Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Try and Catch Me

"You see Henry, the pen, the pen is mightier than the sword"
 "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"

Hmm. I have seen and read many works of mystery fiction that end with a variation on the Reichenbach Falls, but I think this is the first time I read a story that starts with it.

There exist people in this world with special powers. Some can shapeshift, some can heal deadly wounds. And some of course wish to use their powers for good, while others for evil. The government obviously wants to keep a check on all these potentially dangerous people. Tsujimura Mizuki is one of the government agents hired to keep an eye on one specific person. Ayatsuji Yukito is a brilliant detective, who has a rather troublesome special power. The effect of his ability Another is that all culprits of a crime Ayatsuji solves, are killed in a freak accident. The moment Ayatsuji makes a correct deduction and can confirm that with evidence, the fate of his prey is sealed. The government can’t just let him go around solving cases, so they only allow him to work in very special cases, with Tsujimura acting as his ‘babysitter.’ But there is one person who managed to survive Another. Some months ago, Ayatsuji was sure he killed the criminal mastermind Kyougoku Natsuhiko, who offered plans for perfect crimes to whoever was worthy. But now Kyougoku is back, and Ayatsuji and Tsujimura must now foil his latest plan and figure out how he managed to escape his fate in Asakiri Kafka’s Bungou Stray Dogs Gaiden – Ayatsuji Yukito VS Kyougoku Natsuhiko (“Literary Writer Stray Dogs Another Story – Ayatsuji Yukito VS Kyougoku Natsuhiko”, 2016).

Ayatsuji Yukito? Kyougoku Natsuhiko? Tsujimura Mizuki? Aren’t these all actual mystery writers, you might ask. And you’d be right. Bungou Stray Dogs is a currently running comic, written by Asakiri Kafka and illustrated by Harukawa 35, which features (real) famous authors of literature as the protagonists. In the series, famous literary authors like Edogawa Rampo, Akutagawa Ryuunosuke, Dazai Osamu and many more fight in a war between a detective agency and the port mafia, using their special abilities. The abilities are all named after the works of the said writers, so Yosano Akiko for example has an ability named after her poem Kimi, Shinitamou Koto Nakare (“Prithee Do No Die”).  While the main series only features deceased authors, the spin-off novel features three still-living authors. There are few links to the main series by the way, so you can jump right in with the spin-off novel.

It’s pretty weird to read a mystery novel featuring authors I’ve read (and even one whose work I translated), but I think Bungou Stray Dogs Gaiden does a good job at using these characters in a meaningful way. I have to admit I have never read anything written by Tsujimura, so I don’t how her style is incorporated in the book, but readers who are familiar with Ayatsuji and Kyougoku will have a blast. Ayatsuji’s ability Another is of course named after the highly successful horror-mystery, where a curse manages to find very original ways to kill off a class. Kyougoku’s fascination for youkai and folklore are also used very effectively throughout the novel, and like always, it can turn quite philosophical, but it always has to do with the mystery at hand. But like I already noticed with Tsujimura: you don’t need to know the actual authors to enjoy their role in this novel.

As a mystery novel , Bungou Stray Dogs Gaiden is a pretty unique experience. It’s not a straight-up mystery novel, and often feels more like a horror-novel, as Ayatsuji and Tsujimura try to found out how Kyougoku cheated death. Meanwhile, Kyougoku’s plan is also set in motion, and because this series is about people with special abilities, there’s also a lot of fantasy-styled action in this novel. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t work as a mystery novel. I am probably repeating myself on the blog, but supernatural elements do not make a mystery story unfair. As long as the rules are clear, a fantasy-action where people fight each other with magic abilities can still be a perfectly fine mystery story. Heck, that’s basically what JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is.

Bungou Stray Dogs Gaiden is a very dynamic book because of the premise. Ayatsuji will uncover (part of) a plan of Kyougoku, who will move his own pieces on the chessboard in response, followed by more reactions from Ayatsuji, etc. Over the course of the novel, Ayatsuji will for example uncover a clever plot to kill off Tsujimura, and solve an original locked room murder, and what makes this novel fun is that often, these mystery plots are only possible because the series features supernatural abilities, but which are also clearly defined to give the reader a fair chance at solving it themselves. It gives the book a very original and memorable touch.

Overall, I had a great time with the book. It’s a bit different form most mystery novels, and while knowledge is not needed, it definitely has a bit extra to present to the reader if they’re familiar with Ayatsuji, Tsujimura and Kyougoku. The final solution might not be convincing for some people, but I think it fits wonderful with the themes of one of the above mentioned writers.

Bungou Stray Dogs Gaiden – Ayatsuji Yukito VS. Kyougoku Natsuhiko is not strongly connected to the main comic series, and a pretty entertaining fantasy-mystery, so I’d definitely recommend if you are familiar with any of the featured authors. I had a great time with this book at any rate. The main series is a bit more action-oriented, but also fun, by the way, as it also features some mystery writers (also from the West).

Original Japanese title(s): 朝霧カフカ 『文豪ストレイドッグス外伝 綾辻行人VS.京極夏彦』


  1. They are currently running an anime of this series.

    1. Oh yeah, the second season/series is running now. I follow the manga (like once every two years), so I don't pay too much attention to the anime, though it appears to be a faithful adaptation.

  2. When I was browsing through the manga section of my local bookshop, I saw volumes of the Bungo Stray Dogs. I was wondering if I should try it out, until I got seriously distracted by the Writer Arisu Arisugawa manga entries... :P

    1. Bungou Stray Dogs can be pretty fun though, especially if you're kinda familiar with the authors featured. It's like a JoJo with writers.