Tuesday, January 31, 2012


それって素敵な事ね きっと人生
『ありがとう』 (レミオロメン)

More and more people I love
That is a wonderful thing
Life is really a treasure
"Thanks" (Remioromen)

Second part in the Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q") case by case review series. Yes, I am going fast, but it's also because I kinda skimmed throught the stories I still remembered. Which was about half of the stories here. The previous four volumes formed a solid foundation for this teamwork based detective series, but volumes five to eight are more focused on developing the characters and the main storyline.

Detective Academy Q
「迷Q!?」: Volumes 1 ~ 4
「迷宮」: Volumes 5 ~ 8
「MAKE★YOU」: Volumes 9 ~ 12, Premium

Kateikashitsu no Nazo ("The Mystery of the Home Economics Classroom") continues the trend of cases tailor made for individual students of Q Class. This time the story is set at Kazuma's primary school, where Kazuma's favorite teacher gets attacked by somebody with a cursed poison blowpipe in her office. The would-be murderer flees into the home economics classroom, next to the office, but when Kazua enters the room, he is astounded to find it completely empty, with every window locked from the inside and no other ways of escape. Oh, I did mention cursed poison blowpipe, right? Those things apparently can be found at primary schools. Anyway, the trick behind the impossible disappearance of the assailant is really smart and it is almost a shame that it was 'just' for a story two chapters long!

Alibi Ressha de Ikou ("Let's Go With The Alibi Train") is one of my favorite stories of the series, even though it is nothing special. I just have a thing for inverted detective stories. Kyuu and Kinta are sent away on an assignment for DDS and travel by train to their destination. The same train an illustrator (and murderer-to-be) has chosen for her alibi trick. She starts up a conversation with Kyuu and Kinta, making sure they remember her as she will need them as decisive witnesses she couldn't have commited the murder during the ride (of course, she did). Of course, using two members of the prestigious DDS's Q Class as pawns in your murder plan is definitely going to fail. Especially if one of them is Kyuu. The story mirrors a series of short inverted stories of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, complete with the humorous tone and the elegant simplicity of the slip-up and it is really a shame there are so few inverted stories in Tantei Gakuen Q.

The trio of Megu, Yukihira and Kuniko (of A Class) are sent to help Kyuu and Kinta, as they were mistaken for gropers on a train in the last case. Thus Bishoujo Tantei (Trio The Beauty) Kikippatsu ("Beautiful Girl Detectives (Trio The Beauty) In A Pinch") starts off with our three girls taking the train (which is packed because of the rain), but during the trip Kuniko is molested by a groper. As Kuniko screams, the groper's arm disappears into the mass of people, but Megu is able to find the groper thanks to her photographic memory and bring the man to the train police. The suspect denies all charges though and claims that he wasn't even on the train during the period Kuniko was being molested.

By now, we've seen quite a lot of gruesome murders in this series, yet I was kinda surprised to see a story addressing sexual harassment here. The story is pretty simple, but the problem of proving someone's guilt or innocence in a grope case are quite well known in Japan. Famous are the 'women only' sections in trains during the busy morning rush in Tokyo. I have the unforgetable memory of being squished every morning in the train in Tokyo for three months and I can say that as a male you do make an effort to make sure the position of your hands isn't going to be mistaken for a more criminal act. Which isn't always easy if there is literally no place to move because everybody is leaning against you. The movie Soredemo Boku Wa Yattenai (based on a true story) is pretty famous, where a man is accused of molesting a high school girl in the train and he sees no way to proof he did not do it.

Gensoukan Satsujin Jiken ("The Gensou Mansion Murder Case") goes back to the format of a long Kindaichi Shounen-esque story. In fact, this story is remniscent of Akuma Kumikyoku Satsujin Jiken ("The Devil's Symphony Murder Case"), originally a Kindaichi Shounen audio drama. Both stories are about the legacy of a eminent musician, with a lot of rivalry and hatred amongst his disciples. In this story, the disciples of Yuge (who is still alive, by the way) are all hoping to get the Testa di Drago, a magnificent violin. A threatening letter has been sent to Yuge, supposedly sent by a disciple who died six months ago, saying the Testa di Drago belongs to her and that she'll come get it. But what is even more interesting is that the Testa di Drago was made by Kuzuryuu Takumi, the mysterious allround artist who also designed the old school building with a hidden prison (volume 4). Thus Dan Morihiko sends Q Class to investigate the case, hoping they will find out more about Kuzuryuu too. And of course people die during Q Class' stay at the Gensou Mansion, a mountain villa where Yuge and his disciples reside.

I think this is one of the last stories incorporated in the anime and it is a pretty interesting story, even if a bit straightforward. The scale of this story is mostly derived because the murderer commits several murders, but the individual murders are not all that interesting to be honest (except for a cool alibi trick used in the first murder). Suspense in this story is mostly derived from the fact the people in the Gensou Mansion are cut off the outside world because of a storm, while Kinta and the DDS teacher Hongou are still on their way to the villa. The closed circle setting and the motive behind the murders is definitely a throwback to Kindaichi Shounen, but 'fresh' in this series.

Maybe the more interesting part of Gensoukan Satsujin Jiken is that Hongou finally explains the truth behind Pluto, the criminal organisation that sells perfect murder plans, to Q Class and its connection to the cases Q Class has solved in the past. They also manage to capture Miss Kaori, one of Pluto's agents, but not before Ryuu was stabbed by the murderer (who was hypnotised to fight back if he was caught). Ryuu also finally realized his connection to Pluto in this story, which is made even more clear in Shisha wa Kurayami Yori ("The Messenger from the Darkness"), a transition chapter that introduces Kerberos, a high ranking Pluto agent who will act as the face of Pluto for the time being.

Shounentachi no Yoru ("Boys' Night"), Kuzuryuu Takumi no Nazo ("The Mystery of Kuzuryuu Takumi"), Shiunryuu no Hen'i ("The Change of the Shiunryuu"), Uketsugareshi Mono ("He Who Inherits") and Kuzuryuu Nikki no Himitsu ("The Secret of the Kuzuryuu Diary") is a little story arc that I think is missing from the anime. After the events surrounding Pluto, Ryuu decides to leave his home and decides to live in Kyuu's home. There the two boys decide to do more research on the mysterious Kuzuryuu Takumi, whose art seems to have the strange power of bringing the worst out of people. Thanks to a lucky break (Kyuu's mom once had a translation assignment connected with Kuzuryuu), the duo manages to track down the Shiunryuu, a beautiful vase Kuzuryuu made. There is a little disappearing case with the Shiunryuu during their visit, but they manage to solve that and also a small secret behind the vase. It appears that there is a secret behind every thing Kuzuryuu made (for example the secret prison in the old school building) and when the boys get hold of a translated copy of Kuzuryuu's diary, they suspect there is a secret code hidden there, but they can't solve it.

Leaving the secret behind the diary, Q Class is sent away on another assignment in Mayahime Densetsu Satsujin Jiken ("The Princess Maya Legend Murder Case"), because a threatening letter has been sent to a politican regarding the construction of a dam. Q Class quickly find out that many villagers of Jinchuu, the politican's hometown, are not happy at all with the plans and it should not come as a surprise that the murder of this story turns out to be the politician. No, the surprise lies in the fact that the man was found inside a locked storage house. And with locked I mean it was blocked by a block of concrete used for building the dam. What has this to do with the legends surrounding the human pillar sacrifices that are told in this village? A funny code is also added to the locked room mystery, but the latter is certainly the star of the story. Why use a key or a bolt to lock a door if you can also use a concrete block? Just going that extra mile in the presentation makes this an interesting locked room story.

Mittsu no Yubiwa ("The Three Rings") is a supplement story about a ring Megu wears, but nothing special (cute though!). Hikari to Kage no Kizuna ("The Bonds of Light and Darkness") is another transition story, where we learn a bit more about the fate of the Pluto agent Miss Kaori, who has lost her mind ever since Kerberos hypnotised her. Dan Morihiko still has no idea how to retrieve her mind (so he can question her about Pluto). At the DDS, Megu is presented with a code she has to solve herself, which is I guess to be considered her 'own' case like Kyuu, Kinta and Kazuma got? Or it was volume 5's Bishoujo Tantei (Trio The Beauty) Kikippatsu, but that was actually done with three people...

Kochira DSD Kagaku Kenkyuushitsu ("This is the DDS Laboratory") is a short story that introduces Doctor Skull, the man responsible for the gadgets used by the DDS. He is short on hands and he asks Kyuu, Megu and Ryuu to solve a case for him (while smart, Doctor Skull is technically not a detective, so he leaves this up to the real detectives). The case involves a murder of a woman in her own flat, with the main suspect living two apartments above her. The problem is that the suspect has an ironclad alibi, as he had friends over at his apartment during the time of the murder. The trick is a good and simple one, which is also the best way to describe this story. While this case is solved completely at the DDS laboratory, the live action drama turned this story into a case Q Class actually has to investigate themselves. And added in a weird idol otaku subplot.

Shinrei Camera de Scoop ("A Scoop With a Ghost Camera") is the first in a series of stories related to supernatural phenomena. During school, Kuniko of A Class shows off some of her ghost photographs. Most of the students think that they are fun, but nothing more than retouched pictures, so they don't think much more about it. On their way back home, Ryuu and Kyuu are witness to an awful train accident and help out a bit with identifying the man. They have a feeling something is wrong though and visit the victim's closest relatives, his brother and sister-in-law, but come up with nothing. But imagine the surprise as Kyuu makes a photograph of Ryuu (Kyuu has been playing with his new camera for some time) and they discover the face of the deceased man floating behind Ryuu on the photograph! The mystery the ghost picture is surprisingly clever and one of the most original tricks in the series. This might be a short, relatively light-hearted story, but the quality is still as high as any other story.

Contuining the investigation into urban legends, Q Class investigates the mystery of the headless woman dressed in kimono who is supposed to haunt a certain neighbourhood in Meirokouji no Kubinashi Onna ("The Headless Woman of the Road Labyrinth"). Kyuu, Megu and Kinta stake the place out and actually see the headless woman and they decide to chase and catch her. The ghost (?) runs into a small labyrinth of walled off alleyways, with Q Class right behind her, but when Q Class arrive at the end of the labyrinth, the ghost has disappeared. This is a really light and easy mystery, not much more to be said about it.

After ghost pictures and monsters, now aliens in UFO Kara Ai wo Komete ("From UFO with Love")! Kazuma has a mail-friend from Hokkaidou who has made a picture of an UFO and she also says that a certain class of her school has been acting very strange ever since the appearance of the UFO. Q Class flies to Hokkaidou (paid by Kazuma) to investigate the case, but who would have expected that even crop circles would appear near the town?! A case of misdirection, with some smarter mysteries hidden behind the main mystery, which is not really difficult to deduce.

The previous stories already refered to an upcoming exam at DDS, that determines your class ranking. Q Class naturally has to take the exam too and there is a real danger of being degraded to a lower class. The five students therefore decice to go on a training camp in Kurayamidera Yuurei Jiken ("The Kurayamidera Ghost Case"). Their training location is at the summer house of Kinta's family, a place deep in the mountains where he spent his youth. There they meet Sumire, an old friend (love interest?) of Kinta and she convinces the five members of Q Class to do a kimodameshi (test of courage) in the Kurayamidera temple, involving passing a candle in a relay. But even though one of them chickens out of the test, the relay doesn't end in a failure. Which is impossible with just four members due the rules. The only conclusion: a ghost took over the place of the one who chickened out! Another light-hearted story, but this story is actually set up to serve as a meaningful introduction of the following story. The kimodameshi is a trope that is used a couple of times in Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo actually. They always ended up in murder.

Setsugekka Satsujin Jiken ("Setsugekka Murder Case") is a very long and complex story, probably the longest of the series save the last case and includins substories titled Q Class De Aru Tame Ni ("Because We Are Q Class"), Abakereta Katachi ("The Blown Cover") and Setsugekka no Shinjitsu ("The Truth Behind Setsugekka"). The Setsugekka are a set of scrolls painted by Kuzuryuu Takumi and in the possesion of the Kiryuu family. Kiryuu Ukon, the youngest son of the family, is a childhood friend of Kinta and Sumire and was once known as a genius trickster, but some years ago his mind suddenly turned for the worse and nowadays has a very childish personality. He is still best friends with Kinta though and happily shows Q Class the three Setsugekka scrolls, depicting a demoness with a snow, moon and flower setting.

But the Kuzuryuu Takumi art objects are always connected to crime and the following night one of Ukon's stepsisters is found stabbed in her neck in the room of the scrolls. Seeing only Ukon and his father have keys to the room (and Ukon's father isn't able to walk anymore), Ukon is seen as the main suspect of the case by the police. Kinta has to solve the case to save his friend, but little does he know that Kerberos, the top Pluto agent, is behind this case.

And what a case this is! The live action drama did a poorly distilled version of this story, but that really didn't do any justice to this impressive case. It's a very deeply layered case that is sure to fool most readers and is made even more impressive as Amagi ups the Pluto storyline, by letting Kyuu discover Ryuu's connection to the criminal organisation. This story is also the first time we see Kerberos in action and what a debut! He takes his cues from Kindaichi Shounen's Hell's Puppeteer, as both are extremely smart criminals who sell murder plans, but don't dirty their own hands (which in turn builds on the identity of the criminal in a certain famous novel I won't mention by name). Kerberos easily uses several psychological tricks on Ryuu, tricking him into making rash deductions and it takes the likes of Nanami Koutarou and Dan Morihiko himself to cope with the watchdog of Hades. This is the most satisfactory story in the whole series until now, splendidly mixing in the whole idea of detective teamwork, visual clueing and the idea of fighting a criminal organisation that are central to this series with a really complex detective plot. One of the subplots also eerily mirrors the Conan story KID and the Four Masterpieces (volume 53).

Amagi seemed eager to further the main story line and in thus deals with the 'mystery' behind the mysterious detective who taught Kyuu everything he knows in Sono Na wa Renjou Satoru ("His Name is Renjou Satoru"), Oshie wo Tsuide ("Inheriting the Lessons") and Takusareta Inori ("The Entrusted Wish"). It shouldn't be a big surprise to hear that Kyuu is the son of the (deceased) first assistent of Dan Morihiko and while it makes for a nice 'now-the-circle-is-complete' feeling, no mystery is present in these chapters. Well, except for the fact that Kazuma makes the daring (yet perfect!) guess that Pluto might have infiltrated the DDS, seeing as several of Pluto's actions lately seem to rely on information that must have come from the DDS itself. This is confirmed in Akuma no Egao ("The Devil's True Face"), where Dan Morihiko manages to release Pluto agent Miss Kaori's hypnosis and asks her the question: who of the people he brought with him here is the spy inside DDS?

Volumes five to eight really show the difference of this series with series like Conan and Kindaichi Shounen, by focusing much more and better on the main storyline and the fight with Pluto. There are some great short and long stories in these volumes, which really shows off the diversity of this series and it also moves away from the impossible crime-oriented beginning of this series. We also see that Amagi tries to develop the characters a bit more by giving everyone their own story arcs and while Ryuu and Megu seem to have little attention at this point, their importance will be shown in the last part of the series, so Amagi was able to pay a little bit less attention to them.

Even though I already read this series, I am actually really excited to read the last part now!

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸(原)& さとうふみや(画)『探偵学園Q』 第5巻~8巻 (文庫)

Monday, January 30, 2012



"Gathering all my courage, I'd like to leave those famous words here:
I challenge the reader"
"The Astrology Murder Case"

I think I'll stop my series of reviews of English translated Japanese novels for the moment, but the final one just had to be this novel.

Shimada Souji debuted in 1981 with The Tokyo Zodiac Murder Case (Original title: Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken - "The Astrology Murder Case"). At the time it was not well received that very good with the public, as the novel was quite different from the dominant style at the time. The late seventies - early eighties were the years after the Yokomizo boom, when the social school (usually represented by Matsumoto Seichou) reigned and dry police procedurals were considered the way to go for detective fiction. So what chance did Shimada had with his debut novel, that was a clear homage to the Golden Age detective novels, with an amateur detective who outsmarts the police, with references to great detectives of old like Sherlock Holmes, with its preposterous complex murder plot including a locked room murder and its pretentious Challenge to the Reader?

Luckily, Shimada was not the only writer in Japan who felt an urge to return to the old orthodox detective fiction and The Tokyo Zodiac Murders showed these young writers the possibility of modern orthodox detective novels. Shimda inspired and helped several authors during this important time. Ayatsuji Yukito, whose novels were first marketed as New Orthodox detectives, got his pen-name from Shimada actually, just like Abiko Takemaru. Shimada should thus be considered the driving force behind the New Orthodox detective fiction movement and it all started with The Tokyo Zodiac Murders. It is thanks to this novel that I can still enjoy classically structured detective novels complete with locked room mysteries and Challenges to the Readers in this time and age. Thank you.

Oh, and you know, the plot of this book is actually awesome too. The story starts with the will of Umezawa Heikichi, an artist with an obsession with alchemy and astrology. Haunted by the image of Azoth, the perfect woman, he decides to murder his six daughters and nieces and to use their body parts in order to construct Azoth himself. And indeed, 1936 is the year the Umezawa family gets slaughtered, with the bodies (minus the parts used for Azoth) of the poor girls being found all across Japan. Oh, but as we have Umezawa's will, we know he did it right? Well, the problem is that Umezawa was killed, inside a locked room, before any of the girls were murdered. Which makes it somewhat difficult for him to have commited the murders. Or was it? The case became known as the Umezawa astrology murders and while the police and amateur detectives have challenged the case countless of times, it still remains unsolved after 40 years. Until fortune-teller Mitarai Kiyoshi (who occassionally works as a detective) gets hold on a manuscript that brings another light on the case and he declares that he will solve the baffling case within a week.

The main trick behind the novel is simply brilliant and not enough words can exist to praise it. Shimada has a talent for coming up with fantastically grand tricks that surprise the reader because they are just so unbelievable. With most novels, you think 'Oh, that's pretty smart' when you find out what the trick was. With Shimada, it's more like "Wha... WHAT? YOU'VE GOTTA....BUT... AAH, IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!". As if Shimada is working on a totally different scale than most readers. If the traditional locked room is created with a thread and needle, then Shimada's tools are a gigantic steel wire rope and iron bar and he would still be subtle with them. The grand trick is something typically Shimada and can also be seen in for example his second novel, Naname Yashiki no Hanzai ("The Crime at the Slanted Mansion") and the short stories Shissou suru Shisha ("The Running Dead Man"), Yamatakabou no Ikaros ("Icarus with a Bowler Hat") and Aru Kishi no Monogatari ("A Story of a Knight").

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders develops similarly to Ellery Queen's A Study In Terror, as in both stories the detectives are solving a case based solely on old documents. This turns the story in a pure logic puzzle, as it misses the excitement that comes from a case that is developing in the present progressive. More than half the novel consists of old manuscripts and Ishioka telling Mitarai about the case 40 years ago and I have to admit that at times these segments seem to drag on a bit because they are quite dry. Even if quite bloody and messy. In Shimada's second novel, Naname Yashiki no Hanzai, he wisely chose to depict the crime in real-time, which was much more appealing.

Mitarai Kiyoshi (whose name is hilariously written as a clean honorable toilet) is also the first in the long line of amateur detectives in new orthodox detective novels. In good detective fiction tradition, Mitarai starts off the adventure by talking very badly about his literary predecessors and especially Holmes is the victim of Mitarai's foul words. What is even more hilarious is that Shimada actually included a lot of Mitarai's comments about Holmes in his own Holmes pastiche, Souseki to Rondon Miira Satsujin Jiken ("Souseki and the London Mummy Murder Case"). Mitarai is here a fortune-teller with an interest in crime, like in the next novel, but he trades in his occupation to become a private detective in the short story collection Mitarai Kiyoshi no Aisatsu ("Mitarai Kiyoshi's Greetings"), introducing himself as criminologist with an interest in astrology.

The Challenge to the Reader in this novel really caught on with subsequent authors (who may or may not be new orthodox writers). Even if I limit myself to the writers mentioned in the side bar, you'd have Abiko Takemaru, Amagi Seimaru, Arisugawa Alice, Ayatsuji Yukito, Higashino Keigo, Maya Yutaka, Mitani Kouki, Takemoto Kenji, Yokomizo Seishi who I remember having used explicit Challenges to the Readers in their works (and probably more I forget. And even more writers work with implied Challenges (for example, Aoyama Goushou's stories are almost always structured so that Conan figures out everything at the end of a chapter, while Nikaidou Reito's Jinroujou no Kyoufu ("Terror of Werewolf Castle") has two implicit Challenges, mirroring the two Challenges presented in Shimada's The Tokyo Zodiac Murders).

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is one of those rare books that is not only amazing at what it was supposed to be (a detective story), but also stands symbol for important changes within the literary history of detective fiction. As such, it is a novel everyone should have read. And this is one of the few recommendations I can make that actually has an English version available!

One note of warning: the second Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo story arc, Ijinkanmura Satsujin Jiken ("The Ijinkanmura Murder Case", published in the US as The Mummy's Curse) plagiarizes the main tricks of this novel. There were quite some troubles surrounding this at the time and all publications nowadays include a clear warning for those who have not read The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (which seems to be missing in the US publication).

Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司 『占星術殺人事件』

Sunday, January 29, 2012


「ラーク?タバコを吸う奴おったっけな・・・・ 神宮寺しかおらへんで!」
『ゲームセンターCX 134:  解決しろ!「探偵神宮寺三郎 新宿中央公園殺人事件」』

"A Lark cigarette? Was there a suspect who smoked...? Jinguuji is the only one smoking!"
"Game Center CX 134: Solve it! Detective Jinguuji Saburou Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case"

So this might be because of the whole connection with Japanese culture and the average age of bloggers out there, but is the only blog dedicated to detective fiction that actually discusses (detective) games at all? Am I the only one who uses a 'game' tag? I really can't see why a mystery fan wouldn't try the Ace Attorney games for example...

Anyway, I have discussed my random thoughts about observing other people while they are tackling a piece of detective fiction earlier, using the fantastic program Game Center CX as an example. In the program, section chief Arino Shinya (of comedy duo Yoiko) is locked up with a retro (and usually hard) videogame in a room, which he needs to beat. He has challenged detective games earlier, but luck has it that this week's episode was actually of the section chief playing Detective Jinguuji Saburou - The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case, the first game in a series I absolutely love and have mentioned quite often here. In fact, I have sorta reviewed the game here too, so for the basic game mechanics I refer to that post. Anyway, as a fan of both the game and the program itself, I was really interested to see how section chief Arino would handle the role of the hardboiled detective and the case of the mysterious murdered girl who was found in the middle of Shinjuku Central Park.

What makes the Game Center CX's episodes with graphic adventure games so fun is the fact that Arino is forced to talk a lot more than usual. In most episodes, Arino's challenges concern action games and humour is derived from the fact that Arino is, to put it lightly, usually not very good at those games. And with not good I mean that is very likely that he will get stuck for hours on on just one level. Maybe just one part of a level (looking at you, Castlevania III episode!). Thus much time of a episode is spent on just watching Arino falling from a cliff again. Or walking into an enemy. Or accidently forgetting to press continue. Or forgetting to equip the super special awesome rare sword he spent hours forging, making him unable to fight back and die miserably. Which makes it seem likes Game Center CX is only fun if you have like to see others fail, which isn't true. It is so awesome because Arino keeps on trying despite failing constantly.

These events just don't happen often in adventure games though. Though to be honest, I was quite surprised to see Arino getting a game over screen almost immediately in The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case, because he insisted on treating the police detective in charge of the case as a suspect. Interactivity and unpredicability of videogames at his best. Heck, I didn't even know you could get a game over screen so soon! Seeing him running around looking for 'the disappeared' Youko for a long time in the park only for him to find out that Youko is Jinguuji's assistent and just waiting at the office is just hilarious.

To make up for the lack of action and humour derived from the footage itself in this game, Arino just talks a lot. Usually it is just seeing him making hilarous comments about the game and the dialogue (he is technically a tsukkomi in Yoiko, or at least the lesser boke). But at other times you hear him seriously voicing his thoughts about the case and see an 'actual' detective at work. This is something really fun you'd practically never see in real life: see how a fellow 'reader' (in this case a gamer) handles a piece of detective fiction: how he interprets the evidence, how he thinks about the suspects, how he connects the little puzzles of the plot into one cohesive net of murder. To aid the TV audience, but especially himself, Arino for example has the neat habit of writing everything down on a whiteboard in a chart. He organises all the evidence, testimonies and his own suspicions in a grand scheme, with arrows pointing here and there. I know that some people indeed sometimes write these things down when reading detective fiction (I tend to keep it all in my head), so it is really funny to see how someone handles a detective story.

Which is made even more clear by the fact that this is a videogame. While there are limits to your freedom within a game, especially in older adventure games, it is still clear that Arino moves according to his deductions. He visits the people he suspects first and is clearly less polite to them (there is a threaten command in the game) than to people he thinks are innoccent. There are some psychological researches on how people handle detective fiction, looking at how people come up with deductions and hypotheses based on the story itself, experience with the genre and knowledge of tropes (see the attic for some Japanese sources). Because of all these parameters, very different interpretations are made of the same situation and it is within the realm of interactive detective fiction that you really clearly see what for results this can have. The way the plot develops in The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case is relatively an on-rails experience, but here it was clear that Arino did same stuff different from me. I for one didn't get a game over screen five minutes in the game.

Arino makes some big deductions during the episode and is asked to make his final thoughts clear just before the big finale. Receiving a pack of chocolate cigarettes of the director Inoue (the legendary assistant director who only seemed to work against Arino when in cooperative play), Arino mimicks the smoking private detective Jinguuji and actually comes up with some great deductions during his play of the game. Or were it guesses? Fact is that he has an impressive track record with detective games (Kamaitachi no Yoru and Ohotsk ni Kiyu) where he keeps on solving cases long before the finale. Seeing Arino actually being incredibly good at games is also fun at times.

It was strange to see no in-game smoking scenes though, even though there is a special command to smoke. Yes, you can actually opt to choose to smoke in this game series and sometimes, it is even required to advance in the game.

Anyway, it was interesting to see in details how someone else solves a detective story. And even better that it was a game I know and like, in the setting of a TV progam I love.

Original Japanese title(s): 『ゲームセンターCX 134: 解決しろ!「探偵神宮寺三郎 新宿中央公園殺人事件」』

Saturday, January 28, 2012



"The inspector suddenly stopped his steps and rose his right hand lightly. He started with "Ah, one more thing please" and I became worried whether inspector Soshigaya wasn't about to give me a story about his wife. There are probably many police inspectors who pretend to be Columbo"

If you'd be visiting this blog for the first time, you'd almost think I only discuss translated novels! You might also be tempted to think that I am a very active blogger, while in reality I wrote most posts of this week in one day. Heh.

Uchida Yasuo is best known for his travel mystery series starrring Asami Mitsuhiko, an investigative freelance writer for a travel magazine. He travels across Japan writing articles on local legends and history of popular tourist spots, but he always ends up caught in some kind of murder case. The Asami Mitsuhiko stories are thus a strange mix between travel guide, history books and detective novels and quite interesting if you are into that. The detective plots are usually not very complex, but entertaining enough.

Uchida's The Togakushi Legend Murders (Original title: Togakushi Densetsu Satsujin Jiken) is not part of the Asami Mitsuhiko series however, but of the Inspector Takemura Iwao series. Takemura is known as the 'Columbo of Shinano' (because he keeps wearing the same coat) and considered the sharpest inspector of the Nagano Prefectural police. This time, he is placed in charge of the investigation of a murder commited in the town of Togakushi. The victim was the influential businessman Takeda, who was found poisoned in an area commonly known as the poison plains. Togakushi apparently was the setting of the legend of Taira no Koremochi slaying the demoness Momiji, who was planning to poison him. What bothers Takemura is the fact the murderer bothered to poison Takeda and drag the body all the way to the poison plains. Has someone taken up the role of the murdering demoness Momiji herself?

Having read several translations in a row now, it became clear quite quickly how odd this translation feels. It just doesn't feel right. It is a bit stilted and several editorial / translator's choices to render the Japanese and cultural references felt very unnatural. I do admit that part of the problem lies with Uchida's own writing style, which has a tendency to turn out very dry and pragmatic. It does fit the police procedural format of this story, but on the other hand, it does make the fact that someone is mimicking murders according to the Momiji legend a little less scary. The Asami Mitsuhiko novels actually feel quite different, with a distinct lighthearted, humorous tone to them (especially when low-ranking policemen who suspect Mitsuhiko of murder find out who his brother is). The Asami Mitsuhiko novels also seem more to be more focused on legends, providing more background information. For this release, I find it a bit disappointing no maps were provided. While probably not included in the original Japanese release, maps and a bit more background information (in footnotes?) would also have been welcome to convey the feeling of the area.

The mystery itself is not very exciting and it is almost like the investigation of the police (Takemura) was not even needed for this story. There are few suspects and the story develops at the murderer's pace until Uchida thinks it is time for the novel to end. And he does it with a rather forceful conclusion. It is not really satisfactory. Which is not to say that this is a bad novel, it just has some moments that make you think that it will be better, only to reveal that it is really nothing more than an average mystery. Which, in a way, is even more disappointing.

Which is pretty much all I have on this book. It is really just a 'meh' book and you are not missing out on anything if you choose to ignore it, but it is not a bad way to kill some time either.

Oh, and I have to admit that I find the Hannya mask on the cover truly horrifying and I always make sure it doesn't face me when I return it to the bookcase pile of books. I hope it disappears from the first page of this blog soon.

Original Japanese title(s): 内田康夫『 戸隠伝説殺人事件』

Friday, January 27, 2012


"I wanna be a pirate!"
"The Secret of Monkey Island"

And every time the hardest thing about writing a post is coming up with a title that is related to the subject matter and finding a fitting quote. And every time I think about letting go of these silly rules of mine, but hey, they are still around after how many years now?

Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q") is a detective series I absolutely love, but for some reason practically never mention here. Which is mainly because it is a finished series I read a long time ago and I tend to focus on recently read material. But now is as good as any time to rave about this series, right? Tantei Gakuen Q is written and drawn by the same team behind the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series (Amagi Seimaru and Satou Fumiya), but is actually quite different from that classic. The story revolves around Q Class, a special class at the Dan Detective School (DDS), an academy for future detectives. The five members of Q Class have been selected as possible successors to Dan Morihiko, the legendary detective and head of the school. Besides taking classes on tailing persons, code-cracking and reviewing old cases et cetera, Q Class, like all students at the DDS, often also cooperate with real police investigations and private investigations (because Dan Morihiko also runs the detective agency DDC). Q Class thus differs greatly from the amateur detective Kindaichi Hajime.

Q Class consists of Kyuu and Ryuu, both deductive geniuses (but every different in character), Megu with a photographic memory, Kazuma the wizzkid and Kinta, the brawn of the group. They thus all thave their own role within the team. Detective teams are not particularly rare in fiction. We have for example Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin and the Beresfords. Q Class works kinda like the Beresfords, with everyone working on a case according to their own judgement and making use of their own strong points. It results in a very pleasant read, because the cases are tackled with diverse methods simultaneously, making it much more interesting to look at their investigations. Kinta's way of investigation is totally different from how Ryuu's way for example and it is this diversity that keeps investigatons from getting boring.

The premise of the series might sound a bit childish, with children going to detective school learning to be detectives with detective classes and stuff, but Tantei Gakuen Q is really a fantastic series. Amagi and Satou really took everything they learnt from Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo (Tantei Gakuen Q was produced after Kindaichi Shounen's first season ended) and improved on it immensely. Tantei Gakuen Q mixes the humor and charm of the Kindaichi Shounen short stories with the grand-scale impossible murders of the main series and adds a main storyline that actually develops (Conan, I am looking at you!). With a bit over 20 volumes, this is a really powerful series that is satisfying overall, but also on its individual parts (the murder cases).

Too bad for those who watch the anime though (which is out there completely subtitled in English) is that the anime only goes halfway through the main storyline. The live-action series of Tantei Gakuen Q reimagines the story in a more geek-hip Akihabara setting, but is pretty satisfying and includes stories not done in the anime (including the last case).

I intend to do a complete review of every case of the manga, similar to what I did with Detective Conan. The difference being that Tantei Gakuen Q is not as ridiculously long as Conan. I discuss about four volumes of the bunkobon release a time, meaning this will be a series of three posts. And I'll probably stick the supplemental Tantei Gakuen Q Premium volume at the end of it all. Like with Conan, there is the problem that even if I don't spoil any of the solutions to the individual cases (which I won't), there is a main storyline to this series and I will mention important events that bear upon the development of said storyline.

Detective Academy Q
「迷Q!?」: Volumes 1 ~ 4
「迷宮」: Volumes 5 ~ 8
「MAKE★YOU」: Volumes 9 ~ 12, Premium

Tantei Gakuen Nyuugaku Shiken ("The Detective Academy Entrance Exams") is like the first four or five hours of an RPG. You know, the first couple of hours where you find your companions to accompany you on your quest. And naturally, our heroes all have different stats and characteristics. Funnily enough though, we are introduced to our hero Kyuu in a Monkey Island-esque way. Because Kyuu basically only says he wants to be a detective. He enters the entrance exams for the Dan Detective School (along with masses of other people), which consists of several exams that test an examinee's deductive, tailing and physical skills. Other examinees include Megu, who has a photographic memory and Kinta, a physically impressive young man with an amazing intuition. For people familiar with shounen anime and manga, this is pretty much like any exam part (see for example the exams in Naruto and Hunter X Hunter), only the topics are quite different.

This first story pretty much shows a glimpse of the way the series will progress, even though it is masked by the shounen exam formula.Visual clueing is something often done very well in detective manga (and was often used in Kindaichi Shounen), but Megu's photographic memory is pretty much telling the reader that the illustrations are not just to meant to dress up the story, but that they are an integral part of the way the cases in this series are presented. Having someone like her in the series really reminds you that you have to pay attention to everything. In the Holmes stories, Holmes has that trick where he tells Watson the conclusion of his deductions, before he explains them. The problem there is that Holmes often tells you about visual clues you had no access to. In Tantei Gakuen Q, words and images are working together to bring you a story and it works wonderfully. The most interesting of the exam is probably the first test, where the examinees have to deduce who the murderer is based on two pictures. It is an excellent example of how the visual and the text cooperate.

Kyuu, Megu and Kinta all made it into the last round of the exam in Kirasakijima no Satsuriku ("The Kirisaki Island Massacre"). All the examinees who made it to the last round, including wizzkid Kazuma and the silent Ryuu, are all transported to Kirisaki island for the last exam. The island was famous for a massacre that had happened many years ago, commited by someone calling himself Jack the Ripper. What's more, the murderers happened within a locked room! The exam consists of solving the locked room murder, but when the examinees enter the scene of the crime for their examination, they discover that one of the examinees has murdered there. Ripped into two to be exact. The exam turns into a practical exam, as the examinees have find out who killed their fellow examinee and how.

This story initially feels like a Kindaichi Shounen story, with all the examinees trapped on an island, locked room murders, the fear of Jack the Ripper having come back to life and such and I suspect that Amagi wrote this story to mess around with the readers' expectations. Any reader would instantly recognize it as being written by the person behind the Kindaichi Shounen series, yet Amagi also shows what is possible if he is freed from Kindaichi Shounen's formula, creating a superior story that subverses the expectations one would have.  It is thus a really entertaining story, with a decent locked room mystery and one of the best meta-hints I have ever seen in a story. It is too bad they removed it from the anime version!

Tantei Gakuen Hatsu Toukou ("The First Day at the Detective Academy") and Kamikakushimura Satsujin Jiken ("The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case") are linked stories and definitely one of my favorites of this series. The story starts with an introduction of the DDS and the old school building where Dan Morihiko first started out his career (and Q Class's base of operations). Dan then presents Q Class with a puzzle: they have to solve an impossible murder of a person who was killed in the middle of a wet paddy field, with the only footsteps on the field being those of the victim. It does not take long for Q Class to solve it, but they are told that this was an actual murder case that happened at Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) Village, deep in the mountains, that is still under investigation. Many people have been reported missing from that place since a long time ago and people seem to have started to disappear there again recently and Q Class is sent on their first official investigation of an unsolved case.

This case invokes Kindaichi Kousuke more than Kindaichi Shounen, with a rural village that is literally hidden deep within the mountains: one has to enter a mountain through a tunnel to reach Hyoutan Village and one has to enter another tunnel to reach the even deeper Kamikashi Village, which is ruled by a suspicious sect that worships epidemic deceases. Q Class is split into two teams, as only two members are allowed into Kamikakushi Village. As they work on their investigations into the mysterious disappearances and murders from both ends of the mountains however, new murders happen in both villages and it is up to Q Class to solve their first assignment for the DDS.

Like I said, this is one of my favorite stories, because it really does so much right. With the possible exception of Megu, everyone in Q Class makes a valuable contribution to the solving of the case. Which is the whole point of the series. The murder case itself  is also really captivating, with impossible murders and even more hidden behind it all. Seriously, there is one revelation in the story that is so awesome I am almost tempted to spoil it. Almost. But seriously, The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case should persuade any people who are still hesitating about the series.

Oshie wa kakumo Kibishiku ("A Hard Lesson") deals with the aftermath of the  previous case and serves as a brief introduction of Nanami Koutarou, the right-hand detective of Dan Morihiko and master of disguise, but it quickly continues into Hajimete no Shukudai ("The First Homework"), where Q Class is presented with an old case Dan Morihiko solved. The problem is that of a lady who was deceived by her own brother when they split the piece of land they inherited from their father, leaving her with a smaller piece of land. The funny thing though, she herself was the one who measured up the new boundaries and she swears she split it in two equal parts. The problem is a small, but interesting one, but this story is also one that shows that Tantei Gakuen Q is not solely built on long cases like Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, but also mixes in short case studies done at the DDS. It also works a bit on the whole Kyuu - Megu relation thing that does not go anywhere for a long, long time.

Kiken na Houkago is another short story, where Megu finds out that there is a burglar hidden in her apartment as she returns home together with Kyuu and Kinta. The three quickly deduce where the burglar is hidden, but this story also shows hints of a mysterious organisation that is monitoring Q Class. In hindsight, this turns out to be a very important story actually.

Kyuu gets a request for an investigation of one of his 'normal' friends in Koureijutsu Satsujin Jiken ("The Necromancy Murder Case"). Kyuu's friend's mother has died in an airplane accident, but a psychic claims to have been able to come in contact with her. While not all members of the family are convinced, they agree in participating in a seance, with Q Class present to see if nothing funny goes on. But something does happen during the seance session and they find the psychic stabbed to death. But everybody was standing in a circle around her holding each other's hand, making it impossible for anyone to have stabbed the victim!

This story continues the series of impossible murders and the problem of the stabbed psychic is as alluring as the other impossible crimes up until now. The visuals are once again an important part of the story and show the possibilities of visual detective fiction. I guess the trick and the hinting could be done in text, but I do not think it would be presented as naturally as it was done here. One is supposed to hide a leaf in a forest, so where better to hide a visual hint than in a comic? It would really have been too obvious if this was a text and a map had made been made to accompany it, but it works perfectly in comic-format. Koureijutsu Satsujin Jiken also shows Q Class' first encounter with murderers who are the victims of post-hypnotic suggestion by Pluto, a criminal organisation which the teacher at DDS seem to know more about.

Q tai A ("Q Vs A") is set back at the DDS, where the five top students of A Class, the former top class before Q Class was created, challenge the five members of Q Class in a series of deduction battles, in the hopes of getting into the prestigous Q Class themselves. Dan Morihiko (?) agrees to this match and organises a series of 1 against 1 deduction matches, based on his old cases. Three of the battles are pretty minor, but Ryuu is presented with a great problem about a dead man who is found sitting at the dining table with a full course meal set before him! It is a wonderful ridiculous and mysterious situation, which makes the case so much fun. The solution also makes so much sense that you might be inclined to say you would have done that too if you were a murderer. And, most importantly, I love food in my detectives.

The match between Q Class and A Class is stopped just as the final contestants, Kyuu of Q Class and Yukihira of A Class are presented with their problem, an unsolved locked room mystery that happened just a couple of days ago. Though the class matches are over and nothing can be gained from it anymore, both Kyuu and Yukihira decide to go the actual scene of the crime of 'their' problem in Q tai A Enchousen ("Q VS A Extra Inning Game"), as the problem piqued their interest. The victim was a campaign girl and she was found dead in her room, which was locked from the inside and with a small barred window being the only other way out of the room. But the case didn't stop with one murder and more murders happen even under the watchful eye of both Kyuu and Yukihira.

By now it seems that all longer cases are impossible murders, which is not a bad thing. The solution to the puzzle is not very hard once you pick up on a particular hint (that sadly enough is hard to convey in any conventional type of media) and while the detective plot itself is not particularly memorable, this story is interesting as it is the first case where Kyuu works seperate from the other members of Q Class, something that will happen more often as the series continues. We also get to learn a bit more about the mysterious Pluto, as DDS teacher / detective Nanami Koutarou and a member of Pluto finally have a direct confrontation. The actual explanation about Pluto is in Meiousei no Kage ("Pluto's Shadow"), a single chapter story where Dan Morihiko tells Superintendent Touyama (Kinta's father) about Pluto, an organisation that sells murder plans for those interested. They keep their own hands clean, but arrange things that if one of their clients is caught, that they will commit suicide through post-hypnotic suggestion (as seen in several cases earlier). Q Class however knows nothing about Pluto yet.

Kinta Jishin no Jiken ("Kinta's Own Case") is exactly what the title says it is, a case that Kinta, who is probably the least smart of Q Class, handled completely on his own. Kinta works at a construction site to earn a living and one day he is witness to a suicide jump of his boss from the top of the building they're working on. Kinta does not believe his boss would have commited suicide and swears that he'll solve the case (in the name of his forefather, Touyama no Kin-san). It is not a difficult case, thought the hint that points to the murderer can be missed quite easily, I think. This case was actually adapted as the first episode of the anime, making it the case where Kyuu, Megu and Kinta met for the first time.

Kyuukousha no Himitsu ("The Secret of the Old School Building") differs greatly from the previous stories. Kyuu and Megu discover a secret room in the old school building of the DDS, but  they get locked inside by an unknown person. To make things worse, Megu is bitten by poisonous snake. Half of the story is about how Kyuu and Megu try to communicate with the outside world, but the other half is about the strange discoveries they make inside the room. Their prison is literally a prison and they find an old diary of the person who was locked inside here before them. The old school building was designed by an allround genius artist called Kuzuryuu Takumi and it seems that there is a big secret connected to this prison, the prisoner (who Kyuu deduces has escaped from the prison) and Kuzuryuu Takumi. While at first sight, this seems like a minor story, Kuzuryuu Takumi will actually turn out to be one of the most important characters in the series, as Q Class will encounter more cases that are connected to this mysterious artist.

Satsujin Collector ("The Murder Collector") is one of the better stories of the series, featured heavily in both the anime and live action series. Rumors have been spreading on a high class prep school about the snuff films of someone called the Murder Collector, who is supposed to be one of the students at the school. Most people think it is just a urban legend, but a girl has actually disappeared from the school a month ago and she might have been the victim of the Collector. Ryuu and Megu go undercover at the school to investigate whether the rumors are true. It does not take long for a snuff film to be sent to Ryuu with the actual murder scene of one of his classmates!

Not actually an impossible murder this time and the slip-up the murderer makes is kinda clumsy, but that does not matter, because this is just a really fun story! The best part is the setting at the stressful prep school, with performance-oriented students trying to outsmart each other and an intranet used to harrass each other. No, this is not a nice place, but it sure makes for one exciting locale! It also plays with a theme also addressed by Amagi in his Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo novel Dennou Sansou Satsujin Jiken ("The Computer Lodge Murder Case") and it is nice to see how he develops the themes of earlier works in subsequent works. This is actually one of the few stories in Tantei Gakuen Q I feel that could have been used in Kindaichi Shounen without feeling out of place, due to the rather Kindaichi Shounen-ish setting and conclusion.

This first third of Tantei Gakuen Q offers the reader some great impossible murder stories that should please any fan of orthodox detective fiction. The beginning is very much like a shounen fighting manga and the premise might sound silly, but this is really an outstanding series made by people with a solid background in the genre. As a whole it easily trumps Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo through better storytelling and a wider variety in story types and includes an actual overall storyline (that doesn't take ages to develop, unlike Conan). It had been a while since I last read this series, but this reread really made me realise what a must-read this is for fans of the genre! And hey, I noticed that I don't remember much of the later cases, so I am actually excited about rereading this series now!

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸(原)& さとうふみや(画)『探偵学園Q』 第1巻~4巻 (文庫)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Trial

「われわれは、あらゆる手段を使って、被告を攻撃する。 しかしそのたびにどんな絶望的な状況でも、決して諦めることなく
食らいついてくる男がいた。 悪夢のような信念を持って。 そして私はいつしか‥‥その男を信頼しはじめていたのだ。 だれかが、どんなにキタナイ手を使っても‥‥真実はかならず、カオを出す。 われわれにできるのは、全存在をかけて戦うことだけだ。‥‥やがて、ナゾは1つずつすがたを消して‥‥ 最後にわれわれは、たどりつく‥‥かならず‥‥1つしかない“真相”に」

"We attack the defendant with everything we got. But there was always someone who, no matter how hopeless the situation, would take it all and never give up. With an amazing power of trust. And in time, I began to trust that person myself too. No matter how dirty our methods, the truth will always come out. The only thing we can do is to fight with all we have. By doing so, the mysteries will disappear one by one and finally, we will definitely arrive there... at the one truth"
"Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All"

Kinda bummed out because I wasn't able to get tickets for the worldwide premiere of the Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney film held in the Netherlands. So I did the next best thing, I went back to a classic courtroom story that heavily influenced Takumi Shuu when he wrote the script for the original Gyakuten Saiban videogame.

Shaberisugita Otoko ("The Man Who Said Too Much") is the first episode of the second season of Furuhata Ninzaburou, the famous Columbo-inspired TV drama. It is an inverted detective series starring Tamura Masakazu as the titular Furuhata Ninzaburou, a somewhat eccentric, yet amazingly sharp police lieutenant and considered one of the classic TV detective shows of Japan. Befitting a season opener, Shabesugita Otoko starts things out with a bang. The succesful defense laywer Oshimizu (Akashiya Sanma) feels forced to kill his lover as she was endangering his engagement with the daughter of an influential lawyer and arranges things to make it appear as his lover's admirer was the murderer. And that admirer just happens to be Imaizumi, Oshimizu's friend and Furuhata's (bumbling) sidekick. Who panicks when he discovers the victim, leaving even more incriminating evidence and testimonies than Oshimizu himself did!

The interesting problem of this episode is that Oshimizu is hired by Imaizumi (who obviously has no idea that his friend is the murderer) to be his defense lawyer, leaving him in the perfect position to get his scapegoat convicted! He convinces Imaizumi to plead guilty to accidental death, saying it is better than being found guilty of murder. And so Oshimizu manages to trap Imaizumi his web of deceit. Until Furuhata appears on the scene. Imaizumi might be the worst police officer he knows, but he is also sure that he would never kill anyone. And so Furuhata has to save his friend (?) while the trial nears its conclusion.

Mitani Kouki was strongly influenced by the Ellery Queen TV show when he created Furuhata Ninzaburou and he even cited The Adventure of the Wary Witness as one of his favorite episodes, so it was not strange to see Mitani write an episode set at a courtroom. And what a episode! Sanma makes for an impressive villain-of-the-week, who not only commits a murder, but spends most of the episode making sure Imaizumi gets convicted for the crime! It changes the dynamic of the series too. The suspense in most episodes is derived from seeing how the murderer gets cornered by Furuhata, similar to Columbo, but in this episode most of the suspense is actually deriven from seeing how Oshimizu is completing his perfect crime, making sure his scapegoat gets convicted by acting as his defense laywer! It results in a different viewing experience that is certainly nice to have occasionally.

The inevitable slip-up of Oshimizu that Furuhata discovers is a pretty ingenious one and can be easily missed. I earlier said that Shaberisugita Otoko was one of the important influences of Takumi Shuu's Gyakuten Saiban videogame series. That was not only because it is set in a courtroom. The way Furuhata manages to prove Oshimizu's guilt is in fact the bread and butter of the Gyakuten Saiban series. Especially the first chapter of the first Gyakuten Saiban game, The First Turnabout, borrows heavily from this story, but it is safe to say that every chapter of every game borrows a bit of Shaberisugita Otoko. It would be spoiler-ish to actually point out what this is, so I will just say that Gyakuten Saiban owes a lot to this episode.

The courtroom during a (murder) trial naturally provides an exciting setting by its nature anyway. A place where someone's future is decided (or if you are playing Gyakuten Saiban, where ideally the truth is brought to light). Both China and Japan have a history in narrative court records being told as a kind of detective stories (see for example Judge Dee and Judge Ooka), but for example the first hit 'translation / adaptation' of famous Meiji period translator Kuroiwa Ruikou was also Houtei no Bijin ("The Beauty at the Trial", adapted from Hugh Conway's Dark Days). More 'recent' novels I know with trial segments are from Carr's The Judas Window, Christie's Sad Cypress and Queen's Halfway House. But the Gyakuten Saiban series is probably the best of all these courtroom based detectives, as it actually places the player himself in the role of detective. And it features awesome music and witty writing that few can match.

Which reminds me: I shouldn't forget my tradition of playing the three Gyakuten Saiban games every year!

Original Japanese title(s): 『古畑任三郎:しゃべりすぎた男』

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


"You people have allowed yourselves to be chased into a psychological locked room. You're stuck in that metaphorical room, making no progress at all, and you haven't been able to set foot outside it since the case began"
The Tattoo Murder Case

Yes, I am still doing my English translations of Japanese detective novels reviews series. At this rate though, it will not take long before I have gone through that pile too though.

Takagi Akimitsu's The Tattoo Murder Case (Original title: Shisei Satsujin Jiken) was published in 1947, a few years after the war. A time when Japan was still occupied by the US army and the economy still had not recovered completely from the shock. Matsushita Kenzou is one of those young students who survived the horrible war and tries his best at returning to a normal life. One day, he comes across an old school friend of his, Mogami Hisashi, at a tattoo contest. Kenzou also meets Kinue at the contest, daughter of the famous tattoo artist Horiyasu and the lover of Hisashi's brother. Kinue is also the owner of a beautiful Orochimaru tattoo on her back, something so impressive that Hisashi's uncle, a well known tattoo maniac who has the nickname Dr. Tattoo, even offered to buy her skin if she happens to die. For preservation.

Kenzou and Kinue start an affair, but their love is still young when one day Kenzou discovers a dead Kinue in her bathroom. Or to be more exact: he finds her arms and legs in a locked bathroom, but no sign of her torso. It seems like somebody murdered here and took off with her tattoo. This seems to be connected with the curse of Horiyasu's three children. Among tattoo artists there are certain taboos: for example you are not supposed to tattoo a complete snake covering someone, or else the snake might suffocate its bearer. Yet Horiyasu seemed to have cursed his own children by giving them tattoos of Jiraiya (Kinue's brother), Orochimaru (Kinue) and Tsunade (Kinue's sister), who are bound to fight each other. And what else but a curse can explain the locked room? The police tries everything, but are helpless in their investigation. That is, until Kenzou comes across his old friend Kamizu Kousuke, a gifted young man who was once called the Boy Genius.

Takagi debuted in 1947 with this novel and it is still considered a classic as it is one of the earliest and best Japanese locked room mysteries. The Tattoo Murder Case was released only a year after Yokomizo Seishi's Honjin Satsujin Jiken and in fact forms an interesting pair with it. While both novels were written after the war, Honjin Satsujin Jiken is actually set in a rural area just a bit before the war, while The Tattoo Murder Case is set in Tokyo a bit after the war. The differences in these settings are pretty big, with themes like the small village under control of an illustrious family, class status and face playing an important role in Honjin, while the distinct metropolitan setting, the effects of the war and the anonymity within urban spaces turn out to be an important theme in Tattoo. These two novels thus form opposite images.

Yet their main attraction point, the locked rooms, are very similar. Not in execution, but in their importance. The locked rooms in both Honjin Satsujin Jiken and The Tattoo Murder Case are set in Japanese-style houses, something pre-war critics thought to be unsuitable for locked room mysteries. Japanese-style houses were open, with connected spaces and made with easily removable and replacable materials. In Rampo's Yaneura no Sanposha ("The Walker in the Attic") for example, a man succeeds in spying on his neighbours in a lodge house by climbing up to a connecting loft. Japanese-style houses just did not seem suitable to portray an imprenable locked room situation.Yokomizo and Takagi were the first authors to challenge the problem succesfully. Honjin has the splendid situation of a double murder in an annex where the murderer seemed to have disappeared into thin air, while Tattoo has a locked room murder in a bathroom, one of the few rooms in a house that has its own lock and cannot be accessed from other rooms through a loft or cellar because of the tiles. These two novels showed the possibilities of a Japanese orthodox locked room mystery and paved the way for future writers in the genre.

The locked room mystery, which is good, is certainly not the only mystery in the novel and The Tattoo Murder Case is a actually a surprisingly well-polished debut novel. There is also a sea of information about the tattoo culture in Japan discussed in this novel that is really interesting, but it is also in fact of importance for solving the mystery. There is a distinct difference in how the topic of the 'curse' of Jiraiya, Orochimaru and Tsunadehime is handled by Takagi here and how Yokomizo would have handled though. Yokomizo is a master in creating creepy atmospheres linked with curses, legends and other supernatural beings and his novels are often very close to horror-stories. In The Tattoo Murder Case, Takagi plays a lot with the idea of tattoo curses, but it never becomes really creepy in the story. It is all too pragmatic, down to earth in this story. If you play with the idea of a curse in your detective story, you should present the 'supernatural explanation' (the curse) as a plausible explanation for the events. Usually by making the case look unexplainable unless you accept the supernatural explanation. For example by creating such horrifying settings that a curse seems a plausible cause. That never happens in The Tattoo Murder Case. The same holds for Takagi second novel, Noumen Satsujin Jiken, that's about a curse of a Hannya mask, but it never turns really creepy and the 'supernatural explanation' is never seen by the reader as an acceptable explanation of the events.

The translation of the English version is good, as far as I could judge as I do not actually own the original Japanese text, but the little things did bother me. Like how Tsunadehime was translated as Tsunedahime. And how sometimes the short cultural explanations incorporated into the body of the text felt very unnatural. It is of course a translator's (and editor's) choice how to work out cultural specific customs (expansion of the text to exlain it, footnotes, no explanation, deletion etc.), but here it felt too obtrusive at times. And strangely enough a thing like itadakimasu was left in Japanese without any explanation. As far as I know, that is not considered common knowledge Japanese. The English translation also precedes a Japanese revised edition. I am actually not sure what was revised and who revised the novel though, because I think Takagi was already dead then.

Anyway, this is a classic that anyone should have read and it is actually available in English too!

Original Japanese title(s): 高木彬光 『刺青殺人事件』