Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Long Way Down

「親方! 空から少女が!」

"Boss, a girl came falling from the sky!"
"Laputa, The Castle in the Sky"

Note to self: don't forget annual viewing of Laputa, The Castle in the Sky.

The first death was thought to be a normal suicide. A lonely young man, living on his own, who jumped out of his apartment room. Sad, but not uncommon. The one thing that was uncommon was a sign that was drawn with lipstick on his forehead, resembling the Greek letter θ (theta). The second death raised questions. A nurse had jumped from the hospital's roof. Once again, not uncommon when viewed as a seperate incident, but there was a scarlet link: the sign was also found on the second body. By the third time somebody jumped from a high building with the sign on his body, the police knew these deaths were all linked, but how? Nishinosono Moe's interest in the case is piqued when she is told about it her friend Ai (her university was asked to analyze lipstick samples) and like always, she uses all of her connections and friends to get hold of the truth in Mori Hiroshi's θ wa Asonde Kureta yo ("θ Played With Me"), which also bears the English title Another Playmate θ (2005).

θ wa Asonde Kureta yo is the second book in Mori Hiroshi's G series, a spin-off to his more famous S&M series. But this book might as well have been just been part of the S&M series, because the plot of this novel is mostly driven forward by characters from the S&M series (especially Moe), while the proper protagonists of the G series (the students Megumi, Yamabuki and Kurage) have to be content with staying mostly in the back in their second book.

In fact, I'd say that to enjoy this novel to its fullest, the reader would need at least some of knowledge of the characters, especially those who hail from the S&M series. The cast this time is fairly big and they're basically all recurring characters from different Mori series (the S&M series, the V series and the G series) and while θ wa Asonde Kureta yo is readable even if you don't know anything about the series and its characters, you might have trouble keeping an eye on all those characters and the relations between them. I for example know nothing about the V series, but one part of the novel was obviously alluding to events and characters from that series and it felt like I was missing something. The previous book, φ wa Kowareta ne, wisely focused on its own protagonists, but this time the gloves are off and Mori throws recurring character upon recurring character at the reader. The reader is warned.

As a mystery novel, and specifically a missing link story (a mystery plot focused on finding a link between multiple victims), I was slightly disappointed in θ wa Asonde Kureta yo. The plot was very similar to a certain episode of a famous Japanese mystery show I won't name and while a bit of redressing can help, θ wa Asonde Kureta yo resembled that episode just too much, so it was quite easy to figure out the missing link (that said, I think that the mystery was simple enough that even without that foreknowledge, any reader could have guessed the truth behind the missing link). Like in the previous novel though, I liked how the plot developed through the discussions of the many, many characters. I've always been more of a 'theory' person than an 'crime scene investigation' person when it comes to mystery fiction.

Like φ wa Kowareta ne though, 'details' like motive and other little things are left vague on purpose in θ wa Asonde Kureta yo. Partly because it's just the way Mori's plots often develop: a big cast of characters all play amateur detective, discussing the case over and over, until the 'real' detective (Saikawa in the S&M series and Kurage in the G series) state their definitive theory. Theory, as both Saikawa and Kurage don't have any interests in solving the case in the sense of the police getting their hands on the culprit and figuring out all the details and logistics. Saikawa and Kurage just pose hypotheses based on the available information that can explain all mysteries. This is something I don't have any trouble with. But there are also other details that are clearly left open to be picked up in later entries in the series (or even other series?), which is a bit annoying, as I already think the G series feels a bit heavy on background lore. As a standalone work, θ wa Asonde Kureta yo does not satisfy.

While I quite enjoyed the first book in the G series, I thought that the second effort was a bit disappointing. θ wa Asonde Kureta yo is as a mystery not particularly exciting and it feels a bit alienating at times with characters from different series popping up. If you're well-read in Mori Hiroshi's series, I think θ wa Asonde Kureta yo offers great fanservice, but the downside is that it makes less accessible to the uninitiated. I hope the next volume is more enjoyable to read as a standalone mystery novel.

Original Japanese title(s): 森博嗣 『θ(シータ)は遊んでくれたよ ANOTHER PLAYMATE θ』

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