Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Temple of Lost Souls

nobody knows, only I know it 
(you're already know, already over) 
everybody loves despair 
さあ Recall from THE END

nobody knows, only I know it 
(you're already know, already over)
everybody loves despair 
Come, recall from THE END

It's been a while since I last read a volume in this series!

Samidare Yui and Kirigiri Kyouko are not only both students at the same Girls Missionary Academy, they are also the only students there to be officially registered detectives. At the start of the Danganronpa Kirigiri series, Yui and Kirigiri learned about the Crime Victim Salvation Committee, a sinister group which organizes the Duel Noir, the ultimate battle of the wits between criminals and detectives. The Committee sells perfect crimes to those who want to take revenge, and supplies murder schemes, the objects and location needed and even a completely new identity for after they're done. However, the Committee at the same time will also invite a detective on the scene, who has either prevent the murders, or identify the murderer within a week. Yui and Kirigiri are determined to stop the Committee, which of course has noticed the presence of these two. In Kitayama Takekuni's Danganronpa Kirigiri 5 (2017), Yui and Kirigiri are still caught up in the trial of the Twelve Locked Room Temples: if they manage to solve all twelve locked room murder mysteries within a week, the second-in-command of the Committee agrees to step down. Yui, Kirigiri and some new allies managed to solve nine of them in the previous two volumes, leaving the final three for this volume. Can they conquer the trial of the Twelve Locked Room Temples?

Danganronpa Kirigiri is a spin-off novel series of the videogame series Danganronpa, focusing on the past of the character Kirigiri Kyouko, but the connections to the main series are so light one can easily read this series on its own, without any knowledge of the games. The novels are written by Kitayama Takekuni, an author who specializes in mechanical locked room murder mysteries and err... not a very fast writer, it seems, as Danganronpa Kirigiri is released really slowly, with one, two year gaps between the books even though they're so short. Kitayama was also consultant on the mystery plots for 2017's New Danganronpa V3, but still.... Usually, a slow release schedule isn't really a problem, but Danganronpa Kirigiri is an exception, as from volume 3 on, the seperate volumes couldn't be read independently anymore. By which I don't mean that some story plot points carry over to the next volume: in Danganronpa Kirigiri, you'll stop right in the middle in a scene, which is only continued in the next volume. For example: Danganronpa Kirigiri volume 4 from late 2015 gave us the introducing scenes of a murder and an impossible disappearance in the Libra Girls Academy, but then the story cut away, and only continued in the subject of today's review, which was released in 2017! Volumes 1 and 2 can be read more-or-less independently, though you do want to read them in order, but volumes 3, 4 and 5 really need to be read together in one go.

Anyway, Danganronpa Kirigiri 5 is the end of the The Twelve Locked Room Temples story arc, and presents the reader with three impossible crimes. The murder in the Bar Goodbye is by far the least interesting. One of Yui and Kirigiri's allies is sent to check out the bar, which is situated in a dark back alley of a dilapidated and abandoned entertainment district. The detective has brought the real estate agent along to gain access to the closed bar, but the agent is suddenly called by someone who's obviously quite confused: the man on the phone says he just woke up in a place he doesn't know, that he's tied to a chair and that the only things he could reach was a cell phone, which was set to call the real estate agent. The only clue to his whereabouts is a matchbook, which says Bar Goodbye. The detective and the real estate agent realize the man must be inside the bar. They knock on the door and confirm over the phone they're at the right place, but when they enter the bar, they find the man stabbed in the back, even though he was still alive and talking to them just seconds before. While there's a door in the back, the murderer couldn't possibly have stabbed the man and gone out through the back door in the few seconds they were off the phone to open the door, so how was this crime committed? The solution is slightly better than a needle-and-thread trick, but only barely. It's very basic, especially compared to the far more complex impossible crimes we've seen in this series, though to be honest, this impossible crime was more like a bonus, as its main goal is to help the main plot develop in other ways.

Yet another of Kirigiri and Yui's allies was sent to a local university's Museum of European Middle-Age Torture Instruments, with the announcement that the murder would be committed with an Iron Maiden. But when the detective arrives at the scene, she learns that the only death that happened recently was that of a professor who had died in a fire in a small shack on the museum's grounds, a fire presumably caused by smoking in bed. The detective does find an Iron Maiden however, placed in the outer garden of the museum overlooking the shack, and for some reason it's decapitated.... This murder (yes, it turns out to be murder of course) is much better than the previous one. While a bit obvious once you see the floorplans of the whole story, the method of killing is quite original, but suitably clewed. The neat thing about the Danganronpa Kirigiri series is that the detectives always receive a 'grocery list' in advance of what the murderer will use: they'll for example know what the murder weapon is, and whether an alibi trick will be used, or an impossible disappearance etc. But writer Kitayama still manages to present the reader with surprises despite spoiling these elements in advance. This story is a good example of playing with expectations through the grocery lists to come up with a relatively small-scale, but still perfectly fine impossible crime.

The final locked room mystery in this novel is the murder in the Libra Girls Academy, which started in the previous volume. Yui wakes up to find herself trapped inside a chapel, next to a dead body. She also spots the murderer, who runs out of the room. Yui chases after the culprit, but the figure disappears behind a door. When Yui opens the door, she finds a small room with no other exits and two coffins in the middle. Inside the coffins, she finds two girl students who are tied up very tightly, so they can't be the murderer either. But where did the murderer then disappear to? This impossible disappearance is quite clever, though perhap a bit easy to guess if you know Kitayama's reputation for constructing technical, and mechanical locked room murders. That said, this is by far the best impossible situation of the book, which is also very neatly clewed through surprisingly diverse clues, from one that's been staring you in the eyes from the beginning, to small happenings that don't really catch your attention when they are mentioned, but that take on a very different meaning once you know how the trick was done. However, there was absolutely no reason why this story had to be split up across two volumes: at first I thought Kitayama was planning something neat with the split-up, but in the end, having the first few scenes in volume 4 was only to have people read on in volume 5.

What the three mysteries all have in common by the way is how very, very bare-bones they are in terms of plot. The focus lies completely on the howdunnit, and the culprit is almost always just an afterthought (and likely the one single new character to appear in the story). This can be explained because of the main story of course (where the emphasis lies on solving the impossible crimes), and that Kitayama needs to cram in a lot of mysteries in a limited amount of pages, but one can't deny that at times, these mysteries feel more like drafts or basic set-ups, which would usually be developed into full stories later on. So they can feel quite empty save for the core impossible situation. This volume tries to do a bit more with the whodunnit angle, and more-or-less succeeds with that, but still, don't expect a full-fledged novel experience from this.

The story arc of The Twelve Locked Room Temples ends in volume 5, but immediately sets up a completely kind of challenge for Kirigiri and Yui as they continue their fight with the Crime Victim Salvation Committee. In general, the trial of The Twelve Locked Room Temples that started in volume 3 is much better in concept than in execution, as it resulted in impossible situations that were, on the whole, okay to quite good, but also incredibly bare-boned, with little more but those locked room murders (which could've been dressed up more for more impact) and at times, you'd even forget about the characters. Danganronpa Kirigiri 5 is similar to the previous volume a minimalistic volume with some good ideas that, with a few pages more, could've been a more substantial experience. The review of the next volume will probably follow soon, and by the looks of it, volume 6 might be the penultimate volume of the series, so things might move forward there!

Original Japanese title(s): 北山猛邦 『ダンガンロンパ 霧切5』


  1. Thanks for the review. I liked the games, so this series is on my reading list for when I become proficient in reading Japanese (though it's still a long away ahead with the kanji :|)

    BTW,who do you like better when it comes to mechanical impossibilities, Kitayama or Aoyama?

    1. Hmm, hard to say, as both work with very different formats: even the longest of Aoyama's stories usually feature not as much volume as a novel-length story, which is what Kitayama mostly writes, so his impossibilities will almost always feel grander in comparison. They also use fairly different settings (the sorta realistic world of Conan, vs. a "world that is overly obvious designed for detective fiction" that Kitayama uses for his various works. Kitayama's what you'd want if you want something more bulkier, while Aoyama's impossibilities usually have a pleasant "realism" to them.