Friday, February 14, 2014

Confused Memories

Confused Memories
"Confused Memories" (円谷憂子)

Confused Memories
A box
Without any past or tragedy inside
That's where I want to put the world
Confused Memories (Tsuburaya Yuuko)

A new Gyakuten Saiban project led by Takumi Shuu and a new Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo TV anime series to start in April?! Lots of interesting news this morning!

Mitarai Kiyoshi series
Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken ("The Astrology Murder Case")
Naname Yashiki no Hanzai ("The Crime at the Slanted Mansion")
Mitarai Kiyoshi no Aisatsu ("Mitarai Kiyoshi's Greetings")
Ihou no Kishi ("A Knight in Strange Lands")
Mitarai Kiyoshi no Dance ("Mitarai Kiyoshi's Dance")
Suishou no Pyramid ("The Crystal Pyramid")
Nejishiki Zazetsuki  ("Screw-Type Zazetsuki")

You open your eyes. You're stting on a bench in a park. You've fallen asleep there. It's afternoon. About time to leave. You get up, walk towards the road. You don't see your car here. Did you park it on the other side of the park? You walk back. No car here. Think. What kind of car did you drive? You can't remember. Maybe you didn't drive here? Think. How did you arrive here at the park? You can't remember. Think. Why are you here in the park? You can't remember. Think. What do you remember? Nothing. Nothing? Who are you? You can't remember. The protagonist of Shimada Souji's Ihou no Kishi ("A Knight in Strange Lands") has no memory whatsoever of his life before waking up in a park. He's naturally terribly confused, but a chance encounter with Ryouko saves him: they fall in love and start a simple, but satisfying life together. But our protagonist still wants to know how he lost his memories and what his life was before the incident, but the clues lead him to a horrible truth.

Wait, a Mitarai Kiyoshi novel about amnesia? Hadn't I already written something about that? Or was it a false memory? Actually, I did. About one year ago, I wrote about Nejishiki Zazetsuki, a 2003 novel which also featured astrologist/detective/neuro-specialist Mitarai Kiyoshi involved in a case with someone suffering from severe amnesia. Same writer, same series, same concept. How do the two novels compare?

But first, a small note. Shimada Souji's first published novel is his phenomenal Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken, but Ihou no Kishi is actually his first written novel: just published later. The title is derived from the album (and song) The Romantic Warrior by Return to Forever (which in Japanese is rendered as Rouman no Kishi, "The Romantic Knight"), because, well, music is a recurring motif in the Mitarai novels.

Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken and Naname Yashiki no Hanzai rank among my favorite detective novels. They're pretty classic in set-up, featuring familar tropes like locked room murders, decapitated bodies and murders around Christmas. Ihou no Kishi, the third full-length novel in the series, is less classic, featuring a plot less grand in scale. The first part of the story is set solely around the protagonist slowly setting up a life with Ryouko and also getting to know Mitarai Kiyoshi (who is still an astrologist at the time, and not a private detective). It's a set-up necessary for the rest of the story, sure, but compared to the beginning of the previous two novels, it's a bit slow and.... non-criminal. Ihou no Kishi's plot is of course built around the protagonist's search for his identity and finding out how he lost his memory, but it takes quite some time before the plot is actually there. It's only around the halfway point before the protagonist actually starts chasing after the clues, by which the reader might have already given up on the book, because the plot took too long to really start moving.

Nejishiki Zazetsuki was mostly built around reading a document, which held the clues to finding out about Egon Markut. I wasn't too much a fan of it, because it was based on the interpretation of a fantasy story, which to me seemed a bit too open-ended. Shimada has done more with deducing based on memories, be it memories in a person's mind, or written down in a document, see for example his debut work Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken. The tropes of a story-inside-a-story and the unreliability of the human memory can thus be considered something of pet peeves of Shimada and they are used again in this novel, but in a different way than the above mentioned novels. It's also a lot shorter, making Ihou no Kishi easier to read, with more events happening in real-time (in the story), rather than happening within documents.

I have to admit that I'm a bit disappointed Ihou no Kishi does not feature a grand trick like the previous two novels. Or does it? In a way, Ihou no Kishi features a plot just as ridiculous (in the good sense of the word) as other Shimada novels, but the way it's written it's hardly as convincing as stories as Senseijutsu Satsuji Jiken (and I can assure you that the things that happen there are actually quite crazy). But comparing Ihou no Kishi to Nejishiki Zazetsuki, which are very much alike, I'd say that Ihou no Kishi is more fun. Which is maybe because the underlying story works better. Both Ihou no Kishi and Neijishiki Zazetsuki can be read as 'simple', tragic love stories, but I prefer the one in Ihou no Kishi.

Not even near my favorite Shimada Souji story, but Ihou no Kishi has its interesting points as Shimada's first novel and also as part of the Mitarai Kiyoshi series. It also forms a bridge between the somewhat 'artificial' first two novels in the series, to the novels with a more fleshed-out story later in the series. Not must-read materal, but maybe when you've a bit more of Shimada's works.

Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司  『異邦の騎士』


  1. Any further news on whether the new Kindaichi anime series will be a continuation of the old one, or a reboot?

    1. No news yet, but I am guessing it's just a continuation of the series with the same cast (they had also done an OVA just last year). There's enough material left that still has to be animated for at least a two-cour season (maybe even a three-cour season, depending on the direction), so I assume this new series will handle the remaining stories.

  2. so, its me (don't know Japanese )again,

    the plot does seemed to be similar with this: Two O'Clock Courage

    give it a read? thanks

    1. Oh, the description of the first part does sound alike! I have a suspicion the plot's different in the second part, going by the description, but I'll certainly keep the title in mind. Thanks!