Friday, March 29, 2013


「渇いた叫び」(Field of View)

This yell of thirst stabs through my dispirited heart
I want to invite you to see the world with me
A Yell of Thirst (Field of View)

Am I writing about the wrong topic? The post on Kyoto ramen got more hits in just a week than...well, practically all other posts on this blog. Anyway, I am not in Japan anymore (though my sleeping rhythm still is), so it's back to business for this blog. A lot of my Japanese reading material is still somewhere on sea somewhere between Japan and here, but I'll fill in the time somehow until those boxes arrive.

And because this month has been weird anyway with a post on a game, a book and ramen, I figure I might as well finish off March with an audio drama. Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken ("The 'Castle of Screams' Murder Case") is the fourth adaption of Arisugawa Alice's Writer Alice series by Kikka Mystery, following 46 Banme no Misshitsu, Swiss Dokei no Nazo and Yaneura no Sanposha. Like the latter two stories, Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken was originally a short story featuring the detective duo of the mystery writer Alice and his criminologist friend Himura. This time, they're after the so-called Night Prowler, a serial murderer operating in Osaka who has been killing women at night. What makes the case 'special' is that the Night Prowler is actually a fictional murderer from the horror video game Castle of Screams. The real-life murderer seems to be copying the game, from using the same name to operating with the same modus operandi and targeting the same kind of victims. Can our duo avoid a game over and catch the Night Prowler?

I only read the earlier material in the Writer Alice series, with one reason being that the series' quality dropped quite quickly. I loved the first novel, but the stories become very simple afterwards and the interaction between Alice and Himura make it seem like Arisugawa is just aiming at a certain public with this series (the same public a company as Momogre/Kikka Mystery would aim at). Which also makes Arisugawa a marketing genius, making money with the easy and carefree Writer Alice series and just once in a while releasing a Student Alice novel to keep his more orthodox fans happy.

But I haven't read the original Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken, so I am not quite sure whether my thoughts about the audio drama also hold for the original story, but to start with the conclusion, it's an OK story, nothing more, nothing less. The first thing that one should note is that this is a hunt for a serial killer, which brings a different dynamic to a detective novel than you'd usually see. Sure, even in good old safe Country House Murders (TM), the main dynamic is one of the detective hunting for the murderer, but the change from a (semi) closed circle environment to an open one, from the Country House to the Anonymous City brings so much uncertainty to the game that it feels different. The change from a search among a group of known variables to a unspecified group of unknown variables, the invisibility of it all makes such novels much more thrilling.

At least, in theory. In Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken, the story is narrated by Alice, but this takes the listener away from much of the excitement. In the first half of the story, Alice isn't even involved with the investigation into the Night Prowler, because he's being held captured by his publisher (to finish a book). Most of the killings are already over when Alice finally joins the police and Himura, but that's just too late. Compare to The ABC Murders, Cat of Many Tails! Narration from the point of view of the people close to the victims, from the start of the investigation, from the reaction of the common people to the murders, that is what makes these kind of novels fun to read. And none of it here.

This is an orthodox mystery, so you know that Himura will deduce who the Night Prowler is and stuff, but I don't know whether this was something they did in the audio drama or whether it was like this in the original too, but the hints pointing to the murderer come 1) late, and 2) too obvious, meaning you can't really solve it until the end, but you will solve it. Which makes me think about the meaning and usefulness of all the story up until that point.

As a gamer, I did think the premise of the story was interesting. Every time people get killed videogames get blamed for everything and nothing, so why not a story about someone who might be copying a videogame? The story naturally features a bit of discussion on that, but it is nice to see that a large part of that is also done from the point of view of developers. The themes between Castle of Screams as described in the story actually also sound very interesting and I wonder whether it's based on an actual horror videogame.

Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken has an interesting premise and it is easy to listen to as a mystery, but it does miss the finesse some of the more famous serial killer hunt stories have.It might be because the story was originally a short story, but it does seem like a missed chance.

Original Japanese title(s): モモグレ、有栖川有栖 (原) 『絶叫城殺人事件』

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