Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side

『スノーホワイト 名探偵三途川 断りと少女の鏡は千の目を持つ』

"Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the greatest detective of us all?"
"I am"
"Snow White - Great Detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari and The Girl's Mirror Has Thousand Eyes"

Maybe I should review something Western in the hopes of getting comments again. I should ask a mirror whether that would work.

For most detectives, finding out the truth behind a case is an important, if not the most important part of their jobs. But what if you'd have a detective who would always know the truth? That is the premise of Morikawa Tomoki's Snow White -  Meitantei Sanzunokawa Kotowari to Shoujo no Kagami wa Sen no Me wo Motsu ("Snow White - Great Detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari and The Girl's Mirror Has A Thousand Eyes"). Our protagonist is Erioto Mamae, a teenage girl who runs her own detective agency. Which would be quite impossible under normal circumstances, but having a magic mirror that can answer any question probably doesn't count as normal circumstances. So while 'normal' detectives would have to listen to testimonies, gather evidence and build up a chain of deduction in order to solve a murder, Mamae just has to ask her mirror who did it. In short, she cheats. Her assistant, the dwarf Grumpy Ingram who came from the same world as the magic mirror, doesn't really like that, for he would rather want Mamae to at least try to deduce a bit herself, but it least keeps the agency running.

And then you ask, how can a detective novel be fun if the detective can always cheat? Well, it's because the author had a lot of fun with his little gadget. For instance, using the mirror means you don't have to deduce, but with Mamae that means she doesn't deduce. She just tells what she saw in the mirror, which often includes more information than the client ever told her. And sometimes, clients do want to hear how she managed to 'deduce' the truth or else they won't be convinced. And because Snow White itself is still a fair-play detective novel, it is indeed possible to deduce the truth based on the information offered. So it is like cheating with a mathematical problem at school: you might know the right answer and write on your testpaper, but the teacher isn't going to be satisfied with just the right answer: you have to show how you arrived at the answer. One could also see some parallels with the inversed detective stories like Columbo, with the 'answer' already known the viewer right from the start. At any rate, it does bring a fresh dynamic to the story-structure.

But the second part is where Snow White really shines, when the Great Detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari, a young unscrupulous, yet brilliant boy, is hired to kill Mamae and gets his hands on his own magic mirror. And Snow White suddenly changes in a grand batte of wits, with two detectives in possession of a magic mirror. Here the focus changes from 'reversed' deducing to how to make full use of the properties of the magic mirror, keeping in mind that the opponent also has a mirror can answer anything from 'who is trying to kill me and why' to 'what is my opponent planning to do next?'. And yes, this second part feels a lot like Death Note: a magic item with a certain set of rules and properties forming the basis of a heated battle between two detectives. I wouldn't say geniuses, because Mamae really isn't highly intelligent like Sanzunokawa, but even Sanzunokawa has to be careful in his attempts to commit murder, knowing his opponent can instantly find out the truth using the mirror the moment something suspicious happens.

The concept of Snow White is interesting on its own, but the story also has a great sense of speed and tempo. It keeps providing the reader with new stimuli: every case Mamae encounters is different from the previous one and I don't mean just regarding the contents: the way the mirror is used, the structure of the story, it is every time something else, from start to finish. What also helps is that Morikawa seems to have a great love for Great Detectives (TM), because we have no less than three (!) detectives running around in Snow White, and they're all great in their own way. The love the author has for this trope can be felt throughout this novel and you can sense the fun he had writing it. It almost feels childish, but in an innocent, pure-hearted way.

A lot of reactions on the novel included wanting to see Snow White adapted as an anime or something of the sorts, and I concur it really feels suitable for it. The slight fantasy-setting, the one-case-a-episode setup at the beginning and the great battle of wits in the second half, greater-than-life characters. It would work perfectly. Maybe in a few years?

Morikawa by the way originates from the Kyoto University Mystery Club and Snow White is the second novel in his Great Detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari series, which is kinda surprising considering Sanzukawa is definitely the antagonist in this story! I really should read Cat Food, the first novel too (and the third novel is already scheduled for this summer).

Original Japanese title(s): 森川智喜 『スノーホワイト 名探偵三途川理と少女の鏡は千の目を持つ』


  1. Will a slightly tangential question do? The book looks interesting, but I see it's currently only available as a tankobon, at a price well above the price of normal bunkobon books. Do Japanese books go through a release process like western books, so that I can wait for a cheaper edition?
    Nigel Holmes

    1. Snow White is released under the Kodansha Box imprint, which is a fairly expensive line (the books themselves are softcovers, but they come in nifty boxes), which explains the price.

      Usually, books are indeed republished as cheaper bunkobon about two, three years after the original release date. Not all books are republished though and I think that it's actually a fairly rare practice for Kodansha Box novels (except for the ones by Nishio Ishin). But Van Madoy's Marutamachi Revoir was released as a bunkobon last year (originally 2009) too, so who knows. Morikawa's debut work Cat Food was released in 2010, and with the third novel already planned for this summer, we might also see his first bunkobon appear somewhere this year.