Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Identity Crisis


"The name of this cocktail is XYZ... In other words, the end of the line."
"City Hunter"

I adore the covers for Yokomizo Seishi's novels for publisher Kadokawa. They were all done by Sugimoto Ichibun, and really capture the creepy atmosphere often found in Yokomizo's novels. Though to be honest, today's book wasn't that creepy.

Mikoshiba Susumu might still be young, but he has already made a name for himself as the "Detective Kid", for his help in solving various crimes. When he's not out solving crimes though, our Detective Kid also has earn a living (as he lives alone with his older sister), which he does at a local newspaper as an assistant. However, he often finds himself on the trail of crime while doing his odd jobs for the newspaper, and many of these cases involve Phantom Thief X・Y・Z, a notorious gentleman-thief and expert in disguise whose only virtue is that he has never taken a life during the execution of his crimes. See how the Detective Kid fares against X・Y・Z in the three stories collected in Yokomizo Seishi's Kaitou X・Y・Z ("Phantom Thief X・Y・Z", 1984).

Yokomizo Seishi is of course best known for his Kindaichi Kousuke series, arguably the quintessential fictional Japanese detective, as Kindaichi, who is always dressed in a hakama, goes around solving crimes especially in rural postwar Japan, within small communities where old traditions still reign. Yokomizo started out as an editor for no-one less as Edogawa Rampo before World War II, and he had also written some mystery stories himself, but he really made it big right after the war with the phenomenal Honjin Satsujin Jiken, the first novel starring Kindaichi Kousuke, and he'd mostly stick with writing Kindaichi afterwards, which feature bloody murders and horrifying scenes.

Kaitou X・Y・Z however is interestingly a juvenile mystery. The three stories collected in this volume were originally published in 1960~1961 and are only a small selection from the Mikoshiba Susumu/Detective Kid stories. The comparison with Edogawa Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan is one which presents itself immediately of course. Rampo's iconic series was also a juvenile mystery novel series, starring a young detective solving cases involving a phantom thief obviously inspired by Arsène Lupin. In reality though, the comparison stops here, as Rampo and Yokomizo do very different things with this premise.

The most important difference is that in Rampo's series, the Fiend with Twenty Faces is really an evil person. Sure, he doesn't like to kill, but he's still a rather dastardly thief who is clearly the nemesis of both young detective Kobayashi and his mentor the great detective Akechi Kogorou. He has to be evil, because we know from other novels that Akechi and Kobayashi are good. Yokomizo's Phantom Thief X・Y・Z on the other hand is very much modeled after Arsène Lupin, the gentleman-thief. In his appearances in the stories featured in this book, X・Y・Z actually does very little crime. The stories are told from the point of view of Mikoshiba Susumu/Detective Kid, so he always looks at X・Y・Z as his enemy, but X・Y・Z actually helps the Detective Kid a lot during his investigations, as X・Y・Z is never the true culprit behind the story. The result is actually very odd. X・Y・Z acts like Arsène Lupin, as a true hero character helping others while doing some light crimes, but as the story is told from the Detective Kid's point, the narrative is always saying what an evil thief he is, even though he just totally saved Detective Kid's life and all. X・Y・Z is a very sympathetic character, but for some reason he's not made the protagonist. And by the way, the Detective Kid is okay, but certainly not a brilliant detective. The true hero of these tales is definitely X・Y・Z. In Rampo's stories, Akechi served as the 'safety net' and responsible adult who would take care of Kobayashi if things got too dangerous, but in these stories, it's actually X・Y・Z himself who plays the same role in regards to the Detective Kid, as they (unknowingly to the Detective Kid) work together to find the real culprits.

I'm not going to discuss the three stories in this volume in detail, as they are quite simple in set-up and execution.  All three stories, Kieta Kaitou ("The Disappearing Phantom Thief"), Nazo no Juuendama ("The Mysterious 10 Yen Coin") and Daikinkai ("Gold Bullions") basically follow the same structure: The Detective Kid is sent on some assignment by his newspaper, he comes across some murder, finds a clue that proves X・Y・Z is involved, X・Y・Z helps the Detective Kid a couple of times on the way with or withous his knowledge, and finally the murderer is caught. I guess some of the premises are interesting, like Nazo no Juuendama starting with a scene with somebody trying very hard to obtain a ten yen coin in the possession of the Detective Kid (something like an everyday life mystery), but even as juvenile mysteries, I'd say these stories are rather simple.

Interesting is the world of the Detective Kid though. The Detective Kid is working at the same newspaper as Mitsugi Shunsuke, a journalist whom I first met as the assistant of Yuri Rintarou, another detective created by Yokomizo Seishi. Mitsugi is featured in all the three stories, helping the Detective Kid in his investigations (and also acts his boss, as the Detective Kid is supposed to be his assistant). Another familiar face who appears in all three stories is Inspector Todoroki, who often cooperates with Kindaichi Kousuke in his investigations. So it's here where we see that there is actually a kind of Yokomizo World, where characters like Kindaichi Kousuke, Yuri Rintarou, Mitsugi Shunsuke, the Detective Kid and X・Y・Z all live together. I hope someday, there'll be a drama not only of Kindaichi Kousuke, but of this whole extended Yokomizo World.

Anyway, as a juvenile mystery, Kaitou X・Y・Z is nothing special, to be honest. The three stories are very simple, and also a bit confusing as the true hero of the stories is portrayed (clumsily) as an antagonist. As a note in Yokomizo Seishi's bibliograpy though, I do find this an interesting read, both as the notion of a juvenile mystery written by someone I really do not associate with the genre, as well as a work that connects the worlds of different series by Yokomizo together. Try it if you're very interested in Yokomizo's work.

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『怪盗X・Y・Z』: 「消えた怪盗」 / 「なぞの十円玉」 / 「大金塊 」

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