Sunday, June 29, 2014

Murder under Glass

「殺しはしねぇでも生かしてもおかねぇ。もっと 詳しく聞きてぇか?」
 『探偵はBarにいる2 ススキノ大交差点』

"Just out of curiosity, what's going to happen with him?"
"We won't kill him, but we won't let him live either. Want to know the details?"
"No, I've heard enough"
"The Detective is in the Bar 2 - The Great Crossroads of Susukino"

While I do think metropolises have their charm, I just never get used to actually living there. It's just too... busy. The image of a never-sleeping city sounds fun, but it's just too... restless for me. Everything, everyone always on the movement. One of my scariest experiences in a metropolis was..... simply taking the bus in Busan, South Korea. Everything needs to go fast there, so you need to be standing at the exit before the bus reaches the stop, and the bus basically starts driving away from the stop while your first foot is still somewhere in the air halfway the bus and the pavement.

There is always something happening in the red light district Susukino in Sapporo, capital of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Sometimes something good, sometimes something bad. Masako, one of the popular 'ladies' in a crossdresser's bar, winning a TV talent hunt with her illusion show is something good. Masako being murdered is something bad. The unnamed protagonist private detective and his sidekick Takada wants to know who is responsible for the death of their good friend, but nobody wants to talk about the case for some reason. The detectives eventually pick up some rumors that Masako might have been 'erased' because she used to be romantically involved with a local politician who has been on the rise lately. But the moment the duo starts to investigate this trail, their two heads are marked by both supporters of the politician as well as his enemies (who aim for a I-scratch-your-back scheme). Can they find out who killed Masako whilse being chased all over Sapporo in the 2013 movie Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 - Susukino Daikousaten ("The Detective is in the Bar 2 - The Great Crossroads of Susukino")?

Tantei wa Bar ni Iru is a film series based on Azuma Naomi's Susukino Detective novel series: the films are named after the first book in the series, even though the first movie was based on the second novel: Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 is based on the fifth novel (Tantei wa Hitoribocchi; "The Detective On His One"). The basic set-up for both the novel and the film series is the same: a comedic hardboiled detective series starrring an unnamed detective and his assistant, set in the red light district Susukino in Sapporo (Azuma's hometown). The titular bar refers to the bar Keller Ohata, which the protagonist uses as his base of operations: he doesn't own a mobile phone, so people who want to reach him have to call there.

I haven't seen the first movie, but the basic setting is very simple, so you'll get into it really quickly. In fact, the whole film moves at quite a fast pace: the protagonist and his assistant are marked by their enemies very early in the story and a lot of the movie consists not out of the detective following every trail he comes across in search for Masako's murderer, rather than fleeing for, and occasionally fighting with the many, many people who try to kill him (and occasionally coming across a hint during his flight). Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 is an easy watch and as a hardboiled detective story definitely more about the journey, rather than the destination. But that's not a bad thing: Ooizumi You (protagonist; also the voice actor of Professor Layton) and Matsuda Ryuuhei (the sidekick Takada) really fit their roles and their banter is just fantastic (the film is actually quite funny).

The ending does come rather suddenly though, and even if the journey was the main event, I wish the destination was a bit more impressive. It's not bad, per se, but the way the protagonist and his assistant basically stumble upon the whole truth behind Masako's murder is rather disappointing and feels extremely forced. I can imagine the scriptwriters discussing the endgame of this film: How are we going to give the detective a hint? Oh, you know, we can just let the murderer give at all away at the end. We only have a few minutes left for the ending, so yeah, let's just give it to him straight without any funny business!  Okay, it's not that bad, but depending on the viewer, the ending can disappoint extremely.

In my opinion, one of the more interesting points of Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 is the setting of Sapporo. Setting aside Yokomizo Seishi's novels, most Japanese mystery fiction is set in, or near capital Tokyo, or sometimes Osaka and Kyoto, so I always find it refreshing when a story is set somewhere else (see for example my reviews of Matsumoto Seichou's Ten to Sen or Nishimura Ken's Hakata Tantei File). Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 is mostly set in the capital of the north, and it has a distinct atmosphere. I have never visited Sapporo or the island of Hokkaido, so I loved seeing this part of Japan. The red light disctrict of Susukino also really comes alive in this movie, and the way it is depicted as partly a seedy neighbourhood, but also as a crossroads of destinies where all kinds of people gather to simply try to make a living, is similar to the way Shinjuku is depicted in series as Tantei Jinguuji Saburou and City Hunter (or Shibuya in the fantastic game Machi ~ Unmei no Kousaten). Sure, it's a very romantic version of the place, but I think these titles are exceptionally good at depicting a location as a living being with distinct characteristics and atmosphere.

As a comedy hardboiled detective movie, Tantei wa Bar ni Iru 2 -  Susukino Daikousaten is quite amusing. It won't be recorded in the annals of international detective fiction, but if you want to kill some time, spending some time wih the unnamed detective in Sapporo is certainly not a bad choice.

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵はBarにいる2 ススキノ大交差点』

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Last Vampyre

Like a Bloody Storm
熱く Like a Bloody Stone 
『Bloody Stream』 (CODA)

Like a Bloody Storm
Hot like a bloody stone
The ever-floating bonds of pride
that are carved within the blood lineage of destiny
Hold on them tight
"Bloody Stream" (CODA)

I'm finally nearing the end of my backlog book list! That said, 'nearing' is just a relative word: considering the fact I lived off my gigantic to be read stash for more than a year, I could still continue normal business on this blog for months without getting new material.

Mitarai Kiyoshi series
Senseijutsu Satsujin Jiken ("The Astrology Murder Case") [1981]
Naname Yashiki no Hanzai ("The Crime at the Slanted Mansion") [1982]
Mitarai Kiyoshi no Aisatsu ("Mitarai Kiyoshi's Greetings") [1987]
Ihou no Kishi ("A Knight in Strange Lands") [1988]
Mitarai Kiyoshi no Dance ("Mitarai Kiyoshi's Dance") [1990]
Suishou no Pyramid ("The Crystal Pyramid") [1991]
Atopos [1993]
Nejishiki Zazetsuki  ("Screw-Type Zazetsuki") [2003]

Shimada Souji's Atopos starts a while after the troublesome shooting of the film Aida '87. Actress Matsuzaki Reona's new Hollywood adventure is Salome, a musical drama movie she wrote, with some help of horror writer Michael Berkeley. who has just released a new book based on the infamous female serial killer countess Elizabeth Báthory. The Salome project is a troubled one however. Starting with the murder on Barkeley, Tinseltown is struck with one horrifying event after the other: the drowned body of Sharon Moore, an actress in Salome, is discovered, and the baby children (and grandchildren) of several people in Salome's production staff are kidnapped. Some witnesses claim to have seen a bald, bloody monster at the crime scenes, but the police thinks that Reona, who has a history with drugs and a reputation of being mentally unstable, might know more about the case. The police can't prevent the main cast and production team of Salome from going to the Dead Sea for on-location shooting though. But Death seems to have chased the project all the way from Hollywood to Israel: both the mysterious building (with maze-like layout) where the team stays and the gigantic floating movie set in the Dead Sea serve as the background for more bloody murders, with Reona as the obvious suspect (it certainly didn't help her case when she was discovered covered in blood next to one of the victims).

And at around eighty percent in the novel, detective Mitarai Kiyoshi finally arrives to save Reona and explain what happened.

Atopos is very similar to Shimada Souji's Suishou no Pyramid: both novels revolve around the shooting of a film starring Matsuzaki Reona at an isolated location. Both novels feature an incredibly long prelude: you won't reach the main story until half way through the book. And you have to wait even longer for series detective Mitarai Kiyoshi to appear. I am also not precisely sure how I feel about both novels.

You can hardly call Atopos a short book, as it is nearly 1000 pages long. One might call it two books though. The first 400 pages consists out of a novel-within-a-novel: the book about Elizabeth Báthory by Michael Berkeley. It's bloody horror amusement and quite captivating if you're interested in these kind of famous crimes in history (Nikaidou Reito's Jinroujou no Kyoufu similarly told the story of Gilles de Rais amongst others. But then again, it also featured Nazi Werewolves). But... this narrative about Báthory is actually not really related to the main story of Atopos. The novel-within-a-novel is just to strengthen the atmosphere of the book, suggesting that Matsuzaki Reona might be possesed by the same sadistic bloodlust as the countess, but it's kinda overshooting its goal. To put it in perspective; most of the full novels I review on this site, are shorter than this novel-within-a-novel. A bit of background information and the creation of a setting/atmosphere is good, but this is just too much. But it's entertaining, I'll admit: Suishou no Pyramid did the same thing, but I didn't care for the narrative-within-a-narrative there at all.

So when you have gone through nearly half of the book, you finally reach the main story (the filming of Salome at the Dead Sea). There are quite some murders in this part of the book, with the impossible murder where someone of the staff is impaled on the sword sticking out on top of the floating movie set the most eye catching one: with no cranes in the neighbourhood and no real means of climbing the set (unless you deconstruct the set), nobody could have placed the body there. Another murder is a semi-impossible situation: only Reona could have commited the murder of one of her fellow actresses, but she denies having done so. The murder was commited in the strange building the staff found all ready for their stay right next to the Dead Sea, with a four distinct wings and a maze-like interior: the building is incredibly strange, so as the reader you know something is wrong with it and that it has to do with the murders, but even if you realize that, it's next to impossible to deduce its role in the grand scheme of things (also: compare to the mysterious 'tofu' structure in Onda Riku's MAZE).

I liked how all the murders were connected to one daring solution: even though the murders took all kinds of forms, you could all bring it back to one common factor. However, that solution is quite farfetched and nobody would think of it. In that respect, Atopos really resembles MAZE. And I say Atopos is ridiculous having read other books by Shimada Souji like Naname Yashiki no Hanzai and Suishou no Pyramid, so I know how absolutely crazy (and awesome) Shimada's solutions can turn out to be: but Atopos's main revelation... well, it's not coming out of completely nowhere, but really only Mitarai Kiyoshi could have arrived at the solution based on those hints!

Atopos is very similar to Suishou no Pyramid in terms of set-up and execution, but my feelings towards them are precisely the opposite: I liked the main story and the locked room situation of Suishou no Pyramid, while I thought the first, narrative-within-narrative part of the book almost a waste of my time. On the other hand, I quite liked the first, narrative-within-narrative about Elizabeth Báthory part of Atopos, but I am not that big a fan of the mystery (and its solution) presented in the main story. In general though, Atopos does a better job at presenting itself as one coherent narrative though.

Original Japanese title(s): 島田荘司 『アトポス』

Monday, June 16, 2014

Detective School Dropouts

『みえないストーリー』 (岸本早未)

An invisible story
We're still uncertain
But is it alright for us
to believe we can still go on?
"An Invisible Story" (Kishimoto Hayami)

I sometimes make comments about my book backlog, but that backlog isn't even nearly as horrible as my games backlog. Today, a game I think I purchased two years ago. But it could also have been five years ago. I forgot.

Two years ago, I discussed the complete Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q") manga series in three parts (part one, two and three). The series, created by the people behind Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, told the story of Q (Qualified) Class, a group of five young students of the prestigious Dan Detective School. Kyuu, Megu, Kinta, Kazuma and Ryuu all had their own fields of speciality (Kyuu and Ryuu were geniuses in reasoning, Megu had photographic memory, Kinta had extraordinary physical skills and Kazuma was the resident whizzkid) and would combine their powers to form Voltron to solve a myriad of cases, from simple thefts to serial murders. Tantei Gakuen Q: Meitantei wa Kimi da! ("Detective Academy Q: You're the Great Detective!") is the first of two Game Boy Advance games based on the series and offers the player, in the role of Kyuu, four different cases to solve together with the other members of Q Class.

It shouldn't be very surprising if I tell you Tantei Gakuen Q: Meitantei wa Kimi da! is a detective adventure game. Not all, but a fair amount of the games I discuss on this blog follow the same exact command-style format (in fact, that's where this blog's current look is based upon. To be precise, the lay-out is based on Famicom Tantei Club). Talk to the right persons and investigate the right places to obtain the necessary evidence and answer a few questions in the denouement scene to solve the case. Nothing new here.

Well, one interesting special feature is the evidence collecting system: the player has to 'notice' and write down the evidence himself. Whenever you see something suspicious (the dialogue usually gives it away), you have to press a button to 'record' these hints in a notebook yourself. Then, at the end of each story, you'll have to select a certain, set amount of these hints that lead to the solution of the case. The catch is that 1) it's thus possible to miss the necessary hints (if you didn't record the hint) and 2) there are a lot of fake hints. If you chose the wrong evidence, your case will be faulty and fall apart during the denouement. This system makes the investigations a bit more exciting, as you wouldn't want to miss recording a decisive piece of evidence. The red herring hints are also fun, as these make it a bit more difficult figuring out what really happened.

But it's also a very faulty system. Most importantly, the system is extremely vague (in fact, it's not even explained in the game! I am not that big a fan of tutorials, but this really should have been explained...). Because you have to 'save' evidence yourself, and because of the existence of fake evidence, you never know whether you have collected all the necesssary, right evidence to solve the case. You just have to guess. The game sometimes gives you the option to expose the murderer / trick early, but you'll often need evidence you can only find after being given that option. Which makes no sense at all. That's like Ellery Queen giving you a Challenge to the Reader, only to reveal that you needed facts made known after the Challenge!

Also, it's extremely vague what the game expects from you at the end of each story. When you choose to expose the criminal, you are told that an X amount of hints will reveal the truth behind the case. But that's all. You are never given a specific description of what the game wants of you (do you want evidence that points to the criminal? Evidence of how a certain trick was performed? Evidence of when the crime was commited?), and it often results in just a guessing game in just what the games wants you to prove. The Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney games in comparison always make it very clear, mostly by very precise wording and focus on contradiction between testimony and evidence. Trick DS also had a lot of fake evidence/hypotheses, but at least you were given a direction, because the game would tell you exactly what hypothesis would follow out of each specific combination of evidence pieces. In Tantei Gakuen Q: Meitantei wa Kimi da!, you can only pray you're going in the same direction the game wants you to go, because it never tells you anything.

Oh, and finally, I was kinda disappointed that the game was so focused solely on tricks. If you do manage to read the game's mind and 1) collect all of the right evidence before entering the finale and 2) select the right evidence despite not being told what the game wants you to prove in the first place, you're done. The game is focused completely on just figuring out how a thief managed to get to the eight floor of a department store, steal an art artifact, and get out within five minutes, or what kind of alibi trick is behind the multiple murders in a small mountain village (real examples from the game) and if you do manage to get these parts right, the criminal will confess immediately, without any effort at defending himself. Which is kinda anti-climatic. Once again, Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney is built completely around the premise of deductive confrontations with criminals, but even other adventures without such an obvious detective vs criminal confronation system usually feature a criminal who will at least give you the pretense of putting up a fight, instead of just saying "yes, you're right, arrest me".

Was there nothing good about Tantei Gakuen Q: Meitantei wa Kimi da!? Well, the stories themselves are also quite boring, so mostly no. I do have to mention that I did think this was technically a good game. I don't mean that in a mocking way, but the character design (based on the manga), the menus, the voice samples (the voice actors from the animated TV show), the music, I really liked what Konami did for this game in terms of presentation. I know it sounds sarcastic, but I do like the game on a technical level. And I do think the evidence collecting system has potential. But presentation and ideas aren't enough to make a good game... (Also: see this older post where I talk more about mechanics in detective games)

And two more notes: each chapter opens with a short test about a variety of topics, to simulate the 'school' element of the series. The idea is good and the questions that test your deductive skills and other detective related skills are fun, but a lot of the questions are just random trivia questions, and hard ones too! Also, there's a competitive card minigame, which is insanely fun, because this minigame actually does test your deductive skills up to an extent. I had more fun with the minigame than with the main game.

Anyway, Tantei Gakuen Q: Meitantei wa Kimi da!? is a pretty disappointing game. And I mean pretty in the literal way of the word. There's a vaguely good idea with the evidence collecting system, but it stays vague the whole game, leaving the player in the dark as to what he's supposed to do. A bit more direction would have helped the game. As well as more interesting stories. Conclusion: this game definitely does not belong in the Qualified Class.

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵学園Q  名探偵はキミだ!』

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Snow Light Shower

la la la- la- la-
夢 うつろな ユートピア
堅い殻の クルミが割れたら
la- la- la- la- Marionette Fantasia
『Marionette Fantasia』 (Garnet Crow)

la la la- la- la-
Our world
A dream, a hollow utopia
When the hard shell of the walnuts break
The world will flow out of them
la- la- la- la- Marionette Fantasia
"Marionette Fantasia" (Garnet Crow)

Confession to make: I had read the prologue of today's book at least six times in the last two year or so. And every time I thought, naah, kinda boring, I'll read this later. But the book turned to be much more fun than I had expected actually, as I finished this book in just two days when I finally did get past the prologue...

Writer Alice series
46 Banme no Misshitsu ("The 46th Locked Room") (1992)
Russia Koucha no Nazo ("The Russian Tea Mystery") (1994)
Sweden Kan no Nazo ("The Swedish Mansion Mystery") (1995)
Brazil Chou no Nazo ("The Brazilian Butterfly Mystery") (1996)
Eikoku Teien no Nazo ("The English Garden Mystery") (1997)
Zekkyoujou Satsujin Jiken ("The -Castle of Screams- Murder Case") (2001)
Malay Tetsudou no Nazo ("The Malay Railroad Mystery") (2002)
Swiss Dokei no Nazo ("The Swiss Watch Mystery") (2003)
Nagai Rouka no Aru Ie ("The House with the Long Hallway") (2010)

Mystery writer Arisugawa Alice has traveled to Mount Bandai in Fukushima prefecture to gain some inspiration for his new book. Next to Alice's inn stands the Swedish Mansion, which is named like that because it's a Swedish style woodlodge, but also because the mistress of the house came from Sweden. Otsukawa Ryuu is a writer of children's stories, and he lives in the Swedish Mansion with his beautiful wife Veronica. Ryuu and Veronica love guests, and even though they are already entertaining some friends at their house (which has an annex building), they also invite Alice for tea. The same night however, one of Ryuu and Veronica's guests is found murdered at the annex building: and the only footprints in the snow leading to the annex were those of the victim herself. How did the murderer get away from the crime scene without leaving footprints? Being a suspect himself (as the only 'outsider' to the party), Alice asks his friend, the criminologist Himura, to help him in Arisugawa Alice's  Sweden Kan no Nazo ("The Swedish Mansion Mystery").

Mystery writer Arisugawa Alice and criminologist Himura Hideo first appeared in 46 Banme no Misshitsu and has since then been Arisugawa Alice (the actual writer, not the character)'s most popular series characters. Within the Writer Alice series (not to be confused with the Student Alice series),  there's a subset of stories that follow the titles of Ellery Queen's nationality novels: Sweden Kan no Nazo is the second of that series, following the short story collection Russia Koucha no Nazo. I got kinda tired of this series with the third and fourth entries in the series (Brazil Chou no Nazo and Eikoku Teien no Nazo), so what did I think of the second novel?

I quite liked it actually. The impossible crime trope of the missing footprints in the snow is a classic of course, but that doesn't mean it can't be good. Sure, by now I've seen countless of variants of it, and while I wouldn't say that Sweden Kan no Nazo provided a really surprising new twist on the formula, it's definitely a solid entry in the history of Missing Footprints in the Snow. But more impressive than the trick itself, is the way at which detective Himura arrived at the truth: Sweden Kan no Nazo might be an impossible crime story, but the thought process behind it is pure Queen. You don't need ridiculous imagination to solve this puzzle: just follow the clues all to their natural conclusion, and you can solve the case by sheer logic. And that's the best way to do a detective story! In a sense, Sweden Kan no Nazo feels like a smaller scale version of the amazing deduction chain of Kotou Puzzle: the deduction chain here is also mostly based on one little contradiction in the circumstances, which eventually leads to the truth.

The setting of the lodges, and the snow do feel a bit similar to 46 Banme no Misshitsu, Alice and Himura's debut story; the major differences of course being that 46 Banme no Misshitsu was set inside a house. On the other hand, the fact that Himura doesn't appear until halfway through the story feels fresh: Alice and Himura always appear together with their typical banter, so it's a nice change of pace to see more of just Alice for once (because Alice is always the butt of the jokes).

In fact, it's this banter of Himura and Alice that kinda doesn't work for me. It starts out okay, but as the series continued, it seemed like a lot of the stories were not really interesting as detective stories, and that a lot more attention was being paid at presenting 'fun' conversations between Himura and Alice. Mostly by having Himura act all cool, while Alice constantly being at the receiving ends of things. And the problem is: it sells. It sells really good, even. It even sells audio dramas! I suspect that writer Arisugawa Alice is actually really happy he's able to write lighter mysteries with just bantering Alice and Himura as these books fill his pockets, and once in a while he'll write a more serious and complex Student Alice books to keep the more die-hard mystery readers happy.

But that's another story. I might be complaining about the direction of the series in general, but Sweden Kan no Nazo is really a decent imposssible crime mystery, especially when you realize that the method of detecting is one not normally associated with impossible crimes. Definitely one to read (after the Student Alice series, of course).

Original Japanese title(s): 有栖川有栖 『スウェーデン館の謎』

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

L-C Crisis

『ルパン三世VS名探偵コナン The Movie』

"In this world, there's no mystery that can be solved, and not a treasure that can't be stolen"
"Lupin the 3rd VS Detective Conan The Movie"

It will be a while before I'll see this year's Detective Conan movie (Dimensional Sniper), so today a review of another Detective Conan related movie to pass the time!

Conan, the great detective turned into a kid and Lupin III, grandson of Arsene Lupin and the greatest thief in the world, first crossed paths in 2009's Lupin the 3rd VS Detective Conan, a somewhat disappointing TV special which should only be remembered for the absolutely magnificent performance of voice actor Kamiya Akira. But the crossover between these two series turned out to be rather succesful, because a sequel was released in December 2013, in the form of Lupin the 3rd VS Detective Conan The Movie. Lupin III and his gang are back in Japan and they are planning to steal a jewel called the Cherry Sapphire which is held at a bank near Conan's home. At the same time, Conan discovers that crackshot Jigen Daisuke, Lupin's right hand, is working as a bodyguard for the popular Italian idol singer Emilio, who will be performing in Japan soon. How are these two jobs related and what is Lupin III really after?

What once started as a funny crossover cameo in Detective Conan - Jolly Roger in the Deep Azure, made possible because both Lupin III and Detective Conan are animated at TMS, has now become a little franchise series and I have to say, I enjoyed Lupin the 3rd VS Detective Conan The Movie much better than the original 2009 TV special. Which was just weird with fake foreign countries and lookalike princesses and stuff. Lupin the 3rd VS Detective Conan The Movie on the other hand is a normal heist movie, which we see from those sides: we follow both Lupin III and the gang slowly setting things up for their heist, as well as Conan (and other characters from the series) doing detectivey stuff. It's what you'd expect from a crossover between a series starring a detective, and a series starring a thief, and it works mostly.

Mostly, I say, because the story itself is actually not very good. The plot surrounding Emilio is quite ridiculous if you stop and think about it and whenever the movie enters Story Exposition Time, you just hope it is over soon. Also a fair warning, it's preferable if you watch the 2009 Lupin the 3rd VS Detective Conan TV special before the movie: there are no strong links, but references to the TV special do fall out of the sky near the end of the movie, and if you haven't seen the special, it would just be distracting and confusing.

But what is there to enjoy if the story is bad? Two things: action scenes and character interactions. I already noticed that the action scenes in Detective Conan movies have become more spectacular with each movie the last few years (incredible skateboard scene in 2010's Lost Ship in the Sky, incredible snowboard scene in 2011's Quarter of Silence, another incredible skateboard scene in 2012's The Eleventh Striker and... incredible fight and soccer scenes in 2013's Private Eye in the Distant Sea), but because this is a crossover with Lupin III, which is more of a comedic/slapstick action series, you can expect even more over-the-top action (heck, it starts right away with incredible waterboard/skateboard action..). I wouldn't say that Detective Conan is realistic, but sometimes the action does feel a bit too out of there for Conan. But they're definitely fun scenes and whenever several characters of either series are together, you can expect something fun to happen, be it of the action variety, or just character interaction.

Lupin the 3rd VS Detective Conan The Movie is really just something for the fans (duh, it's a crossover), who of course want to see how characters from different series react to each other and this movie delivers in that category, and in a way much better than was done in the original TV special. The stars of the movie are definitely cocky kid Conan and marksman Jigen, who spend some amazing time together as a bickering father-son duo. It's absolutely beautiful (second place goes to the duo Fujiko and Haibara). But a meeting between hardboiled ICPO inspector Zenigata and the somewhat bumbling police detective Takagi works wonderfully well too.

But I guess that's the main objective of a crossover like Lupin the 3rd VS Detective Conan The Movie. Pander to the fans. I know both series quite well, so I enjoyed seeing the two series blend together in this movie (in a manner done much better than the 2009 TV special), but I wouldn't recommend the movie if you have never seen Detective Conan or Lupin III. But then again, I can't imagine anyone would want to see this movie if not already familiar with at least one side of the crossover...

Original Japanese title(s): モンキー・パンチ (原:『ルパン三世』)、青山剛昌(原:『名探偵コナン』) 『ルパン三世VS名探偵コナン』

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Usual Suspects

Now a new story begins
With the same old crazy cast of characters...

And here's another short short, a corner for shorter, usually unrelated reviews and other observations that can't fill a complete post on their own So for the books and other stuff that appear in short shorts, it's either sharing the spotlight on this stage, or not appear at all! Today, three familiar faces!
It seems like the third (English-language) collection of Edward D. Hoch's Dr. Sam Hawthorne series is coming out soon, or maybe it's already released. Because there was, and still isn't a complete collection available of these wonderful impossible crime short stories, I bought the Japanese complete collection in six volumes about two years ago and I have been slowly posting reviews of them here for some time now. Today, the fifth volume. The Japanese book has the sorta funny English subtitle Diagnosis: Impossible 5 - Further and Further Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne (volume four had More and More Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne). And yes, it's 'simply' more of the same: New England practitioner Sam Hawthorne stumbles upon one impossible crime after another, but he always manages to solve the crime with a frightening keen mind. The format of these stories was already set in the very first story (volume 5 collects stories 49~60), and while there have been minor changes (the introduction and preview-esque ending to each story are gone now), most stories in these series are very much alike. Of course, having a gigantic series with very good impossible crimes isn't a bad thing, but because the structure of each story is so alike, they all start to feel the same, even if the standard of each story is actually very good. It's scary that one can get too used to good quality.

Volume five has the inhabitants of the little New England town Northmont feel the consequences of World War II, but the many, many, maaaaaany criminals still don't give up on trying their hand on executing the perfect impossible crime. One would think that by now, any criminal in Northmont would just try a normal crime, just so Sam Hawthorne wouldn't get involved. Of this volume, I liked The Second Problem of the Covered Bridge, which is a variation on the first Sam Hawhtorne story (The Problem of the Covered Bridge), The Problem of the Missing Roadhouse (well, the title says it all: a disappearing building story) and The Problem of the Crowded Cemetery (where a new body is discovered in an old coffin). I do notice that I have a tendency to like the first half of any volume better than the latter half: I suspect that by the time I get to the latter half, I just get a bit tired because a lot of the stories are so similar... It's also the reason why I always wait a while between Sam Hawthorne volumes.

By the way, next time is the last volume with the good doctor! That'll probably get its own post though, instead of being put in a short short.

The long-running Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files") celebrated its 20th anniversary two years ago, but he has never been as busy as he is now: a TV drama series titled Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO is to start this summer and both a new TV animation series (viewable at CrunchyRoll) and a serialized comic series have started, sharing the title Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R (The R stands for Returns). The first volume of the comic of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R feels both fresh and old. The Snow Demon Legend Murder Case brings slacker Hajime and his childhood friend Miyuki to a snow resort, where they have part time jobs as assistant and campaign girl during a test panel session before the resort is actually opened. There is a local legend about a little town where all the villagers disappeared because of a snow demon and while nobody believes the legend at first, this series wouldn't be what it is if people didn't really start disappearing one after another (under impossible circumstances). Can Hajime solve these disappearances before he and Miyuki are spirited away too?

He can! Probably! The problem with serialized stories is that sometimes, a story is actually longer than one volume (about 180 pages). Volume 1 of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R ends just as Hajime wants to explain everything and reveal the murderer. So why am I writing about an incomplete story? Well, I just thought the overall flow of this opening story was quite interesting. It's mostly about disappearances and even though a body appears late in the story, it too disappears too, so the reader is never quite sure whether anyone has actually died in this story: they just disappeared. Meta-savvy people might point at the words Murder Case in the title... but still, the fact we're not stumbling over mountains of corpses is kinda strange in a Kindaichi Shounen story. And I did like the story. It's a bit simple, but the way the story keeps making you doubt whether something criminal has really happened is a nice change of pace. I definitely liked this story better than most of the stories in the 20th anniversary series (only the last story there was worth mentioning).

Detective Conan 83 was released mid-April, together with the new Detective Conan movie and the Detective Conan: Phantom Rhapsody game. I was kinda disappointed with volume 82, so how did volume 83 fare? Quite good actually. The first two stories feature my favorite tomboy high school student Sera Masumi, so that's already a lot of bonus points right from the beginning. The Red Woman Legend Murder Case has a fairly standard set-up: lodge somewhere in the forest, a legend surrounding a serial killer who might be hiding in the forest, and of course murder. The trick is a bit farfetched, but I definitely enjoyed the story because of the characters involved in the case. The Trick Set Up By The Romantic Novel Writer is a lot more interesting: the main problem of a writer's assistant's murder in a hotel is pretty easy to solve, though I do like how the problem, and the hints were set up. But there's also a lot of mythbuilding for the overarching Conan story, with a new face and more mystery surrounding Sera Masumi. The Two Ebisu Bridges is a neat code-cracking story that for once, I thought wasn't that farfetched actually. People who don't know Japanese, but have visited the country might even have a good shot at solving this case.

Volume 83 also features some bonus pages, with a short interview with mangaka Aoyama Goushou, that has some interesting points. Who would have thought that rival/friend detective Hattori Heiji was created just because Aoyama was told they needed a rival character for the animated series!

And that's it for this short short post! And for those wondering why I'm so late with my reviews of the Kindaichi Shounen and Conan volumes: the reviews were actually written quite soon after both volumes were released, I just have too many reviews waiting to be posted!

Original title(s): Edward D. Hoch 『サム・ホーソーンの事件簿』V: 'The Problem of the Missing Roadhouse' | 「消えたロードハウスの謎」 / 'The Problem of the Country Mailbox' | 「田舎道に立つ郵便受けの謎」 / 'The Problem of the Crowded Cemetery' | 「混み合った墓地の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Enormous Owl' | 「巨大ミミズクの謎」 / 'The Problem of the Miraculous Jar' | 「奇蹟を起こす水瓶の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Enchanted Terrace' | 「幽霊が出るテラスの謎」 / 'The Problem of the Unfound Door' | 「知られざる扉の謎」 / 'The Second Problem of the Covered Bridge' | 「有蓋橋の第二の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Scarecrow Congress' | 「案山子会議の謎」 / 'The Problem of Annabel's Ark' | 「動物病院の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Potting Shed' | 「園芸道具置場の謎」 / 'The Problem of the Yellow Wallpaper' | 「黄色い壁紙の謎」 / 'The Leopold Locked Room' | 「レオポルド警部の密室」
天樹征丸(原) さとうふみや(画) 『金田一少年の事件簿R』第1巻 
青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第83巻