Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Captured In Her Eyes

"A foolishly foolish idea born from the foolish mind of a foolhardy foolish fool."
"Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All"

This book reminded me I once went to a film screening of a Film Club during the university festival of Kyushu University. I think there were two short films, and you were supposed to hand in a questionnaire after the screening. I can't remember a thing about the films themselves though.

The four members of the Classic Literature Club of Kamiyama High School are still working for their project for the school festival when they are invited to see a short detective movie made by the people of class 2-F for the school festival. The story is about a group of students visiting an abandonded mine town, and the murder of one of them inside a locked room in a theater, but the film ends right after the body was discovered. The girl working on the script collapsed due to stress, making it unable for her to continue, but the problem is nobody knows what her plans were for the ending, making it an unfinished detective story. And while several of the clasmates have suggestions for solutions, it's hard to judge which one was the originally intended ending. Irisu Fuyumi of Class 2-F however, known throughout the school as the "Empress" because she's extremely good at getting the right people to work on the right things, wants the Classic Literature Club to act as observers and evaluate the suggested solutions so Class 2-F can finish their film. But it appears that perhaps the members of the club are better fit to find the real solution in Yonezawa Honobu's Gusha no End Roll ("End Credits of Fools", 2002).

Gusha no End Roll is the second book in Yonezawa's Classic Literature Club series (also known as the Hyouka series, as the anime series is named after the first novel). It also carries the English subtitle Why Didn't She Ask EBA, a reference to Christie's Why Didn't They Ask Evans? The series falls under the everyday life mystery genre, which keeps itself busy with solving enigmatic events that might occur in the normal, daily life, as opposed to bloody murder. So more mysteries like "Why is that man on my bus always along for the ride for only one stop?" or "Why did that woman remain in her seat even though this is the terminal station for this train?". Obviously, it's more realistic for freshmen high school students like our four members of the Classic Litereature Club to be paining their heads about these kinds of problems, rather that of violent death.

Which is why it's funny that Gusha no End Roll is indeed about murder! A fictional one, mind you, but still. The idea of having the students detect the murderer in an unfinished mystery film is actually quite brilliant, as it allows for Yonezawa to involve his characters with a type of crime he usually wouldn't be able to. The unfinished film is set in an abandoned theater, with one of the students killed inside one of the backstage chambers which was locked. The only key available was in the manager's office next to the entrance of the theater, but to get that key you'd need to pass the hall and the hallway unseen, which would've been impossible as all students were wandering through the theater). This unfinished film is treated as a text in a historical or bibliomystery: the Classic Literature Club members, but also the students of Class 2-F use the film/text as the base for their deductions, searching each frame for a clue as to what the intended solution was. But like in a historical/bibliomystery, the text is not the only source for our detectives, and that is what sets it apart from a conventional mystery, as there is a layer "outside" the film world. While the script writer is out, the club members also interview other people involved with the filming, like one of the prop builders, to learn more about the fictional world, and about the script writer and how this film project came to be in the first place, all in the hopes of figuring out what the solution is supposed to be.

And as this is the second book I read in this series, I'm now starting to see patterns, and I can say that Yonezawa loves his multiple solutions. Hyouka already had a double-layered solution, but this one has like four or five solutions. Several involved members of the filming crew, like the assistant-director, suggest their solution to the locked room conundrum to the Classic Literature Club, all firmly based on both the "text" and their knowledge of the project circumstances (for example, the props that were prepared). These hypotheses, while grounded, are all rejected one by one based on small oversights made, though each hypothesis does add some new revelation to be used for the next. It has a Berkeley-like effect, and it's something you don't often see done this well in the everyday life mystery genre, so I could appreciate that. The solutions are also different enough to keep the reader entertained (the fake solution marathon can feel tiring at times if done badly) and it also invites the reader to read the "film text" carefully, as a lot of hints are hidden there, while the multiple solutions also show how wildly different each viewer can interpret (the importance of) a scene.

Oh, and as a side-note, the final solution is a lot easier to guess if you know your Holmes! If you're not that well-read, you might not understand a certain hint, but I think the true solution to what happened fits wonderfully with the whole theme of the book, giving true meaning to all the false solutions that came before it.

What is also interesting is that Oreki Houtarou, the narrator and main detective of the series, is shown to be a fallible detective once again. While he does get it at the end, he's not likely to get there in one step, and often falls in the trap of the false solution himself before he finally gets it. It fits his personality perhaps (he's not really a pro-active detective), but the often mistaken detective trope is not one you often see with younger detective characters, at least not seriously (as opposed to what you see in series like Scooby Doo!, where it's most definitely a source of comedy). There is something like a larger story playing across the books in the series with Houtarou's older sister trying to push her brother to be a bit more active, and the books are also slowly working towards the school festival it seems, so we might see more of Houtarou's growth in subsequent books in the series.

Gusha no End Roll is thus a very enjoyable entry in the Classic Literature Club series, as it introduces murder in a convincing and amusing manner in a series that is supposed to be about minor mysteries you'd encounter in your daily life. The result is a book that takes on very large themes in mystery fiction like the locked room mystery, text-based mystery solving and multiple solutions, but dressed like a school comedy drama. Can't wait to read the rest of the series!

Original Japanese title(s): 米澤穂信 『愚者のエンドロール』


  1. Any chance of a translation?

    1. Better than most novels I discuss here, as the anime Hyouka is received really well, and translated light novels have been booming the last few years in the US.

  2. Thanks for the review, as it sounds like a fun mystery novel - and one that has a Chinese translation stocked in my local library. :) A pity that the final solution isn’t especially well-hidden, but then again, my knowledge of Holmes is fairly thin.

    Incidentally, the Chinese translation of the final volume of Kindaichi R has just been released today! It hadn’t hit the shelves as the copies were still in the boxes - but the bookseller kindly extracted a copy for me. I now have two cases before I finally conclude my long-standing readership of the teenage Kindaichi...

    1. Still deciding which to leave for the last: 人形島殺人事件 or 金田一二三誘拐殺人事件...

    2. It's the difference between ending on a 'traditional' story (人形島殺人事件), or a more modern story (金田一二三誘拐), though both are solid choices! Unlike the Count of Monte Christo story, Fumi's kidnapping isn't really written as "an end" to the series, so the order doesn't really matter anyway.

    3. Which of the two cases would you say has the better puzzle...? :)

    4. They're quite different, but I think that on the whole, the Hitogata Island story will leave more an impression as a puzzler.