Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Movie Madness

"The show must go on." 
(English saying)

Last week, I reviewed Van Madoy's FGO Mystery - Hirugaeru Kogetsukan no Kokkai - Kogetsukan Satsujin Jiken, a novelization of a quest originally written by Madoy for the highly succesful mobile game Fate/Grand Order. The Fate franchise is a fantasy series about the Holy Grail Wars, fought between Masters and their Servants, spirits based on historical and fictional figures from all across the world like Sherlock Holmes, but also Murasaki Shikibu and Ozymandias (Ramses II). While most (limited time) quests in FGO obviously revolve around battles, Madoy's first FGO Mystery event (held in May 2018) was different as Madoy used the FGO characters to tell a traditional closed circle murder mystery story set on a remote island, with next to no battle gameplay. It was a battle of the wits, as players were challenged to correctly guess who the murderer was and Madoy offered a very classic whodunnit story, where you could arrive at the identity of the murderer through the simple (but actually not very simple) process of elimination.

In May 2019, a second FGO Mystery event started in the game with the title Murder at the MEIHO-SOU. This event too was written by Madoy, and novelizations of this event, as well as of the 2018 event, were released right after this second event ended near the end of May. This second volume too has an insanely long title: FGO Mystery Tomadou Meihousou no Kousatsu Meihousou Satsujin Jiken ("FGO Mystery - The Examination of the Puzzling Meihousou - The Meihousou Murder Case", 2019) however luckily also uses the far shorter alternative English title The Meihousou Murders inside the book. The story starts with the discovery of a small anomalous temporal singularity in the Caribbean sea by the Chaldea Security Organization. Strangely enough, the singularity appears to have the form of a film set, dubbed a 'virtual drifting Hollywood' by Chaldea. While the unstable singularity is likely to disappear within a few days on its own, it's still deemed wiser to fix the temporal singularity and that is by having the film set fulfill its role as the setting for an actual film. Murasaki Shikibu is asked to write a story to film inside the temporal singularity, and she quickly comes up with a story and get the people (Servants) she wants as her cast.

The film story is set in the fictional Republic of Nadai Nada. After the fall of the royal house and the kingdom of Nadai Nada, Miguel Cortez (a role played by Professor James Moriarty) had become the first president of the Republic. When he passed away, he left behind a young widow (and former adopted daughter) Gabriella (played by Murasaki Shikibu). A small private gathering in memory of Miguel has been organized at the Meihousou, a former royal holiday palace which had become the residence of Miguel and Gabriella. The guests at this gathering however aren't all what they seem to be: from former court composer Antiono Jovin (played by Antonio Salieri) to Roma Kureishi (played by Sakamoto Ryouma) and Vargus (played by Ozymandias/Ramses II), all the characters in the film seem to have come to the Meihousou with ulterior motives. As they have little time before the temporal singularity will collapse on its own, Murasaki Shikibu never had time to tell all her actors how the whole story would go and what their characters were like exactly, and that results in a major problem when Murasaki Shikibu herself is knocked out due to a too powerful medicine which was 'supposed to have her feel more relaxed'.  As none of the people involved with the film production know what Murasaki Shikibu's intentions were with the story, they are left with no choice: each of the actors tries to come up with their own version of the story, based on the clues left in the first half they had already filmed.

Oh, I have to say, I had not expected Madoy to come with this story, especially not after reading the first FGO Mystery novel. For that was really a classic whodunnit story set in a mansion on a remote island complete with a Challenge to the Reader, where you needed to follow a tight elimination process to arrive at the identity of the killer. This story however follows the less common unfinished movie trope. Trope, I say? Yeah, because funnily enough, I have read several mystery stories now that are about an unfinished mystery movie, where the actors themselves then have to guess what the solution was based on the hints already filmed, and everyone arriving at a different solution. Abiko Takemaru's Tantei Eiga is exactly about this theme for example, and a funny one too, as every actor wanted their character to become the killer (because that's the best role in a mystery movie). Yonezawa Honobu's Gusha no End Roll too is about an unfinished mystery movie filmed for the school festival,with again everyone coming up with a different solution to the locked room murder that occurs there.

Readers of classsic mystery fiction will definitely recognize the influence of Christianna Brand and Anthony Berkeley here, as those two writers too loved their multiple solutions. Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Case is of course famous example of the detective story with multiple solutions, but Brand's novels too are always brimming with characters who come up with, well, quite plausible solutions for the matter at hand. In hindsight however, I have to say it shouldn't surprise me that Madoy came up with this. His Revoir series is about a private court set in Kyoto and in those trials, it's less about the truth, but about convincing the others/judge in accepting your "truth". The characters there are always coming up with new theories that suit their stance in the trial based on the evidence in front of them, so both defense and prosecution often come up with completely different interpretations based on the same facts. The Meihousou Murders does exactly that, as the five main actors come up with five completely different conclusions to the film based on the same first half of the film.

The various 'solutions' (conclusions to the movie) are fairly simple, but entertaining enough. Usually they're based on one single contradiction, or odd point in the first half of the movie, which is then the starting point to an idea that encompasses also a lot of imagination and fantasy. This story is definitely less 'rigid' in terms of mystery plot compared to the first, as a lot of the solutions proposed in this book are more in the spirit of  'Hey, this character acted odd in the first half of the movie, what if he was actually X and that his real goal is to...". It's an entertaining book, as you see all the characters coming up with widely different interpretations of the same base story, but as a detective story, it's not exactly fit for a Challenge to the Reader, which is strangely enough included in the story. As so much of the plot hinges on "I reject your reality and substitute my own", it's strange to be asked in a direct way to arrive at the one-and-only solution. The Challenge to the Reader is admittedly about a different problem (eventually Murasaki Shikibu wakes up, only to find everyone has come up with their own version of the story), and I think the final solution to save the movie is reasonably clever, especially on this scale and fits well with the theme (there's a weirdly specific hint that doesn't really work that well I think, but the base idea is something that a reader could definitely think of), but I don't really see the added value of a Challenge to the Reader for this story.

I think the first novel is more satisfying as a classic whodunnit mystery story, but FGO Mystery Tomadou Meihousou no Kousatsu Meihousou Satsujin Jiken is probably more enjoyable to readers as a piece of entertainment. This story was originally a quest in the game Fate/Grand Order (which is obviously not a mystery game at the core) and I think it's better in that regard compared to the first story, which can be far more difficult than this story. The Meihousou Murders is funnier, has far more character interaction with familiar faces (rather than "the original characters with borrowed graphical assets" from the first event), moves at a far more satisfying pace and is less 'precise' regarding its mystery plot, making it far more accessible.

Original Japanese title(s): Type-Moon (原), 円居挽 『FGOミステリー 惑う鳴鳳荘の考察 鳴鳳荘殺人事件』


  1. Thanks for the review, which reminded me that I had looked up google to see if there were a Chinese translation of 虚月館殺人事件 - to no avail. Hopefully a translation will be produced in the near future.

    Happily, my local library procured a Chinese translation of 図書館の殺人, which means I can finally experience the infinitely long chain of deductions mentioned in your review. :D

    1. The novelization of 虚月館殺人事件 was released only three weeks or so ago, so that seems a bit quick, but I'd imagine there's already either an official or unofficial translation of the actual in-game quest?

      Hope you enjoy Library! Of the whole series until, I think it's still the best balanced novel.