Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Bicycle Thief

「Over Blow」(Garnet Crow)

Stay level
Like the tire tracks of a bicycle turning round and round even as they make a curve
"Over Blow" (Garnet Crow)

Perhaps I should only read the best/recommended stories in this series and the regular Q.E.D. and skip the rest. At least the stories are never spread across multiple volumes like in Detective Conan and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo! And huh, I actually expected more comments on my recent reviews of that one unique Chinese mystery novel, or the highly entertaining alibi-cracking devoted short story collection... I never seem to be able to guess beforehand which reviews attract more commentators >_>

Some months ago, I picked up the first three volumes of Katou Motohiro's manga Q.E.D. iff Shoumei Shuuryou ("Q.E.D. iff Quod Erat Demonstrandum"). I have already reviewed the first two volumes (here and here), and I have in general found this continuation of the Q.E.D. Shoumei Shuuryou series to be more or less what I had expected from it, based on what I had already seen and read of the original series. In terms of story structure, it's definitely exactly the same: each volume of iff contains two stories,  both a "conventional" murder mystery story as well as a non-murder detective story starring the brilliant high school student Touma Sou and his classmate Kana. The third volume, originally released in 2016, too follows this pattern. The opening story is titled The Three Assassins and first introduces us to three different women who find themselves in probably the worst time in their lives. All three women have been swindled out of their money: one lost all the money she had saved to open her own shop to a marriage swindler, another woman lost her father's apple garden and the last woman saw the money she saved for her son's studies disappear in "investments". It won't surprise the reader much that all these women have been the victim of the same man: Yamaguchi Kenji. Fraud is how the president of Art Finance Yamaguchi makes a living, and in the case of the three women, he even made sure he's personally liable for the money they gave him, as he actually doesn't own a penny. His house and assets are all, on paper, property of his company, and a lawsuit targeting him wouldn't return their money anyway. Driven by their hate, all three women appear at an art auction party at Yamaguchi's house, and unbeknownst to each other, they all share one goal: to kill Yamaguchi.

It so happens that both Touma and Kana are present at the auction party too. An acquaintance of Kana was swindled out of their precious plate too, and Kana has dragged Touma along in order to retrieve the plate. At the same time, all the three women proceed their own plans to kill of Yamaguchi... and all three manage to succeed? This story is built solely around the premise that we follow the murder schemes of all three women in an inverted mystery story style, and that at the end, we see all three women succeed with their plans. Which of course can't be the case, because as much as they would like to do it over and over again, usually a man can only be killed once, and not thrice. What makes this case even stranger that eventually the body is found in the pool, rather than the study where the body was left after the murder was first discovered. At one hand, I think the idea behind this story is interesting, as the core mystery is fairly alluring, revolving around the question of how all three murder plans could've succeeded at the same time with just the one and same victim, but it's also awfully easy to guess what more or less must have happened, given the details we are given for all three plans, as none of them are really complex, and it isn't very hard to combine the scarce elements from all three plans to arrive at what actually happened.

The second story in this volume is titled Bicycle Thief and has Touma receiving a call from the past. He is asked to be the witness to the demolition of a certain house in a small, rural village where he spent a few weeks six years ago. Six years ago, Touma was still living in the United States, but as school ends early there, his parents took him back to Japan to experience a month of Japanese school, figuring it'd be good for him. During this time in the village, Touma became friends with Sawaihara Akiyuki and even got hired by Akiyuki's brother Takahiko for a part time job, doing menial jobs for the local elderly like cutting weed or watering the plants. Takahiko's place, where he also ran his little business, is now slated to be demolished. Takahiko himself has been traveling the world on a bicycle for years now, and he only returned to this house once in a while to leave souvenirs, but nobody has seen him in all those years.  For some reason, Touma's sign is needed for the demolition company to carry through with taking down the house. As he tells Kana and his other classmates about his time i this village six years ago, Touma also recounts a minor incident that happened during his stay. One day, he found a bicycle in the bushes while he was cutting weeds. The bicycle had been stolen from the bicycle shop earlier and as there had been a witness who claimed they saw a child taking the bicycle, Touma was accused by the police of having stolen the bicycle himself. The thief was never caught, which surprises Kana, but Touma reveals that while the police never managed to trace who the real thief was, he himself knew who stole the bicycle and more importantly, why.

Hmm, a somewhat weird story. It's mostly a recount of events as Touma experienced in the past, and then suddenly Touma reveals he already knew who the thief was and why. There are some interesting elements: there is not only a false solution which seems fairly convincing, but also a hidden crime within this story, which is quite deviously hidden within the narrative, though the clues pointing to that crime are a bit too meagre and the actual execution of that scheme seems a bit risky (I know it's a rural village, but would nobody have seen X do that?). But on the whole, the story is both straightforward and rather limited in scope, and is perhaps best enjoyed as a "story set in Touma's past" than as an engaging mystery story. Reminds me though that the stories in iff feature a lot of characters with big dreams that either don't work out well. In this story, we have Takahiko who first failed his college entrance exams and then resorted to the weed cutting until he left the village on his bicycle, but then there's the three women in the first story who all had big goals in life which were taken away from them. There were those artists who wanted to go solo and a wannabe scientist in the first volume, and the comedian who had to give up his dream in the industry in the second volume... I mean, it's not strange for persons to have dreams and goals, but it's like each other story you'll find a character in this series who will have some monologue about their goals and dreams in life and it almost never works out 100% as planned.

What was interesting about this volume though was that the characters were all based on... real people! Apparently, they had a campaign where you could apply to have your name featured as a character name in one of these stories: each of these stories is followed by a page with the characters who were based on one of the participants, and all with a one-line comment coming from the actual persons. Kindaichi 37-sai no Jikenbo has a similar campaign going on by the way, tied to the limited edition releases, while the movies of Detective Conan always feature two or three guest child voice actors (which I think are chosen through the magazine Shonen Sunday). These scenes always stand out notoriously by the way, as it's not difficult to recognize the amateur child guest actors among the professionals.

Of the three volumes I've read of Q.E.D. iff Shoumei Shuuryou, this one was definitely the least interesting one. Both stories are not bad per se, but are nothing particularly clever or memorable either, and of course, there are only two stories per volume, so on the whole, it leaves next to no impression. This was the last volume of iff I got and as things stand now, I don't think I'll be making it a priority to follow this series. While never actually bad, I just miss something about this series that really makes me excited to read on. I think I would have enjoyed this series much better if I were actually following the serialization: I really wouldn't mind reading stories like these once a month as they come in as they are definitely entertaining enough, but I don't think they work as well read one after another in a volume.

Original Japanese title(s): 加藤元浩 『Q.E.D. iff -証明終了-』第3巻


  1. Yes, some volumes are indeed stronger than the others. I have only read the original QED. Perhaps if you're interested, I could list some of the volumes which I thought contain interesting stories. In general, the "non-conventional' stories were usually stronger. Volume 10 came to mind as it is the only volume which contain full-length mystery concerning Touma's past. Also, your previous review of the "alibi cracking" novel was really interesting. I just hoped there was a chance for it to be translated in the future.

    1. Oh, some recommendations would be appreciated! I really don't feel like buying all 50 volumes, but I am definitely interested in picking up the best volumes. They're all available on digital storefronts too, so that's quite convenient.

  2. Will have to give this a read at some point.

    As for the lack of comment on those two posts, it's hardly the review's fault, in my case it's simply that I didn't have much to add to the discussion of a novel I'd basically need a PhD in classical Chinese literature to read, and therefore probably never will; and, while I am more than willing to believe that the alibi cracking book is the exception, I generally find alibi-based mysteries rickety at their core. Like, does anyone really believe any alibi *can* be watertight at this point?

    Ah, kind of a weird question I meant to ask for a while. What is, in your opinion, the best (most entertaining, most clever) 'challenge to the reader' ever written? as in, the actual page that states the challenge? I could use this info for... umm, research.

    1. Huh, that *is* an unexpected question. Can't say there's a page that really pops up in my mind though. I think that in general, I like my challenges to clearly define the problem for the reader, and say what they can or can't do (Kotou Puzzle/The Moai Island Puzzle for example clearly states that it's only about the identity of the murderer, and says not all other aspects of the various mysteries can be solved solely based on the hints). I also prefer Challenges that are integrated in the framing. Most Challenges come out of nowhere, with the author suddenly addressing the reader. One could argue the early Queens are better in that regard, as there is a framing device of Ellery Queen as an author and McC. as the friend. Mitsuda's Kubinashi~ doesn't have a formal Challenge, but one in all but name, and it works really well there, as there is a framing device of the story being a novelization of real events, occassionally interrupted by pieces written by the author of that novelization, aimed at the readers of the serialization. So it's more natural there to suddenly have a page addressing the reader.

    2. While not stated explicitly as a challenge to the reader per say, I like how Mitsuda Shinzou does it in Toujou Genya series as well. Right before the final chapter's big reveal, Genya will jolt down in his notebook all the existing mysteries in the story and frame it as a set of questions (sometimes close to 20 or 30 lines of questions!): like Why did X happen? Why didn't person Y do this despite Z? Given how complex the stories usually are, it's a nice list to digest and ponder upon if you want to work your brains a bit before heading into the solution chapter.

    3. Oh, man, those lists of Genya are really awesome, but they also often confuse the heck out of me. "Huh, wait, *that's* connected to this too!!?" Just finished Miduchi no Gotoki~ (Water Spirit) earlier this week, and seriously, the first couple of questions he lists totally got me by surprise.