Saturday, December 17, 2011

Turnabout Memories

"I have to go over everything that's happened. I have to remember"

I love Cing's Nintendo adventure games, but why do the protagonists in Another Code / Hotel Dusk always have to play memory games at the end every chapter? Why would I have troubles with recollecting an event that happened five minutes ago? What earthly reason can there for me to have forgotten the item I just picked up ten minutes ago? I mean, my memory is bad, but I doubt I would forget the name of the man I'd been hunting for years...

Though with books and plots, that might be a bit different, especially as I read quite a bit in 2011. I decided near the end of 2010 that I would definitely get rid of my ridiculously enormous backlog of Japanese detective novels (which was around 60 books big) in 2011, so I started with a rigorous one-book-a-week schedule. Which went pretty good actually in the first half of the year. Time constraints kinda killed that schedule the last few months of the year, but still, I doubt I've ever read this many pages in one year in my life.

 (Disclaimer: not actually the books read this year)

So I am happy I have a blog to help jog my memory, because without it, making a Traditional End-of-Year List (TM) would have been pretty impossible for me. Like I would have remembered when I read which books. Hah! So it's a good thing I actually blot my thoughts down nowadays. At least memory problems are not preventing me from making a End-of-Year List.

No, the trouble lies more in selecting an abritary number of stories and saying that those books represent the best of my reading year. What's the best? The most fun? Best plotted? The most satisfying read? All of these? What about articles I had most fun with writing?  So then I decided I was not going to make an uniform list. I was just going to make up a category for everything I was happy with.

So without further ado and in no particular order (as I write this as I go...):

Most Satisfying Reading of 2011:
Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("The Terror of Werewolf Castle") (Nikaidou Reito)
What a Night for a Knight (Part One: Germany)
Hassle in the Castle (Part Two: France)
Nowhere to Hyde (Part Three: Detective)
Who's afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf? (Part Four: Conclusion)

Four massive volumes. More than 2400 pages. Jinroujou no Kyoufu is a massive work. It is an impressive work. Nikaidou Reito came up with an amazing mystery (of dare I say epic proportions) that will remain in the annals of mystery writing forever. Or at least should.

But reading this novel was particularly satisfying because of what I had to overcome. Firstly, the act of gathering all the four volumes of this (out-of-print) set was quite troublesome and in the end I bought my four volumes at separate stores in Fukuoka and Osaka. Yes, I crossed half of Japan to complete this set (well, I just happened to spot the missing volumes when I was on holiday in Osaka... but still). Secondly, it was 2400 pages in Japanese. Yes, I read books in Japanse, but the sheer volume of the story would have been impressive in English, let alone in Japanese. Reading this wasn't just a matter of reading the longest detective novel, it was a matter of reading the longest narrative in Japanese I'll probably read in this life. In the end it took me a full month, a volume a week, before I finished it, but I was so glad, 'cause the story was great and I leveled up my Japanese Reading Stats.

And while the relation between the posts and the titles isn't always as strong, I'm pretty happy I managed to link the four posts through something as awesome as Scooby Doo.

Most Surprising Tricks of 2011!
Alice Mirror Jou Satsujin Jiken ('Castle Alice Mirror' Murder Case) Kitayama Takekuni)

This one was especially surprising as I knew very little practically nothing about the novel. I had only skimmed through a review at Konton no Hazama, but it seemed interesting enough. It turned out to be a fantastic story, and one trick in particular used in this story was so impressive that I'll say that it was the most surprising trick I've seen this whole year. And I have seen quite a few of them.

Oh, and this was also where I confessed I've never read Alice in Wonderland. Which is still true.

The Glass Hammer (Kishi Yuusuke)

Another novel of which I knew nothing about. I was just going by a name a friend dropped once, and chose this particular book because it was the first in a series that had an interesting name (Security Consultant Detective Enomoto Kei). And while certainly not perfect on a structural level, the main trick of this novel is original, surprising with just the right amount of insanity.

Me no Kabe no Misshitsu (A Locked Room With Walls of Eyes) (Ooyama Seiichirou)

Funnily enough, the trick within story an sich is not particularly surprising (certainly not bad though). But the main trick is how this whole story is penned: as one of the chapters in the game Trick X Logic, it had to adhere strictly to the three rules (excluding uttered statements, every word written has to be the truth / motive is of no importance / no supernatural explanations). Me no Kabe no Misshitsu is the story that makes best use of these rules, as the story's point of view changes between all known suspects, but despite that they all seem innocent! This is a really well-structured and plotted story and the main trick of hiding the murderer using the rules of Trick X Logic is great.

Bitter-Sweetest Reading of 2011
The French Powder Mystery (Ellery Queen)

My. Last. Country. Novel. One of the best too!

The Most Insane Decision of 2011!
Detective Conan volume 01 ~ 10
Detective Conan volume 11 ~ 20
Detective Conan volume 21 ~ 30
Detective Conan volume 31 ~ 40
Detective Conan volume 41 ~ 50
Detective Conan volume 51 ~ 60
Detective Conan volume 61 ~ 70
Detective Conan volume 72
Detective Conan volume 73
Detective Conan: The Time Bombed Skyscraper
Detective Conan: The Fourteenth Target
Detective Conan: The Last Wizard of the Century
Detective Conan: Captured in Her Eyes
Detective Conan: Countdown to Heaven
Detective Conan: Phantom of Baker Street
Detective Conan: Crossroad in the Ancient Capital
Detective Conan: Magician of the Silver Sky
Detective Conan: Strategy Above the Depths
Detective Conan: Private Eyes' Requiem
Detective Conan: Jolly Roger in the Deep Azure
Detective Conan: Full Score of Fear
Detective Conan: The Raven Chaser
Detective Conan: Lost Ship in the Sky
Detective Conan: Quarter of Silence
A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi - Mystery of the Monster Bird Legend
Detective Conan - A Challenge Letter for Kudou Shinichi (TV)
Detective Conan: Rondo of the Blue Jewel (Nintendo DS)

Reviewing everything Conan. Not only the 15th animation anniversary releases like the Nintendo DS game and the live action series, but actually starting with volume 1 all the way up to the most recent one (well, technically a new volume was released a couple of days ago, but it hasn't arrived here yet). That's over a 70 x 180 pages of murder, mystery and mayhem! And the movies Not really sure why I did it, but this was a pretty ambitious effort that went... mostly well.

Readings That Translated Best To An Article. Of 2011!
Shounen Tantei Dan series (Boys Detective Club) (Edogawa Rampo)
Jukkakukan no Satsujin (The Decagon House Murders) (Ayatsuji Yukito)
Honjin Satsujin Jiken (Murder in the Old Daimyo's Inn) (Yokomizo Seishi)
Kakei Toshi (The Burning Metropolis) (Shimada Souji)
Murder Among the Angells (Roger Scarlett)
Akuma no Temariuta (The Devil's Ball Song) (Yokomizo Seishi)
The Greene Murder Case and The Bishop Murder Case (S.S. Van Dine)

The description to the right says this blog is about "Writing about (Japanese) detective fiction, food and stuff". So I focus mostly (but not exclusively) on Japanese detective fiction. Why? Because there is so little information about in English! Here we have a booming industry, with several interesting subgenres that have developed explosively, but nobody writes about it in English! A look through the English-language literary histories on Japanese detective fiction also show a tendency to focus on pre-WWII, which is all dandy and fine and all, but we are missing a lot of literature about the post-War period, which is as interestingly, or even more interesting than the pre-War period. On the other side: a lot of literary histories tend to focus solely on historicism, leaving behind any assesment of the work as is.

While the above are just badly written pieces, I did attempt to broaden the knowledge of Japanese detective fiction in English, without forgetting to look at the works under discussion as what they are: detective novels. These works allowed me to do some background research, but also allowed me to talk about them as just fiction, as creative works that can be assesed on internal characteristics. So these are the novels that I feel translated the best to an article. It did help that most of these books were actually good too.

Oh, and an honorable mention to that one article that wasn't a review at all. Just fun to write.

Most Interesting Game. Played in 2011 But Probably Older!
Kamaitachi no Yoru (Night of the Kamaitachi) (Chunsoft)

Ah, my other hobby, gaming. Have I mentioned that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is awesome? Anyway, detective games do have a lot of flaws, but they also (ideally) give the player more freedom in advancing a story than just a novel. Chunsoft's seminal sound novel Kamaitachi no Yoru, with its branching storyline that depend on player choices, is an excellent example of how people should translate detective fiction to games, I think. Does the player pick up the clues, does the player act in time or is everything going to end in a massacre?

I enjoyed writing the Famicom Tantei Club post the best though. And the (non-detective) game I had most fun playing this year...? Probably Game Center CX: Arino no Chousenjou 2, I'm still playing the daily challenges. And I love Toriotosu. But Skyward Sword comes close.

The Readings I Had Most Fun With! In 2011!
Kubishime Romanticist - Ningen Shikkaku Zerozaki Hitoshiki (Strangulation Romanticist - Human Failure - Zerozaki Hitoshiki) (NisiOisiN)

NisiOisiN is just an amazing writer. Personally, I feel like the protagonist is eerily similar to me, which also made reading this novel a mysterious experience, but setting that aside, NisiOisiN is just a wizard with words, with expressions, with putting done seemingly nonsenical thoughts that end in mind-blowing (ok, maybe not that impressive) statements. The novel is funny, it is sad, it is depressing, it is farcical, it is everything and a bit more. Oh and wait, as a detective novel it is pretty good too! This is one novel I had fun with reading on a both a technical level, as well ason an aesthetic level.

Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu(Lending the Key to the Locked Room) (Higashigawa Tokuya)

Higashigawa is probably a funny person with a slight cynical, sadistal tone. At least, that is what I gather from his works. As a detective novel, Misshitsu no Kagi Kashimasu is decent, but it is Higashigawa's humorous writing and snide commentary that really made this a very amusing read. His almost poisonous tongue is also seen in Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de, which also features original, decently plotted detectives that are spiced up with great humor. His stories are simply fun to read.

Most Satisfying Translation of 2011
Kirisakima (The Ripper) (Norizuki Rintarou)

While shoddingly written, Edogawa Rampo's Nanimono is to me interesting as my longest translation, but I had the most fun with Norizuki Rintarou's Kirisakima. It was a story I enjoyed very much the first time I read it a couple of years ago and re-reading showed that simply is a fun story. It's one of those rare stories that does everything good in my eyes, and in a way I enjoy the most too (Queen-ian style short story)! Publishers, maybe it's time for more English Norizuki Rintarou?

Note by the way, that I only did like four or five translations this year, and only two of them were actually detective stories

That Post I Want To Mention So I Make A Special Category For It
Kuitan (Terasawa Daisuke)

Few people here have probably read this blog from the beginning, but half of the blog was written in Japan and the other half in the Netherlands. And the pattern for this blog is that when I am in Japan, I tend to purchase a lot of novels, but have no time to read them. So I write about food (hence it is mentioned in the blog decription). I only have to time to read at the novels I bought in Japan at a steady schedule when I'm in the Netherlands.

But anyway, food is hardly mentioned (even though I love the topic) as I have been focusing on detective fiction lately, but I find it comforting to know I can always rely on Kuitan if I want to use the food tag again in combination with detective fiction. Seriously though, there should be more detectives that focus on food. It's a fun series, and in fact, I only wrote a post on non-professional detectives in August only because I wanted to namedrop Kuitan again.

And finally, The Just-Ten-In-No-Particular-Order-No-Comments List
I am actually not sure whether this is the last post of the year, nor whether this is the last book I'll read this year. So there is a chance I'll still read a book that is super-special-awesome. That book will just have the bad luck of me having written this post rather early.

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