjoy.
    i am following your blog closely now. please have lots of good things in store for us in 2017 mister ho-ling. and please keep in mind this series if you can acquire the rights for a translation. have a good year 2017.

  4. If you don't mind me asking, what IS this motive that makes no sense? I'd like to know why two huge groups of people who are seemingly unrelated had to die in order to advance this cause. Seeing as this book will never be translated, I don't mind spoilers.

    1. I really don't recall the details as it's been so long ago now, and I don't feel like going through the books again, but in very broad lines:

      ROT13 cipher: Vg unq gb qb jvgu "fhcreuhznaf" orvat perngrq guebhtu uhzna rkcrevzragf va gur cnfg, naq gurz abj arrqvat arj fhccyvrf bs uhzna gvffhr naq nyfb gurz jnagvat gb uvqr gur gehgu oruvaq gurve yvarntr naq fbzrguvat jvgu eriratr ba gur ybpny crbcyr be fb. Vg jnf jrveq.

  5. I first heard of Werewolf Castle a few years ago via a guest post you wrote on Tomcat's blog. This is the work that made me start learning Japanese. Skip to now, and I finished it half an hour ago

    It's very rich in background (history, folklore), scary at places, and as you say, the scale is truly unbelievable. Book 3 really makes it feel like the crime of the century, not only in terms of the body count and the sheer violence, but also in how nobody even knows it took place.

    (rot 13 spoilers)
    V jnf fhecevfrq ng gur yratgul cuvyfbcuvpny qvfphffvba jvgu gur znfgrezvaq ng gur raq. Vg sryg yvxr gur ynfg puncgre bs n ivfhny abiry :c

    Gur Znqnzr Punevffr ybpxrq ebbz jnf rkpryyrag. Vg'f whfg gung V jnfa'g trahvaryl onssyrq ol vg orpnhfr V'ir frra gur fnzr cevapvcyr hfrq va bar bs gur irel svefg qrgrpgvir pbana fgbevrf, fb V svtherq vg bhg urer bapr V fnj gur xrl cebc. Vg sryg yvxr orvat fcbvyrq ol nffbpvngvba /: gur ybpxrq ebbz jvgu gur obql cnegf va gur cynggre jnf qrivbhfyl pyrire nf jryy. Birenyy, V yvxrq gur gevpxf, ohg V whfg ubcrq gurer jnf zber flaretl orgjrra gur vaqvivqhny zheqref naq gur ovt eriryngvba bs gur gjb pnfgyrf, xvaqn yvxr ubj gur zheqref ner vagregjvarq va Gur Ubyybj Zna be ubj va Ananzr Lnfuvxv znal bs gur gevpxf pna or genprq gb gur nepuvgrpgher.

    I prefer it to Umineko as an epic locked room mystery, admitting their priorities are different. I wasn't blown away by it as I'd hoped when I started learning Japanese, but reading it has been one of my biggest entertainment related goals for the past few years. It's so cathartic that I finally (finally!) finished it. Thanks for introducing us to this wonderful book ^_^

    1. While I have received many comments on this blog about people wanting to read this story the last ten years, I think you're the first one to tell me they actually read the book XD Glad you liked it too, and congrutulations on finishing what is really a milestone of mystery fiction. It had been such a long journey for me too, not just reading, but also finding the books (they had been out of print at the time/not available digitally), so when it was finally over, I really felt like this was a reading moment I was going to remember the rest of my life.

      Yeah, the thing you mentioned about the last book does kinda feel like that, though I think I gave it a pass as the story was already so long anyway, I just thought that part was probably just still "in scale" in terms of page count if this had been a "normal-length" story :P

    2. Oh, I did enjoy that element (I like my anime and VNs). I was just surprised to see it here. Like you say in the review, it does link together many pieces to create an interesting plot twist (and also strenghthens the books by giving these disparate elements a coherent theme). I've been pandering the locked rooms, and I like them the more I think about them. Even disregarding the solutions, those hellish setups are some of my favorite in the entire genre

      Oh wow, quite a quest to physically collect the four OOP volumes. That must've given more weight to the experience. I was fortunate to buy the Kindle edition released in 2017

    3. While the books were out of print, they weren't expensive, you just had to have luck finding them. I think I bought all four volumes at four different Book Offs in Japan, and what I remember best was me going on a trip, and buying one volume at the Book Off at the station because we still had time until the night bus would come, and then coming across another volume at a Book Off at my destination XD

    4. That's awesome xD

      I hope future books return to focusing on the mystery plot. Nikaido has two afterwords to the Terror of Werewolf Castle, one taken from the novel release (1998) and a new one for the bunko (2001). He writes that he's planning the Ranko series to be 10 books with Werewolf being "book" #5. The last book will supposedly feature "the ultimate locked room trick". He announced in the bunko afterword that he was working on stories #6 and #7, the Labyrinth and Phantom Mammoth stories, 16 years before the latter is released! Idk if his plan for 10 books has changed or not by now. I didn't see any announcements regarding the series since Phantom Mammoth. Who knows when we'll see the next book, let alone the final one...

    5. Yeah, he has not really written much in general the last few years, but it'd be nice if he could write one last classic-style Ranko epic...

  6. "I personally liked the Madame Charisse locked room the best (also selected by Arisugawa Alice for his illustrated guide to locked room mysteries), truly a trick worthy for a book called The Terror of Werewolf Castle."

    Since I'll probably never be able to read this book, can you give a ROT13 of the trick and its solution please?

    (unless there's an online summary I can read somewhere T^T)

    1. To be honest, the exact details have escaped my memories, but the gist was that rot13 fbzrbar'f urnq orvat chyyrq bss jvgu n pebffobj naq fubg evtug bhg bs gur ebbz guebhtu gur jvaqbj jvguva yvxr frpbaqf