Monday, April 13, 2015

Face Death (Duel)


"Life is a game"
"Battle Royale"

I know both Colosseum and Coliseum are both right, but I always find the latter spelling just... strange.

Seven men and women find themselves trapped inside a small building called the "Summer House". None of them have any memory of how they got there. An unknown 'host' of the party tells them the reason behind their abduction through a computer: they are to participate in a competetive murder game. A killer is amidst the participants and it is up to the rest to identify the identity of the murderer (or be killed). At the same time, the same game is held at a different building (the "Winter House") with seven other people. The only way to be released from the game (and win heaps of money) is to identify the murderers of both houses. The group that doesn't win will be eliminated (in the 'from life' meaning). Each house is given one hint to the identity of the murders and a computer and webcam to communicate with the other house and so a thrilling game of detecting and survival begins in the 2004 mini TV series Kyokugen Suiri Koroshiamu ("The Ultimate Deduction Colosseum").

Kyokugen Suiri Koroshiamu ("Extreme Deduction Colosseum") is a four part TV series based on Yano Ryou's debut novel, with which he won the 30th Mephisto Prize (for more about the Mephisto Prize, see this review). To have your debut novel produced as a TV series in the same year is quite a feat and I have to admit, the premise of the story is quite interesting. A classic closed circle situation, combined with a competetive game element where each groups tries to extract as much information from the other group without giving too much away (because you need to deduce both murderers before the other group does). A bit like the Mafia/Werewolf game. So I went in with some expectations.

But what I got was proof that a good idea does not lead to a good production. Or in this case, two okay ideas (the competetive survival detection game and one part of the solution) do not make a good production. For this could have been a great show about a closed circle situation with Liar Game-esque elements. But it isn't. Kyokugen Suiri Koroshiamu is a boring show that never manages to really develop the ideas it has and instead drags on and on with one bad twist after another.

Tense closed circle situation of knowing you're locked in with a murderer? It would have been nice if the characters would have been fleshed out more and if they would actually put a bit more effort in 1) trying to discover the murderer and 2) trying to defend themselves. Competetive element with the other group where it pays off to lie to the other group? Would have been nice if we'd seen a bit more of the other group and had more (competetive) interaction with them. Finding the two murderers? The unknown host gives the participants hints to the identity of the murderers, but basically nobody bothers to think about the hints until the end of the show, because it's the end of the show and they need to wrap up the story (let's just ignore the fact the hints are kinda meh and the ending is quite horrible). The novelty of the solution hinges on two ideas, one of which predictable and highly improbable to succeed in the context of this story, one of which a semi-good idea, but it feels like Yano just had one good idea and padded the rest of the story out with underdeveloped elements he picked up from here, there and everywhere.

I haven't read the original novel, so I don't know how many of my complaints are Yano's responsibility and to what extent the production team behind the TV show is to blame, but going by reviews of the novel, it seems that the original novel is indeed kinda disappointing and that the TV show made no real improvements.

And Kyokugen Suiri Koroshiam is something I could have really liked, had it been done better. The people-kidnapped-and-forced-to-find-the-murdered-among-them-game plot device for example is something I quite enjoyed in the Danganronpa games. Groups in a competetion for surivival where lying is a very important strategy was what made Liar Game so awesome. Buildings with weird architecture is what drives Ayatsuji Yukito's Yakata series. But Kyokugen Suiri Koroshiam does not even come close to these productions.

So yes, Kyokugen Suiri Koroshiam was disappointing. It's a dreary show that never impresses, never surprises, heck, it hardly even attempts to keep the viewer's attention. And I find it disappointing the show never really develops the potential it had, but I find it even more disappointing that is just isn't an amusing show. I'd rather have an average, enjoyable series with little potential to grow beyond what it gives you, than a boring series with nothing but virtual potential.

Original Japanese title(s): 矢野龍王(原) 『極限推理コロシアム』

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