Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Blast of the Book


"The key to solving that case, lies within these literary masterpieces...
"The Casebook of the Antiquarian Bookstore Biblia"

Today's post should ideally be read in conjunction with yesterday's review: I wrote them back to back on purpose, because they deal with very similar themes. And a theme I love, by the way.

The 2013 TV series Biblia Koshodou no Jikentechou ("The Casebook of the Antiquarian Bookstore Biblia") is based on a popular light novel series by Mikami En. The story starts with Goura Daisuke's visit to the Antiquarian Bookstore Biblia, in order to sell the collection of his recently deceased grandmother. Amongst the collection is a complete set of famous writer Natsume Souseki's novels and one of them, Sorekara ("And then...") is even signed by Souseki. Or so Daisuke thought. The young but experienced shop owner, Shinokawa Shioriko, quickly discovers the sign is fake, which isn't a very uncommon practice in the antiquarian world. However, she also manages to deduce the existence of a secret in the Goura family which even Daisuke didn't even know of, simply by looking at the collection. Impressed by Shioriko's gifts and her love for books, Daisuke decides to work at Biblia, in order to learn more about books and the people who read them.

Like Kida Junichirou's Used Book Shop Detective stories, Biblia Koshodou no Jikentechou has a lot to do with books and the used book market in Japan. Mikami En, the writer of the original books upon which the TV series was based, in fact has stated that he was influenced a great deal by Kida's book. But there are also big differences. And they work out for the better, to be honest.

In my review of Kida's book, I complained that the stories didn't work really well as mystery stories. This is not the case with Biblia Koshodou no Jikentechou: mystery plots are definitely the main here. Most of them are what so-called everyday life mysteries: nothing as grave as murder, but just things that make you go ?. For example, a sedori (a professional used book buyer) working for Biblia tells Shioriko about the following strange event: he had to leave his bike with a set of used books outside while he used a toilet, but he found that one of his books were stolen. But it was neither an expensive, nor a rare book, and it was the only one stolen from the set. Why would the thief have done that? The problem is simple, and not serious enough to go to the police for, but still, it's strange. The solution to the problem in turn might sound simple, but it is indeed something that seems plausible, something that could have happened and what's more, it is also relevant to the whole topic of old and used books. And so the series manages to be a fun bibliomystery by relating everyday life mysteries with books.

Every episode is built around either a book or a theme, with the mystery tying in with that. For example, there is a story centered around a big Edogawa Rampo collection, and there are obviously numerous references to famous books like Shounen Tantei Dan, but it also makes use of a Rampo-esque trope, the secret code (something Rampo used in his debut work). Other stories may revolve people's desire for books, like the storyline revolving around a maniac who would do anything to get hold of an extremely rare copy of a Dazai Osamu novel (the story that feels most like a classic whodunnit mystery). And while I'll be the first to admit that the mystery of a man selling a Japanese translation of Vinogradov and Kuzmin's Logic without telling his wife is not that not a very interesting example of a everyday life mystery, the series in general does a good job at keeping you hooked the whole episode with a good mix of lighthearted mystery and a dose of bibliophilia.

Kida's Murderer's Items was set in the early 80s, when the used book market was a bit different. Antiquarian Bookstore Biblia is definitely an used bookstore of that generation, being more specialized and with an owner who herself is highly knowledgable on books, as opposed to the bigger chain used bookshops like BookOff. But it is obviously set in the present, so we do see shots of people going to BookOff-esque shops too, and the show makes it clear that small shops like Antiquarian Bookstore Biblia are getting more rare and that they do have to work hard at maintaining a specialized inventory to attract customers. The bookstores in Murderer's Items already started with mail orders, so it was funny to see Antiquarian Bookstore Biblia doing internet orders too though. Some episodes also focus on the workings of bookshops: one of of the better episodes focuses on the disappearance of a book during a closed book sale for used bookshops (to clear out/get new inventory).

At the core though, Murderer's Items puts more emphasis on the extremes some bibliophiles go to: in comparison Biblia Koshodou no Jikentechou, while also containing episodes about bibliophilia, is more about using books (and the stories within) to tell stories about the people who read them. It's a different take on the same book theme, with the latter much more accessible. The books and authors discussed in Biblia are also more famous,  which makes it more fun when you recognize them.

And as for this particular TV adaptation? I wasn't a fan of Gouriki Ayame's role in Watashi no Kirai na Tantei and I remember people complaining about her as Shioriko in Biblia though, but I thought she was okay (not as strong as EXILE's Akira as Daisuke though). I gather the cast was extended a bit in comparison to the original novels, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse (Suzuki Kousuke for example can be funny, as in Liar Game, but here his antics extremely felt out of place). In general though, there's a nice, err.... bookish atmosphere throughout the series that really fits the tone of the stories.

Most of the time, at least. I am not sure why they went with some sorta electro-pop as the series' main theme. That should have been in (once again) Liar Game or Kagi no Kakatta Heya!

In short, I quite liked Biblia Koshodou no Jikentechou. It's a bit lighter on the mystery-side of things in comparison to my usual diet, but for those who love books and bookstores, this series should be right up your alley.

Original Japanese title(s): 三上延(原) 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帳』

No comments :

Post a Comment