Saturday, February 18, 2017

Candidate for Crime


I want to spread out my wings
And soar through the wide sky
Towards a free sky, where there is no sadness
That's where I want to go flapping my wings
"Give Me Wings" (Akai Tori)

I try to point out nice covers when I come across them, but let me also point out that the cover of today's book is really one of the laziest efforts I've seen, as it's nothing more than a simple collage of existing character artwork slapped together. It is so devoid of any inspiration, it actually looks almost identical to the previous book in the series (which was also a lazy copypasta). As they have an illustrator doing original art for the inside of the book, you'd hope they'd let them design the cover too, though I guess they'd prefer recognizable official artwork from the main series...

Young attorney Odoroki Housuke had a nice holiday planned: first he'd visit an old friend in the city of Uminobe, and then step on a plane at Uminobe Airport. At the baggage checkpoint, Odoroki notices something lying on the ground. As he picks it up, the man before him suddenly cries out and staggers back, falling on top of Odoroki. As people start to gather around them, Odoroki realizes the man is bleeding. It doesn't take long for everyone to notice that the man is in fact dead, and that the object Odoroki picked up from the floor --and is still holding in his hands-- is in fact an ice pick that fits rather well with the wound on the victim. Odoroki is immediately arrested as the murder suspect. Naruhodou, Odoroki's boss at the Naruhodou Anything Agency, is determined to prove the innocence of his subordinate in the courtroom, but the fight won't be easy: the victim was one Uranashi Masamichi, a popular and influential local politician, so there is a certain pressure to wrap up the case swiftly and Naruhodou's opponent in the court is prosecutor Garyuu, a former rockstar who is a lot sharper than you might expect. Can Naruhodou save Odoroki and find out who the true killer is in Takase Mie's Gyakuten Saiban - Gyakuten Kuukou ("Turnabout Trial - Turnabout Airport", 2017)?

2016's Gyakuten Idol was the first original full-length novel based on the Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney franchise, a long-running courtroom mystery videogame series (and if you have been reading this blog for a while now, you will have noticed that I'm quite a big fan of the series, and that I review not only the games, but also the books, the musicals, the film, the manga, the stageplays etc.). Gyakuten Idol was released in Kadokawa's Tsubasa Bunko label, a line specifically aimed at children. At first, I had no high expectations of the novel, but author Takase Mie (who had a lot of experience writing novels based on game franchices like Fire Emblem and Kirby) managed to surprise me very pleasantly. Yes, the language used in the novel was indeed simple, and yes, the novel was short, and yes, on the whole the plot was not particularly complex, but it was fun! The story and the clues were plotted very well and you could clearly see Takase had experience in writing good mystery novels, as well as for children. Heck, I have read many mystery novels meant for an older audience that weren't even half as tightly plotted as Gyakuten Idol. The book did well enough, it appears, as we now have a sequel, once again written by Takase Mie and featuring original character designs and illustrations by Kikuyarou, who also does some official artwork for the Japanese e-zine for the Ace Attorney series.

And yes, with Gyakuten Kuukou Takase once again delivers a mystery novel that is clearly written for children, but is still enjoyable for adults as it is very well plotted mystery novel. The main problem is one of an impossible kind: while the victim was stabbed with a poisoned weapon, Odoroki himself insists nobody besides himself was in the vicinity of the victim at the time he cried out. The murder happened at an airport, and all the other potential suspects had already passed the security checkpoint, so they couldn't even have carried a weapon on their bodies. The whole premise sounds like it could've come from an early Queen novel, with a murder that happens in an open, public location and people being searched for potential murder weapons. Now I think about it, Gyakuten Idol had some Queenian qualities too, with once again a murder happening in front of an audience, and location maps and character movement being part of the plot (which is the same for this novel). The way the real murderer managed to get rid of the murder weapon is actually quite neat in the sense that is an original method, and that it is very neatly clued throughout the story. Again, it's not a difficult problem, and I wouldn't be surprised if quite some readers catch on what happened once the clue appears, but nonetheless, the way all the clues are scattered across the narrative effectively is a skill many authors actually have trouble with.

As per series tradition, most of the revelations are made in the courtroom, with Naruhodou pointing out contradictions in the testimonies of all the witnesses, thus slowly revealing the truth. Naruhodou (and the reader) seldom know in advance what the witnesses will testify about, so it's always a surprise to them, which leads to dynamic story developments. Because Gyakuten Kuukou is a novel, and not a game, the distinct flow of a trial from the games is slightly altered, but it works in the context of this format (non-interactive novel), and it still feels exactly like a true Ace Attorney story. But in general, it's still the same set-up as in the games: whereas a lot of mystery novels try to solve everything at the end, this series has always been about solving a lot of smaller mysteries/contradictions after another, which eventually reveal the whole picture, similar to Columbo.

While this book is definitely accessible for those who don't know the game series, it's of course mainly aimed at fans who are already familiar with the series. And there's a lot for them to find in this novel too. The story definitely feels like it could've appeared in the games, including its cast of original characters. But there's also a lot of interesting situations to be found in this novel for those are very familiar with Ace Attorney lore. For example, funnily enough Odoroki (Apollo Justice in the English localization) was the only employee of the Naruhodou Anything Agency who had never been a defendant in a case before, so this was an interesting first (though it's a shame he didn't get to defend himself in court). Prosecutor Garyuu (Klavier Gavin in the localized version) is also a bit of a forgotten character lately, so seeing him in the courtroom again, against Naruhodou no less, is something longtime fans will probably find interesting. This novel series in general is very good at recreating the atmosphere of the games actually. This is partly because of the very simple prose, but the way the characters are written, and some of the ideas show that Takase knows her source material. For those interested, the book is set a bit before the events of Gyakuten Saiban 6.

Gyakuten Saiban - Gyakuten Kuukou was thus once again a more than solid mystery novel, that should also satisfy the fans of the franchise. In my review of Gyakuten Idol, I concluded my text by saying I hoped they would turn this into a series. And as we can see now, the results were great, so I definitely hope they'll bring out more of these in the future. A new volume every six, seven months would be great!

Original Japanese title(s): 高瀬美恵 『逆転裁判 逆転空港』


  1. there's something I never understood in the ace attorney series

    what's the deal with Mei Karuma ?

    does she know that (you know who) is the one who killed Mitsurugi's father ?

    because in all the games I have played, she keeps telling him you should be like (you know who), why can't you act the way (you know who) wanted you to be, (you know who) is my hero etc.

    I don't get it, why is she so incensitive ?

    she's telling him to look up to the man who killed his father...I don't get it

    also, why does she keep calling Naruhodo an idiot if she is the one who keeps losing her trials against him ?

    and how come prosecutors are viewed favoribly even though they are the ones who are about to condemn an innocent person to prison ?

    1. For most of these questions, you're better off at a dedicated Ace Attorney community with people who like to dig into the personalities of these characters, because I myself care relatively little about characterization in general ^_~'

  2. I guess it's so confusing even you can't answer, uh ? :p

  3. Would it be too much to ask for an elaboration of some of the more interesting character moments? I really wanna know how it goes with Apollo being the defendant this time around, and I can't read Japanese.

    1. I have to admit my memory's a bit hazy, as it's been a year ago and I read a lot! I remember I was a bit disappointed Apollo didn't get to do very much besides being a defendant (as Phoenix defended him), though it was fun seeing Apollo with a friend who wasn't dead or something like that :P

  4. I finally finished this novel a month ago, and I agree with you on how this case could fit into the games perfectly. Though perhaps mostly the first game, as this book lacked the 'gimmicks' of the trials and the investigation in later games, such as Psyche-Locks or Apollo's Perceive system. The book is filled with excellent court scenes, despite my least favourite prosecutor, but sadly its investigation scenes is a bit lacking.

    I love the murder weapon, though. Something so ridiculous, it fits the Phoenix Wright world so perfectly. Not a single waste in this book.

    1. Yeah, I really hope they'll publish more of these books later, as they were really good. The books weren't even really timed together with actual game releases in Japan, so in theory, they could always just publish one a year or something like that, regardless of game releases.