Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Indigo Ashtray

"Yes, you are right, Madame; the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and yet you forget that everywhere there is evil under the sun."
"Evil Under The Sun"

Man, I had been sitting on this audio drama for ages, I noticed now. Oh well, that's not a rare thing to happen here, I said as I glanced at some unread books which have been lying here for some years.

Akagawa Jirou is an incredibly prolific best known for his lighthearted, comedic mystery novels like the Calico Cat Holmes series. He also has many series starring young women, most notably his long-running Three Sisters Investigate series (of which the first novel is also available in English, by the way). Female teenagers are also the focus in the audio drama Hai no Naka no Akuma ("The Devil In The Ashes", 1993). Several students of the Hanazono Academy for girls are being harrassed and blackmailed with mistakes made in the past, from cheating at tests to shoplifting. As amateur detectives, the trio of Yuriko (tomboy), Akiko (aspiring actress) and Kyouko (heir of former nobility) naturally have an interest in this case, especially as Kyouko was already once attacked by a neurotic victim who was convinced Kyouko was the blackmailer (Kyouko practices aikido luckily). While they're investigating the case though, Yuriko's classmate Fumiyo is outed as a former shoplifter, but she loses her memory after a traffic incident. Strange men however appear to be after her. Can our trio find out who is behind the blackmailing and save Fumiyo?

Hai no Naka no Akuma (1989) was the first full-length novel in Akagawa's juvenile Devil series, though the trio of high school students originally made their debut almost a decade earlier in the novelette Kagami no Naka no Akuma ("The Devil in the Mirror", 1980~1981). Considering the long period between the publishign years, it's understandable that most people consider Hai no Naka no Akuma the true start of the Devil series, and it would turn into a reasonable success, as it ran for about ten volumes long. The title Devil might sound a bit scary, but the actual contents are actually fairly light-hearted and presented in a comedic manner, like through girls' banter. No demons appearing in this series, at least, not actual demons, as the "Devil" that appears in the title of each of the stories refers to the devil residing in human beings.

I have not read any of the books in this series by the way, but I decided to listen to the audio drama based on Hai no Naka no Akuma, which was released in 1993. I have no idea how fateful an adaptation this drama is, though a quick look at the Wikipedia page for the book makes me suspect that it is at least not a grand departure of the original tale. The voice actors featured include some very well-known names like Kanai Mika and Orikasa Ai. The drama is not long (a bit over an hour), but as most of Akagawa's novels are fairly light, I guess that's about what I had expected.

As a tale of mystery, Hai no Naka no Akuma is really, really light material. Considering the subject matter (blackmail at school, juvenile crime and there's also kidnapping of minors), things could've been portrayed a lot darker, but it remains fairly light on the whole. Even at the times when some of the girls are kidnapped, you never have a sense of real threat, as you already know they'll escape somehow as you listen to the banter of the girls calling each other names and all during their predicament. The whole presentation is a bit cartoony, which is not a bad thing per se, but there's certainly a discrepency between the 'scary' title The Devil In the Ashes and the actual tone of the story. This is best shown by the character Kyouko, who comes from such a ridiculously rich and powerful family she at one time even conjures a helicopter out of nowhere for use during her investigation of an incident happening at a high school. Kyouko is without a doubt the MVP by the way, as she uses not only money, but also her brains and occasionally even her fists to get all the girls unscathed to the end of the story.

The mystery of the blackmailer and Fumiyo's assailants is as expected nothing particularly engaging. The story is sorta enjoyable as a girls' adventure story, but nothing more than that, as the underlying plot is rather ridiculous: the Big Bad's plan is rather convoluted, in a Scooby-Doo way, and all the "deductions" the girls make are more fantasy than something based on a logical conclusion based on the facts presented (which still turn out to be correct, of course).

All in all, Hai no Naka no Akuma was a rather mediocre juvenile mystery audio drama. The story is really written for a certain audience, in a certain time (early 90s) and one can't really fault a work for doing exactly what it's supposed to do in an okay manner, I guess, but I also don't think this is a story that has something really interesting to offer besides the character interaction (which I did enjoy by the way). Adaptations of Akagawa's works for TV are certainly not rare, but the Devil series never had that much exposure I think besides these audio dramas. I wonder how an animated TV series aimed at a younger public would fare?

Original Japanese title(s): 赤川次郎(原) 『灰の中の悪魔』

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