Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lost Shadow

視界まで遮る 愛しい人の姿あさえ

Screens are buried in handy apps
Blocking our sights, even the figures of our loved ones
"2012Spark" (Porno Graffiti)

I have visited Shinjuku in the past, and I know it's a very different place in real life, but I have to admit, I still love the romanticized version of it in fiction like the Ryuu ga Gotoku (Yakuza) games, City Hunter/Angel Heart and the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou games.

In the two months since the first attack, at the start of summer, numerous people have been assaulted in the city of Shinjuku. While all victims managed to survive their attacks, the police still has no idea as to the identity of the assailant is. Because the attacker manages to disappear as fast as they appear, rumors that a ghost is behind these attacks start to spread across Shinjuku. One day, private detective Jinguuji Saburou is visited in his office by Itou Mizuho, a beautiful girl with a strange request: she wants Jinguuji to stop the Ghost of Shinjuku, to protect a friend of hers. Mizuho isn't ready to give Jinguuji all the details yet, and wants to take some time to think it over, but that same night she falls to her death from a building: she had been caught redhanded as the Ghost of Shinjuku herself, looking down at her latest victim, and had fled to the roof and fallen off it, but not before admitting to the police she was indeed the Ghost. Jinguuji however can not believe that Mizuho was really the attacker, and decides to take on her request anyway in Kodaka Kazutaka's Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Shinjuku no Bourei ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou: The Ghost of Shinjuku", 2006).

The Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series is a long-running video game series which celebrates its thirtieth birthday this year. The first game was one of the first adventure games for the Famicom (NES) to be made for an adult audience, with a hardboiled detective as the protagonist who had his home base in Shinjuku, home of the shadow side of society. I have reviewed most of the games on this blog, by the way. Shinjuku no Bourei is one of the novels based on the series and was written by Kodaka Kazutaka. He is now best known as the creator and writer of the Danganronpa game series, but he used to work as a freelance game scenario writer before he was hired by Spike-Chunsoft and has written the scenarios for several of the mobile phone games of Tantei Jinguuji Saburou. He also wrote two novels based on the games, the one discussed in this post, and 2007's Kagayakashii Mirai.

Shinjuku no Bourei is by far the longest of the original novels based on the games, and the extra length really pays off. I did enjoy Kagayakashii Mirai, but it was definitely a bit hasty, but Shinjuku no Bourei is about twice the length (it's two volumes long) and the result is a story that follows a structure very similar to the mobile phone games, with basically a four act set-up. The story revolves around Jinguuji's investigation in the true nature of Mizuho's request, as well as the identity of the Ghost of Shinjuku, but it doesn't take long for the detective to step on some toes he shouldn't have stepped on, and the case quickly escalates into something much bigger than he had expected. Like in the games, Jinguuji needs to make good use of his friends within both the proper authorities, as well as within the underworld to advance, and like a good old hardboiled detective, he sometimes also needs to use some violence to get himself out of trouble. This story in particular features some new characters (both friendly and less so) whom I'd loved to see in the games. There's not that much of a mystery for the reader, as I think that the plot becomes quite obvious fairly early in the story, but it's seeing how things develop, and how the truth comes out that is interesting here (and what's usually the case in the games).

I also loved that this novel featured more of the extended cast of the games. Kagayashii Mirai focused on Jinguuji, and to a lesser extent his assistant Youko, but we also see police inspector Kumano and yakuza gang leader Imaizumi in this novel, who have always been a major part of the series since early on. It helps make the novel feel like it's really part of the series, having these familiar faces pop up at the right time.
While the realistic, hardboiled setting of the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou games is as far as you can get from the psycho-pop puzzle plot courtroom drama mystery that is Danganronpa, it's interesting to see some themes Kodaka used here seemed like a very early version of themes he'd also use in Danganronpa (as well as Detective Conan & Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, which he also wrote). It's not a rehash, but you could see how some themes used in this book eventually evolved into a (minor) element featured in the Danganronpa series. Funny thing is that I had already played Kodaka's Jinguuji Saburou games, Detective Conan & Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo and the Danganronpa series by the time I first heard that Kodaka was responsible for all these games. It's the same with TV productions: these are often produced by very large teams, so sometimes you don't notice the scenario writer.

Do I think non-fans of the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series will also enjoy this book? Well, not really. It's not a bad novel by any means, but while I myself did enjoy the book, this novel doesn't succeed really at conveying the atmosphere of the series. By which I mean: a lot of the atmosphere from the games comes from the visual aspect, as well as the (fantastic) music. And when fans read this book, they'll have a good sense of the 'feeling' this book is going for, as their imagination will provide support. But without that knowledge, without knowing how the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou usually looks and sounds like, I'd say the writing of this novel is a bit too to-the-point to really leave an impression on its own merits. It's not bad, it's just that the prose is a bit too basic.

As a fan of the seris though, I really did enjoy Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Shinjuku no Bourei. It really feels like a story you'd expect to see in one of the games, and that is usually the one thing novels based on games have to succeed in. The prose is a bit sparse, but the plot is entertaining, featuring some great characters that fit perfectly within the whole world of Tantei Jinguuji Saburou. Recommended material for those who want to see more of the veteran detective outside of the game medium. A new Tantei Jinguuji Saburou game will be released later this year for the Nintendo 3DS to celebrate the franchise's 30th anniversary by the way, and you can definitely expect a review of that game popping up in due time.

Original Japanese title(s): 小高和剛 『探偵神宮寺三郎 新宿の亡霊」(上下)

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