Friday, August 19, 2016

Bridge to the Turnabout


This cruel angel's thesis
Will soon take flight from this window
"A Cruel Angel's Thesis"

It's been a while since I did a review of one single short story, actually. And I think this is actually the first time I'm doing a single post on one short story on the blog, because I seem to recall that even at the times I did do seperate short stories, I always put them together with some other (unrelated) things to stretch it out to a full post.

A while back, I discussed 2016's Gyakuten Saiban - Gyakuten Idol, the first original novel based on the Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) court mystery videogames. It was not the first time the series was presented in a text-only form though. While there have been some fanfics published in the official fanbooks, the first true, official Gyakuten Saiban story is Gyakuten Saiban - Gyakuten no Kakehashi ('Turnabout Trial - Turnabout Bridge'), a short story by Kuroda Kenji. Defense attorney Naruhodou and his assistant Mayoi are enjoying a ramen noodle at their favorite joint Yatabuki, when the ramen cook himself asks for Naruhodou's help. One of his customers, Kanae, is being suspected of the murder on the popular action actor Ookochi Hikaru, who was found dead in his hotel room, in the hotel where they were going to shoot his latest film. Kanae was one of Hikaru's biggest fan, and she might have even done things that most people would consider stalking. She knew Hikaru was shooting a film at the hotel and she too had taken a room there. Hikaru was killed inside a locked room, and the only way in or out was through the window. Due to an illegal architectural design, the two towers of the hotel are built so close to each other you could climb over from a window in one tower to a window in the other tower. Because Kanae had taken the room across Hikaru's room, it appears only she could've committed the murder and gotten out of the room and there is even a decisive witness to prove that! Can Naruhodou help Kanae out of this situation?

Gyakuten no Kakehashi is the first official story of the series, but is also one of the most obscure. It was published in two parts in the literary magazine IN-POCKET in 2007 and has never been collected in any form, meaning you need to get your hands on two issues of an old magazine if you want to read it now. The writer, Kuroda Kenji, is also the writer of the 2007 manga of Gyakuten Saiban, so he was already familiar with the material. In the past, I have reviewed a volume of the spin-off of that manga series: Gyakuten Kenji, which was also written by Kuroda.

I'd say that Gyakuten no Kakehashi is a decent mystery story, that manages to follow the formula of the Gyakuten Saiban series. In many ways, this story mimics a first episode in any of the games. The story is basically inverted, in the sense that it does already show you who the real murderer is at the start, even if it doesn't show you the how. In court, Naruhodou is facing prosecutor Auchi, who is always the first opponent in all the games.And like in the games, Naruhodo arrives at the truth by pointing out, and pointing at contradictions. This is a different mode than most mystery fiction, but because this story is based on a game, it follows the same formula, which in turn was based on Columbo. Find a lie, pull the thread, find a new lie, pull even harder on the thread, all the way until everything is untangled. Whereas a lot of mystery stories put all the mystery solving at the end, this series has always been about being an interactive experience, with more things to 'do' throughout the story and a more direct way of showing how one deduction leads to another.

The locked room mystery is also decent. I think most people will get a fairly good idea of what has happened early on, but getting all the details right might be difficult and the hints are laid down good. The one 'complaint' I'd have is that I think this story in particular would've been much better in comic form!

The story was published in IN-POCKET, a pocket-sized literary magazine which features serialized short stories and novels among others, so the writing style of Gyakuten no Kakehashi is fairly serious. matching the rest of the magazine. By which I don't mean that the story does not feature comedy (it does, or else it wouldn't be Gyakuten Saiban), but the narration and the language used is not something you'd usually see in the games. Compare to the more recent novel Gyakuten Idol, which was released in a line aimed at children. The language was much simpler, with more dialogues, but that is what made that novel feel a lot more like how the language used in the actual games (which is basically just dialogue, with some occassional inner monologue). Gyakuten Idol is much better at invoking the atmosphere of the games. The characters in this story for example don't have a real comical side to them, nor do they 'break' character whenever they get caught in a lie, which is a characteristic of the games and it was also recreated very well in Gyakuten Idol.

I am going to guess that they wanted to attract new players to the game, as Gyakuten Saiban 4 had been released earlier that year. By introducing "normal" mystery readers, who read IN-POCKET, to the world of Gyakuten Saiban through this short story, they hoped these people (who normally don't play games) would also try the games. Whether it worked, I don't know. Why they choose this particular plot for a short story, even though it'd work better in comic form, I don't know either. But I can say that Gyakuten no Kakehashi is definitely a decent locked room mystery short story, that should satisfy most fans of the series.

Original Japanese title(s): 黒田研二 「逆転裁判 逆転の架け橋」

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