Monday, October 24, 2011



"But you're still having your dinner. Let us do the mystery solving after dinner"
"Mystery solving is after dinner"

Ah, TV dramas in Japan. There is usually too much to keep track off (with morning / noon / evening dramas), and the majority is not interesting at all. Yet I tend to check what's on TV just to be sure I don't miss some sort of mystery drama. Which doesn't mean that every mystery drama series is good (ha!), but I usually try most of the series and especially those based on novels by writers I know (a lot of these series tend to be based on popular novels / manga).  Anyway, my experience with Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou taught me not to do reviews of every single episode, but I had been looking forward to Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de (Mystery Solving Is After Dinner), which started last Tuesday, so a short impression based on the first episode!

Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de ("Mystery Solving Is After Dinner") is a TV drama based on the same-titled best-selling novel by Higashigawa Tokuya. The concept of the book seems a bit similar to Miss Marple's Tuesday Club Murders: incredibly wealthy heiress and rookie police detective Houshou Reiko tells her butler Kageyama about the difficult cases she handles during dinner. Like Marple though, the butler is very shrewd and he always manages to solve the cases that are troubling his mistress without even taking a step outside the dining room. But the answer to Reiko's questions always have to wait until after she has finished her dinner...

Like I wrote in a previous review, Higashigawa Tokuya specializes in comedy mysteries and Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de is certainly fun. The relation between heiress Hosho and butler Kageyama is really funny, as her butler is intellectually superior and isn't afraid to make that clear to her (actually calling her an idiot for not being to solving the cases herself). Kageyama's lines have just the right touch of sarcasm and the dialogues between him and his mistress are fast and witty.

Actually, I think that Higashigawa's style of mystery writing seems perfect for TV adaptions. Not only is his humorous writing style with a focus on fast dialogues perfect for a prime-time TV series, but his mystery plots have two characteristics that make them easy to adapt for TV. His mysteries seem to be mostly set in urban areas, with an emphasis on movement of the principle characters within the urban area. Which means that his mysteries can be filmed without having to go to locations where mobile phones can't receive any signal (which was the pretty much the standard with filming Trick).  These 'urban' mysteries are also easier to sell to the public, because of the (feigned) realism. Again, a series like Trick (or Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo) does require a bit more suspension of disbelief for the normal viewer due to the uncommon settings.

Another point is that Higashigawa's plots are not impossibly complex like something by Nikaidou Reito, which would be hard to translate to a one-hour TV drama episode. Which might sound like Higashigawa writes overly simple plots, which isn't true. But his plots are of the kind that are probably just complex enough to satisfy a more experienced mystery reader, but are also easy to convert to a working TV script.

For example, the first episode revolves around the problem of a murder victim who was found dead in her apartment with her shoes on. Which is not-done in Japan. The problem seems like a mundane, trivial one, but the solution to the problem is wonderfully easy and urban and while I haven't read the original novel, I bet this story works just as well as a written story as well as on the screen.

Call me a cynic, but my gut-feeling says most people watch the TV drama because Arashi's Sakurai Shou plays Kageyama and not because they heard of the original novel or because they know Higashigawa Tokuya. But ignoring that, I have to admit that the production values to the drama are pretty good. The original novel features some neat art by Nakamura Yuusuke, but the drama also has a distinct look, with many comic book-esque visual effects on the screen and splitscreens. The series is certainly fun to look at.

At the moment Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de seems like a series worthwhile to watch. Like I said, I'm not going to bother with reviews for every single episodes anymore, but I might want to revisit this series when it has ended.

Original Japanese title(s): 『謎解きはディナーのあとで』 (原作: 東川篤哉)

Sunday, October 23, 2011


『名探偵コナン 沈黙の15分(クォーター)』

Words are like blades. You might hurt someone just by saying them"
"Detective Conan Quarter of Silence"

How strange it feels to write a review of a Detective Conan movie 6 months after the release! I was lucky enough to have seen The Raven Chaser and Lost Ship in the Sky in the theaters when I was in Japan, but no such luck this year, so I had to wait for the home-release of 2011's Conan movie. Which was this month. Next year will be different though!

Though in hindsight, it is sorta fitting that I didn't see Detective Conan Quarter of Silence in the theaters, but at home. Both The Raven Chaser and Lost Ship in the Sky were rather fanservicy movies, with loads of action scenes and guest appearances. Watching those movies on the big silver screen was really worth it. Compared to the previous two movies, Quarter of Silence is a rather tame one. In fact, it is one of the soberest Conan movies (in terms of fanservice) of all time. No Black Organisation, no KID or Hattori, no serial killings with five or six victims. Just a simple investigation. Sure, it's still a Conan movie, so we see Conan do some impossibly awesome action scenes at the beginning and the ending of the movie and things explode (a lot!), but the difference guest appearances and the relatively few action scenes do make this movie feel less spectacular. At least, I don't think I missed something of the experience by watching the movie on TV instead of on a big screen.

It starts out impressive though, with an attempt on the governor's life by blowing up a new train line the governor is riding. Let's just say that lots of things explode and move. Then the story makes some weird jumps, with Conan miraculously guessing that he might find some clue to the bomber's identity in a snow resort village, that was re-located 5 years ago because of the construction of a gigantic dam. Here we find a) five friends who don't seem to get along anymore, b) a boy who has been in a coma for 8 years but finally awakes, and c) a dead man in the middle of a snow field. And the Detective Boys wander around, stuff happens and things explode and Conan plays around with his new gadget, the turbo-engine snowboard. Oh, and there is something about a quarter of silence.

Don't expect too much of the impossible crime situation though. Compared to previous Conan movies, this is movie is also really light on the detecting, with any viewer probably placing all the puzzle pieces in the right place the moment they pop up in the story. The movie has some nice (non-detectivy) moments though, especially with the comparison of the situation Conan and Ai are in to the boy who went into a coma as a 7 year old and woke up as a 15 year old: he's still a kid on the inside, despite his body being that of a teenager.

Oh, and because it's mandatory that Conan does some impossibly awesome things in the movies: Conan does some impossibly awesome things with his skateboard/snowboard. Conan always seems physically indestructable in the movies and also in better physical shape than most adults (outrunning adults and stuff) which is kinda strange seeing as he's in the body of a six-year old, but all well, I always switch on the suspension of disbelief button when I watch a Conan movie.

That didn't work for the guest voice actor though. Watanabe Yoichi, a war photographer who has become quite the popular TV personality since 2010, is also known for (because of?) his distinct speech pattern, which is well articulated and actually quite soothing, but impossibly slow. His speech pattern is so recognizable that any viewer would instantly think of him, which is simply distracting. It was even worse than Daigo's guest voice acting in The Raven Chaser, which was really distracing too.

Oh, and am I the only one who looks forward to the new remix of the Detective Conan theme every year?  The Quarter of Silence remix feels a bit slower than the previous ones, but I like it!

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 沈黙の15分(クォーター)』

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Time-bombed Skyscraper


"Did you forget that I am Kindaichi Kousuke?"
"The Three Head Tower"

Is writing a positive review easier than writing a negative review? Or the other way around? Does it matter at all? After many years of reviewing at several places, I think my answer to the question is that it doesn't matter. What makes it easier is whether I care about the subject matter. If I've read the super-special-awesomest book ever, I'll praise it. If I read an awful book, I'll compare it to better examples in the same field to show how absolutely horrible the book is. But the problem is when I just don't care anymore. Like with this post. With ambiguous feelings about a book, it's hard to predict how this post will turn out, as I always write these things without any planning...

Yokomizo Seishi's Mitsu Kubi Tou ("The Three Head Tower") seemed like a book I should care about though. It was written right after the masterpiece Akuma no Temariuta and took the seventh place in Yokomizo Seishi's personal top ten of his own novels. Anyone would have expectations then, right? Of course, the use of the past tense in these sentences already spoils my feelings about the book. I'm not very positive about it. But Mitsu Kubi Tou does have its merits, so I'm not very negative about it either. But about 100 pages into the novel, I just stopped caring about the story, about what was good and not so good about the book. I just pushed myself through the book. Which makes it sound a lot more boring than it actually is (it's actually quite exciting).

Even for a Yokomizo Seishi novel, Mitsu Kubi Tou seems to feature a rather standard inheritence dispute murder case. Newly graduated Miyamoto Otone is to inherit a fortune from a distant relative on the condition that she marries Takatou Shunsaku, a man she has never heard of. The lawyers haven't located Shunsaku yet, allowing Otone to think about whether she accepts the conditions of the will. One month later after, Takatou Shunsaku is found. Murdered. At the birthday party of Otone's uncle. With Shunsaku dead and thus making it impossible for Otone to marry him, the inheritence is to split amongst all (living) family members. And yes, as always, that means that the potential successors get killed off one by one. 'Cause this is a mystery novel.

Otone is suspected of the murders, but a mysterious man luckily (?) decides to help Otone. After forcing himself on her. Because that is the way to get women to obey you, appearently. After helping her escape from the police, the man tells Otone to look for the titular Three Head Tower, which will somehow help her out of this mess. But Kindaichi Kousuke is on the trail of Otone and her friend...

So apparently forcing yourself on a woman is a sign of affection and makes them trust you unconditionally? I'm pretty sure that is not the way the world works, not even in 1955. The disclaimer does mention does that some of the wording has been changed in my pocket edition from the original script, but even then, this novel is rather very anti-feministic. I'm not interested in gender as a field of research, but I could go on for a day with just this novel.

But setting that topic aside, Mitsu Kubi Tou has some interesing points. The novel is written from Otone's point of view (similar to Yatsu Haka Mura and Yoru Aruku) and is in fact the best compared to an Arsene Lupin novel. A girl, caught up in a mysterious web of murder and deceit, who is helped (and loved) by a mysterious man who seems to have links with the underworld is pretty much Lupin's territory. And yes, like the Lupin novels, Mitsu Kubi Tou is really fun to read, with story development upon development. In fact, the moment you start with the book, it's impossible to place the book away, it's that energetic. Yokomizo Seishi really excels here with his story-telling. And with Otone is on the run from the police, Kindaichi Kousuke is actually described as the antagonist in this novel, which is a fresh way to look at the famous detective.

But the mystery-element really suffers from this approach. Mitsu Kubi Tou was a serialized novel, and it seems like Yokomizo made the story up as he went, without any real planning. When I said that the book was exciting, I mostly meant the enormous amounts of story developments. It's like every five pages something happens. This is why I stopped caring about the novel after a while: I realized it would be almost useless try to deduce anything here, as it was clear that Yokomizo was just improvising the whole story on the go. In fact, the single clue that points to the serial killer is forced upon the reader at the end, just a couple of pages before it is used. Hello, last minute plans. In fact, Yokomizo even threw in a genuine ghost-that-point-to-location-corpses moment near the end of the novel, as he didn't have enough pages left and couldn't think of another way (storywise) to lead the protagonists to the corpses.

Ignoring the fact that I actually wanted a good old fashioned orthodox mystery, Mitsu Kubi Tou is mostly like an exciting adventure of Arsene Lupin, but it also suffers from some bad design problems by Yokomizo Seishi. In the end, this novel was just a zero-sum game for me; it never got really good or bad. Absolutely not recommended as a mystery novel though, 'cause then this novel will be quite depressing.

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『三つ首塔』

Friday, October 14, 2011



"Beware of the nights the Nue cries..."
 "Island of Evil Spirits"

I am always at doubt when reviewing novels of a series. Which is pretty much always if you look at my reading pile, but that's besides the point. The point is that I'm never sure whether I write reviews as seperate bodies of text, or conciously as part of a series of text. Or to be less abstract: should I expect that readers of a review have read some or all of my previous reviews (allowing me to build on that), or should I write them as accessible texts, so one might for example start with the latest review of a entry within a series without feeling overwhelmed? A concrete example would be like whether I should explain who the series detective is, his characteristics etc. in every seperate review of a series entry, or should I just assume that readers will find out by ploughing through old reviews? Should I discuss the basic elements of the Kindaichi Kousuke novels, their impact on the history of Japanese dectective novels and popular culture every time, or just hope that readers will read it in an older review?

In the end I always go for the easy way out though.

Akuryoutou ("Island of Evil Spirits") ranks amongst the more famous works of Yokomizo Seishi, for several reasons. Besides numerous translations to the white and silver screen, the novel is also actually the last novel Yokomizo Seishi wrote. It is therefore also the final Kindaichi Kousuke novel written. Within the chronology of the Kindaichi Kousuke novels, Akuryoutou is also the final novel in the so-called Okayama-cycle, a set of novels in the Kindaichi Kousuke series set in the Okayama prefecture. Other books in the Okayama-cycle include Honjin Satsujin Jiken, Gokumontou, Yoru Aruku, Yatsu Haka Mura and Akuma no Temariuta: indeed, most of the best Kindaichi Kousuke stories are set in Okayama. So yes, that raises expectations for Akuryoutou.

Ochi Ryuuhei grew up on the small Osakabe island in the Seto Inland sea, but left the island to travel to the United States. He made it big there and has now returned to Japan as a wealthy businessman. Hoping to revitalize his old home, he comes up a resort development plan set near Osakabe island. He also plans to move back to Osakabe island, but fearing that not all inhabitants on the island might be happy with his resort, he sents his subordinate Aoki to infiltrate the island as a tourist to see what people think of him. Aoki however disappears during this mission.

Kindaichi Kousuke is hired by Ochi to locate Aoki, and  it doesn't take long for Kindaichi to discover that Aoki was the mysterious man who was found in the sea near Osakabe island, who died shortly after leaving the enigmatic words:

Their bones are stuck together at their waists.... They walk sideways like a crab.... They are crabs... the offspring of crabs.... Evil spirits roam that island... evil spirits... evil spirits... Beware the night the Nue cries...

Partnering up with his old friend inspector Isokawa (who has discovered a link between Osakabe island and a the victim of a murder on the mainland), Kindaichi starts to investigate what has happened to Aoki and what Aoki's final words meant. With the discovery many people have disappeared from the island in the past, it really seems like evil spirits roam Osakabe island...

At over 600 pages, this is one of the longest, if not the longest Kindaichi Kousuke novel, but that's certainly not saying something about the quality of the story. I am not sure about the circumstances in which Yokomizo wrote this book, but it's written... not very well. Similar to some of the later books of Agatha Christie, the writing power of Yokomizo in his last novel is not as strong as in his early novels. In fact, there are dozens of instances in where keeps repeating himself or keeps using the same phrases over and over again, which is really annoying. The repetition might be because this is a serialized novel (so some recapping might be expected across chapters), but his earlier novels (which were also usually serialized) certainly didn't feature such a repetitive tone.

The story itself feels very much like a mish-mash of all the earlier Okayama-cycle novels. We have the island, secluded communities, the role of religious figures in said communities, power struggles between young / old, rich / poor, insiders / outsiders and of course the influence of the war on the everyday life of the common people. The story even features an extensive cave section (Yatsu Haka Mura). The problem is; these elements are all fine and the things I expect in a Kindaichi Kousuke novel, but the detection part of this story is very weak. Kindaichi does little deducing in this story (more like guessing) and while I admit that the atmosphere in Akuryoutou is absolutely creepy and works great as a horror novel, it certainly doesn't succeed as a mystery novel. Which is always a danger with Yokomizo Seishi's novels, as they often walk a thin line between the horror and the mystery genre, but Akuryoutou leans towards the former genre. Not a bad novel on its own, but it's certainly not a Gokumontou.

Funnily enough, this is also one of the few Kindaichi Kousuke books with very few victims, as Kindaichi actually tries to keep the kill count down by acting on his hunches. In other novels he is much more like the great detective (and the story structures are better), but despite that many people die in those books. In fact, Kindaichi is pretty much the last detective you'd want to hire, as more murders are bound to happen if he's on the scene. Something he kinda shares with his (maybe) grandson Hajime

Because of the bizarre elements in the novel (yes, there is some talking about a Siamese twin, and man-eating dogs and Nue and stuff), Akuryoutou feels very much related to some of the longer mystery novels of Edogawa Rampo. Once again, this is not a bad thing (hey, I love Edogawa Rampo!), but it was not what I had expected when I started reading the novel and I would have prefered a proper mystery.

Finally, as someone interested in sociolinguistics and dialects and speech patterns in fiction, I was really surprised to see how much the dialect of Osakabe island (and of more Okayama prefecture residents) resembles the Kyushu dialects. Geographically, you'd imagine that the accent in Okayama would be closer to the dialects in the Kinki region, but linguistic items like sogena (instead of sonna) and ken (instead of kara) are certainly Kyushu dialect characteristics. And while the auxiliary verb yoru is also used in Kansai dialect, it's certainly not as common as in Kyushu dialect. And apparently Okayama (Osakabe) dialect. I can imagine that the dialect would be quite hard to read for people not familiar with either of these dialects though.

As a swan song, Akuryoutou is a bit disappointing. It reminds of Yatsu Haka Mura, which was also more horror than mystery, but the latter was certainly written better. I have to admit that because of this, I'm afraid to expect too much of Byouinzaka no Kubikukuri no Ie ("The House of Hanging on Hospital Hill"), which features the last adventure of Kindaichi Kousuke.

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『悪霊島』

Monday, October 10, 2011



"Kid, you've been watchin' too many detective shows!"
"Feeling like Kobayashi of the Boys Detective Club?"
"No... rather than Kobayashi, I feel like Akechi Kogorou who has just solved the case"
"Detective Conan"

It'squite surprising how much I love Conan after that many years. Despite medicore live action series. It's pretty amazing to see that the quality of the series doesn't suffer from the length. Even after 73 volumes, the series manages to present me with great stories and there's always something memorable in every volume.Which explains why even reviews of single volumes of Conan work.

The Blade of the Keeper of Time, the opening story of the newest volume, numero 73, is a continuation of the previous volume, but not particularly interesting. The problems of the murder commited in complete darkness, the disappearing murder weapon and the conflicting testimonies of the witnesses are interesting on their own, but I really doubt the trick would work so perfectly in real-life. It's a trick that works on paper (in manga?), but I can hardly see it working in reality. The setting in an Western mansion and the attention paid to the veranda and outer appearence of the mansion remind of some of the earlier Conan stories (Unnatural Deaths in an Illustrious Family Case in volume 15-16; Case of the Locked Room A Night Before the Wedding in volume 21). In fact, I don't think the Western Mansion has appeared in the Conan series for some time now.

The second story is really fun though! Deadly Delicious Ramen is another in a little set of stories within the Conan-canon, all concerning poisoning cases within a restaurant setting. China Town Deja Vu in the Rain (volume 34) and Kaitenzushi Mystery (volume 63) are among the better poisoning stories in the series and Deadly Delicious Ramen certainly does not disappoint with a man being poisoned in a ramen-restaurant. Naturally, as food-related mysteries, these stories also remind of Kuitan, which is never a bad thing. The trick used is brilliant in its simplicity and while I figured it out quickly, I can totally see why some people wouldn't think of it (not because I'm smart, but from own experience).

The third story involves a rather complex impossible crime, but the more interesting point of the story involves the introduction of the new character Sera Masumi, a Jeet Kun Do practicing self-proclaimed girl detective who transfers into Ran and Sonoko's class. It's pretty clear that she is supposed to attract attention and she probably ties in with Scar-Akai and Bourbon introduced in previous volumes, mirroring the Kir/Mizunashi Rena/Eisuke dynamics in volumes 50~57. Sera's introduction continues in the volume's last story, showcasing her martial prowess as well as her deductive skills, with Sera, Ran and Mouri being held hostage and Mouri being forced to solve the murder on the hostage taker's sister, as he wants to kill the murderer himself.

The main storyline of this volume is obviously the introduction of Sera Masumi as a recurring character, but despite that, I think I'll always assiociate this volume with Deadly Delicious Ramen. Combining typical Japanese eating culture and a simple yet smart poisoning trick, it excels in its reality and simplicity. The introduction of Sera does probably mean that Conan won't end in the near future. If we consider her a new Eisuke, her storyline might take up to 10 volumes to end. Hmm....

Original Japanese title(s):  青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第73巻

Sunday, October 9, 2011


『名探偵コナン 工藤新一への挑戦状』

You disappoint me, great detective
You forgot something important at the crime scene!
"Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi"

So in the end I couldn't keep up with weekly reviews of the Detective Conan live action series. Partly  because of university, but also because the quality of the series was very inconsistent. While I admit there were some good episodes too in this 13-episode long series, most of the episodes were either average or actually bad, which kinda sucked away the motivation to watch the series and report on it loyally every week.

Which explains why I am doing the final three episodes of the series in one single post now, two weeks after the series ended. The whole weekly posting thing experiment was fun to try, but I guess I found out the hard way that this only works if a) the series is actually fun to watch every episode and b) if the episode actually allows me to comment on it in a semi-meaningful way. 

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

When the Conan live action drama was first announced, I heard that the series would also include episodes based on the manga, but it was just this one single episode. Episode 11 ("A Kiss Is the Reason for Murder, A Revenge Murder After 20 Years! The Mystery of the Perfect Alibi") is based on Desperate Revival [The Return of Shinichi & The Promised Place] (volume 26). Seeing as the live-action series focuses more on the Shinichi - Ran dynamics, the choice seems logical at first sight, as this case features them in a rather unique situation. Shinichi and Ran are having dinner in a restaurant, with Shinich clearly having something on his mind to say to Ran when a murder is discovered in the elevator of the building. Ran allows Shinichi to go see what's happening, not knowing that Shinichi was planning to propose to her.

The big, big, big problem with this story is that it is set chronologically after Shinichi turned in Conan in the manga. While the live action was already taking some liberties with continuity in earlier episodes(see episodes 3 and 9 for example), the contradictions there could be ignored with a bit of imagination. But by setting this case (and the surrounding events) before Shinichi turned into Conan, the live action series is set obviously in another continuity.

The original story is pretty good, resulting in one of the better episodes of the drama series, but the story loses a lot of its meaning because of the changed setting (in the manga, the fact that the case is set after Shinichi turned into Conan is very important for the conclusion of the story). The dramatization does not offer anything interesting new in return for these changes, resulting in a story that is not quite as good as the original manga or the anime episode.

Episode 12 ("I Killed Her! 3 Single Murderers? Reveal the Mystery of the Fake Murder!") starts out interestingly enough: a bank employee is found dead in the strongbox room of the bank, but the problem is that nobody can enter the room, as the security gate is down. Apparently, the murderer killed the employee, somehow activated the security gate, sealing off the strongbox room and even placed a bomb that goes off if somebody tries to open the gate. Mouri and Shinichi are asked privately to help, but to their big surprise, all three of their suspects confess to the murder, claiming they commited the murder on their own!

The problem of the three suspects confessing to the murder seems a lot like Bertus Aafjes' short story De haan heeft gegaapt of de zaak van de vele moordenaars (The Cock Yawned or the Case of the Multiple Murderers), the difference being that the latter is actually fun and this episode is really, really bad. Not the worst episode of the series, but it comes close. With problems involving illogical actions taken by the actors on stage, the awful (absolutely awful) hinting, and a pathetic attempt to make this case seem like a tragic (thus interesting) case, this episode is nothing more than a half an hour of headache-inducing nonsense. In fact, all of the notes I took while watching this episodes were just the keywords of the episode, all followed by a question mark. Why did (s)he do that? Why wouldn't someone notice that? Why would you leave that there? Why? Why? Why?!

The first episode of this series started with Shinichi, Ran and Mouri being locked inside a white room, being forced to recall cases Shinichi solved in the past in order to move on to other rooms, but in the final episode ("Ran Dies! The Final Challenge of the True Criminal to the Genius Detective - Reveal the Mystery of the White Room"), Shinichi finally manages to escape from the white room. Or to be more exact: he was knocked out inside the white room and woke up in a harbor, being found by the police. Shinichi has no idea what happened, but the more shocking discovery is that Ran was found dead besides him in the harbor.

The rest of the episode Shinichi tries to figure out what has happened to Ran and who had captured them in the white room, but it takes no genius detective to solve the case. Halfway through the episode, Shinichi suddenly decides to run from the police, mimicking something Kindaichi Hajime has to do rather often in his stories, but with one big difference: there was no reason for Shinichi to run away. In fact, like with the previous episodes, I had to ask the Why question quite often, and I never got any answers.

A different problem I had with the episode is that is hardly a satisfying finale to 13 episode long series. From the beginning of the series, I had one fear: that the main storyline of the gang being locked inside the white rooms was nothing more than just a method to string the seperate stories together. I really hoped that the writers would have planted hints spread across all the episodes, allowing the viewer to construct a case while watching the series. Which is why I paid attention to the dates the cases occured on and to the passwords in every episode. But that was all useless. The final episode is just a cheap way to wrap up the series, delivering not a single grain of satisfaction. No interconnection between the episodes, no carefully planted seeds across the episodes! Despite the fact that it could have been done perfectly considering who the final criminal was! It's the sort of thing that is done expertly in the manga, as evidenced with the Vermouth and Kir/Eisuke storylines there. Carefully plotted hints scattered over a variety of stories that may or may not be directly connected to the overall storyline. Which makes the lousy way it's handled here more obvious.

Oh, and a random observation: the Beika police station looks awfully like the police station in the Furuhata Ninzaburou episode The Fear of Professor Kuroiwa. Which is really interesting considering the criminal's identity and the overall tone of the episode.

And this finally wraps up my review-series of Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi. And yes, it was quite tedious, as the material was usually not really worth writing about. I love Conan, and the TV-specials were OK, but this series, on the whole, almost feels like a mistake. Episode 3 ("Murder Case in a Locked Courtroom! Reveal the Trick of the Hostess Murder"), episode 9 ("Hattori Heiji and the Mystery of the Invisible Locked Room Murder Weapon! Deduction Battle between the Detectives of East and West") and episode 10 ("The Mystery of the Body that Moved 200 KM Within An Instant! Reveal the Perfect Crime Scheme of the Evil Woman") are worth a look, but the rest can be missed.

I won't say there was nothing positive at all in the Mizobata/Kutsuna era Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi series, but I guess my gut-feeling about the original TV special that preceded this series was right: the current creative team just isn't talented enough to (consistently) come up with stories worthy of the franchise name.

Aaaah, at least the manga is still going strong!

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「キスは殺しの理由、20年後の復讐殺人! 完璧なアリバイの謎 」
Date & Password: 2010.9.17; エレベーター
『名探偵コナン 工藤新一への挑戦状』 サブタイトル「私が殺しました! 3人の単独犯? 偽装殺人の謎を暴け!」
Date & Password: 2010.9.24; タンジョウビ
『名探偵コナン 工藤新一への挑戦状』 サブタイトル「蘭死す! 真犯人が天才探偵へ最後の挑戦 白い部屋の謎を暴け」
Date & Password: 2009.5.15; ヒロタハジメ

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Invisible Man


"It's probably best not to ask about your main occupation?"
"I don't really care"
"If asked, what would you answer?"
"A hacker of reality"
"The Glass Hammer"

Oh, that's what they meant with the master's program takes up your time! While I try to read books in the train, I'm usually too tired to read because it's so early on the way to the university, and I'm just tired from class on the way back. So no, that's not working out really good.

Anyway, I've said it before, but I usually have trouble finding new authors to read. Or to be more precise: it's the not the trouble of finding names, just how to select them. There seems to be a trend in the English-language orthodox mystery blogging sphere of having a profound effect on itself: when one author gets a (very) favorable review on one blog, it usually doesn't take long for that author to also appear on other blogs. Being placed in a somewhat more niche area within this sphere though, the authors enjoying a boom usually don't really fit within my own reading-diet. So how do I choose new authors?

I'm not sure actually. For example, I know I had heard the name Kishi Yuusuke from a friend, but to be honest, I can't really remember in what kind of context. A quick search told me that he was primarily a SF-writer, but that he had also written mystery novels. In the end, I just took a gamble with the friend's recommendation without any real research, so I started pretty clueless with my first Kishi Yuusuke novel.

The Glass Hammer is the first novel in the Security Consultant Detective Enomoto series. Protagonist Enomoto Kei reminds of Bernie Rhodenbarr, with both characters having a rather shady past and both actually being active burglars. But while Rhodenbarr runs a bookstore during the day, Enomoto runs the shop Forewarned & Forearmed, selling anything concerning crime prevention, ranging from locks to security cameras. As a burglar, he is obviously quite an expert in this field. And just to make it clear: he runs the shop honestly, making use of his own knowledge to come up with optimal security solutions for his clients (so he is not making flaws in security plans so he can break and enter himself).

In The Glass Hammer, the president of Bayleaf, a company that offers nursing case solutions, ranging from 'normal' nurses to trained monkeys and nursing robots, is found dead in his office, being knocked on his head rather hard . A security check quickly shows that only one person could have commited the murder. Bayleaf's executive offices are all located on the top floor of a skyscraper and one needs to enter a password for the elevator to move to that floor, so no-one outside the company could have commited the murder. And because the corridor was watched by a camera (with nobody suspicious appearing in the footage) and the window of the president's office can't be opened, the crime was only possible for the senior managing director, as the offices of the director and the president are directly connected (thus it is not necessary to go out to the corridor to go from one office to the other). The director's lawyer Aoto Junko believes in her client's innocence though and hires Enomoto as a security consultant, hoping he can prove that someone could have overcome the obstacles of the code-locked elevator, the infra-red camera and the eyes of the guard and secretaries to murder the president!

But I'm not sure what to think about the novel though. Kishi obviously started out with a brilliant idea for a locked room murder (which I really like) and then came up with the rest of the story. The trick is quite original and makes me curious of Kishi's other novels, as it reminds me a bit of Shimada Souji's large scale mechanical tricks, but set more firmly in contemporary times, with more high-tech obstacles like cameras.

The main problem, for me, is how the book is structured. The book is divided in two parts, the first starting with the discovery of the crime and the subsequent investigation by Aoto and Enomoto. This part is really fun, with both Aoto and Enomoto trying to find a solution to the multi-layered locked room.

The second part however is written from the viewpoint of the murderer, explaining everything from the very beginning, from motive to the planning of the crime to the actual execution. The problem I have with this part is that I really don't care about why the murderer commited the murder. It is not that I don't need motives for murder, but I really don't need 100 pages of character building. The rest (the explanation of the murder) might as well have been included in the first part. While the novel runs at a better pace here compared to the first part, I don't really care about the contents of this second part. It's also in this second part that Kishi comes up with plotpoints that are awfully convenient for the murderer, something that could have been avoided if Kishi had continued with the Enomoto narrative.

Both parts are about the same length (300 pages), but they feel rather disjointed. It's like Kishi wrote two stories based on his locked room trick (one written from the viewpoint of the detective, the other from the criminal's point of view), not sure what would be better story-wise and in the end decided to use them both. But it's not like the story gains anything from that: focusing on one single point of view would have been much more effective, I think.

The trick is really good though and I like the characters Enomoto and Aoto, so I think I'll read more in this series, but I hope the other books are structured better. But despite its faults, I do think this novel is worth a read.

Original Japanese title(s): 貴志祐介 『硝子のハンマー』