Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Gates of Gloom

Deep into that darkness peering, 
long I stood there, wondering, fearing
"The Raven" (Edgar Allan Poe)
You know, I think I'll even manage to sneak in a fourth Toujou Genya review before the end of the year.

Toujou Genya series
1) Majimono no Gotoki Tsuku Mono ("Those Who Bewitch Like The Evil Spirits", 2006)
2) Magatori no Gotoki Imu Mono (2006)
3) Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono ("Those Who Cast A Curse Like The Headless", 2007) 
4) Yamanma no Gotoki Warau Mono ("Those Who Sneer Like The Mountain Fiend", 2008)
5) Himemuro no Gotoki Komoru Mono ("Those Who Stay Inside Like A Sealed Room", 2009)
6) Mizuchi no Gotoki Shizumu Mono ("Those Who Submerge Like The Water Spirit" 2009). 
7) Ikidama no Gotoki Daburu Mono ("Those Who Turn Double Like The Eidola", 2011)
8) Yuujo no Gotoki Uramu Mono (2012)
9) Haedama no Gotoki Matsuru Mono (2018)

Earlier this year, I reviewed Ikidama no Gotoki Daburu Mono, which was the second short story collection in Mitsuda Shinzou's excellent Toujou Genya series. I apparently never read things in order, so this time, I'll be reviewing the first short story collection featuring the horror author/amateur detective Genya: Himemuro no Gotoki Komoru Mono ("Those Who Stay Inside Like A Sealed Room", 2009). Chronologically though, I'm completely vindicated with this choice: whereas Ikidama no Gotoki Daburu Mono (seventh entry in the series) was set in Genya's younger student days, the four stories collected in Himemuro no Gotoki Komoru Mono (fifth entry) are set after Genya became a professional writer and run parallel with the longer novels in this series (the second story in this collection for example is set just before the second novel). The style of the stories in this book is also slightly different from the second short story collection. In these stories, Genya usually arrives at the scene after everything has already happened and is asked to solve the case by the people involved, as opposed to being on the scene by coincidence, which is what usually happens in both the novels and the stories in the second short story collection. The stories usually therefore start a bit slow, focusing more on exposition and the horror elements of the plot, with Genya usually only appearing very late in the story. That said though, this is definitely a Toujou Genya book, so expect impossible crimes, deep insights into yokai and other supernatural folklore, many false solutions, and a nice touch of horror.

Kubikiri no Gotoki Saku Mono ("Those Who Cut Like The Cut-Throat") is set in Kubikoujichou, a little town in the outskirts of Tokyo where many former Kazoku (aristocracy) live. One year earlier, the peace in town was disturbed by a series of murders on women, who all had their throats slit by some mysterious figure. The murders all happened in a cul-de-sac alley between the manors of the Kote and Azumime families, with a small shrine at the end of the alley. Considering the social position of the people here, there was little gossiping among the people living there after the first murder and thus people underestimated the danger, leading to a second, third and even a fourth victim. Some witnesses even stated that there was nobody else in the alley when the murders were committed, as if a ghost had done it. By the time of the third victim already, the police was of course desperate to find the murderer and they had their eyes set on Kote Akitada, the grandson of Kote Akimitsu, who had fought in World War II and returned a broken man, wearing a mask to hide his hideous injuries. When the police confronted him, he fled and committed suicide in the same alley, slitting his own throat. Many months later, and Akitada's former fiancee Takako has two new admirers, even though she is still mourning for the loss of her life. Kurimori Atsushi is the son of an acquaintance of Takako's father,  who is staying as a house guest for the moment, while Kote Akiyoshi is the ne'ver-do-well younger brother of Akitada, who has fallen in love with Takako too. Takako however has not moved on, and is still bringing flowers and mourning the death of Akitada and the other four women in the alley each week. At first Akiyoshi tried to accost Takako during her visits there, but after some commotion involving the triangle of Takako - Akiyoshi and Atsushi, they agreed Takako would be left alone when in the alley. However, this didn't last too long. One day, Takako goes inside the alley, soon followed by Akiyoshi. Suddenly, both Atsushi and Miyo, a young girl living opposite the alley see a mask fly out of the alley, indicating all's not well. When they arrive in the alley, they find Takako dead -- her throat slit. The only other person in the alley is Akiyoshi, who however has no weapon on his body and a police investigation in the neighborhood show he couldn't have thrown into the gardens on the sides of the alley. The only explanation possible seems to be that a ghostly apparition must've done it, the same ghostly apparition Miyo saw several times earlier perhaps, of a white human spirit taking off into the sky from within the alley.

Miyo looks for advice from the famed writer-cum-amateur detective Toujou Genya (well, he's being duped into solving the case by his editor), who of course comes up with a solution to the case. At least, eventually, he does that, because as per series custom, he'll go through a lot of theories and hypotheses, which he rejects himself, before he arrives at the true solution.  The explanation of the impossible murder (there was only one other person in the alley, who couldn't have hidden his weapon while someone outside the alley couldn't murder Takako by slitting her throat) is... original and perhaps fair if you'd happen to know about a very specific tradition, but otherwise it's pretty hard to guess, even if Mitsuda tried to leave some other hints behind for the reader. It's an interesting trick to visualize, that's for sure, and it's indeed interesting to know it actually has a real-life basis, but very few readers will be able to make those connections and figure out how it was done in advance. Mitsuda does a great job at proposing plausible solutions, and immediately shooting them down again with again plausible explanations as always. Some readers might find it tiring to keep going through Genya's theories only for him to reject them immediately the following page (as do some characters in the stories), but Genya's method is always used in a way to properly eliminate the other possibilities before arriving at the proper solution, and elements from the fake solutions are always incorporated in the final solution, making these stories excellent study material to show how to properly write a reasoning-based puzzle plot mystery.

Maiyoga no Gotoki Ugoku Mono ("Those Who Move Like the Mayoiga") first introduces the friends Mie and Tomiko, two teenage girls who travel across the region peddling medicine and other wares. As per custom, these young medicine peddlers travel together for their own safety and for example to split the bill when they have to rent a room at an inn, but mind their own business when they're in a village. Two days ago, both the girls found a home each who'd put them up for the night, but Mie's benefactor kept her longer in the home than she had wished (the husband was out to take care of his parents, therefore the wife was happy with Mie's presence in the home). Eventually, the girls agreed that Tomiko would go on ahead early to the next village, Shimomatsu Village, as Mie didn't expect to make it until later that day and that they'd meet the day after in the temple grounds of  Oosugi Shrine in Shimomatsu Village. When they finally meet up and talk about the day they spent alone, they realize something very odd. To make your way from Uematsu Village to Shimomatsu Village, one has to pass by a peak characterized by two trees. One of them is called the "Tengu's Seat" by the people in the region. When Tomiko went across the peak in the morning yesterday, she saw nothing on the mountains beyond Tengu's Seat. Mie however said she distinctly saw a decrepit house on the mountains beyond Tengu's Seat. A third traveller then joins the girls' conversation, saying when he crossed the peak in the afternoon (after Mie had passed it), he saw no house there. This reminds the three of the folklore stories of the Mayoiga, a half-decrepit house that can appear out of nowhere and can either bring fortune or misfortune to its visitors.

Eventually a fourth traveller also joins, and the four discuss the various legends of the Mayoiga, as well try to find an explanation to why some of them did see a house beyond Tengu's Seat yesterday, and some didn't. This story is truly unlike any other story in the series, focused mostly on discussing various legends and the disappearance of the house being a fairly 'vague' problem compared to women being killed in locked rooms or crime scenes without footsteps left in the snow, but this is a pretty ingeniously plotted story, with the clews sprinkled across the various elements of the story. The 'disappearing house' trope in mystery fiction often has either a psychological, or a technical solution to it ("they didn't see it" or "it was literally moved/destroyed"), but this is a nice example of a solution that combines both types and especially the psychological aspect of the solution is brilliant, as well as really well hinted at through the bantering of the girls.

Sukima no Gotoki Nozoku Mono ("Those Who Peek Like The Gap Fiend") introduces the reader to Kanou Takako, who has recently started as a teacher at the Goji-Chou Municipal Goji Elementary School. We learn that Takako is the latest in a family line where the women have a tendency to be haunted by the "Gap Fiend", a yokai which manifests itself whenever the Kanou women stare into the gaps/crevices when a door isn't properly shut. Through this opening, the women tend to see things they shouldn't or want to see, and little good has ever come from their powers (in her teens for example, Takako saw how her crush, and her best friend got hooked up in secret). As strictly taught by her grandmother, Takako has learned to always properly close the doors around her, but one night, when Takako's doing the late evening round at school, she inadvertently stares into the darkness of an door ajar again, and sees... the school head being chased by a figure dressed like a demon, both running around. When she snaps out of it, she tries to bring it up to the head guard of the school, and when he makes a call to the school head's home, they learn the man has been killed. As the school is somewhat close to the victim's home, the teachers who were at the school that night are also considered suspects, as everyone besides Takako seems to have a grudge against the now dead school head: the school head had actually beaten one of his pupils to death during the war (a friend of some of Takako's colleagues) and was of course part of the completely crooked, hypernationalistic school system during the war and recently, it appears the victim had actually been sexually abusing his pupils at this new school. Reasons enough for wanting him dead, but it just so happens that Takako can vouch for the alibis of each of her three colleagues and the guard, as she saw them that night at set times as she made her rounds. It should be no surprise that the true murderer is indeed among those with a perfect alibi, but the solution Genya proposes is so silly, it can't be taken seriously. In some contexts, this solution might work, but it seems very questionable in this particular situation.

The title story Himemuro no Gotoki Komoru Mono ("Those Who Stay Inside Like A Sealed Room") starts with the arrival of the mysterious woman Yoshiko at the Imari home. The women suffering from amnesia suddenly appeared in the back garden of the Imaris, bringing back the young Tsukishiro who had gotten lost there. Imari Iwao obviously felt a bond with Yoshiko, as his previous two wives too were called Yoshiko. The first Yoshiko gave birth to his first son Iwao, the second Yoshiko was the mother of Tsukishiro. At first father Iwao was only entertaining Yoshiko as a guest, who seemed to have a talent for kokkuri-san, a type of table-turning. Iwao's two brother-in-laws (brothers of the first and second Yoshiko) immediately suspected this third Yoshiko was nothing more than a charlatan, but despite their precautions during the seance (tying Yoshiko to her seat; the two brother-in-laws holding the writing utensil where kokkuri-san would manifest), the seance turns into a success, with an unknown force moving the writing utensil and writing short, but cohesive answers on paper to the questions asked from the spirits. Eventually, Iwao married the third Yoshiko as his third wife, who started a whole kokkuri-san business inside the two-storied storage of the house. One day, Toujou Genya appears at the house, hoping to learn about the mysterious red box of the Imaris, which is said to kill the women in the family. In fact, it is even believed Iwao's first two wives died because they opened the cursed box. Genya obviously is also interessed in kokkuri-san, but just as they are preparing for the seance, an expression of surprise takes over Yoshiko's face and she quickly shuts the door of the storage and locks herself up inside. While everybody is surprised to learn Yoshiko has thus locked everyone outside, they figure she might have some reason to do so, but the hours pass by and eventually a locksmith is called to open the old, but sturdy door of the storage (all the windows were also locked from the inside). Inside, Genya and husband Iwao find Yoshiko lying dead on the second floor; stabbed in the stomach by a knife which was kept here. As all the windows and door were locked from the inside, it seems no third party could've snuck inside to kill Yoshiko, but there are other clues that indicate this wasn't a suicide, with for example a second knife missing from the crime scene. Genya has to figure out how this death occured in this sealed storage, and why Yoshiko looked so surprised moments before she locked herself in.

By far the longest story of the whole collection: I think it's almost as long as the previous three stories together (it takes up about half of the book). Genya is confronted with two problems: how was the original kokkuri-san seance done, and how and more importantly, why did Yoshiko die in a locked storage? The seance itself is fairly easily debunked, though it has to be said that Genya never states Yoshiko was a fraud: he only points out to the possibility it could have been done in a certain way. Supernatural elements are not explicitly denied in this series and we often get hints that there are truly yokai, ghosts and fiends active in this world: they just aren't related to the murders at hand. The death of Yoshiko is probably not exactly what most readers would expect from it. Genya actually goes through the trouble of doing a locked room lecture (ha!) to examine all the ways in which their current situation can apply to the known variants and he at the end realizes it's none of the above, but his explanation is not really different from one of the formerly named variants. The how of the locked room mystery is infinitely less interesting than the why though. The explanation of why Yoshiko suddenly looked surprised coupled with how the rest of the story unfolded is not only emotionally impressive, it's really well-hinted at through the psychology and actions of the other characters. There might be few direct clues to the solution of this case, and it's really long, but the core is definitely impressive. Genya also throws around with false solutions like they're nothing, but again, they are necessary steps to arrive at the true solution.

Himemuro no Gotoki Komoru Mono is far from a dud, but perhaps the least interesting in the Toujou Genya series I've read until now. That says more about the exceptionally high quality of the series in general than something about this particular book though. The stories here are fairly good, and some really well-plotted with multiple (false) solutions, really sly clewing and even some surprising motives, but the other short story collection is definitely better. Had this been my first step into the series, I'd probably have been far more enthusiastic due to its tone and the depth of how the mystery plots are structured, but having read a lot more of this series I'd say it's an entertaining, if perhaps somewhat unbalanced book (with one very long story accompanied by three shorter stories, one of which somewhat silly).

Original Japanese title(s):  三津田信三『密室の如き籠るもの』:「首切の如き裂くもの」/「迷家の如き動くもの」/「隙魔の如き覗くもの」/「密室の如き籠るもの」

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Seeing is Believing

When I was writing my article on closed circle situations last time, I made special mention of the two novels by Imamura Masahiro: Shijinsou no Satsujin ("The Murders in the Villa of the Dead" 2017) and Magan no Hako no Satsujin ("The Murders In the Box of The Devil Eye", 2019). Both these novels were excellent mystery novels that were perfectly fair as whodunnits, but which were also embracing fantasy and supernatural elements, using them to create unique closed circle situations. Zombies and prophecies which are destined to become true might not exist in our reality, but in Imamura's novels these elements were used to create mystery plots that were highly original, but still at least as fair as anything Carr or Christie ever wrote (in fact, I think Imamura isn't alone in being a writer who is actually capable of playing an even fairer game than those two authors in terms of presenting the clues directly and clearly to the reader). This got me thinking though, as I also often hear people say that supernatural elements or even modern technology cheapens the experience of a mystery story as supposedly, it's not fair to the reader. Followers of this blog will know that is an opinion I completely disagree with, as the supernatural does not, by default, make a mystery story unfair, in the same way realism does not make a mystery story fairer by default.

One of the foundations of fair play in mystery fiction is consistency in the rules that govern the fictional world of a specific story. If a story is set around a highly realistically portrayed Rome during Cicero's time, but the killer used a scoped sniper rifle, that's not fair. I don't expect a knight in medieval times to use a knife that fly on its own into a victim and back. If the story is set in our world, in contemporary times, the murderer shouldn't use a TARDIS to escape a locked room. None of the above would be considered fair. But if a story is set in a fantasy world where people can use magic, the use of magic to kill someone is of course fair game. The point of course is that a) we as the reader must be aware of the existence and properties of the magic used and b) it must be consistent with the world presented. So if we're told there is such a thing as magic in this world, and that there is magic spell which can allow one to conjure a door out of a locked room, then using that magic is fair. Then it's up to the author of the story to properly hint at how the deed was done, and how to make the mystery alluring. The Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney games have some terrific examples here. Professor Layton vs Gyakuten Saiban (2012) for example is set in Labyrinthia, a walled city where magic exists, for example magic that can conjure magic out of nowhere or magic that can create portals between walls. But these spells are properly introduced to player in the form of a grimoire, and the spells also have distinct and well-defined properties that tell you how they can be used, in the same sense that you need to pull a trigger to fire a gun, and it's handy to have it loaded too if you want to it to be lethal. Each spell in Professor Layton vs Gyakuten Saiban must be cast in a certain way, and the mysteries in this game revolve around how these spells were cast and used for the murders. In Gyakuten Saiban 6 / Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice (2016), certain characters are spirit mediums, who can physically channel dead spirits in their body, and this too is used in a perfectly fair manner to create original mystery plots. Not only do clearly defined rules make these elements fair, these type of stories usually play the game a lot fairer than "realistic" mystery plots that either rely in obscure trivia (that might be real) or even mysteries that rely more on misdirection, as these type of mysteries usually place all cards on the table exactly because they are more prone to be accused of being unfair.

I myself love mysteries that use supernatural ideas. The zombies in Imamura's Shijinsou no Satsujin were not only an exciting element, they were also used very wisely. The murderer makes use of the zombies more than once, but never does the murderer's knowledge of the zombies come out of nowhere: zombies are a new sight for everyone (characters and reader), but the reader can, just like how the murderer did, deduce the relevant properties of a zombie (don't be bitten) as the story progresses, making it a perfectly fair mystery. Another mystery novel with zombie-like characters is Yamaguchi Masaya's Death of the Living Dead (1989), which takes place in New England in a world where as of late, dead people start rising from their graves again. While here too the exact reasons as to why the living dead exist aren't explained to the reader (nor to the in-universe characters), all the revelant properties that pertain to the core mystery plot are shown to the reader, and if you don't manage to solve the puzzle presented here, you certainly can't hide behind a "but zombies aren't real" excuse. Technically advanced mysteries are of course also fair game, I think. Asimov's Robot series can't be left unmentioned of course, and especially The Caves of Steel does a great job at presenting a consistent science-fiction world with robots and tube transport, while also being an excellently fair mystery novel that uses its self-defined rules for robots in a clever way.

But I have the idea that many mystery authors and readers alike still struggle with modern technology, let alone with supernatural or science-fiction elements, even if at the core, none of that has a direct link with a mystery being fair or not. I still hardly see mystery stories that do clever things with readily handy consumer technology, even though it's an integral part of our lives. Detective Conan is one of the exceptions and it's even more noticable as it's been running more-or-less non-stop since it started in 1994. More recent stories have seen technology like tablets and cell phones used in clever ways to create mysteries (some of them impossible) and you really can't call them unfair. Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo too has seen some clever use of modern consumer technology: the final story in Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R, Kindaichi Fumi Kidnapping Murder Case (2017) has the police tracking the alibis and movements of several suspects through the GPS records of their smartphones, which allows Hajime to figure out how the trick was done, while 2011's The Game Mansion Murder Case was interesting in the sense that it used a certain piece of consumer technology I myself personally hadn't used before, so I wasn't really familiar with it when I first read the story, but by the time the live-action adaptation of this story came, this element was far more familiar to most readers, I think. Ooyama Seiichirou's Tokeiya Tantei to Download no Alibi too was an interesting example of the 'modern' mystery story, with the alibi of the main suspect being built around the fact he downloaded a certain song that was only available for download for one day.

Some also see security cameras as a hurdle for interesting impossible crimes, while a good mystery author can work perfectly with that to create a fair and interesting mystery. Mori Hiroshi's Subete ga F ni Naru  - The Perfect Insider (1996) (drama) is not completely fair in the sense that it does rely on something people not familiar with computers might feel is cheating, but most of the trick behind how the murderer managed to escape an underground room with surveillance cameras aimed at the door and the hallway to the elevator is still quite daring. Kishi Yuusuke's The Glass Hammer too has an interesting angle for an impossible crime involving cameras: the director of a company developing new solutions to nursing care had his head bashed in inside his offices, but the cameras installed in the top floor hallway show nobody entering or leaving the office, while the windows can't be opened either. The only one "capable" of committing the murder was a new nursing robot in his office, but safety protocols and the fact it can't perform very detailed tasks also rule the robot out as the murderer (picture above is from the scale model of the crime scene shown in the drama adaptation). Ooyama Seiichirou's Me no Kabe no Misshitsu in the game Trick X Logic was also a great example of the security camera helping out to create a good impossible crime: we follow all the suspects and the victim during the day and there's a camera that confirms the movements of everyone, but still the murderer managed to kill the victim, and have the victim moved from one room to another, even though none of that is shown on the camera.

Anyway, I'd like to hear some your favorite mystery stories that make good use of their science-fiction, occult, supernatural or fantasy setting that present a good puzzle plot mystery, or even "just" modern technology in a clever way.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Great Hotel Murder

'My favorite is Detective Conan. Especially that girl. The sister of that darker-skinned boy.'
-- 'Sh-she's not his sister, she's his love interest!'
"Satako & Nada"

I suddenly recalled this game when I was writing my review on some Detective Conan episodes last time...

Most of the mystery games I review for this blog are, unsurprisingly, developed in Japan. Lately, many of them have also seen Western releases, or will soon see them: I wasn't that surprised when it was announced WorldEnd Syndrome would go west or a franchise like Danganronpa, but the original announcements of Western releases of for example 428, Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P and Daedalus: The Awakening of Golden Jazz, those I hadn't anticipated. One common point linking these games however is that these are game-original franchises. I have also reviewed games based on an existing manga or anime licenses, and while certain licensed titles (especially action games) tend to come to the west, that's often not the case for mystery adventure games. I doubt the games of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo or Tantei Gakuen Q will ever be officially released outside Japan, nor the entertaining Detective Conan & Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo crossover game, but I know of at least one game based on an extremely popular mystery anime that made it to the West.

As far as I know, the Nintendo Wii title Meitantei Conan - Tsuioku no Mirage ("Detective Conan - Mirage of Remembrance", 2007) is the only Detective Conan game to have been released in Europe, where it was released in 2009 as Case Closed: The Mirapolis Investigation in English and other language market-specific titles like Detektiv Conan: Die Mirapolis-Ermittlung in German (it was never released in the North American region). Kogorou has been invited to attend a pre-opening event of the Mirapolis, an amusement park and adjoining hotel set on an island in the sea. Conan, Ran and the Detective Boys have come along too to attend the ceremony and at the hotel, they also run into Hattori and Kazuha. The Mirapolis is the dream project of the ambitious businessman Kai Tadaki, who is known as the modern-day Oda Nobunaga. During the opening ceremony speech, Conan notices a suspicious woman who is seemingly trying hiding her face with a pair of sunglasses, and later discovers the body of the same woman, killed in the hotel pool. Some suggestive newspaper articles among her belongings suggest she was up to no good. Kai wants to keep things quiet as his amusement park hasn't been opened yet, but when more murders occur and the hotel is cut off from the outside world, it's up to Conan and Hattori, and the player, to solve the murders and apprehend the murderer.

At least, that's if you choose to struggle through this game, as while it's the only Detective Conan game to have seen an official release in the West, it's probably also the worst of the mystery adventure games based on Conan, and obviously, most of the Conan games are mystery adventure games. When you first start the game, you might think it looks sorta okay: it uses music from the animated TV show and the original voice actors also do a good job of recreating the familiar atmosphere. The player controls Conan directly, and while the graphics weren't that good back in 2007 either, it was pretty funny to run around (or use Conan's skateboard to roam around) the gigantic Mirapolis hotel, a massive building with twelve floors, an annex building and garden. That is: it's fun until you realize most of the game is spent on wandering around said hotel. 90% of the game, you'll be walking around the hotel to find one of the suspects or one of your allies to talk to in order to collect information and clues. Each time a significant event happens, all these characters end up somewhere else in the hotel, so the character that might've been in the hotel lobby, might suddenly be wandering near the restaurant for no apparent reason. There's almost never a reason for a character to be at their specific location at that specific time, so you're basically playing hide-and-seek each time, trying to find all the relevant characters in a GIGANTIC hotel for that specific act of the story. It's boring, mind-numbing and the fact that the ONLY background music track used here is the Detective Conan Main Theme doesn't help: I love the theme and always look forward to the newest remix when a new movie is released, but it isn't really a track that should be put on repeat forever and ever and ever as you wander around the hotel.

What makes this an awful mystery game however is the fact that the mystery solving aspect of the game has some severe design problems. Like most of the Detective Conan games, you are faced with specific questions and mysteries as you progress through the story ("How was X done?"). The clues and testimonies you collect throughout the game can be used to answer those questions. While Detective Conan games are always also designed for children to play (so never insanely difficult), The Mirapolis Investigation goes even one step further. Or back. For some reason, the player seldom really needs to answer the questions. What trips up most players, is that when for example Conan asks "Why did that woman hide her identity with sunglasses?", the answers you have to pick aren't the clues and testimonies that actually answer the question, you have to pick the clues and testimonies that say basically the same thing as the question, like the remark of a character that "it appears that woman is hiding her face." This happens all the time, where you as the player aren't trying to solve the mysteries, but just reiterating the mysteries and questions asked by the game,  by picking the clues and testimonies that say exactly the same thing as the question posed. It's really difficult getting the right answers, exactly you're always one or two steps ahead of what the game wants you to pick, and that's even when you know this is happening. The result is a game that is frustrating to say the least, as first you have to spend most of your time lost in the hotel, hoping to come across the one person you need to provide you with the last clue that allows you to proceed to the next act, and then you're constantly asked to answer questions, where they don't want to hear the actual answer, but some factor of two or three logical steps backwards. The Mirapolis Investigation is always several steps behind and while sure, it's a game for children, all Detective Conan games are, and none of them go throug the logical steps in solving a mystery as slowly as this one.

The story itself isn't particularly interesting either. There's a part where someone is killed inside an ice maze (one of the attractions), which sounds amazing in theory, but err, yeah, it's not really that impressive here. It's the type of story you'd expect from a standard, anime original episode, but nothing that truly impresses. There are also a few minigames you can play in the arcade in the hotel, but they are even worse than the main game. I guess that one interesting thing about this game is that Kai is voiced by Koyama Rikiya: he would become the second voice actor of Mouri Kogorou in the anime, so both the first Kogorou (Kamiya Akira) and the second Kogorou (Koyama Rikiya) co-star in this game. There's also an important secondary character in Moe, a maid working at the hotel who's an aspiring detective. While she doesn't appear in any consequent Detective Conan games as far as I know, she does remind of the college student Gotou Akie, a game-original character who's an aspiring detective appearing in three of the later "music-themed" Detective Conan adventure games: Kako Kara no Prelude (DS/PSP, 2012) and returning in the two 3DS games Marionette Symphony (2013) and Phantom Rhapsody (2014).

If you choose to play the game in English by the way, it defaults to the English dub translation, so Case Closed, Jimmy instead of Shinichi etc. I remember I played the game in German to get the original Japanese dub and names.

Anyway even if you're wanting for a Detective Conan game, I really can't recommend Case Closed: The Mirapolis Investigation. I played it when it was first released in Europe, and again a few years back, but that second playthrough only confirmed my first experience with the game: it's simply a bad adventure game. You can easily skip this one and if you're really curious, I'd say just watch some playthrough on the internet (preferably by someone who knows how to properly edit a Let's Play video and has trimmed all the boring stuff). To close off with a somewhat more positive note: Anyone played a mystery game based on an anime/manga that you really liked and want to mention?

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 追憶の幻想(ミラージュ)』 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Update on Crime

Something old, something new,
something borrowed, something blue
(Bridal rhyme)

One reason I don't often do anthology reviews is because I'm never able to fit all the tags I want to use within the character limit. So if I do an anthology review, it's likely of a relatively short one.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan. I didn't vote for the stories this year though (or for any year since I became a member.... I read far too few new releases each year...)
The Honkaku Mystery Award is awarded every year to the best mystery novel published in the year as chosen by the members of the Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan. One of the qualifications to be eligible for the award is that the story must have been published as an individual, standalone release, which is of course seldom the case with short stories and essays, which are usually first published in magazines or other publications (short story collections are exceptions of course). That is why the top-rated short stories and essay of the year are usually collected in a special anthology edited by the the Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan. Until 2018, this annual anthology was titled Best Honkaku Mystery [Year], and contained up to ten different stories, as well as one essay on mystery fiction. However, the format was changed for 2019, and with that, the title too. Honkaku Ou 2019 ("The King of Honkaku 2019") is not only published in the muuuuuch handier, but smaller pocket format, it loses the essay and is also somewhat shorter than the previous releases, but its goal is still the same: to collect the best-rated mystery short stories of the year within one anthology.

Golgotha by Amemura Kou starts with the arrival of a letter by Akihiro's uncle Nakamitsu Eiichi, who says he'll be travelling for a while and he wants Akihiro to baby-sit his house for a while. Akihiro has only just arrived at this house out in a small village, when the phone rings. The man on the other side seems surprised by the fact Akihiro's answering the phone, and asks some questions about who he is and where his uncle is. The man also drops some names that don't ring a bell with Akihiro, but the man says he'll swing by right away. The man has a curious conversation with Akihiro, apparently hinting at something without really pushing the matter, and eventually leaves Akihiro with a present: a mystery novel titled Labyrinth By The Sea by Horinaga Saiun. A note was wedged between the pages, which says "Doorplate". Akihiro learns his uncle's house used to belong to the author Horinaga Saiun and starts digging in the life of the writer, slowly uncovering the trail the mysterious man has been laying out for Akihiro. Golgotha is more a thriller than a puzzle plot mystery: the mysterious visitor keeps feeding Akihiro small hints that seem to point towards something, but it's not like the reader is challenged to solve the puzzle themselves based on these hints. It's an okay thriller story, but perhaps not the story I had expected as the opening story of this anthology.

Gyakuen no Gogo ("Gyaku-en in the Afternoon") is part of Nagaoka Hiroki's 119, a series on firefighters (119 is the emergency number for fire and ambulance services). The "Gyaku-en" in the title refers to the sad happening when children die before their parents and the parents have to arrange for the funerals of their own kids. That is exactly what Yoshikuni Satoshi has to do, as his twenty-four year old son Yuuki died in the line of duty. Both men were firefighters and knew the risk of their profession, but Satoshi couldn't have imagined his son would fall off the fifth floor of a building while attempting to save a woman in her apartment. The story is set at Yuuki's funeral service, where Satoshi tells the people gathered (mostly collegues) about what kind of child Yuuki was and how proud he is of him. However, as Satoshi's speech continues, he starts focusing on the incident that took his son's life, and by the time he's showing pictures of the apartment of the woman who Yuuki failed to save, the reader is fully aware something's wrong with Yuuki's death. A very nicely clewed story, with clues that are hidden very naturally in the text, but which really take on a different meaning once you arrive at the conclusion. The main hint that sets things off is rather mundane if taken fully on its own, but it works surprisingly well as a 'jumpstarter'  for the rest of the reveals. I do find it kinda hard to believe that one character would do that in such an impulsive manner, but okay, I guess it was also kinda hinted at.

Tomoi Hitsuji's Biwa no Tane ("Loquat Seeds") stars Tsutabayashi, a young man with violent deaths hiding in his past, who still seeks redemption and hopes to find forgiveness from the people hurt. While Tsutabayashi tries to keep quiet about himself, his rare family name often often rings some bells with people, and he has been forced to quit his job more than a few times because his "colleagues" started to shun or harass him after finding out. That is also the reason Tsutabayashi at first didn't feel like informing the police when he discovered the body of a murdered high school student, a new victim of the serial killer who has been terrorizing the city. He does do his civic duty however, and to his surprise, he finds him invited by the division manager of his job. The man learned about Tsutabayashi's past due to an acquaintance at the police, but does not seem to be planning to ask him to quit his job. His son was a classmate of the victim found by Tsutabayashi, so they have a talk too, but while everything seems to end peacefully here, Tsutabayashi's past ends up exposed to his workplace, and he's forced to quit anyway. It's at this point Tsutabayashi decides he should try solve the murder on the student, as a way of redemption. The story was originally written for an anthology with "twist endings" as its theme, though I have to say the twist ending was kinda telegraphed too obvious. The rest of the story is also rather straightforward: some of the clues are literally "the killer dropped their personal belongings at the scene of the crime", so that's not really surprising. The underlying themes of the story are good though, and perhaps this story is best enjoyed for that.

Toda Yoshinaga's Negaisasa ("Wish Tree") is set at the end of the Edo period and stars a patrolman called Toda Souzaemon. His prey, a notorious swindler, leads Souzaemon to Maruya, one of the better known "establishments" in the entertainment district. The swindler had been using his earnings to spend several nights with Peony, the top girl of Maruya, but of course, he never should've stayed for so long at one place, as that's how Souzaemon managed to catch him. Souzaemon becomes interested in Peony himself, not as an object of lust, but as an adversary in the game of Igo, so he too starts visiting the girl. Maruya itself has been in financial problems lately due to the useless spendings of Tomizou, who married into the family of O-Sen to become master of Maruya. Tomizou became obsessed with Shiroinugami, a deified form of a white dog from England which died near Mt. Fuji and whose deaths Tomizou happened to witness. Since then, Tomizou has been using all his money on dog idols and import from the West like sofas, tables and coffee. O-Sen plans to kill her husband, but wants to make it seem like it was Shiroinugami's curse that did it and sends a fake threatening letter. On Tanabata (July 7), the day the dog was born, her husband conducts a strange dancing ritual to appease Shiroinugami. Souzaemon is asked to watch Tomizou. Tomizou is surrounded on three sides by four-part panels, while Souzaemon sits in front of the open side. Souzaemon doses off slightly due to the long ritual, but then Tomizou suddenly falls down, having been stabbed by a sharp instrument. But how could that have happened: Tomizou was surrounded by the three panels (which are undamaged), and Souzaemon was sitting in front of the open side, and while he was drowsy, he surely would've seen someone carrying a weapon appear right in front of him. The way this impossible murder was committed can be guessed quite easily, but it fits really well with the historical setting of the story, making it quite memorable. It's definitely a good example of how a good background story/setting can elevate a plot idea.

Chibiman to Jumbo ("Chibiman and Jumbo") by Shirai Tomoyuki is the nastiest story of the anthology. Susumu is the poor slave of the three fat speed-eater brothers Mogura, Moguri and Moguru, who in order to maintain their speed-eating empire Munch Land, are willing to torture and kill people on a whim (actually, they enjoy killing and eating them too just for fun). But what they don't need is exposure. Some days ago, Munch Land held a Sea Roach Speed-Eating Contest between Moguru (stage name Jumbo SP) and Chibiman, a female speed-eater. They had to eat a bucket full of sea roaches (with some "Throw-Up Pauses" planned in between). The contest seemed to be going in Chibiman's favor, but then she suddenly started to convulse, and dropped her head in the bucket of sea roaches. To the audience, they lied that Chibiman was just feeling bad, but in fact she had died. The three brothers first agreed to kill off Susumu and make it seem like he had cannabalistic tendencies by stuffing Chibiman's remains in his stomach, but Susumu pleads for his life, saying that Chibiman was clearly poisoned and that the poisoner might be after the brothers too. Susumu is given one day to find out who killed Chibiman, but he has quite a problem to solve: why was only Chibiman's bucket of roaches poisoned, was she really the intended victim and what was the motive for this murder? This is a really weird, distasteful story with gangster speed-eating brothers who are apparently in a habit of killing and eating people, and Susumu himself is hardly a hero, making filthy jokes and kicking women in the stomach so hard they have to throw up too. It makes it really hard to care about any of the characters in this story. The core mystery plot is fairly complex though: the motive for poisoning the sea roaches is really original and probably the best part of the story, but I thought the way Susumu suddenly realizes who the murderer was, was a bit too sudden without much build-up.

Tantei Daihon ("Detective Script") was written by Ooyama Seiichirou as a homage to Abiko Takemaru's Tantei Eiga and follows the same basic idea: Playwright Kasuga Sousuke barely survived a fire in his home, and while he's in the hospital, the members of his theater troupe are left with the little that remains of their upcoming murder play. The policeman who rescued Kasuga from the fire only found a partially burned scenario, so the actors have a start of a murder mystery that happens on a remote island, but not the solution. As they discuss the story, each of the actors comes up with a solution that indicates their own character as the murderer. Madoy's FGO Mystery: The Meihousou Murders I reviewed earlier this year was also clearly inspired by Abiko's novel by the way. It's by far the shortest story in the anthology, but Tantei Daihon is still a surprisingly tightly-plotted story with several fake solutions. The final solution is clever: if you just follow the clues "straight", you're likely to run into a wall, but once you figure out the true meaning of a certain passage in the screenplay, everything is turned upside down, allowing you to arrive at the correct solution. I love this type of whodunnit setups, where you can cross out most of the suspects if you simply carefully follow each clue, but there's one final clue that asks for a bit more imagination in interpretation, which can turn everything around. Short, but satsifying.

To be honest, I have the feeling previous Best Honkaku Mystery anthologies were not only beefier, but also more satisfying as puzzle plot anthologies. Honkaku Ou 2019 in comparison is not only shorter in page count, but fewer of the stories really fitted with my own personal interest: stories like Golgotha and Biwa no Tane are for example thematically strong examples, but seen purely as puzzle plot stories I find them on the whole somewhat disappointing. Nagaoka Hiroki's series on firefighters seems interesting though. As the short story form is still going strong in Japan, I think having these anthologies that collect stories from different magazines is really great and some of the previous Best Honkaku Mystery anthologies I read had some fantastic stories, but the selection for this year was not exactly what I had been expecting.

Original Japanese title(s):  本格ミステリ作家クラブ(編)『本格王2019』: 飴村行「ゴルゴダ」/ 長岡弘樹「逆縁の午後」/ 友井羊「枇杷の種」/ 戸田義長「願い笹」/白井智之「ちびまんとジャンボ」/ 大山誠一郎「探偵台本」

Friday, August 16, 2019

Le Cercle rouge

One of the tropes most commonly associated with mystery fiction, and one I personally love, is the closed circle situation. For some reason though, I often see it confused with 'an impossible crime' or even 'locked room mystery' even though they are very different concept (they can be used together however). Closed circle situations are also often referred to as the 'island in a storm' or 'mountain villa during a snow storm' tropes, which might make the concept clearer: it refers to a situation when a certain, clearly defined location is cut off from the outside world (in a broad sense of the word), making it impossible to enter or exit said location. This also often includes communication going in or out. Dorothy L. Sayers for example wrote in her '34 review of Christie's Murder on the Orient Express for the Sunday Times "Moreover, the problem is of the perfect “closed circle” type, the entire action being confined within the limits of a single coach on the “Orient Express”, with a snowdrift to cut out interference from the outside world." The term itself seems to be used less in the West nowadays than in Japan though, where it's quite common among mystery aficionados to use the term, which might be a reason why people sometimes think a locked room mystery is a closed circle situation.

The merits of a closed circle situation, from a reader/writer's point of view are various. For example, one of the most important reasons is that it effectively defines the range and setting of the mystery. The reader is presented a specific setting with a certain number of identified characters, and no extra characters can enter this location, nor can anyone leave (alive that is). This helps the intellectual game of detective fiction, as the reader doesn't have to worry about secret assassins coming from the outside world to commit the murder and leave, or evidence being shipped away to Duckburg. Often, the reason why the setting was cut-off from the outside world becomes a factor in the game of mystery: the arrival time of the boat, or the exact time of when the snow storm started etc. all give the reader a better idea of where their deductions should focus on (specific periods of time). Being cut-off from the outside world often also means the police can't come, or in the case a police officer is already on the scene, back-up in the form of more officers or for example forensics is made impossible, which often sets things up for a more pure puzzle plot mystery.

For me as a reader, the fact that a closed circle basically says 'the crime happened here, these were the characters present at that time, go figure out whodunnit' makes it a welcome trope. If a mystery story is a game in which the author challenges the reader to solve the mystery, and this is to be done in a fair manner, one of the more basic things to do is of course to explain the limits of the game. You don't want to hear at the end that a character who was never mentioned or hinted at turns out to be the murderer, but a closed circle situation makes that impossible, as the murderer must've been within the closed circle during the act. The closed circle situation also works great with the impossible alibi story: if there are only X number of characters at the location, and all of them have an alibi for the murder, than nobody could've done it. The closed circle also ensures objects (weapons or other tools) can't be conjured out of nowhere (the outside world), thus making it clear to the reader that everything they should know, exists in the pocket universe of the closed circle. Of course, there are also stories that play with this, for example by making it seem like a closec circle situation when there is in fact a means of escape: some might find this cheap, but as long it's properly hinted at, I'd say using a closed circle situation as a piece of misdirection is perfectly fair game.

In-universe, a closed circle situation can occur due to various reasons. In general, I guess you could categorize them in Artificial Closed Circles, Natural Closed Circles and Others. Artificial Closed Circled are of course when a human hand causes the creation of a closed circle situation. Burning down the one bridge that leads to the mountain villa or setting the only boat on the island adrift. It's often, though not always, the murderer who creates the closed circle, for example to ensure their prey, be it specific person(s) or all people, can't escape. For the reader, it's a source of thrills, as you basically have the Jason-at-the-camp situation, not knowing who will die and knowing there's no way of escape. Natural Closed Circles are of those caused by the forces of nature: heavy snow making it impossible to go outside or for a train to proceed, a storm preventing boats from going or leaving the island, mountain tunnels being buried after an earthquake, the standard examples. Queen's The Siamese Twin Mystery has a forest fire preventing the Queens from leaving house, while in an early Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney episode, strong winds had made a statue break, blocking off a road and effectively creating a closed circle situation. Sometimes, the murderer played the probabilities in hopes of a natural disaster to help out their crime, sometimes it's just pure coincidence and the murderer decided to go ahead despite the storm outside. This often becomes a focal point in the investigation: why did the murderer commit the murder despite this situation? In the category Others, I'd sort the closed circle situations that aren't strictly physically impossible to leave or enter, but where 'other' reasons keep people bound, for example because a mistake or crime in the past will be exposed unless they stay. In the Scooby Doo, Where Are You! episode A Night of Fright is No Delight for example, the potential heirs of Colonel Beauregard Sanders (one of them Scooby) have to stay on a creepy island for one night in order to inherit. In Arisugawa Alice's Jooukoku no Shiro, a murder occurs on the grounds of the headquarters of a suspicious new religion, and Alice and the others are held captive there, and the whole headquarters is locked down because top management fears news of a murder there would hurt their reputation, while they do want to know who the murderer is, making it a self-inflicted closed circle.

Anyway, what I wanted to ask was, what are some of the more memorable closed cirle situations you have come across. Err, as a reader, I guess. Perhaps it was a unique way to create such a situation, or it led to interesting scenes or deductions? To name a few of mine in no particular order:

- Arisugawa Alice's Gekkou Game ("Moonlight Game") had Alice and the other members of the Mystery Club camping on Mt. Yabuki, a dormant volcano which then decided to erupt, cutting them and a few other students on the camp ground from the outside world. It's such a weird and over-the-top way to create a closed circle situation and I'd even say it feels unnatural, but okay, at least you can be sure your cast is seperated from the outside world! If you have read The Moai Island Puzzle ((C) Shameless Self-Promotion), you know Arisugawa loves his closed circle situations for the Student Alice series.

- The South-Korean 2009 movie 4 Gyosi Churiyǒngyǒk ("4th Period Mystery") was set a school, where two students discovered the body of a classmate in a classroom at the end of the third period. Because these mammoth schools are built to keep all students inside during school hours (security cameras, gates, checking who's absent etc.), and outsiders, err, outside the school, the whole school building effectively acted as a closed circle, as nobody could've in or out in the middle of the school day without attracing attention. It wasn't that great a movie though.

- Imamura Masahiro's Shijinsou no Satsujin ("The Murders in the Villa of the Dead" 2017) and Magan no Hako no Satsujin ("The Murders In the Box of The Devil Eye", 2019) were fantastic novels that used the supernatural to create insane closed circles. Shijinsou no Satsujin had the cast locked up in a mountain villa that was under attack by... a sea of zombies, as a zombie outbreak had occured nearby. The novel will see a live-action movie adaptation and a manga adaptation this year by the way, and I am sure it will make its way to the English-language market in some format or another. The sequel had a few villagers creating a closed circle situation on purpose, locking the cast in the village of Magan, because it was prophesied that murders would occur in Magan: in the hopes of keeping themselves safe from the prophesy, they created a closed circle that locked the cast up in Magan.

- In the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files") story Majutsu Ressha Satsujin Jiken ("The Magic Express Murder Case"), something incredibly funny happens, as pointed out in the parody spin-of series. Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo Gaiden - Hannintachi no Jikenbo ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files Side Story: The Case Files of the Culprits") retells the classic stories from the POV of the culprits, with a comedic tone. At one point, Hajime triumphiantly declares they're facing a closed circle situation and that murderer must've been be one of the persons inside the theater: the castle-like building is surrounded by a moat, but by pure coincidence Hajime had broken the drawbridge earlier, making it impossible for the people inside to leave the theater. The scene in the parody re-telling where the murderer is cursing Hajime all kinds of names in their mind is hilarious because it was Hajime himself who lucked out by creating the closed circle situation he happily talks about in the first place!

But I'd love to hear what your favorite closed circle situations are!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Twin Dilemma


"Man, he can probably do everything all by himself."
"Heroes of Time and Space Kamen Rider"

When the releases of the Detective Conan manga slowed down last year, I decided to look at a few of the episodes written exclusively for the anime series (so not based on the manga by Aoyama Goushou). I haven't written reviews on all the episodes I've seen, which in turns means that the episodes I did write about, were stories worth writing about. Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau and Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken in particular were absolutely fantastic pieces of mystery fiction, among the best visual mystery stories I had ever seen. Both these stories were written by Ochi Hirohito, who is also credited at times as Ochi Koujin and Uonji Chiko for his work on Conan. Ochi is an important figure for the animated Detective Conan series, as he has multiple roles. Storyboarder, artist, episode director and screenplay writer: he's done it all (and for some episodes, simultaneously). With both volume 97 of the manga and the home video release of the 23rd theatrical movie Detective Conan: The Fist of Blue Sapphire scheduled for somewhere in October or perhaps even later, I decided to watch a few more episodes with screenplays by Ochi while I wait for the fall releases.

Detective Conan episodes with scenarios by Ochi Hirohito:
88-89: Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken ("The Villa Dracula Murder Case")
184: Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau ("The Cursed Masks Laugh Coldly")
379-380: Hitou Yukiyami Furisode Jiken ("The Case of the Furisode of the Hot Spring Hidden In The Snow Darkness")
603-605: Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken ("The Case of the Séance's Double Locked Room")
905-906: Nananengo no Mokugekishougen ("Eyewitness Testimony, Seven Years Later")

Episodes 379-380 form the two-parter Hitou Yukiyami Furisode Jiken ("The Case of the Furisode of the Hot Spring Hidden In The Snow Darkness"), originally broadcast on November 22 and 29, 2004. Conan, Ran and Kogorou have a little family trip to the Kotoya Inn, a traditional Japanese inn in the mountains with hot springs. Following the local tradition, all the rooms of the inn are decorated by splendid furisode (long-sleeved kimono). Legend has it that many centuries ago, a woman in the village called O-Hana helped an injured samurai, who gave O-Hana beautiful furisode as a gift. The jealous daughters of the village chief however coveted these furisode, and succeeded in arranging for O-Hana's execution through slander. Thus they manage to steal O-Hana's furisode, but they weren't able to enjoy them for long: one night, both daughters were found dead, wrapped in and covered by the furisode they stole. Fearing it was a curse, the village people decided to worship O-Hana as Furisode-sama to watch over the village, though she also has a vengeful side as a diety as Furisode-Hannya. The village still has a large shrine dedicated to Furisode-sama, but the Kotoya Inn has a small Furisode-sama shrine in the garden too.

At the Kotoya Inn, Kogorou runs into a producer of Nichiuri Television (Kogorou often appears in their programs) and the producer reveals to the gang that they are working on a drama adaptation of a story by the romance novelist Akechi Eri. The producer, Akechi and her publisher's editor have a small meeting here at the inn, together with the three actresses who are to star in the movie: the succesful model Shibasaki Asuka, award-winning artist Anzai Ema and upcoming singer-songwriter Fukatsu Harumi, who all graduated from the same university. Harumi wants a private conversation with Kogorou, and reveals that a friend of her was once accused of drugs dealing and that she committed suicide. However, it appears she was framed and that the real dealers were in fact her two new co-actors in the upcoming drama. She wants Kogorou to investigate the case, but fate strikes first: that night, both Asuka and Ema are murdered under impossible circumstances: Ema is found stabbed lying on furisode in the garden shrine of Furisode-sama, but the only footprints in the snow leading to the shrine are those of Ema herself. The murder weapon meanwhile is found in the hot spring below, together with the body of Asuka, floating in the water surrounded by furisode. In order to enter the hot spring however, one has to pass by the recreation room, which was occupied by Conan and the gang, meaning an invisible murderer must've killed Ema first, left the shrine without leaving footprints in the snow, somehow made it past Conan unseen, and enter the hot spring to kill Asuka, but how's that possible?

While not as strong as Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau and Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken, this case is pretty good, though I have to say I liked it a lot better the second time I watched these two episodes. As with most episodes by Ochi, the whodunnit aspect is somewhat weak, more like an afterthought with some lucky clue that points directly to the culprit, but the main problem is almost always an impossible one. Two in fact this time: the footprints-in-the-snow problem of Ema's murder in the shrine, and how the murderer managed to get past Conan, Ran and Kogorou to enter the hot spring to murder Asuka. I'm going to use my pet phrase 'synergy' again from my review of Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken, because that's what Ochi's doing here once again. We have to two distinct situations, but he manages to tie the underlying solution to both problems to one, central idea and use that in several ways to strengthen both impossible situations. Once again, we have two impossible murders that are possible because there are two of them, because both of these situations exist. It's a notion that so very few mystery authors to manage to do right, but Ochi's done quite a few of them by now for Detective Conan. The main idea that ties these problems is at the core very simple and seems even unoriginal at first, but the way Ochi uses it to really integrate the solution to the two impossible situations with the overall story and atmosphere is fantastic, resulting one of the better plotted anime original stories.

Ochi Hirohito wrote another two-parter last year with episodes 905-906, originally broadcast on June 23 and 30, 2018. Nananengo no Mokugekishougen ("Eyewitness Testimony, Seven Years Later") bring Conan, Ran and Kogorou to the Dove Flute Lodge, a small guest house that lately has become popular thanks to the recommendation by the "Beer Prince" Minakitaya Ootarou, an entertainer with an extraordinary love for beer. The unique selection of beer offered by the Dove Flute Lodge makes it a paradise for beer lovers like Kogorou and it's no wonder they aren't the only guests there and the Beer Prince himself happens to be one of the other guests that day. During a conversation with fellow lodgers, an old sentai show called Masked Comet Byun is mentioned. Seven years ago, the show became news when two robbers wearing masks of characters from the show killed a man.

After dinner, the lodge is visited by the police, who found a corpse earlier that day down the river that passes behind the lodge. It is unclear whether the man died because of an accident or by the hands of another party, but he carried a card with Masked Comet Byun, and when shown a picture of the victim, Minakitaya identifies the man as Shuujirou, his old comedy partner before they dissolved their duo three years ago. Shuujirou was working as a shady entertainment reporter nowadays and had visited the lodge too, asking about Minakitaya. Later that night, the lounge room of the lodge is ransacked by someone. The commotion wakes everyone but Minakitaya, so they all go to his room. When they finally break the bolted door open, they find the corpse of Minakitaya lying on the floor, surrounded by empty beer bottles and bottle caps. While he might've simply slipped and fallen on his head, the drawing he made on the floor with his blood, reminsicent of the logo of Masked Comet Byun, suggests foul play. But how could the murderer have bolted the room from the inside, and what has Minakitaya's death to do with the death of his former partner Shuujirou?

Overall, this story is not nearly as intricately plotted as the previously discussed one. There's quite a bit of coincidence working in the background, as unsurprisingly, almost all the characters present are revealed to have some connection to the deadly robbery seven years ago and they just happen to be here at the lodge at the same time. The death of Shuujirou isn't really important, only acting as a motive. The main problem, the murder of Minakitaya in the locked room, is okay: it has a neat solution that is hidden from the viewer through nicely thought-out misdirection, while the hints that point in the direction of how it was done (the direct means and the clues that originate from the way this means was obtained) are somewhat standard in spirit, they work well and give the viewer more than enough of a chance to solve it themselves. It's also a locked room trick that works well in the visual format. The identity culprit is unsurprising however, and as often with Ochi's stories, the clue chain that leads to the murderer is a line separate from the howdunnit line, which is something I find really disappointing considering the care Ochi shows when doing the howdunnit angle. In comparison, his whodunnit reasoning chains always seem like an afterthought, like "oh, better make sure the culprit also makes this one unneccesary mistake after pulling off a super complex plan, a mistake that points directly at them or else Conan can't solve it". The dying message too is rather rough.

Of the two stories discussed today, Hitou Yukiyami Furisode Jiken is definitely the better one. While not as strong as Ochi's best two efforts (Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau and Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken), this two-parter still provides a well-plotted impossible murder mystery that once again sets an example of how to do multiple mysteries within one story to create synergy. Nananengo no Mokugekishougen is not as strong, but is entertaining enough if you just want to see an anime original story.  As far as I know I have seen all episodes with screenplays by Ochi by the way, though I haven't reviewed all of them. Episode 22 (TV Drama Roke Satsujin Jiken / "The Television Drama On Location Murder Case"), episode 596 (Tenraku no Tenraku / "The Alibi for the Fall") and episode 665 (Giwaku no Initial K / "The Suspicious Initial K") are a lot simpler and smaller in scale compared to the other Ochi stories I reviewed, but for those interested in Ochi's writing, it might be worth checking those episodes out too.

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン』379-380話「秘湯雪闇振袖事件」, 905-906話「七年後の目撃証言」

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Strike-Out Scare

「心絵」(Road of Major)

While lamenting the passing of Spring
Our curtains were raised in that Summer
"Picture of the Heart" (Road of Major)

Huh, who'd have thought I'd be doing another Tantei Jinguuji Saburou ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou") review this year? The long-running detective adventure videogame series had two releases in 2018: Prism of Eyes was the eighteenth entry in the main series, while Daedalus: The Awakening of Golden Jazz was a new prologue spin-off, about a young Jinguuji as he set his first steps in becoming the hardboiled private detective we know from the main series. Neither game was perfect, but as a fan of the series, I'm always happy to see a new entry, as while the brand name is fairly well-known due being around for over thirty years now, none of the games are tremendous sellers or anything like that, so you never quite know for sure whether the series will continue or not.

The Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series started out on game consoles and handhelds and that's still where the main entries are released, but in 2003, a secondary series was introduced with the mobile applications, games designed for garakei feature phones in Japan.  If one were to call the main entries "novels", these Tantei Jinguuji Saburou mobile apps were definitely the short stories: far smaller in scale and bringing a linear experience that told hardboiled detective story of about two hours in four acts. This mobile application series was fairly popular: they released twenty-four of them between 2003 and 2010, following their own numbering seperate of the main series. While as "games", these applications were quite limited, the stories they told are usually quite entertaining as human drama-based hardboiled detective stories and there are even some big industry names connected to it: Nojima Kazushige of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X fame for example wrote a few scenarios for this series, and Kodaka Kazutaka, who would later create the Danganronpa game series, more or less started out his career as a game scenario writer with the Jinguuji Saburou application series. These mobile applications were also later included with the DS and 3DS entries of the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series, and Prism of Eyes actually consisted mainly out of HD-remakes of these mobile applications. The last of them (Yurameku Hitotose) was released in 2010, so they basically stopped making these games when use of smartphones became widespread.

So I was quite surprised when I learned that the mobile application series would continue on iOS and Android this summer. The new app Tantei Jinguuji Saburou New Order ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou New Order", 2019) was released on the last day of July to provide a main hub in which the new stories are distributed, and of course, the first game was also relased on the same day. It's been nearly ten years since the last Jinguuji Saburou mobile game, but when you play Giwaku no Ace ("The Suspicious Ace", 2019), it's like no time has passed. It follows the familar four-act set-up of the short stories and the development team behind the game also consists of familar names (including a veteran Jinguuji Saburou writer who also wrote Ghost of the Dusk, and character designer Junny). One evening private detective Jinguuji Saburou happens to become acquainted with Hayasaka Masumi on the streets of Shinjuku. Masumi is not only an employee of the baseball club Blue Kicks here in Shinjuku, she's also the (secret) girlfriend of Majima Naotaka, a starter of the team. Majima was praised as an ace two years ago, but since then fallen into a slump. He has been acting suspiciously lately, so Masumi wants Jinguuji to tail Majima to see what is going on. Jinguuji learns that Majima has been seeing Fuwa lately, a former team mate who had to quit baseball after an injury. Fuwa kinda disappeared after his early retirement, so Jinguuji is not only surprised to learn Fuwa is still around, but he also realizes Fuwa has a tie with Katagiri of the Matsuishi Group, a yakuza organization that specializes in illegal gambling. Meanwhile, an anonymous letter has also accused someone in the Blue Kicks of doping, which brings another light on Majima's suspicious activities.

Like I said earlier, these mobile application games are quite limited in scale in terms of story, so there's not very much to write about without spoiling everything. The experience is quite linear and passive compared to the (old) main series entries and the player is mostly just choosing discussion topics or selecting where to go next. The most 'thinking' you'll do is figuring out a PIN code twice. That said, I did enjoy Giwaku no Ace as an accessible, short hardboiled mystery story that uses its four-act set-up in a good manner. New events and clues keep popping up at a steady rate that keep the reader, well not guessing, as the story is fairly simple, but it's definitely enticing. You just wanna know what's really going on at the Blue Kicks, and the story does a good job at keeping your attention for the hour-and-half, two hours you'll be playing this, with each act bringing some new clues and questions. It's certainly nothing more than the old mobile application games brought, but nothing less either. If you're wanting for an old-fashioned Tantei Jinguuji Saburou experience, Giwaku no Ace is exactly what you're looking for.

So no, Tantei Jinguuji Saburou New Order: Giwaku no Ace is nothing special. This is the twenty-fifth entry in the mobile application series and they have always been following the same pattern, so no surprises here. That said, I found the two hours I spent on the game amusing, and it's certainly a worthy entry in this series in terms of storytelling. Giwaku no Ace's baseball setting is a fairly original one for the series (they had one about professional wrestling once) and while the application series has always been more focused on human drama than the main series, I think this entry has one of the more relatable casts of this series. I do hope that in the future, they'll release all of the New Order stories in one package on the Nintendo Switch or something like that, because it's really weird they decided to publish New Order in an episodic format after doing exclusively handheld/console releases since 2012!

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵神宮寺三郎 New Order』「疑惑のエース」