Monday, September 26, 2011



"That is what makes Bowser so fearsome"
"Whattaheck would you know about Bowser?!"
"Game Center CX"

I don't watch that many TV programs (and the few ones I do watch get cancelled or something like that), but Game Center CX has to be my favorite at the moment. Arino Shinya (of manzai duo Yoiko) here plays the character of the kachou ('section chief') of the fictional company Game Center CX and his task is to play old, retro games and show the ending to the viewers. He usually has a time limit of one day to beat the game and the program tracks his progress throughout the games. Arino is not particularly good in videogames (except for puzzle games) and you'll probably shout countless of times at Arino throughout his challenges, but his sheer tenacity makes the program a delight to watch. Anyone plays one single stage for over 7 hours trying to get to the ending deserves some praise, right? For anyone who likes games, this program is a must-see. It's just inspiring watching Arino taking on games like Ninja Gaiden and Ghost'n Goblins.

And yes, it's a program about games, so it is not weird there is a game based on Game Center CX. Two games actually (only the first one is available in English). Both the Nintendo DS games have the same concept: they are a collection of faux-retro games: games that invoke the old NES/Famicom spirit, in looks, audio and gameplay (but made now). These aren't just mini-games, they are full-fledged games that really feel like they could have been released in the late eighties. The games even come complete with illustrated manuals and there are in-game game magazines with cheats and walkthroughs for these games! And for fans of the show, there are A LOT of inside jokes, including guest appearances by the assistent directors/producers and references to some of Arino's challenges. Who for example is surprised by the appearance of super-fast-and-deadly birds in the Ninja Gaiden inspired Haguruman 3?

So what does this have to do with detective fiction? Well, the second Game Center CX game actually contains a wonderful detective adventure game: Kachou wa Meitantei ("The Section Chief is the Great Detective"). It of course invokes the spirit of games like Famicom Tantei Club, Tantei Jinbuuji Saburou and Sanma no Meitantei, being a command-style adventure. This particular genre never did gain popularity in the West for some reasons or another (with PC adventures going the way of point and click adventures), but practically every Famicom adventure looked like this. Heck, Kachou wa Meitantei, like the first Famicom Tantei Club, is even split over two floppies (yes, despite the game not actually existing outside the DS world and thus not actually needing two floppies).

The protagonist is a new employee at CX Industries, a company that makes the actual game cartridges used in videogame consoles. He is asked by the president to assist section chief Arino in his investigation of the Seven Mysteries of CX Industries, seven 'urban legends' concerning the factory that are making employees feel uneasy. As the factory is busy with the upcoming release of Final Question 3, the president wants the mysteries cleared so everyone can focus on his work. The mysteries start out pretty innocent, ranging from 'The Locked Conference Room", 'the Crying Machines' to the 'Changing Quotum Charts', but as the game progresses Arino discovers a sinister plot of the 'Love and Game' cult which is bent on not only destroying CX Industries, but the whole gaming world! It's up to the section chief to solve the mystery behind the 'Love and Game' cult!

As a detective-adventure, it is a pretty close take on the old Famicom command-style adventures. As a player, you don't have to deduce much (there are only two instances where you actually have to input words yourself instead of just selecting commands) and the story is pretty straight-forward. Kachou wa Meitantei is a really light-hearted take on the genre, so don't expect complex murder plots like the one in Famicom Tantei Club or something like a locked room mystery set in Shinjuku Central Park like in the first Tantei Jinguuji Saburou.

But is that a bad thing? No, 'cause his game is really hilarious! True, most of the comedy relies on inside jokes, but fans of the show should love this. Most of the staff of the show make a guest appearence in the game (including assistant directors/producers's who have left the program already). Inside jokes like AD Sasano's sweaty hands (when playing games) and AD Urakawa's sense of direction (referencing how Urakawa got lost on the way to the studio on his first day on work) are actually integrated in the story pretty well! The writers even included references to some of the more memorable quotations from the show ("That is what makes America so fearsome" - "Whattaheck would you know about America!"). This does make the game a bit harder to 'get' for people who don't know the program, though it seems unlikely one would actually buy this game without knowing Game Center CX.

Arino's character is also used pretty good; his commands include both tsukkomi (retort) and boke (play the fool), referencing his manzai roots. Arino's inventory includes his card and while Jinguuji smokes when he needs to think, Arino slaps one of his hiepita on his head. These commands make the game feel pretty unique, which is pretty interesting, as this is a game that actually tries to copy other adventures. It pretty much shows how strong and unique the character of 'section chief Arino' in the TV program is.

This is a rather narrow recommendation, but if you a) like Game Center CX and b) old command-style detective adventures, then you really need to play this game. If you don't know the program, it's not really worth it. True, Kachou wa Meitantei has some novelty value as it succeeds wonderfully in invoking the feeling of the old games,. As a detective game it's pretty standard-fare (if compared to actual Famicom command style detectives), but it is pretty amazing how a faux-retro game like Kachou wa Meitantei manages to recreate that old nostalgic feeling.

But the game is funny and entertaining and everything positive because it builds on the enormous mythos surrounding the Game Center CX TV show, using the actual persons from the show, using quotes from the show, referencing situations Arino faced in the show. If you are not familiar with that framework, the game is just not nearly as funny or interesting. Of all the games included the Game Center CX games, Kachou wa Meitantei refers to the TV show the most blatantly and that is both its strong and its weak point.

Original Japanese title(s): 『ゲームセンターCX 有野の挑戦状2』 「課長は名探偵 前編・後編」

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders


"The constellations of the Gold Saints are located in the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the route the Sun traces in one year. Do you understand? The Gold Cloths that lie on the route of the Sun have bathed in its light since the era of myths! The power of the Sun has been stored within the bodies of our Gold Cloths! So this is it!! Burn our Cosmo to the maximum! Now is the time to concentrate our spirits into one... And in the depths of Hades.... Let there be Light!"
"Saint Seiya"

Funny to see that we're only two weeks in the academic year and I'm already busy with crisis management. Wait, funny is probably not the right word. Something more negative would be better. On one hand, I like to think that many, many years of gaming have made honed my crisis management skills (playing Super Mario Bros. is always crisis management with me, escaping from one peril only to arrive at the next one), on the other hand, I always die. Oh, how many times have I yelled at Takahashi Meijin yesterday? In just one level. Anyway, concerning the Detective Conan drama reviews, I've decided to do one single post next week for the remaining three episodes instead of seperate reviews. Crisis management!

And now the main course. Norizuki Rintarou's Hanzai Horoscope 1 - Rokunin no Joou no Mondai ("Horoscope of Crime 1 - The Problem of the Six Queens") was my train companion for this week and a very pleasant one too. The title might suggest Queen's Calendar of Crime, but this short story collection is much more like Christie's The Labours of Hercules, as the stories are related to Greek mythology.  The cases mystery writer Norizuki Rintarou encounters in Hanzai Horoscope 1 all seem to be connected with the mythology surrounding the twelve constellations of the zodiac in one way or another. The stories all start with a short introduction of the constellation in question and the mythology behind it, which of course usually turns out to be a thematic clue to the story. And like the 'I' in the title suggests, this is actually only the first part of this series, going from Aries to Virgo. I think the second volume isn't finished yet actually...

In [Aries] Girisha Hitsuji no Himitsu ("The Secret of the Greek Ram"), Norizuki is asked by a somewhat down-the-gutter reporter-acquaintance to solve the murder of a homeless man. The reporter had been undercover for some time, pretending to be homeless and had become friends with the victim. One night, he found the victim being attacked by what seemed to be hobo-hunters. His friend eventually died, but some enigmatic words spoken by the assailants the reporter overheard make him think these attackers weren't 'just' hobo-hunters. And why did the assailants steal the reporter's Golden Fleece jacket? The mystery behind why the homeless man was killed is decent, but the logic behind the stolen Golden Fleece is a bit far-fetched

In [Tauros] Rokunin no Joou no Mondai ("The Problem of the Six Queens"), Norizuki is asked by his editor at the magazine Aleph to solve the mystery of the death of writer Abuhara Satoru. The man had fallen to his death at an apartment building. In Abuhara's last column, he hinted at his life might end soon and included a mysterious haiku that referenced an old play he wrote and the troupe he worked with at that time. Not a really good story (why is this the subtitle for this collection?), as the true intentions behind the code are very unrealistic, while the code itself is kinda spoiled by the title of the story and not particular surprising.

I've actually already discussed [Gemini] Zeus no Musukotachi ("The Sons of Zeus") in my review of Anata ga Meitantei, so I'll refer to that post. My only remark here is that Norizuki Rintarou being a writer is actually most prominent in this collection, as he gets involved with most of the cases here through his occupation as a mystery writer. Especially whole kantsume-thing in this story is very writer-ish. Not sure whether it's also done outside Japan.

[Cancer] Hydra Daijuu no Kubi ("The Tenth Head of the Hydra") is the most Queenish of the stories, as it features a very enigmatic scene: the apartment of a murder victim has been ransacked in a very curious way. The intruder apparently used five gloves (not pairs) while searching through the apartment and for some reason, only took two of those with him or her, leaving the other three in the apartment. Why go through all this trouble? What makes this story also very Queenish are the three suspects: one of the suspects is responsible for the suicide of the victim's suicide and apparently the victim was killed by the one responsible to protect himself. The best story in the collection, an original idea that develops in a very logical way.

In [Leo] Kagami no Naka no Lion ("The Lion in the Mirror"), inspector Kunou (the Velie to Norizuki's Queen)'s investigation into the murder of an actress is not going good. They have a suspect, a young and upcoming scriptwriter, and found pretty damning evidence in his apartment, but apparently the apartment building of the scriptwriter had been the target of a stake-out by the drugs department and the cops there say the scriptwriter never left his building. Making it kinda hard to actually kill the actress, put her in the back of her car and driving it to the underground garage of her apartment building. In fact, that makes it so impossible that people even start to say that inspector Kunou planted the evidence himself! A story with psychological clues rather than physical ones and not one of my favorites because of that.

A friend of a friend told me this..... a young student, A, receives a mail by a friend, B, asking if she could water her plants as B was on vacation. A didn't had the time and mailed by to B, but B never replied back. A called B several times, but she never answered. One week later, A heard that B had been in a coma for over a month now because of overhydration...  [Virgo] Meifu ni Torawareta Musume  ("The Girl Imprisoned in Hades") starts off like that Norizuki's masterpiece Toshi Densetsu Puzzle, as Norizuki hears about this new urban legend. A reporter friend (the same from the first story) actually traced the urban legend to the original source and actually found the persons A and B! Norizuki is surprised to hear that the urban legend, including the mail that was sent after B had gone into a vegatative state, was pretty close to actual circumstances and Norizuki decides to investigate what is going on. Not as strong as Toshi Densetsu Puzzle, but still a relatively strong story that once again relies on the interpretation of circumstances and looking at things from a different angle (which is pretty common in Norizuki's stories).

Like always, Norizuki's short stories are usually at least entertaining to read, with Queen-ish stories in modern settings. Norizuki's strength lies in his writing stories that rely on the interpretation of situations that are strongly related with logical deductions. His stories with locked rooms and strange codes therefore usually don't feel as strong or unique like the 'interpretation' stories. It does make his style of stories perfect for this time and age, as they don't feel as forced or aged in modern settings. This sentence makes the jump to mythology rather strange, but the Greek mythology symbolism is done decently for most stories and pretty darn well for stories like Zeus no Musukotachi and Hydra Daijuu no Kubi. Anyway, for someone interested in Greek mythology and detective stories, this is a very amusing short story collection.

Original Japanese title(s): 法月綸太郎 『犯罪ホロスコープ1 六人の女王の問題』: 「«牡羊座» ギリシャ羊の秘密」 / 「«牡牛座» 六人の女王の問題」 / 「«双子座» ゼウスの息子たち」 / 「«蟹座» ヒュドラ第十の首」 / 「«獅子座» 鏡の中のライオン」 / 「«乙女座» 冥府に囚われた娘」

Friday, September 16, 2011



"A person without an alibi can't be the murderer. That's Murphy's Law in mystery"
"Karuizawa Magic"

The start of the academic year is never easy, but I guess the fact that I only had two classes a week last semester did make me kinda... lazy. And with these changes in my spare time, I actually have to find out when to read books between studying (instead of figuring out when to study between reading books). A paradigm shift.

Anyway, today's victim is Nikaidou Reito's Karuizawa Magic. This novel is the first in the Mizuno Satoru series, but like always, I never read things in order, so I've reviewed a couple of the later novels already. But to introduce the series shortly: the Mizuno Satoru series obviously deals with the titular Mizuno Satoru,  a young man who with a shady, yet humorous past, too many friends to count and rather otaku-ish interests. His looks also make him very popular with the opposite gender (until he actually opens his mouth and starts talking, that is). The series is split into two parts, one part dealing with Mizuno's student years, while the second part deals with his years as a working man.

Karuizawa Magic is the first novel in the second part, with Mizuno working at a travel agency. After a business meeting with a hotel for one of their travel packages, Mizuno and his co-worker Yukari (who has a crush on him) end up in Karuizawa. Which might seem nice, but it turns out that a) the deputy-director of the business-partner hotel was killed just as they left the hotel, b) the director himself was killed in the same train Mizuno and Yukari travelled on to Karuizawa and c) they manage to come across a couple of other corpses during their time in Karuizawa. So the police is very, very suspicious of them. And yes, they seem to be justified in that, right? In good old fashioned detective-style, it's up to Mizuno to prove his (and Yukari's) innocence.

I hate to make the awful pun, but Karuizawa Magic is really karui (light). It's clearly a travel mystery like the novels by Nishimura Kyoutarou and Uchida Yasuo. Which can be entertaining themselves, but I was expecting a bit more of Nikaidou Reito. The novel has some neat little premises (a man found dead on top of his cottage's roof, a man whose eyeballs have been scooped out), but the atmosphere surrounding these 'horrible' events is kinda light-hearted, making these incidents seem almost trivial. Had this been a Nikaidou Ranko case, the dark and almost devilish tone of these murders would certainly have been more prominent, I think. Now it's 'oh, we found a man whose eyeballs have been scooped out. Let's have a funny scene with the police and Mizuno arguing').

This overall lightness is made even more apparent because little is done with Mizuno's otaku-tendacies. Some of the later novels do make use of this and they are a lot more entertaining. For example, Collector no Fushigi, as a locked room mystery, was not surprising, but Nikaidou's expert knowledge on Tezuka Osamu and rare book collectors' culture made it a very entertaining novel. The short story collection Mizuno Satoru no Daibouken  also featured some stories that entered into 'otaku' spheres (for example the Yokomizo Seishi fanclub). The character of Mizuno Satoru, who has been all over Asia and with knowledge about all kinds of topics is a great plot-vehicle, allowing the reader to enter the world of 'specialists' on all kinds of fields (from rare collector's figures to stargazing), but sadly enough, none of this is found in Karuizawa Magic.

In fact, I finished the book with a feeling of 'so....this was it?'. I wasn't happy with it, not mad with it, nothing. I just finished it. It's just very.... bland. If I hadn't read other Mizuno Satoru novels before, I think I'd have given up on the series at this point.

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『軽井沢マジック』

Saturday, September 10, 2011

「真実の三角関係って一体どういうこと? 」

「後ほどでエエのよ。 ここは前半みんな走った後で中盤から後半で息切れた時にフッとこれが一番良いのよ」
『ヘキサゴンIIクイズパレード!!』 (2011.09.07)

"It's kinda busy in the first half of the show. So I think it's better to go lightly now..."
"No, no, let's go full gear the whole day"
"Later is better! After everybody has finished running around and is out of breath in the first half, I'll just pop out, that's the best!"
"Hexagon II Quiz Parade!!" (2011.09.07)

With the show almost over and mostly mediocre episodes, I don't expect much of the remaining episodes of Meitantei Conan - Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou (Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi). When the series first started, I was hoping the series would pick up after the first half, but that didn't really happen. And the preview for this week's episode wasn't really interesting either, so.... wa... wait. Ha...hah? Did my eyes fool me, or was episode 10 actually a good episode?!

Meitantei Conan - Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou (Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi)
Episode 1 (July 7, 2011): Before he turned into Conan, the high school detective solved the mystery of the adultery murder!
Episode 2 (July 14, 2011): The locked room murder commited on air! Reveal the secret cursed by the psychic
Episode 3 (July 21, 2011): Murder Case in a Locked Courtroom! Reveal the Trick of the Hostess Murder
Episode 4 (July 28, 2011): Perfect Crime! Murder Notice at a Wedding, Reveal the Locked Room Poisoning Trick
Episode 5 (August 5, 2011): The Glamorous Murder Trick of the Actress who lost her Memory - Perfect Murder at the Summer House
Episode 6 (August 11, 2011): The Magnificent Murderous Kiss of Twenty Beauties! The Murderous Intent Hidden in the Murder Equation!
Episode 7 (August 18, 2011): Inheritance Murder Among Bloody Relatives! Reveal the Mystery of the Kidnapping Trick!
Episode 8 (August 25, 2011): A Woman's Determination, Revenge on the Molester! The Murder Trick hidden in the Security Camera
Episode 9 (September 01, 2011): Hattori Heiji and the Mystery of the Invisible Locked Room Murder Weapon! Deduction Battle between the Detectives of East and West
Episode 10 (September 08, 2011): The Mystery of the Body that Moved 200 KM Within An Instant! Reveal the Perfect Crime Scheme of the Evil Woman
Episode 11 (September 15, 2011): A Kiss Is the Reason for Murder, A Revenge Murder After 20 Years! The Mystery of the Perfect Alibi
Episode 12 (September 22, 2011): I Killed Her! 3 Single Murderers? Reveal the Mystery of the Fake Murder!
Episode 13 (September 29, 2011): Ran Dies! The Final Challenge of the True Criminal to the Genius Detective - Reveal the Mystery of the White Room

Episode 10 ("The Mystery of the Body that Moved 200 KM Within An Instant! Reveal the Perfect Crime Scheme of the Evil Woman") actually features an interesting problem, which is pretty rare in this series (this is indeed the most original story since... episode 3?). A client of Kogorou is attacked by a stalker during her videochat session with Ran. Ran rushes to the apartment, but no sign of the client, just a totally ransacked apartment and signs of violence (blood traces). She calls the police and Shinichi, but even the client isn't found even after a complete search of the apartment block

And here comes the interesting part: the dead body of the client is eventually found, but in a Weekly Mansion in Saitama. Which by car is located about three hours away from the client's apartment. Yet the client was definately killed during the time she was videochatting with Ran. What makes the problem even more interesting is that the police have a suspect (the stalker), but he was seen by Ran at the client's apartment around the time the murder must have happened. So here we have a murderer (stalker), at the crime scene (apartment) as witnessed by Ran, but the body at a place 200 kilometers away from the crime scene! If the client was murdered in her own apartment, how did the murderer move her body to the place where she was discovered? And if the client was murdered at the place where she was discovered, how did the murderer manage to be at the apartment at the same time?

This episode really caught me by surprise. At first I thought it would be like the Murder Collector story of Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q"), as it featured a murder caught on video, but it turned to be quite different. In a positive way. I won't say the story is perfect, but it's a relatively complex story for this series that is also done relatively well. The main trick is pretty cool and the final deduction Shinichi made was actually impressive. There are some points in the story that really need some polishing though (including the final deduction), but I'll just blame at the time-constraints this series has. With a bit more running time / rewriting, this could really have been a very, very good story. But even as it is now, it's pretty good. I don't know where this sudden rise in quality this late in the series comes from, but you won't hear me complaining about it. I actually find it incredible that that the scriptwriter of this episode was also the person who wrote the awful episode 8. He also co-wrote the second episode, which was OK-ish. Meaning he wrote the best, one of the mediocre and the worst episode of the series.

And I certainly didn't expect to mention his name in conjunction with this series, but the episode is a lot like Norizuki Rintarou's stories. The modern urban setting is certainly a trademark of his short stories and the movement of characters in the modern maze of buildings is one of the more interesting parts in his more complex plots. Actually, the main trick itself is also very much like Norizuki's puzzles (even invoking Queen), especially Toshi Densetsu Puzzle.

Oh, and you'll always get my attention with a Yaiba reference!

The next episode is actually the first one to be based on the manga (volume 26; Desperate Revival [The Return of Shinichi & The Promised Place]), which fans should recognize as one of the more interesting episodes in Conan history. I'm a bit disappointed that didn't go with a 'bigger' story, but seeing as this series does feature Shinichi and Ran as a duo, it's an understandable choice. Just wondering how they're going to tie this in with the main series! The live action series has made no mention at all until now about Shinichi turning into Conan in the future, so it'll be interesting to see how they're going to explain that!

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 工藤新一への挑戦状』 サブタイトル「200キロを瞬間移動した死体の謎! 悪女の完全犯罪計画を暴け」
Date & Password: 2010.07.27; ビデオチャット

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Le Piège infernal


"It just means we both just can't go against our mothers' wishes..."
"Detective Conan"

While Aoyama Goushou's most popular work is still Detective Conan, his other manga are quite fun too. I for example love Yaiba, which is very much like the earlier volumes of Dragon Ball, with a lot focus on adventures and humor. And evil bunnies from outer space and creatures like PollenMan (I suffer from hay fever)and kendou championships and everything. It's not very popular outside Japan though, I think. Aoyama Goushou's other series however, Magic Kaito, has been receiving quite some attention lately however.

Magic Kaito is actually the very first running series by Aoyama, starring a young magician Kuroba Kaito, who takes over the role of phantom thief Kaitou KID from his father. The series basically starts out as a very light-hearted take on the phantom thief genre as seen in the Arsene Lupin stories, but the formula slowly changes into a more orthodox heist style, with KID pulling of impossible heists. Which is around the time Detective Conan started to get really popular, resulting in the on-hold status of the Magic Kaito series. But KID was never forgotten and because a phantom thief is a natural enemy to a detective, KID was featured in a crossover in the sixteenth volume of the Conan manga. Ever since, KID has been a regular guest in that series, gathering quite some popularity. In fact, many people probably don't even know that KID is technically a crossover character.

Because of the popularity acquired through Conan, Aoyama occasionally draws new Magic Kaito stories. And with occasionally, I mean once in 5 years or something like that. But it's better than nothing. Last year, the first chapter of the Magic Kaito was made into an anime special and I gather that last month, KID had stolen air-time from Conan, resulting in a month of Magic Kaito specials and other KID-related episodes being broadcast instead of regular Conan episodes.

And to top it off this Magic Kaito revival-thingy, Aoyama Goushou wrote a new, two-chapter story of Magic Kaito in August! Phantom Lady no Maki ("The Phantom Lady Chapter") is the first new serialized Magic Kaito story in four years and a fun one too! For people who are sorta up-to-date with the Conan manga, 'Phantom Lady' is a name that should sound familiar, as it was the name of a phantom thief mentioned in the Ryouma story in volume 70. Phantom Lady no Maki is in fact the story that directly precedes the Ryouma story, setting up the events for that story. But I recommend reading the Ryouma story before this Magic Kaito story, as this story kinda spoils some of the mystery and fun in the Ryouma story. 

Phantom Lady no Maki starts with a familiar sight: with people trying to come up with a plan to capture KID. But this time, it's not police inspector Nakamori doing the planning, but something who looks a bit more scary. And probably someone who is not really a friend of the law. Anyway, said person comes up with the wild theory that inspector Nakamori was the first KID and that his daughter Aoko is the second KID and plans to capture both of them to revenge himself for something that happened 18 years ago. Stuff happens, and KID ends up with a knocked-out Aoko with guns pointed at them at the top of the Touto Tower. Cue a flashback that explains what happened between the antagonist, the original KID (Kaito's father) and Phantom Lady, 18 years ago.

Which is awesome. Of course. This story is less of a heist story compared to the previous Magic Kaito stories, but it's still very entertaining as a piece of fanservice, as it ties up some loose threads of plotpoints left in previous (Conan) stories. Phantom Lady no Maki fits in with the other 'fanservice' stories by Aoyama where he shows that everybody in his fictional world is connected one way or another and that parents are awesome (seriously, parents to look up to is something, but it's a bit ridiculous in Conan...), but it feels less... forced here, because of the more light-hearted tone of the Magic Kaito series.

The story does feel a more like a normal Magic Kaito story, with some 'normal' school scenes and over the top, almost slapstick action. Which is what I want in a Magic Kaito story, luckily. The last Magic Kaito story, Dark Night, was horrifyingly dark and didn't fit the the series at all. Even considering the more serious tone of the more recent stories. I'm glad that the more light-hearted tone returned in Phantom Lady no Maki. The only problem these once-in-x-years stories have is that Aoyama doesn't really try to advance the main story of the series (KID trying to find the Pandora Gem, take revenge on his father's killers), resulting in all these side-stories that never really lead anywhere. I understand that Aoyama doesn't want to advance the story with such an irregular schedule, but still, it's sorta because of these stand-alone stories that Magic Kaito stays a series with limited releases, instead of a more regularly serialized series.

Let's just hope that it doesn't take another four years for a new Magic Kaito story. Maybe a year-long hiatus for Conan and Magic Kaito instead of Conan?  Or *gasp* a finale to Conan and then the return of Magic Kaito? Which reminds me, the new Conan is to be released next week...

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『まじっく快斗』 「怪盗淑女(ファントムレディ)の巻」 (前編・後編)

Monday, September 5, 2011

「Welcome Trouble」


"Despite that, this shabby apartment was called the White Wave mansion. These kinds of unbalances happen because even though buildings get older, names don't."
"Lending the Key to the Locked Room"

For those interested, the new look is borrowed stolen from Famicom Tantei Club. To be exact, the title screen of the first game. Random info: Sakamoto Yoshio wrote the complete script of the first game in only three days. Why I changed the look? Because I've been paying too much attention to retro games lately. And as university starts again, I'm pretty sure I'll drop back to the more sane posting schedule of once or twice a week. Instead of twenty posts a month. What the... ?!

And now on to the main course, which is Higashigawa Tokuya's Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu ("Lending the Key to the Locked Room"). This is Higashigawa's first full-length novel, as well as the first novel in his Ikagawashi series, a set of orthodox detective stories set in the fictional town of Ikagawashi. In fact, the first Higashigawa story I read, the short story A Locked Room at 40 KM/H, is also part of the same Ikagawashi series. There is no real main detective for this series (changing from book to book), though the private detective Ukai Morio and police inspector Sunagawa appear the most prominent in the Ikagawashi novels. The other characteristic of this series is the humorous tone of the stories, with almost slapstick-esque situations and witty conversations. But like Arisugawa Alice says in the commentary to Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu: the books are funny, but this humorous tone might also be a trap...

Because beneath the humor and all, there is a 'normal' detective plot. Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu starts with an interesting problem for the young student Ryuuhei. Things have not been easy for him, having to give up his dream as a film director and settling with a naitei (a pre-approval for a job) for a company that makes documentaries. Which in turn led into him being dumped by his girlfriend. Which is bad enough, but not as bad as that night. The night his ex-girlfriend was stabbed and pushed from her balcony. Which isn't even the worst part. Not even the fact that some time earlier, Ryuuhei, in a rather drunken state (he doesn't remember anything of it though), had yelled he would kill her in front of a lot of witnesses. No, the worst part is that the only person who can prove Ryuuhei's alibi, his university senior, was also stabbed to death. In his bathroom. In a locked apartment. And the only other person inside the apartment at that time was... Ryuuhei. Because he lost conciousness when he found the dead body of his senior and didn't wake up until the morning, Ryuuhei panicks. No way the police is going to believe he has nothing to do with either case. So Ryuuhei flees the crime scene and asks for help to his ex-brother-in-law, the private detective Ukai Morio. Who is nice enough to help him.

The novel is told from both Ryuuhei's perspective as well as that of the police, which makes for a very entertaining story. Ryuuhei is of course on the run, while the police is looking for him, so the points where these storylines intersect are really funny to read, as you see the same situation from two different perspectives (at one points, Ryuuhei is nearly run over by the police). But that is just one aspect of the humor, as Higashigawa is quite a funny writer, coming up with funny conversations and witty remarks. At times, the novel feels like a parody of the genre, but whatever it is, it's funny.

But like Arisugawa said, don't underestimate the book just because it's funny. For this is a genuine detective and quite an entertaining one too. The problem of the locked room is done quite good, even if the fundamental trick is quite basic. It is however very well adapted for the modern, urban setting of this novel. In fact, the urban setting and the humor reminds me a lot of Arisugawa Alice's Writer Alice series. Which is hardly a bad thing. I like Nikaidou Reito's novels, but his books are so often set in castles and old mansions, which feels a bit artificial. Given the choice, I do prefer the more urban settings found in Arisugawa Alice and Norizuki Rintarou novels.

Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu, as a locked room mystery, is not surprising like a Nikaidou Reito mystery, but it is constructed quite well and Higashigawa's writing style really adds something to the story. Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu is a detective novel that anyone could enjoy, I think. Like the books by Higashino Keigo, it's one of those books that are a lot easier to recommend to people who usually don't read the genre. A funny novel with a satisfying plot-structure that is sure to entertain the reader.

Original Japanese title(s): 東川篤哉  『密室の鍵貸します』

Friday, September 2, 2011

「浪速の高校生探偵、お手並み拝見だ 」

『名探偵コナン 工藤新一への挑戦状』

"But have you figured it out yet? At this rate, Heiji might solve the case before you"
"That doesn't bother me. No matter how many detectives there are, there is always only one truth"
"Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi"

No, I've not been very enthusiastic about the Conan drama for quite some time now. Most of the episodes feature rather predictable plots (and some are actually awful). In the manga, all the cases Shinichi solved in the past before he turned into Conan featured interesting plots, thus in my mind Shinichi case equals high standard detective stories. So my expectations for a series with only pre-Conan Shinichi stories were pretty high. The gap between my expectations and the actual series is sadly pretty big. And for the last couple of weeks, I was just watching the series out of habit.

Yet, the preview for this week's episode did spark my interest. For it was a Hattori Heiji case. Which equals awesome in my mind.

Meitantei Conan - Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou (Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi)
Episode 1 (July 7, 2011): Before he turned into Conan, the high school detective solved the mystery of the adultery murder!
Episode 2 (July 14, 2011): The locked room murder commited on air! Reveal the secret cursed by the psychic
Episode 3 (July 21, 2011): Murder Case in a Locked Courtroom! Reveal the Trick of the Hostess Murder
Episode 4 (July 28, 2011): Perfect Crime! Murder Notice at a Wedding, Reveal the Locked Room Poisoning Trick
Episode 5 (August 5, 2011): The Glamorous Murder Trick of the Actress who lost her Memory - Perfect Murder at the Summer House
Episode 6 (August 11, 2011): The Magnificent Murderous Kiss of Twenty Beauties! The Murderous Intent Hidden in the Murder Equation!
Episode 7 (August 18, 2011): Inheritance Murder Among Bloody Relatives! Reveal the Mystery of the Kidnapping Trick!
Episode 8 (August 25, 2011): A Woman's Determination, Revenge on the Molester! The Murder Trick hidden in the Security Camera
Episode 9 (September 01, 2011): Hattori Heiji and the Mystery of the Invisible Locked Room Murder Weapon! Deduction Battle between the Detectives of East and West
Episode 10 (September 08, 2011): The Mystery of the Body that Moved 200 KM Within An Instant! Reveal the Perfect Crime Scheme of the Evil Woman
Episode 11 (September 15, 2011): A Kiss Is the Reason for Murder, A Revenge Murder After 20 Years! The Mystery of the Perfect Alibi
Episode 12 (September 22, 2011): I Killed Her! 3 Single Murderers? Reveal the Mystery of the Fake Murder!
Episode 13 (September 29, 2011): Ran Dies! The Final Challenge of the True Criminal to the Genius Detective - Reveal the Mystery of the White Room

I'll just start with saying that episode 9 ("Hattori Heiji and the Mystery of the Invisible Locked Room Murder Weapon! Deduction Battle between the Detectives of East and West") is pretty much impossible Conan-canon-wise. Hattori and Shinichi actually meet for the first time in volume 10, which is after Shinichi turns into Conan. So the meeting of the high school detectives of the East and West is simply impossible (despite some nice tries of the scriptwriter to save continuity).

Anyway, Hattori and Kazuha are in Tokyo to attend a match and happen to run into a robber. Chasing the robber, Hattori runs into Shinichi and Ran (not knowing who Shinichi is) and Shinichi stops the thief with his football, which ricochets into a house. Cue the sound of glass shattering and the discovery that a woman has died inside the house because she was hit by shattered glass. Was it Shinichi who accidently killed her? Of course not, and the detectives of the East and West join forces to find out what did happen inside the house.

The funny part is that Shinichi doesn't want Hattori to know he is Kudou Shinichi (the high school detective of the East). So he lies to Hattori, saying his name is Doiru (戸伊流(ドイル) - Doyle). Which is actually an awesome reference to the Edogawa Conan name, so yeah, I was quite happy with that. Ok, not much is done with it afterwards, as Shinichi isn't holding back his deductive powers this episode, so Hattori pretty much figures out he is Kudou Shinichi (_thus_ making this episode impossible canon-wise), but still, a nice nod to the main series. And Shinichi should use the Doiru alias more often.

The trick of the dead woman is pretty basic though and it was funny to see that the scriptwriter of this episode also wrote episode 6, as both episodes have a clear Galileo-vibe going on, with a type of trick that seldom appears in the Conan manga. Realistically though, the trick is pretty ridiculous as it might take 100 tries before the trick becomes actually lethal. It's probably one of the most basic tricks in this particular category of tricks and has been parodied quite often actually (one of the best gags in the detective-parody drama Kaette Kosaserareta 33pun Tantei ("The Forced Return of the 33 Minutes Detective"), where detective Rokurou actually confesses he doesn't understand the trick himself, as he only saw it on TV!).

But the appearance of Hattori and Kazuha really saves this episode and actually makes it one of the better, if not best episode of the whole series. With some dialogue lifted from the manga, this 'first contact' story is really amusing. Despite the subtitle of this episodes, Hattori and Shinichi are actually cooperating quite nicely, like the later Conan-Hattori stories in the main series. Having two detectives really makes this episode fun to watch. And the two actors of Hattori and Kazuha fit their roles a lot better than the ones doing Shinichi and Ran.

It also seems like the series slowly enters its final stages. The cast is still captured in the white rooms and they got seperated from Kogorou some episodes earlier already, this time Shinichi and Ran get seperated from each other too. Which is pretty much screaming that the show is almost over. I have no idea what to expect of the series finale though. My expectations were pretty high when the series started, but that has pretty much died out now, so little things like Kogorou pinching a spoon and the fact we have all these dates and keywords might have no relation at all with the series' finale.

Not sure when the finale will be though. Wikipedia says this series will run until the end of September, which would mean another 4 episodes? 13 episodes is a bit on the long side for a normal drama series though...

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 工藤新一への挑戦状』 サブタイトル「服部平次と密室殺人見えない凶器のナゾ! 東西探偵推理バトル」
Date & Password: 2010.09.10; キズナ