Wednesday, May 22, 2019

What the Hex Going On?


"Call upon the Witch of Selgrave"
"The Witch of Selgrave"

I don't have a particular preference for Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy, but I have played a lot more Dragon Quests than Final Fantasies. The only Final Fantasy I have played is VII on the original PSX (and that was actually quite recently, like two or three years ago). But yeah, in my mind, the "traditional console RPG" will always be Dragon Quest, not Final Fantasy.

Like always, college student Toshiaki was walking his dog in the morning, but when they arrived in the local park, master and pet came across an anomaly in their routine. The discovery Toshiaki made in the bushes of the park shocked him greatly in two ways. First of all, anyone would be traumatized by the sight of a murdered girl only five or six years old, left behind the park. But what perhaps disturbed Toshiaki even more was the note pinned to the little girl's back, which held the message: "Call upon the Witch of Selgrave." To most people, this message would be nonsense, but not to Toshiaki and the rest of his old classmates. Nine years ago, when he was still a student of the Tsubamegaoka Elementary School, one of his classmates disappeared. Nobody knew what had hapened to Hosoya Tomoki, whether he had been kidnapped or had run away from home on his own, or even if he were alive or dead. At the time, a note was found in his room which too said "Call upon the Witch of Selgrave." The line came from the RPG Dark Redemption, a popular videogame at the time where one of the final quests involves the hero being told to visit the Witch of Selgrave, who in the game world, is known to kidnap children. While at first the note was thought to be related to Tomiki's disappearance, it was eventually assumed it was just a memo written while Tomiki was playing the game, as a reminder as how to proceed. But now nine years later, this message has resurfaced again, but why? The answer lies in Takase Mie's horror mystery novel Selgrave no Majo ("The Witch of Selgrave", 2009).

A few years ago, I reviewed Gyakuten Idol and Gyakuten Kuukou, which were both original children's mystery novels featuring the characters of the excellent mystery videogame series Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney. The books, published in a children's label, were obviously written for a relatively young audience, but they were also really good mystery novels. They may have been a tad simple, but the plotting and clewing were done by someone who knew exactly what they were doing and I have read enough mystery novels aimed at "adults" that aren't even remotely as neatly plotted as these two novels. I was thus very curious to read more mystery novels by the author. The author, Takase Mie, has a long resume featuring both videogame novelizations and original novels based on existing popular videogame franchises, including Kirby, Persona, Growlanser, Style Savvy and Fire Emblem. The list of her own, original novels was quite a bit shorter though, and most of them were fantasy or horror novels. Selgrave no Majo however caught my attention as it was billed a horror mystery novel, rather than pure horror, and the videogame theme of course also interested me.

Still, most of the time, you'll be reading Selgrave no Majo as a horror novel, and a fairly entertaining one too. The narrative jumps between various characters, from Toshiaki and some other of his classmates from Tsumabegaoka Elementary School, to characters like Tomiki's mother and Tomiki's aunt Reiko and a few others too. Each of these vignettes will give you insight in the thoughts of the respective characters, as they learn about the new murders of the young girls (yes, more follow) and unveil their ties to the disappeared Tomiki and several of them will also try to figure out who the murderer is and how all these events tie back to "Call upon the Witch of Selgrave." The way the focus of suspicion keeps shifting is quite exciting, and the horror lies not only in the horrible murders of the girls, but especially in the hidden, sad past of all these victims (it's not monster horror, this is 'god why are humans such monsters' horror). Don't expect to be doing much detecting yourself though, as a lot of information is only conveyed to the reader as the characters make their own guesses (giving the reader little room to come up with ideas themselves), and most of the time, it's more like instinct/guesses ("He looks so suspicious!") than real deductions, but of course, that's how things go when you have a serial murderer prowling around a small, residential area, with all the people living there pointing fingers at each other behind their back.

Dark Redemption, the game referred to in the novel is of course not a real videogame, but think of traditional fantasy RPGs with heroes, witches, dragons like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy and you're close. I was surprised how well Takase had fleshed out the story of Dark Redemption though. Of course, Dark Redemption plays a big role in the story, and the line "Call upon the Witch of Selgrave" left on all the victims is a deliciously alluring line, but if there was a real Dark Redemption, I'd really want to play it for the story.

I was a bit disappointed Selgrave no Majo wasn't a pure puzzle plot mystery like the Ace Attorney novels by Takase I read, but that said, eventually, the novel does show why it's touted a horror mystery novel, and not just a horror novel. Again, most of the revelations will unfold 'automatically', with little space for the reader to really figure things out for themselves, but all the way at the end, there's a segment that's completely fairly clewed, and quite neatly so too. The true fate of Tomoki can be deduced on your own, and while it's no locked room/alibi trick/grand whodunnit or any classic mystery set-up, Selgrave no Majo does show how Takase knows how to properly spread hints and clues across a narrative and build up to her conclusion.

Selgrave no Majo is most of the time more a horror novel than a mystery novel, and somewhat of a departure of what I normally review on the blog, but I quite enjoyed it in the end. It's really different from the other novels by Takase I have read, but that's not a bad thing. The novel has a rather dark mood, but Takase makes good use of it to create a novel that addresses several themes that are quite contemporary and grounded in real Japanese society, and while at times the novel does sound a bit stereotypical in regards to its themes, I think it ultimately works as horror novel that also has a fairly-clewed mystery element to it. I think people who like Higashino Keigo will like this novel too considering its human angle.

Original Japanese title(s):『セルグレイブの魔女』


  1. I wasn't aware there were gyakuten saiban children's novels. Sounds like a good way to practice my reading.

    Have you seen the list of the top 200 mystery works of the Heisei era? (I'm not sure whose votes it's based on, though):

    What do you think? Any titles that you'd move around, or any that you'd include/exclude? :D

    1. Matsui often organizes these mystery-related Best Of polls on Twitter, I think I see them at least once a year (usually different topics, like best mystery film/tv series/anime, or best short story from year-year, etc.). Everyone is able to vote by tweeting your picks in order (for the points) with the hashtag for the respective poll.

      I have only read a small selection of the whole list, about half of the first top 50, and less and less the lower we get. Kyougoku Natsuhiko is really popular though. I myself have only read the first book (and skimmed through the anime based on the second book), and I really should try out more... but the books are so insanely large >_>