Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mystic Antique

ゲッゲッゲゲゲのゲー 夜は墓場で運動会
楽しいな 楽しいな お化けは死なない 病気もなんにもない
『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎』 (いずみみたく)

Gegegege no ge Nights are spent on a graveyard sports competition
Oh what fun, oh what fun, ghosts don't die and don't become ill

"Gegege no Kitarou" (Izumi Mitaku)

It's been very cold here lately, but that also means that it is perfect weather to lie all tucked up in bed listening to audio dramas with my headphones.

And like I said I would in the previous post, I listened to the audio drama adaptation of Kyougoku Natsuhiko's Hyakki Tsurezure Bukuro - Kaze ("Bag of Hundred Random Demons - Wind"), the sequel to Hyakki Tsurezure Bukuro - Ame. Kaze is like Ame a collection of three stories featuring the private detective Enokizu Reijirou, who has the power to read people's memories, and his entourage of sidekicks (slaves?) and other acquaintances who one way or another will get in trouble because of Enokizu's rather eccentric personality. The stories are light mystery adventures and always have some kind of connection to youkai (spirits/demons/ghosts) and other Japanese folkloristic entities, a field author Kyougoku specializes in. For slightly more on Kyougoku Natsuhiko and the Hyakki Yakou series, I refer to the previous post. Actually, I recommend reading that review before reading this one anyway, because this review is really just a continuation of the previous one...

Kaze repeats the experience I had with Ame: it was fun to listen to, but I have to admit that it does not really deliver on the mystery side of things, despite the fact that the stories always feature two-layered mysteries: the cases themselves and the enigmatic behaviour of Enokizu (and bookshop owner Kyougokudou), seen from the eyes of narrator Motoshima (an ex-client who keeps crossing paths with the gang). But the stories are quite simple, despite the double layers of mystery and the charm to the series is purely derived from the references to youkai/folklore and the crazy characters.

In Gotokuneko - Bara Juuji Tantei no Gaizen ("Gotokuneko - The Determination of the Rose Cross Detective"), Motoshima happens to overhear the name Enokizu as he was out buying a maneki-neko. The girl mitsuko wants to hire Enokizu to help her with a big problem: she has been working for many, many years in the service of her master and has not seen her mother for twenty years. Recently, she snuck out to meet her, but her mother, to Mitsuko's great surprise, says that she is an imposter and that her daughter has been living for years with her now! Because Mitsuko saw a cat (that should have been dead many years ago) running around her home just before she visited her mother, she suspects that a cat-demon might have taken the place of her mother and wants Enokizu to help her get rid of the monster.

To spoil the story: it was not the work of a real cat-demon. And it does not take a genius like Enokizu or Kyougokudou to see what's going on here. Apparently, narrator Motoshima doesn't read Sherlock Holmes, or else he would have guessed the solution almost immediately. I have to admit that the trap Enokizu and Kyougokudou laid to catch 'the cat-demon' was really fun and original though, but it only proves the point that these short stories are mostly carried by the characters and not the plot. Though it is not a bad plot.

The events in Ungaikyou - Bara Juuji Tantei no Zengi ("Ungaikyou - The Doubt of the Rose Cross Detective") are a direct result of the last case and starts off with the kidnapping of narrator Motoshima by a bunch of gangsters, as an act of revenge on the Rose Cross Detective Agency. Shuntou, the guy in charge of the gangsters (who in turn works for The Big Boss) though admits that Motoshima is not really part of the Rose Cross Detective Agency and agrees to let him free. They have to pretend that Motoshima breaks free, wounding Shuntou in the process, or else his underlings might tell the Big Boss that Shuntou let Motoshima go. Motoshima escapes, but he hears later that Shuntou was found murdered, at the exact place where he pretended to have stabbed Shuntou during his escape. Motoshima hopes Enokizu will help him, but it seems that a spirit detective Kannazuki, who uses a magic mirror to read the truth, has challenged Enokizu in a deduction battle.

This is the first story where a murder is actually the main focus, instead of a side-dish and with the narrator as a suspect, this story also feels a lot more exciting and interesting than the other stories. The spirit detective also spices things up, but the actual detective plot is once again not particularly complex. It is easy to guess what happened, even without the power to read memories like Enokizu, which is true for actually all these Hyakki Tsurezure Bukuro short stories. They are fun to listen to, but they hardly need someone with special powers (Enokizu) or an excentric genius detective (Kyougokudou).

Motoshima has been avoiding the Rose Cross Detective Agency because of his kidnapping in the previous case, but it seems that cases reach him even then. Menreiki - Bara Juuji Tantei no Giwaku ("Menreiki - The Suspicion of the Rose Cross Detective")  starts off with a friend of Motoshima, living in the same building telling Motoshima that he was burgled. Or that is maybe not the right word: the 'burglar' actually left something. A box. With a mask in it. A cursed mask. Of course, you only get cursed when you put that thing on your fac.... oh, what, Motoshima's friend put it on his face before reading the warning? Oh.

There are more events in this story, but it comes down on the same formula: Kyougokudou and Enokizu figuring things out almost immediately who proceed to lay a trap for the masterminds behind the case, while the narrator Motoshima runs around cluelessly. The mystery is easy to solve, but the characters once again manage to keep things interesting enough for me to listen all the way to the end of the case. Although I have to admit that ninety minutes per story is a bit too long. Judging by the page count of the books, I guess each story would have been slightly shorter than 200 pages, which is relatively long, but it is weird to listen to an audio drama based on a story of 200 pages that is actually longer than a drama based on a story of 300~400 pages. These stories could have been 45 minutes shorter and would have resulted in more focused and better storytelling, I think (though I loved the little segments in between that provided more information on youkai and the characters from the Hyakki Yagyou series).

I definitely wouldn't recommend either Hyakki Tsurezure Bukuro books/audio drama series on the merits of the detective plots, but the characters are fun and the underlying themes of youkai and folklore are really interesting. This set, Kaze is better than the previous set though, with more interesting stories as well as benefiting from a (kind of) storyline that binds the three stories.

Original Japanese title(s): 京極夏彦 『百器徒然袋――風』: 「五徳猫 薔薇十字探偵の慨然」 / 「雲外鏡 薔薇十字探偵の然疑」 / 「面霊気 薔薇十字探偵の疑惑」

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