Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Middle Point Symphony


"The same technique won't work twice on a Saint." 
"Saint Seiya"

I love the cover of this book. Too bad it never gets as awesome as on the cover. I'd have loved to see a more prominent team-approach to the current storyline.

The Crime Victim Salvation Committee is the organization behind the Duel Noir: a match of wits held between murderers bent on revenge and detectives that can't let crime go unpunished. The Committee sells perfect crime schemes to would-be murderers, but it also invites detectives to the crime scene daring them to solve said perfect crimes. Young detectives Yui and Kirigiri have been tracking down the Committee and one of the most important figures in the organization decided to have a wager with the duo. He presents the two ladies with The Twelve Locked Room Temples, a challenge consisting of twelve locked room murders which they have to solve within one week. If they can either prevent, or at least solve all murders and apprehend the culprits, he promises to leave the Committee, which would severely weaken the organization. Picking up from the previous volume, Kitayama Takekuni's Danganronpa Kirigiri 4 (2015) has the two detectives gathering a team of comrade detectives as they fight against the clock to take down the remaining Locked Room Temples.

It's the fourth volume in this spin-off series of the Danganronpa series focusing on the past of character Kirigiri Kyouko as she starts out as a professional detective. Connections to the main story as told in the games are fairly light, and unlike spin-off novel Danganronpa/Zero, I think this series can be read quite easily without any prior knowledge of the series. The Danganronpa Kirigiri novels are penned by Kitayama Takekuni, whom we know on this blog as a writer who specializes in highly mechanical locked room murder mysteries. The things he uses may not be Rube Goldberg contraptions, but you'll definitely find gadgets, gimmicks, and more stuff in his locked room mysteries, and this characteristic of his work remains even though he's now working on an existing IP.

If you have read my review of Danganronpa Kirigiri 3, you might remember my biggest complaint about it: It was an incomplete story. While there were also some plotlines left open in the first two volumes, they were without a doubt seperate stories that could stand on their own. The third volume introduced the challenge of the Twelve Locked Room Temples, but only one of those twelve locked rooms was solved in that volume (plus five off-screen by a third party). The volume didn't satisfy at all, as it had a great concept, but then stopped just as things were getting interesting. The third volume was in fact nothing more than a prologue, even though it certainly wasn't sold as one. Danganronpa Kirigiri 4 picks up right away from the third volume, with Kirigiri and Yui first recruiting a band of allies, among which they divide the remaining six Locked Room Temples. Do not even try to read this volume without reading Volume 3, as this volume explains absolutely nothing and dives straight into the action.

The previous volume was very shallow, as it only featured one locked room mystery. This time, we have three of them, presented through parallel storytelling. Well, actually it's two and a half. For while the case of the disappearing murderer at the Libra Girl's Academy sure looks interesting, it's not actually solved in this volume. This might a more common practice with serialized comics, with storylines spanning several volumes, but this is rather ridiculous for a normal novel, even if it's a series. I mean, the previous volume only had one locked room mystery, but at least it was solved and filed away within that volume. But to be presented only the first half of a story, and to have to wait for the next volume for the solution? That's just cheap and annoying. At the time I'm writing this review, it's been over a year since Danganronpa Kirigiri 4 has been released, and there is still not even a release date scheduled for the next volume, which (hopefully) includes the conclusion to this murder mystery (EDIT: the fifth volume has been announced and released in the period between me writing this review and actually posting it).

The remaining two (mostly) complete locked room mysteries in this volume are luckily fairly entertaining, if a bit short. One of Kirigiri and Yui's allies is sent to an abandoned school, which has been cut off from the world through a landslide. Inside the gymnasium, he finds a girl stabbed in her chest, her body placed inside a circle of candles. He also finds four students, who explain they're from their school's Mystery Club. They had been challenged by the Black Magic Club to come here, but when they arrived here (before the landslide), they stumbled upon the deceased victim, a fellow member of the Mystery Club. The detective soon deduces that it's quite possible that one of the Mystery Club members present might've committed the murder, but all four of them have perfect alibis as they were all together making their way to the abandoned school at the time of the murder.

The clueing in this story is surprisingly well done. It uses a piece of knowledge now commonly known through all those forensic science-oriented mystery shows in a very original way and the particular way in which this murder was committed was something I had never seen before. The one problem this story had, and which also holds for the other story, is that it's presented in a very concise way. While the locked room murder trick is original, the narrative allows for very little space to actually contemplate on it. More pages would've allowed for more depth in the story and the characters. Now it feels more shallow than it should be. I wouldn't call this a bad story, but there was much more potential in this.

The last murder case handled in this volume is set at the Twin Abilities Development Research Facility. Kirigiri arrives too late at this laboratory where they research the psychic and physical bonds between twins, for when she arrived at the scene, two researchers on watch had been knocked out and the two test subjects, twin brothers, were already murdered. It is a mystery how the murders were committed though. The brothers were being held in different wings of the building, and the corridors in both wings were both locked at two points each. The special locks used can only be opened by the fingerprint of the researcher registered on the lock, so you'd need the fingerprints of all four researchers to open all the locks to both wings to kill both victims. Or was the bond between the two brothers so strong that killing one automatically led to the death of the other?

In comparison to the previous locked room mysteries, I'd say that this one is not really as impressive as the ones we've seen earlier in this series (or even this volume), though I think I can forgive it because of the themes it's playing with. I can't talk about it in detail as it'd give the game away, but I can definitely understand where Kitayama was going for with this locked room trick, and while I think he does not pull it off just as well as planned, I think it's more than a good effort and an original way to play with reader's expectations. Is it really fair? Perhaps not, though I think that's also partly because of the earlier mentioned problem of the storylines included in this volume being rather short. More space would definitely have helped the premise of this story a lot.

In the end, Danganronpa Kirigiri 4 has the same problems as the previous volume, though less severely. Once again, it's an incomplete story. While we do have two fairly entertaining locked room mysteries included in this volume, we also have one murder mystery storyline which is literally abandoned midway. As this is sold as a standalone volume (for a premium price), I can't say I'm really pleased with that, especially as the following volume took over a year to be released. Danganronpa Kirigiri 4 is literally just a part somewhere in the middle of a longer storyline, with no proper introduction nor conclusion. As for now, the Twelve Locked Room Temple storyline is entertaining as a concept (even if the individual Locked Room Temple storylines are a bit hasty), but the presentation is awful, as it spans several volumes leaving the reader with bits and pieces that don't make any sense outside the larger context. I might become very enthusiastic about the whole thing once it's done and ready so I can look at the complete storyline, but as a consumer, I think the manner in which this storyline is presented to the reader is awful, and that it hurts the otherwise interesting premise. Volume 5 was released in March of this year, more than a year after the release of this volume, so I hope that volume will bring some closure.

Original Japanese title(s): 北山猛邦 『ダンガンロンパ 霧切り4』


  1. The cover does look quite cool. Hopefully the series ends well, and a translation is made available in Mandarin - or even in English? ;)

    1. Peeked a bit at Amazon reviews, but it appears volume 5 is still not the end... I do wonder for how long it'll continue then, as the franchise itself has moved on to the New V3 cast already, and this particular series is already quite old... The books are also rather expensive relative to the page count compared to other books....