Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Beyond Time

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"
- "The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?" 
"Back to the Future"

Are novel serializations still a thing today outside Japan? Today's book was released in September 2017, but it was originally serialized in Hayakawa Mystery Magazine, with the first installment released in the March 2017 issue (which went on sale in January 2017). I followed this serialization actually, buying each issue as it was released, but also got the book now.

2001. Engineering graduate student Yuuko bumps into a man who claims to have come from the future. This Doctor Kitamita says he invented a time machine in the year 2016, but a rival tried to take his life, and he had to flee back in time in a panic. Now he's stranded in 2001 and he needs help to make the repairs to his time machine. Yuuko, whose dream is to make a time machine herself too, becomes Doctor Kitamita's assistant, and the two work hard on the machine in the months that follow. That is until one day, Doctor Kitamita is once again attacked by an unknown assailant, with Yuuko being knocked out during the struggle. When she wakes up, she finds that Doctor Kitamita has been murdered and that their laboratory is locked from the inside, with no sign of the assailant. Yuuko is arrested as she's the only living person to occupy the locked lab together with the murder victim. The only one to believe her story about working on a time machine and being attacked is the defense attorney Mitsurugi Shin, who decides to take her case, but defending Yuuko will not be easy with the demon prosecutor Karuma on the case.

Fast forward to the year of 2016. Rookie attorney Naruhodou Ryuuichi has recently taken over the law office of his deceased mentor, but as the clients are not coming to them, Naruhodou and his assistant Mayoi decide to look for clients on their own. Mayoi brings a confused woman to the office as a potential client, but she appears to have problems with her memory. She claims that her name is Yuuko and that she has traveled through time from 2001 to 2016. Before Naruhodou and Mayoi can figure out what's going on though, Yuuko runs off to find Doctor Kitamita, but the following day they learn that Yuuko has been arrested on suspicion of murder on Doctor Kitamita, in a laboratory that had been locked from the inside. How are these two identical locked room murders across time linked and can Mitsurugi and Naruhodou prove their client's innocence in Madoy Van's Gyakuten Saiban - Jikan Ryokousha no Gyakuten ("Turnabout Trial - Turnabout of the Time Traveler", 2017)?

Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney is a courtroom mystery adventure game that was originally created in 2001, and it has since then grown out into a very large franchise. The most recent entry in the main series is 2016's Gyakuten Saiban 6, but there is also a spin-off series set in Victorian London with the two Dai Gyakuten Saiban games (1 & 2) for example, and that's just the beginning, as there are also musicals, a live-action film, several manga series, an anime series, stage plays and much, much more (most of them I've reviewed). The series celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2016~2017, and the original novel Jikan Ryokousha no Gyakuten was one of the special celebration projects. This was a first for the series: the short story Gyakuten no Kakehashi (2007) had been serialized before in the magazine IN-POCKET, and Gyakuten Idol (2016) and Gyakuten Kuukou (2017) were both excellent paperback originals aimed at a younger public, but this was the first time Gyakuten Saiban would have a whole novel serialized in a mystery magazine for adults.

What is interesting is that Madoy Van was selected as the author of this original novel. He debuted as a professional author in 2009 with Marutamachi Revoir, which was a mystery novel about a private underground trial held in Kyoto, and in my review I mentioned that I thought that fans of the Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney series would probably like it. I met Madoy several times as he too was a member of the Kyoto University Mystery Club by the way, and he was even there when we did a book club on the then recently-released 3DS game Professor Layton VS Gyakuten Saiban, where we talked about this series, so it was interesting to see him getting his hands on Ace Attorney-related work some years later.

As a mystery novel, Jikan Ryokousha no Gyakuten is brilliantly exciting. Madoy has mentioned on Twitter that he arrived at the theme of time travel because the book was supposed to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the franchise, and it is this period of fifteen years that forms the crux of the problem: Yuuko has apparently travelled in time from 2001 to 2016, but in both periods, she is arrested for the murder on Doctor Kitamita in a laboratory that is locked from the inside. It doesn't get anymore wonderfully alluring than this. In practice, we are given two locked room mysteries. The first half of the book is set in 2001, where we follow defense attorney Mitsurugi Shin as he unravels the story of the story of Doctor Kitamita and his time machine and works to prove Yuuko's innocence in court. The locked room mystery is not complex in design at first sight, but then one conundrum is introduced that makes the whole situation a lot more mysterious. The way this is resolved at the very end of the novel is fantastic: it makes brilliant use of the theme of time travelling, and in terms of deduction, it is something you'd expect from an Ellery Queen novel.

The second part of the novel is set in 2016, in the same time period as the first game (this novel is set between the second and third episode of the first game, for those curious). The mystery here is two-fold: once again we have a locked room mystery, but we have the added mystery of how Yuuko managed to travel in time, and how she manages to be accused of the same murder on the same victim once again, 15 years after her first trial. The locked room mystery in 2016 is once again not particularly complex on its own, but a competent one that fits perfectly with both the theme and the props prepared for this story. The greatest mystery, that of Yuuko's time travelling, makes quite an impression. I think the attentive reader will quickly figure out what is going on, but then you stop and really think about it, and it really hits you. It's good this is fiction, set in a world that is not quite our own reality, as it might've been a bit difficult to swallow in any other fictional universe. But as you add up all the seperate parts of this novel, you'll arrive at the conclusion that Jikan Ryokousha no Gyakuten is an ambitious mystery novel that succeeds in using the fantastical theme of time travelling in an excellent mystery story that is absolutely fair to the reader.

A question most readers will have however is: is Jikan Ryokousha no Gyakuten a good Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney novel? I'd say yes and no. In terms of structure, it follows the familiar routine of featuring both Investigation parts (where the protagonist gathers information by visiting people and locations) and Trial parts, where most of the puzzle-solving is done by pointing out contradictions in the testimonies of witnesses. The novel does really feel like how the games work in this respect. Madoy also did a tremendous job at really integrating his story with the storyline of the games. The children's novels Gyakuten Idol and Gyakuten Kuukou were fun novels, but they were obviously set in a slightly different timeline, with certain details not corresponding with the main games. Jikan Ryokousha no Gyakuten on the other hand takes great efforts at fleshing out certain events from the original game (especially in the part set in 2001), and we also see a few welcome cameo's by fan-favorite characters, with one appearance in the courtroom being the absolutely winner. I absolutely loved how the 2001 trial also tied in with arguably the most important event for the first Gyakuten Saiban game in a meaningful manner.

On the other hand, the tone of this novel is quite different from what you'd normally expect from the series, which is best known for its zany comedy and over-the-top characters. This story was serialized in Hayakawa Mystery Magazine, which is a "normal" mystery literature magazine, so the writing style is much more in the spirit of conventional fiction. The characters are never as cartoony as in the games, and the narration is much more sober and "literary" compared to anything featured in the original series. This stands in stark contrast with Gyakuten Idol and Gyakuten Kuukou: these two paperback originals were released in Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko label aimed at children, and these two novels do a great job at really capturing the atmosphere of the games with larger-than-life characters with weird tics and comedic dialogues. Jikan Ryokousha no Gyakuten is "What if Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney was slightly more serious", but this also allows it do tackle themes the Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko novels could never do. For those who have never played the games, but do read mystery fiction, this book is a great entry point.

As a side-note, Jikan Ryokousha no Gyakuten had a pretty strange serialization schedule at the end. It started in the March 2017 issue (released in January 2017) and the fourth and final installment was originally planned to be released in the September 2017 issue (July 2017), but I guess Madoy missed his deadline, because despite the announcement, the serialization skipped an issue, pushing the final installment back to the November 2017 issue  (September 2017). But the paperback release was already scheduled for September too, so in the end, it meant the standalone book was released just a few days after the final installment was published. And in fact, the release day of the standalone book was pushed back a few days, because with the original release schedule, it would've meant that the standalone book would've been released even before the final installment was published in Hayakawa Mystery Magazine and that would've made the whole serialization pointless.

All in all though, I have to say Gyakuten Saiban - Jikan Ryokousha no Gyakuten's a great mystery story. The style and tone might be a bit different from the games, but what you get in return is a captivating mystery story that features a fantastic theme that also does a good job at striking meaningful connections with the main series. Yet the book is definitely accessible for people who have never played Gyakuten Saiban / Ace Attorney before: while there are some good references to the games for the core fans, it doesn't feel like they're throwing with in-jokes, and it is a very competently written mystery story overall that can stand on its own merits, while also showing why the games are fun as mystery games.

Original Japanese title(s): 円居挽 『逆転裁判 時間旅行者の逆転』


  1. Serialized novels used to be very common in the West; in fact, that was the preferred mode of original publication of a novel. They would appear in parts in magazines or newspapers or in separate serialized pamphlets. I am hard pressed to even think of a major Victorian novel which was not serialized first. The only one that comes to mind is Thackeray' Henry Esmond. Some of George Eliot's later novels were split up into separate parts and published that way first, like Middlemarch. Most of Dashiell Hammett's novels were first serialized in the Black Mask pulp magazine. After the death of the pulps about 1955, the only place I am aware of that continued the practice of serializing novels was the science fiction digests like Astounding/Analog. The mystery magazines that are left, like Ellery Queen's and Alfred Hitchcock's have only short stories; I don't even see novelettes there.

    The Japanese, on the other hand, have tended to retain older methods of distribution, so the continued serialization of novels there does not surprise me.

    1. Yeah, I knew of course that it was common practice in the past in the West too, but that's why I thought it interesting it appears to be a mostly forgotten publication method now, at least for mystery stories.

      Serialization's always been a part of Japanese publication practices (you can tell from Rampo's novels errr, that he didn't really plan out his serializations in advance), but even now it's a relatively common practice. Most manga are of course still serialized in their respective magazines (different from the individual series issues of US comics) and while most novels are direct-to-book nowadays, there are still magazine serializations out there. Hayakawa Mystery Magazine had two or three serializations running in the period I was following the novel of this post for example, and Ayatsuji's latest entry in his hit horror/mystery series Another is in serialization too at the moment (well, not at _this_ moment as he's been on a hiatus for ages, it seems).