Wednesday, January 31, 2018


I cry...
To try to cry my pain away
Alone, nobody around
I say you pay for all the things you said 
"I Cry" (Nadia Gifford)

I am not that well-versed in Japanese classical literature actually. I know a bit of Classical Japanese, and I know a bit of the stories through references, but I have never read completely through tales like Genji Monogatari...

Oreki Houtarou's plans to spend the coming three years at high school in an energy-efficient manner (meaning: without any extra activities) are immediately shot down by his globe-trotting sister. She orders her brother to join her old school club at Kamiyama High School, because the Classic Literature Club is on the verge if extinction due to the fact the last members graduated last year, meaning that if there's no influx of new members this year, the club's effectively dead. Houtarou finds he's not the only one to join the club, as Chitanda Eru, heiress of one of the prominent families in town, also joins the club "for personal reasons", as well as two of Houtarou's childhood friends. After learning that Koutarou has a knack for solving small mysterious events that happen at school, like the mystery of the book that is borrowed, and returned on the same day every week by different people, Eru decides that he's the one who can help her. She confides in him that she joined the club because she needed to dig in the history of the Classic Literature Club, as she wants to learn more about her uncle who has disappeared, and her only clue is a fading memory that links her uncle to the school's Classic Literature Club and their club magazine, Hyouka, which is also the title of today's book. There's also an English subtitle, The Niece of Time, a reference to The Daughter of Time.

Hyouka was the 2001 debut novel of Yonezawa Honobu, published in the Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko line for light novels. It turned out to be a golden debut, as Hyouka was followed by several sequels to form the Classic Literature Club series, which was adapted as a succesful anime TV series in 2012, which was named after this first novel in the series. The anime series is fairly populair even outside Japan, and I think most people will know Hyouka better just as a school anime series, rather than as a detective series or the debut work of Yonezawa. I haven't seen the anime myself by the way, as I kept saying to myself I'd read the books first, but it took me quite some years to actually get to them (I have read other works by Yonezawa in the meantime though).

Now I think about it, Hyouka is quite similar to Yonezawa's Petite Bourgeoisie series, as both feature high school students, a protagonist who is somewhat reluctant to actually detect, a more active female counterpart and of course, everyday life mysteries. The mysteries solved here aren't bloody murders, but other, rather innocent happenings that happen in your normal life that might raise an eyebrow. The first few chapters for example throw the cited example of a rather boring book being borrowed every single week on the same day, but by different people, or one where Eru is locked inside the club room, even though there's only one key to the door, which was in the possession of Koutarou (who most definitely did not lock the door). While not a spectacular as a triple murder, I've come to appreciate this subgenre of detective fiction, especially when they're done like in Hyouka: the situations are somewhat mysterious, but normal enough that they raise questions, and they're properly hinted. Bonus points for the fact the situations fit perfectly with the school setting.

After the introducing chapters, Hyouka moves to the main storyline, which is about Eru's uncle and what transpired at the Classic Literature Club thirty-three years ago. Here the mode changes to that of something that resembles a mix between a historical and a bibliophilic mystery, as the club members search for old books and other materials to deduce what happened three decades ago. One has to admire how Yonezawa used precise wording in each of the documents to nudge the reader in the right direction, as well as the fact how each new document presented changes the working theory. So first a theory is made based on document 1, which is then altered because of the contents of document 2 leading to theory 2, etc. It's a great showcase of the cause-and-effect relation between clues and hypotheses, even if the deductions feel less 'tight' (or decisive) compared to the mysteries found in the earlier chapters because it's based on textual interpretation.

I first read this book as a short story collection, as early on each chapter had its own mystery, but it turned out it was a proper novel, and I liked in hindsight how good the clueing was throughout the book, with little comments or revelations made the earlier parts coming back for the end. This is what any good detective novel should do, of course, but because I first read it as a short story collection, I wasn't prepared for that much story integration across stories, and even after noticing it was not a story collection, I thought the clueing/foreshadowing was done really well.

Hyouka was thus a fairly entertaining book, even if a bit short. While the book does feature a finished storyline, it also feels like the start of a story, so I guess we'll learn more about Houtarou, the other characters and the school itself in subsequent entries. So while Hyouka on its own is a good, but light meal, I have the feeling the whole course will turn out to be quite satisfactory. And hey, I might even try the anime.

Original Japanese title(s): 米澤穂信 『氷菓』

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Body In The Library


I've been saving them up from rather long ago / I sometimes read them again / inside my mind
Those words / those words  have an echo
"Echo" (Unicorn) 

On the topics of libraries: I can't study in libraries. During my university years, I saw many friends who went to the library to study, but I just can't. I need my own, private space!

Hidden away in the middle of a small grove stands the Nonomiya Private Library, housing the curious book collection of the late Mr. Nonomiya. Mikiko, a young woman who has just graduated from high school, is hired as the curator of the collection, with her main job consisting of brining order to the rather chaotic collection. When asked why the collection appears to be so completely random, Tadokoro, the attorney acting for the committee overseeing the library, explains to Mikiko that the late Mr. Nomomiya only added books that had some connection to crime or murder. One book might be used as a step to commit suicide by hanging, the other book might be the sole survivor of a fire consuming a whole family. As Mikiko and her childhood friend/not-just-yet-boyfriend Yoshio look into the backstories in Akagawa Jirou's Satsujin wo Yonda Hon ("Books Calling For Murder", 1988) they realize that sometimes people don't like to be reminded of the crimes behind each of these books, and that sometimes people can become very desperate to prevent people from digging deeper.

Satsujin wo Yonda Hon is a linked short story collection by Akagawa Jirou, but I suspect the game adaptation of this book is better known. Yasoukyoku ("Nocturne") was originally released in 1998 for the PlayStation and was successful enough to lead to a sequel, as well as a port to the Nintendo DS hardware in 2008. I have the DS version of the game actually, but I never finished it and now I even finished the original book.... The game is a sound novel game (somewhat like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game), with the story more-or-less the same as the original book, but by making different choices at select points in the story, you can also reach a multitude of alternative endings (some of them being bad endings).

Satsujin wo Yonda Hon is a mystery short story collection, but each of the five stories collected is rather short and light, and I doubt any of them will leave any impression on the reader. Almost all of the stories follow the same plot structure: Mikiko is cleaning up the library when by chance her attention is drawn to one of the books. She and Yoshio learn more about the history of the book. They poke around by visiting the people related to the case. Either Mikiko or Yoshio is knocked out (or both!) on the head in the library over the course of the story because someone doesn't like their digging. Mikiko thinks she solves the case, but doesn't really. The real culprit reveals themselves, but is eventually caught anyway. Rinse and repeat.

The mystery plots themselves are very simple, somewhat reminiscent of Christie short stories. Often it'll just turn out the crime-related story behind the book in question is in reality not what the outside world thought it was, and there's usually at least one person very eager to keep that a secret, but the road to the solution is rather simple. It's often more guessing than actual deducing, the hints are barely there and more often than not, the story ends with the big bad giving the game away on their own, as they try to wipe out Mikiko and Yoshio. The stories themselves are okay-ish, but nothing particularly outstanding. The stories have, per Akagawa Jirou's usual style, a humorous tone to them (Mikiko and Yoshio bicker a lot), but this does lead to some awkward moments where serious scenes are followed up too quickly by humorous scenes, like Mikiko and Yoshio making fun of each other again moments after they had been assaulted and knocked out. Akagawa also really loves his couples-with-age-gaps. Mikiko and Yoshio only differ a few years (with Yoshio being the older one), but Mikiko is also getting courted by the attorney Tadokoro, who's basically twice as old. I felt it came out of nowhere in this book, but it did make me remember I had seen the middle-aged man - just-out-of-high-school girl romance quite often in Akagawa's works. In fact, it's almost the norm in most of what I've read of Akagawa. Different times, I guess....

It's a shame the book is rather light as a mystery novel, as I do like the premise of a whole library full of books, each hiding a tale of mystery. There are some stories in Satsujin wo Yonda Hon that also make good use of the book motif, like the one about a book that has a will of its own, always 'running around' and popping up at all kinds of places around the house even though it had been been put away.

Satsujin wo Yonda Hon is thus rather light reading, despite a premise that could've resulted in something more substantial. Like always, Akagawa Jirou's writing is pleasant enough, but the end result is not something that'll leave any impression. In fact, I'd say the game adaptation, Yasoukyoku, might be more interesting as it offers an interactive manner to experience the stories, with more variation.

Original Japanese title(s): 赤川次郎 『殺人を呼んだ本』

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Attack of the Headless Horror

"Looks like you won't be attending that hat convention in July!" 
"Hudson Hawk"

Today, a fantastic book!

Mitsuda Shinzou's Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono ("Those Who Cast A Curse Like The Headless", 2007) starts with an introduction of Himekubi Mountain and Himekami Village at its feet, situated in the rural outskirts of Tokyo. Himekami Village has since medieval times been ruled by the Higami Clan, which in turn is divided in three houses. The House of Ichigami is the main family and leader of the Higami Clan, while the Futagami and Mikami Houses serve as the branch families. Only males of the Higami Clan can succeed to the position of the head of the Ichigami House and lord of the Higami Clan, and if ever the Ichigami House fails in producing an adult male to take over the position, the next leader of the Higami Clan will be chosen from either the Futagami or Mikami Houses, which in turn becomes the new Ichigami House. Luck has it that the Higami Clan has been cursed and especially the sons of the Ichigami House have trouble staying alive until adulthood, often perishing in their childhood. The person who cast the curse, a princess who was wrongfully decapitated at the end of the Warring State period, has been deified as the mountain kami Aohime, and the people of the Higami Clan have to pray for her mercy in the fall of their third, thirteenth, twenty-third and thirty-third year by visiting Aohime's shrine in the mountains and spending one night there. It is in 1943, during the war, when Choujurou, the future heir of the Higami Clan, and his twin sister Himeko conduct the Thirteenth Nightly Shrine Visit, but Himeko vanishes from inside the shrine as she's making her way to the room where she's supposed to spend the night, despite being observed from both outside and inside the shrine. Himeko is later found dead inside a well, and rumors has it she was found headless. Ten years later, Choujurou once again has to pay a visit to the Aohime Shrine in the mountains, this time to choose one out of three potential bride candidates and ask for Aohime's permission to marry the woman, but one of the women is decapitated inside the shrine, and Choujurou himself is also found decapitated elsewhere on the mountain. Is this the curse of Aohime, or can these deaths be attributed to someone from the other houses hoping to become the next leader of the Higami Clan?

Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono is the third novel in Mitsuda Shinzou's Toujou Genya series, which stars the horror/occult novelist Toujou Genya and the bizarre crimes he comes across as he travels across Japan to do research on local folklore. This is the first I read this series by the way (or anything by Mitsuda actually), but it had been on my radar for a long time, as I absolutely love horror-mystery novels with a folklore background (see also the work of Kyougoku Natsuhihiko for example, or a game like Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P). The reason why I started with the third novel was because Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono is widely lauded as one of Mitsuda's best mystery novels, and I had learned it was not necessary to read them in order anyway. In fact, Toujou Genya hardly appears in this novel, as Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono is presented as an accurate account of the murders that happened in Himekami Village in the past, written as a serialized novel by Himenomori Myougen, mystery author and wife of the police constable who was in charge of both the 1943 and the 1953 case. The novel is written in the hopes that some reader manages to figure out the truth behind the horrible headless killings in Himekami Village.

And what a novel this is! This will no doubt be one of the best mystery novels I'll read this year, as it's a blast from start to end. After an atmospheric start that introduces the reader to the folklore surrounding the vengeful deity Aohime, the curse on the Higami Clan and ghost stories about headless spectres roaming the mountain, we're witness to the absolutely baffling disappearance, and death of Higami Himeko during the Thirteenth Nightly Shrine Visit, which makes up one amazing locked room mystery. Both Himeko and her twin brother Choujurou have to spend one night in Aohime's shrine, which has sleeping quarters attached to it. To make their way from the main shrine to these sleeping quarters, one must pass through a tower. This tower only has one corridor in the form of a spiral stairway, which first goes all the way up to the top of the tower, and then spirals back to the bottom (to the other side of the tower). This means that even if two people start walking from both sides of the tower, they won't see each other until they meet each halfway, at the top of the tower. Himeko is seen entering the shrine and the tower from outside the building by a witness, and heard by her brother Choujurou who was already inside the sleeping quarters waiting for his sister, but Himeko disappears the moment she arrives at the top of the tower. She is not found anywhere inside the shrine, and because of the pebble stone garden surrounding the shrine and the tower, it was also impossible for her (or her body) to slip out the building without being heard. Yet she is found dead outside the shrine, stuffed inside a well. The case ten years later, after the Twenty-Third Nightly Shrine Visit, is not an impossible crime per se, but still as baffling, as one of Choujurou's potential brides is murdered and decapitated inside the shrine's sleeping quarters, and Choujurou himself is also found decapitated elsewhere on the mountain. But why were the two decapitated and how did the murderer make their way to the shrine even though all the mountain entrances were being watched by the police due to the marriage meeting ceremony?

What makes this an exceptional mystery novel is the meaningful repetition of themes. The 1943 and 1953 crimes are for example completely different mysteries, with the first being a brilliant impossible disappearance and the latter more a whydunnit about decapitations, but ultimately, the two crimes are connected by a common, underlying theme of mystery fiction, but executed in very different manners. The two crimes have nothing in common except for this theme, which makes it so devilish, as figuring the precise connection between them won't be easy. I had an inkling of what was going on, but really didn't manage to make the necessary connections between all the various points, so I maybe got 10, 15% of the whole solution. This repetition of themes in different manners is done multiple times in this novel, and in fantastic ways. Most of them would be spoilers of course, but take the theme of decapitation: there are multiple plot threads that involve decapitations in this story, from sightings of a headless creature roaming the forests, to the murders and decapitations of the victims, to heads being found. Each of these threads however have completely different reasons for them, and all of them are convincing. As a master class on decapitations in mystery fiction, I can think of no work that can rival Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono, especially as the novel also features a Decapitation Lecture! Locked Room Lectures are popular, and I've seen lectures on dying messages and missing-footprints-in-the-snow too, but this is the first time I read one on the various reasons for decapitations in mystery fiction, and it's a gem! This exceptional focus on certain themes is makes this book so great, as it brings not only variation, but also consistency between the various events.  The impossible disappearance for example is plotted very well even taken on its own, but it is the connection to the other events of the book what makes this one to remember.

One decisive clue to the tale lies in the practice of folklore, what some readers of mystery fiction might not consider fair, as it's basically belief in the supernatural. I myself seldom see a problem with that though, as folklore itself is based on human practices and human perception of the world, which in turn follows (human-made) rules of logic. Supernatural powers might not exist, but the belief in supernatural powers exists and it does govern the psyche, and therefore the action of humans, so a good mystery novel can make great use of that. Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono has a great example of that, as the decisive clue surrounds an action that should've been taken given the folklore we've been presented with throughout the novel. The story takes the time to explore this theme of folklore and the workings and psychology behind it, so even if you don't manage to spot it (I didn't), you don't feel cheated, as it was set-up in a most fair way.

As a mystery novel on its own, Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono is great, but it's the synergy between all the various themes that makes this a classic. No element is there just on its own, everything is to strengthen the rest of the book. The horror elements aren't there just to scare you, they also serve as meaningful misdirection and hints to the solution of the murders. The presentation in the form of a serialized novel isn't there just for fun: it's a crucial part in presenting a part of the mystery in a fair way to the reader. The impossible disappearance and the decapitations aren't just there for the mystery: they are intricately connected to the underlying story of the fall of the Higami Clan throug the curse of Aohime. Everything in this novel has a reason, no, multiple reasons to be there and they make what would've been a great mystery novel on its own, easily one of the best novels I've read these last few years. I can't wait to read more of this series!

Original Japanese title(s): 三津田信三 『首無の如き祟るもの』

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Red-Headed League

この手を放すもんか 真っ赤な誓い 

Right now I'm surrounded by things I don't understand
But I'll keep on following this path I believe in
No matter the enemies or friends I'll come across
I'll never let my hands go off this crimson oath
"My Crimson Oath" (Fukuyama Yoshiki)

I wonder if the color red, and variations of it (crimson, scarlet, etc.) is the one that appears the most often in mystery fiction titles? The connection to blood makes it a strong contender of course, but I suppose white and black would put up a good fight...

Mark Brendon, celebrated rising star of Scotland Yard, had hoped to enjoy a nice trout-fishing holiday in Dartmoor, but gladly gives up on his leisure time to help the beautiful Jenny Pendean. Her husband Michael and her uncle Robert Redmayne have disappeared, and there are definite signs that her uncle killed her husband. Her three uncles, Albert, Bendigo and Robert had been opposed to their niece's marriage to Michael at first, as they accused him of shirking his duties as a subject of the British Empire in the Great War by failing the militairy medical exam, but the Pendans had proven their worth in the war nonetheless, and during a chance meeting with Jenny and Michael in Dartmoor, uncle Robert learned of their endeavors, and was finally willing to accept his niece's husband. But it appears that a war-induced post traumatic stress disorder led to Robert killing Jenny's husband, and now he's on the run. Despite the best efforts by Brendon, red-haired Robert manages to elude capture, until he appears at the house of his brother Bendigo, and gets rid of him too! As the one responsible for the disappearances of two of his family members, Brandon feels even more pressure to capture Robert, but his mind is also distracted by the beautiful Jenny, whom he fears might be falling for the wrong man so soon after her husband's death. Can Brendon solve the case and woo Jenny over in Eden Phillpotts The Red Redmaynes (1922)?

Eden Phillpotts (1862-1960) was an extremely prolific novelist/poet/playwright, mainly known for his country-side novels set around Dartmoor. Agatha Christie used to live near Phillpotts in her late teens actually, and he helped her with her writing early on in her career. At age 60, Phillpots decided he'd try his hand at the mystery genre too, and it appears it suited him well, as he wrote a fair number of mystery stories too. The Red Redmaynes (1922) was his second mystery novel, and while not forgotten in the West, it appears it never did attract the same amount of fame it did in Japan. The praise Edogawa Rampo had heaped upon The Red Redmaynes had cemented its position as one of the classic Golden Age novels in the eyes of the Japanese mystery reader, which is also reflected in the curiously large number of different translations and releases the book has seen in Japan since its initial release. Rampo also wrote a translation/adaptation of The Red Redmaynes, titled Ryokui no Oni ("The Demon in Green", 1936), green being a complementary color to red (see also my review of Yuureitou, which is an adaptation of a translation/adaptation of Williamson's A Woman in Grey).

And after reading The Red Redmaynes myself I can say that while I wouldn't consider this anything near the best the 1920s had to offer in terms of mystery novels, I did enjoy reading it. What some readers might notice early on is that Phillpotts prose betrays his long writing career before making the jump to mystery novels. The descriptions of the background settings (first Dartmoor, later around a lake in Italy) are admittedly somewhat longwinded at times, and might have an old-fashioned feel to them, but they are also vivid and do a great job at envisioning the stage upon which the mysterious case unfolds. There's also a somewhat melodramatic romance plot for Brendon (who falls head over heel for widow Jenny), which again seems to be a throwback to Phillpotts' contributions to other genres, but at least it's well integrated within the mystery plot.

The mystery plot is reasonably entertaining, even if somewhat simple. I think that readers in this time and age won't be that surprised when it's revealed who is behind the Redmayne Tragedy, as the core idea is a very familiar one, but Phillpotts manages to dress the plot in a way to keep the reader engaged. The story has a distinct Gothic thriller novel feel to it in the first half of the novel, with Red Robert Redmayne roaming lonely Dartmoor and the relatively small cast of characters in fear of what he might do next to the other Redmaynes. And by the time the reader has enough of this, the story moves to sunny Italy, where the plot decides to move a lot quicker too, with more exciting scenes to pull the reader in. That said, I doubt the misdirection employed in this book will be able to divert attention away from the truth for a long time, especially as Phillpotts makes it a point to be more than fair to the reader, with a second detective character pretty much spelling out what is going on a few chapters before the climax for the benefit of a different character, as well as the reader. It is a well-plotted mystery story, with everything occuring in the tale for a reason that eventually ties back to the conclusion.

So I thought The Red Redmaynes was a decent novel. It might not be really surprising perhaps, but Phillpotts used the plot he had to write a more than competent mystery novel, with a good plot structure that is supported by Phillpotts' experience with other genres and writing in general. As his works are available in the public domain, I'll probably take a look at his other mystery stories too in the future.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Burn Card

瀬を早み 岩にせかるる 滝川の 
われても末に 逢はむとぞ思ふ 

Rushing over a steep plummet / The rapid stream of the river / Is split in two by a rock
But like how those two streams will join once more / We too will find each other once more
(Poem by Sutokuin)

And we start the new year with a familiar face....

While Aoyama Goushou is of course the original creator of Detective Conan, the franchise has grown out to be much, much more than his original comic. Of the many products based on the hit mystery comic, the annual theatrical releases are probably the best known in Japan. Ever since 1997, each April has given us a new theatrical edition of Detective Conan with all-new original stories on a scale not feasible in the comic form. It is actually very rare in most cases in Japan for the original creator to get involved with the production of an animated theatrical adaptation personally, but Aoyama has always been a major part of these movies, often deciding on the main theme of each year's entry, as well as drawing key animation scenes himself (known among fans as the Aoyama key-frames, as they are instantly recognizable). The screenplays however are always written by other people, often specialized screenwriters who have worked on the animated TV series. The last few years, the release of each new theatrical film has also been accompanied with a novelization of said movie in publisher Shogakukan's Junior Bunko series: these novelizations are written for a young public, adapting the movies quite faithfully.

The twenty-first Detective Conan film, The Crimson Love Letter, was released in April 2017 and was received extremely well: it was in fact the highest grossing domestic (Japanese) film of 2017. Let that sink in for a while: the highest grossing Japanese film of 2017 was a mystery film, and an animated one too at that! When details about The Crimson Love Letter's production were first released in 2016, we learned that mystery author Ookura Takahiro was responsible for the screenplay. Ookura, who was written several succesful mystery series that have been adapted for live-action TV dramas (most prominently the Lt. Fukuie series), had not worked on Detective Conan before, but for this special occassion, he was not only put on the screenplay for the film, but also on an episode for the animated series. The Shogakukan Junior Bunko novelization (by Mizuki Shima) of course also released in April, but I waited for the home-video release in October 2017 to watch The Crimson Love Letter, and absolutely loved it.

But I was quite surprised when I learned that an another novelization of The Crimson Love Letter would be released in December 2017. Shousetsu Meitantei Conan: Karakurenai no Love Letter (A Novel: Detective Conan - The Crimson Love Letter, 2017) is a novelization written by the screenplay writer Ookura Takahiro himself, and is based on the final version of the screenplay he handed in. As you can guess: his version is not exactly like the final product, with several scenes either slightly changed, or cut out completely from the film. This new novelization is thus somewhat like a Director's Cut of the film, based on the original vision of the screenplay writer (whereas the Junior Bunko is based on the film that was released, and written for a younger audience). The base story however is of course the same in this version: a nation-wide high school karuta competition is about to start in a few days, so a program to promote the competive game of karuta, the Satsuki Cup and the Satsuki High School Cup is being recorded at a TV studio. A bomber however destroys the whole studio during the recording, and high school student-turned-into-six-year-old-boy Conan and the high school student detective Hattori Heiji suspect that the bomber's aim is focused on key members in the Satsuki Karuta Assocation, as they learn that the champion of the Satsuki Cup has also been killed on the same day. Meanwhile, Hattori's childhood friend Kazuha finds herself in a predicament: she suddenly has to participate in the Satsuki High School competition because her friend Mikoko got injured during the bombing, and one of her opponents is Oo'oka Momiji, a girl who is considered the future karuta queen who also claims she's Hattori's fiancée....


Ahm. It's only been two months ago since I wrote down my thoughts on The Crimson Love Letter, so I want refer to the film review for my main thoughts about the story and its relation to the main series, as the core plot in the novelization is exactly the same. The novelization is still a great Detective Conan story that manages to mix a proper mystery plot, with a captivating sport story surrounding karuta as well as romantic comedy elements. The film was easily one of the better entries these last few years thanks to the story, and that also holds for this novel. So in this review, I want to pick up some of the differences between the film, and this novelization.

I do want to point out right away that about 80% of the book is more-or-less the same as the film. Sure, most of the scenes have their differences, but these changes are very small. For example: the film starts with the whole cast chatting in the TV studio. In the novelization, their chat starts outside the studio. The novel does make good use of its medium to explain a bit more about various topics, most importantly the game of karuta. I noted in my review of the film that certain details of karuta, like basic rules or strategies, weren't explained really well there: the novelization does a much better job at that, as well as exploring the themes behind the poems on the karuta cards in relation to the film. The downside is that reading about the actual karuta matches isn't as fun as actually seeing them. While karuta is a card game in essence, it's actually a very physical game (see also Chihayafuru), and the energy and dynamic movements going during these matches are of course conveyed much better in the animated feature compared to the novelization. The final act of the story is about the actual Satsuki High School Cup, which was mostly skimmed over in the film with a montage (because it's a sports film!) to jump to the final match, while the novel actually goes a bit more into detail in the various rounds of the competition, fleshing out some characters we only see very briefly in the film.

The novelization also brings some improvements to the mystery plot. Some of the developments in the plot that were handled only briefly in the film are explored more deeply in the novel, which greatly helps the story. While the film works on its own, some of the red herrings and clues were discussed rather briefly there, but Ookura manages to explain them much better in detail in the novel, so for the people who thought things went too fast in the film: try this book!  On the other hand, it's also clear the story was indeed written for a film, as some of the more crucial, and also better clues of this story work much better in a visual format, as opposed to in a novel.

What also work much better in the animated format are the action scenes. The theatrical releases of Detective Conan have always been known for their over-the-top action scenes that you usually wouldn't see in the original comic (precisely because they can't do over-the-top action there), and the animated version of The Crimson Love Letter has some fantastic scenes in a great opening set-piece as well an impressive climax scene. Those same action parts are completely different in the novelization and it's not even a contest: the action scenes in the final film are muuuch better than the ones Ookura originally had in mind (and they are a bit strange too: since when does Conan has a wire in his wristwatch? He's not Lupin III!). What's interesting is that the major scenes that were cut out of Ookura's script were in fact also action scenes. The novelization (and thus Ookura's original script) contains two action scenes that didn't make it into the final movie. While the second of these is admittedly quite unnecessary (I'd argue cutting this scene out was a good choice), it's a pity the first of these action scenes didn't make it. A certain revelation is made in the movie after this scene, and it's one of those parts of the mystery plot that work better in the novel, precisely because this action scene actually helps set-up that revelation. Including the scene, in one way or another, would've improved the mystery plot, so I kinda wish this action scene would've been there, especially because it'd be more interesting to actually see the scene animated.

In the end though, it's clear that The Crimson Love Letter's best version is still the animated feature. While this novelization by Ookura does offer some more insight into the plot, as well as some other versions of certain scenes, this "Director's Cut" is not the best version, precisely because the plot was originally written for an animated film and many of its elements work out better in motion. I'd recommend the novel to those who loved The Crimson Love Letter and want to see how Ookura originally envisioned the story, but yeah, go watch the film if you haven't seen it yet. 

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌(原)、大倉崇裕 『小説 名探偵コナン から紅の恋歌』