Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Have You Got Everything You Want?

"The human and personal element can never be ignored."
"The ABC Murders"

You know, while I spent all full three days at the Kyoto University November Festival (campus festival), I mostly remember just sitting inside the Mystery Club's assigned classroom to sell our club anthology, instead of walking around.

Houtarou's plans for his three years at Kamiyama High School had been to get by, doing as little as possible, but his school life turned out quite differently after his older sister forced him to join the school's Classic Literature Club to save it from dying out. As all the older club members had now graduated, it was up to Houtarou and the other three first-years to continue the tradition of the club. After joining the club, Houtarou found himself involved with all kind of small adventures at school: at the wishes of the club president Eru, the four digged into the history of the club's magazine "Hyouka" and its link to the school festival, while they also helped out class 2-F with their short mystery movie they filmed for the school festival. In Kudryavka no Junban ("The Kudryavka Sequence", 2005), the school festival finally starts! The Kanya Festa is a three-day event where classes and school clubs can show off their activities. For the Classic Literature Club, that means selling the latest issue of their club anthology "Hyouka" at the festival, but there is a "small" problem: due to a mistake, they ordered not thirty copies at the printer's, but two-hundred. As a niche product of a virtually unknown club, two-hundred seems like an utterly impossible number, but as they need to earn back the costs, all members try to come with plans to sell more anthologies, from asking other clubs to help selling "Hyouka" to participating in the various competitions at Kanya Festa to raise the name value of the Classic Literature Club. As the festival continues however, a series of curious thefts occurs, where small objects are stolen from various clubs and at each 'crime scene', a message is left by the thief who calls themselves Juumonji.

Kudryavka no Junban (subtitle: Welcome To Kanya Festa!) is the third novel in Yonezawa Honobu's Classic Literature Club mystery novel series (also known as the Hyouka series, as the anime series is named after the first novel). The series falls within the everyday life mystery genre, that focuses on the solving of enigmatic events that might occur in the normal, daily life, as opposed to bloody murder. It's a sub-genre that naturally fits the high school setting of Classic Literature Club much better than let's say every day a bloody impossible murder after school, and when done well, the everyday life mystery genre can be very entertaining. One of my favorite examples of the genre is from another series by Yonezawa, where the whole mystery revolves around the "impossibility" of how someone could've poured two cups of hot cocoa despite some limitions in the kitchen. That said though, in the second novel of the Classic Literature Club, Yonezawa had the students work on a fictional murder (they had to deduce the ending of an unfinished mystery movie) and that was a really entertaining mystery novel too. But I have to admit that the everyday life mystery genre also often lets me down a bit. It is really hard to come up with a good, everyday life mystery that is both alluring, yet "normal" enough and holds for the solution.

The Classic Literature Club series had been building towards the Kanya Festa ever since the first novel, as all the events in the first two novels basically only occurred because people were preparing for the school's cultural festival. Whereas the first two novels in the series were exclusively narrated by Houtarou, Kudryavka no Junban has us jump between the four members of the Classic Literature Club during the three days of the school festival, as each of them are busy trying in their own way to sell all two-hundred anthologies. This gives the reader an interesting look in the school festival, with for example mood maker Satoshi having fun at the various events (in order to make a name for the Classic Literatue Club) or club president Eru working with the management and news clubs of the festival in the hopes of getting a better chance at selling their wares. Read as a novel about life at a high school, Kudryavka no Junban can be quite interesting, delving into themes like expectations, and due to the varied cast, it's unlikely to really bore.

Unless you're reading the book for a mystery. It takes quite a while for the mystery plot of the thefts to really get going and even then, the core plot is a bit lean on the meat. The idea of a thief stealing seemingly insignifiant objects from various clubs can be fun, but the "surprising" relation between the various thefts is revealed very soon in the story, and afterwards little happens until the conclusion. The mystery doesn't have enough charm to its enigma, and the solution, well, you are not really going to logically deduce that in advance, with proper clewing as the basis of your reasoning. Of course, the everyday life mystery is often built on 'interpretation'  and seldom with mathematical reasoning, but for example, the first novel (Hyouka) was much more engaging as a mystery story, as it dealt with multiple hypotheses built upon each other, with new hints devalidating older hypotheses, but these still remained the basis of further theories. The scope of Kudryavka no Junban is far smaller, with a solution to the thefts that begs the question: "Why in heavens go through all that trouble to accomplish that?". Especially after the brilliance of the second novel, I have to say I felt a bit disappointed by this novel, as it's simply too lite as a mystery novel in comparison.

So yeah, of the three Classic Literature Club novels I've read until now, Kudryavka no Junban was the least interesting as a mystery novel. I have to admit that as a juvenile novel, this might the most interesting of the novels until now, giving us four different narrators and a varied view on the school festival, but read as a mystery novel, it's simply not as intricately plotted as the previous two novels, which had all those false solutions and playing around with Houtarou as a fallible detective and other things like that. I'm not sure whether I'll continue with the series. The anime series Hyouka covers the events of the first four books (three novels and one short story collection), so I might just try out the short story collection too. Or I might not. It won't happen soon anyway.

Original Japanese title(s):  米澤穂信 『クドリャフカの順番』


  1. hello,

    could you please tell me what fictional detective is featured in the 95th volume of Detective Conan ?

    1. Dunno, it'll take a while before my copy is delivered.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I never read the Classic Literature Club series of books, but I did watch the anime Hyouka which I enjoyed quite a bit.

    I know that Yonezawa Honobu is putting down the light novel side of things lately to focus on short story collections and full feature length novels that are more geared towards an adult audience --- and I must say, this is where his skills shine a lot brighter. Yonezawa is really good at clewing, inserting subtle foreshadowing and conjuring up creative solutions/motives when he really puts his mind to it. I recently read his short story collection "満願" and found myself liking it quite a bit.

    1. I think the Hyouka series went up to this book, plus a few of the short stories? Not sure if I'll watch it, as I've now read most of the source material.

      I really should read more by Yonezawa, as the two series I have read by him are a bit samey. Pretty curious to see him take on a completely different mode.

  3. hello

    do you know the drama series "detective yugami" ?