Sunday, May 31, 2020

Home Sweet Homicide

"There's no place like home."
"The Wizard of Oz"

Countries all handle the pandemic in different ways, and while Japan's state of emergency in certain prefectures did not lead to a true lockdown like seen in Italy, it's still advised to remain home as much as possible. This has also led to new creative projects that came to be due to these circumstances. As an Animal Crossing: New Horizons fan for example, I loved seeing the StayHome performance of the main theme.Earlier this week, I reviewed Mitani Kouki's little project to lift the spirits of the people in these times: I truly enjoyed how Mitani used his weekly newspaper column to revive his hit mystery series Furuhata Ninzaburou.

I mentioned in that same post that Amagi Seimaru (AKA Kibayashi Shin), the writer of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files") series was also working on something special and the result is a very memorable one as it's a genuine #StayHome-inspired murder mystery, a story that could only have been produced because of the current situation. Story-wise though, it may not be very special. Stay Home Satsujin Jiken (The Stay Home Murder Case) starts with the police knocking at the door of the mansion of Komatsuzaki Akane, a middle-aged woman who made a fortune with her own company. The dog's been barking for days now, which alerted the neighborhood. When the patrol officer opens the door, he first notices a broken wine glass with some spilled wine on the floor, but in the next room, he finds Komatsuzaki, strangled to death. Inspector Kenmochi is put on the murder case, but he catches a nasty fever, and he is forced to self-isolate, even though he already asked Hajime and Miyuki to go to the Komatsuzaki mansion. Kenmochi hopes Hajime can solve the case for him, so Hajime has no choice but to meet with the three suspects: the housekeeper, the victim's niece and the Uper Eats delivery guy. While Komatsuzaki's housekeeper would swing by three times a week, and her sommelier niece also brought wine on the day before her death, it appears they couldn't have committed the murder as they wouldn't be able to get inside the house: while the locks of the Komatsuzaki mansion can be opened with a code number, Komatsuzaki always changed the code whenever someone had come, and the code had indeed been changed again after both of those women had left. It is therefore believed the Uber Eats delivery guy was the final person to have come to the mansion. While he's questioning the suspects however, Hajime seems to realize which of the three suspects is the murderer.

And the attentive reader will of course also have noticed the screenshots in this write-up are a bit weird. That's of course what makes Stay Home Satsujin Jiken so special: it's a live-action murder mystery drama filmed over Zoom, broadcast via Youtube. It might take a second before you really grasp what that is. Creator Amagi Seimaru employed the help of family and friends to create Stay Home Satsujin Jiken: the actors all filmed/recorded their parts in their respective homes via Zoom/other methods, thus respecting the #StayHome advice. Amagi's own older sister Kibayashi Yuuko (a manga writer herself) for example was cast in the role of the victim Komatsuzaki Akane. The individual parts were then edited together, allowing everybody to 'play together' in one scene without actually being physically together. On top of that, the actual voice actors of Hajime and Miyuki from the television series reprises their roles too. The end result is a live-action drama which of course feel very much home-made (the lagging voices!), but it's still a genuine Kindaichi Shounen mystery.

The first part was broadcast today (May 31) via Youtube, while the second half (with the solution) will follow next Saturday (July 6) as paid TwitCasting content. This obviously means this write-up isn't meant to be a full review: I have only seen the first part of this story, and I am not even sure whether I'll purchase the second half. Mystery-wise though, I think I have picked up enough clues to have an idea where this will be going, and if I'm right, the plotting is what you would expect from this series, with a lot of visual clewing. Which is therefore surprisingly well done as everyone had to to film their own parts via Zoom etc. But despite this being early, I felt I really had to write something about this production, because it's just such a unique piece of mystery fiction.

For Stay Home Satsujin Jiken does feel like a real Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo short story, and that's quite impressive given the way this thing was produced, with live-action actors filmed in sub-optimal environments, and odd talking shots of Hajime and Miyuki. If my hunch is right, Stay Home Satsujin Jiken may perhaps not be extraordinary if one looks only at its merits as a mystery story, but I think I will forever remember it as a special piece of mystery fiction, a memento of that period in 2020 when the world was different, a detective story where you absolutely need to understand the context in which this was produced. It's an immensely odd murder mystery, created in immensely odd times. And yet, it is exactly what you'd expect from this series. People will find a way to create something fun, even if they have to find new methods.

Original Japanese title(s): 『金田一少年の事件簿STAY HOME殺人事件』

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Murder: A Self Portrait

"Now are there any more questions? No? Well, if you don't mind, since my column for tomorrow is put to bed, I would like to do the same thing for myself."
"Ellery Queen: The Adventure of the 12th Floor Express"

Memo to self: don't forget to watch the special Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo #StayHome Youtube live-action mystery drama filmed by the writer of the series/the original anime voice actors this and next week! Pretty nuts how they created that with Zoom and stuff and really looking forward to watching it!

While fans of series like Detective Conan and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo are probably quite aware that these series are published in a serialized format, with individual chapters being published in weekly/biweekly magazines first before a number of them are collected in one single volume, some might be surprised to hear that the serialized format is also still used for "normal" literature. While direct-to-book is still the most prominent form of publication, there are still a number of books that have seen serialization in some form or another: whether it's a "classic" serialized form with installments being published at a steady schedule or for example short stories being published seperately in magazines at random times before they are colllected in one short story collection. With the aforementioned manga, I only buy the volumes and with books, I always buy the individual release, so I usually don't notice much of the serialization process of a certain work, though there are exceptions. I followed the serialization of Madoy Van's Gyakuten Saiban - Jikan Ryokousha no Gyakuten ("Turnabout Trial - Turnabout of the Time Traveler", 2017) for example, because when it started, I was not sure whether this Ace Attorney spin-off novel would actually receive a standalone release in the first place.

The last few weeks however, I've had a lot of fun with a very special serialized mystery short story. I've mentioned the hit mystery drama Furuhata Ninzaburou quite often here. This comedic inverted detective series about the somewhat peculiar and occassionally very petty Lieutenant Furuhata of the Tokyo police ran for three seasons and one final special season between 1994-2006 and was heavily inspired by Columbo. Like in Columbo, each episode the viewer was shown who committed the crime and how and the mystery presented to the viewer was figuring out how Furuhata was going to solve the case. The series also took inspiration from the Ellery Queen television series, as each episode, Furuhata would turn to the audience and challenge them to guess what put him on the murderer's trail in the first place or how he was going to nab them before the episode would continue into the final act. The series was a creation of playwright and film creator Mitani Kouki. He started out with writing comedic plays for the stage, but his heartwarming comedy films with ensemble casts have also been very succesful in Japan. In a way, his style works perfectly with the inverted mystery, where you follow the murderer before and after the deed: most of Mitani's movies are comedic pieces about all kinds of silly problems happening 'backstage' at for example an hotel (The Uchouten Hotel) or a live radio play performance (Radio no Jikan). He also directed two amusing Agatha Christie adaptations by the way: Murder on the Orient Express was interesting as a two-piece production and the second part was sheer genius: it told the story of Murder on the Orient Express from the point of view of the murderer(s) in a comedic tone. Kuroido Goroshi, an adaptation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on the other hand was truly a very accomplished adaptation of a book many deem very difficult to adapt.

Mitani has been writing the weekly column Mitani Kouki's Mundane Life for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper since 2000, but with the current pandemic going on, he decided to do something very special: bring back Furuhata Ninzaburou in a short story! The television series Furuhata Ninzaburou stopped in 2006 (there was a spin-off prequel special in 2008), so it's been about 15 years since we saw the somewhat annoying, but sharp detective, and I think nobody had even dared to dream Furuhata would ever return (especially as Furuhata's actor, Tamura Masakazu, isn't very active anymore). The story Isshun no Ayamachi ("A Moment's Mistake") started in the evening edition of the Asahi Shimbun of April 23rd 2020 and ended with the fourth installment published on May 28th. And this is a special occassion, Mitani decided to go with a very special murderer this time: himself! We follow screenplay writer Mitani Kouki as he plans to kill the actor Ooizumi Myou: a talented actor with whom Mitani has worked often. One day, Ooizumi and his family visited Mitani at his home, when Mitani had to leave suddenly. As a polite gesture, Mitani told them they could stay in the house and relax a bit, but he never thought they would actually take him up on his offer. When Mitani returned home, he found the Ooizumi family still hanging around and that they had watched Frozen on DVD. Even though he himself hadn't seen that movie yet. It was the moment he decided Ooizumi Myou must die.

Mitani plans to kill Ooizumi with a home-made pistol at an event for Ooizumi's latest film, with a reception held at a hotel. Mitani is a surprise guest so few people are aware he's in the hotel in the first place. Mitani makes his way to Ooizumi's hotel room, shoots the actor and returns to his own room, where he has also prepared an alibi in the form of a new script he was working on. It doesn't take long for the murder to be discovered, and Mitani soon finds Lieutenant Furuhata in front of his door. Furuhata instantly starts poking holes in Mitani's story, but even so, Mitani is utterly shocked when Furuhata points out the one vital mistake Mitani made during his murder which told Furuhata who the murderer was the moment he met Mitani. But what was that mistake?

Despite the limitations this story has as it's written in the limited word space of four columns, I have to say I really enjoyed this short inverted mystery. It has everything you'd want in a Furuhata Ninzaburou story, the comedic tone, Furuhata 'poking around' until he unveils his ace, the Challenge to the Reader. The fatal mistake Mitani (the murderer) made is a bit silly, but it works in the context of this specific release, as a funny side-story to entertain people during the pandemic. And don't get me wrong, this is still a decent, well-clewed mystery story and not just a purely comedic piece. I could definitely see a full episode being built upon this, though on the other hand, I think the mistake is easier to overlook in its current prose form as opposed to if this had been an actual episode broadcast on television, but it's genuinely a cleverly set-up mistake of the murderer that most readers will never think of.

By the way, people familiar with the Japanese entertainment world will probably have noticed Mitani didn't only have fun using himself as the murderer for this story. The victim Ooizumi Myou is of course a veeeeeery thinly disguised Ooizumi You, with whom Mitani has worked a lot in his films. Ooizumi plays the unnamed detective in the films based on the novel series Tantei wa Bar ni Iru and is also the voice actor of Professor Layton, but for this specific story, it's of course interesting to note that Ooizumi played the Watson-character of Dr. Shiba (Dr. Sheppard) in Mitani's adaptation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Apparently, Ooizumi You did actually once watch Frozen at Mitani's home, though we may assume the real Mitani isn't considering killing off Ooizumi You. Probably. Furuhata Ninzaburou has a history of featuring 'real' people as murderers by the way: last year, I reviewed the special where Furuhata had to take on the Major League baseball player Ichiro (played of course by Ichiro himself) and Furuhata has also crossed paths with the boy band SMAP in the past (also played by the members of SMAP themselves).

Anyway, it was very fun to have these serialized installments of a mystery story to look forward to these last few weeks, and Isshun no Ayamachi didn't disappoint a bit. While it may have been lean because it was written as part of a newspaper column, it feels 100% like a genuine Furuhata Ninzaburou story and I also found the story entertaining as an inverted detective tale with a nice twist. While the series is formally ended, it's nice to see the creators willing to do something special in these times. And who knows, perhaps it's the first step towards getting one new, final production with Furuhata....

Original Japanese title(s): 三谷幸喜 『古畑任三郎 一瞬の過ち』

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Adventure of the Red Circle

『QED ベイカー街の問題』

"Everything that occurs in this world becomes fiction the moment it is written down. Novels are always fiction. Non-fiction novels are by name alone self-contradicting oxymorons."
"QED The Problem of Baker Street"

I don't consider myself a true Holmesian (Sherlockian), but I am fairly familiar with many of the major Holmesian discussions. No idea where I pick these things up.

Since a year or so, I've been reading the manga series Q.E.D. Shoumei Shuuryou by Katou Motohiro semi-regularly. Some people might not be aware that there is also a completely unrelated mystery novel series titled QED, written by Takada Takafumi. I only read the first novel in the series a long time ago, so I am not very familiar with the series, but in general, this concept of this series is that it tackles both 'real-time' mysteries as well as historical mysteries, regarding historical events, famous persons or literature. The first novel for example had a famous Japanese poetry (waka) collection as its theme and in order to solve the 'real-time' mystery, it was also necessary to solve a mystery hidden within the ancient poems. The detective of this series is Kuwabara Takashi, nickname Tataru. He's an eccentric young pharmacist (specialized in Chinese medicine) who is quite knowledgeable about err, a lot, but especially literature. His assistant Nana is one of Tataru's very few college friends and while she too is a pharmacist, she works in a Western-style pharmacy.

The first two novels in this series were related to Japanese history, so the theme of the third novel might surprise readers, even if the title gives everything away: QED Baker Gai no Mondai ("QED The Problem of Baker Street", 2000) is of course about modern, British literature: Sherlock Holmes. One day, Nana runs into her college friend Yukiko, who turns out to be a Sherlockian. She's a member of the Baker Street Smokers, a Sherlockian club created by restaurant/club owner Hotta Soujirou. The Baker Street Smokers consists of four members and usually has small private meetings, but Yukiko explains they'll be holding a party on the sixth of January to celebrate the third anniversary of the Baker Street Smokers, as well as the hundredth anniversary since Sherlock Holmes returned to the land of the living in The Adventure of the Empty House. All members can invite people to come along, and the four regular members will even perform a little theatre play based on a Holmes story. Nana and Tataru are invited as Yukiko's guests, and Tataru even turns out to be a pretty dedicated Sherlockian, who can't wait to discuss a certain Sherlockian matter with other people. The party comes to an abrupt end when Sakimaki, one of the BSS members, is killed while getting dressed for the play. He was found lying on a table, stabbed in his stomach and holding a piece of paper with some incoherent writing on it. Given that few people at the party knew Sakimaki, suspicion naturally falls upon the remaining three BBS members, but it also appears Sakimaki's death may have to do with Tsukiji Natsuyo, a woman who was going to become a member of the BBS, but committed suicide some months earlier and who was doing research on a certain Sherlockian problem.

I am no expert on Japanese poetry, but I am familiar with Sherlock Holmes and Holmesian problems, so it was relatively easier to get into this novel than the first in the QED series. For those to whom the terms Holmesian/Sherlockian sound unfamiliar: it's a kind of game where people accept the Sherlock Holmes stories as written by Dr. Watson as having actually occured and discuss anomalies and other contradictions in the stories ('mistakes') with the premise that the events and characters mentioned in the stories are all real. For example mistakes in dates in the stories etc. are not 'mistakes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle' but mistakes by Dr. Watson, or Dr. Watson had a reason to lie about the date, or there's some other in-universe reason. By the way, in Japanese, the preferred term is Sherlockian (like in the US), as opposed to Holmesian, which has my personal preference to be honest. Some might also remember the manga Sherlockian! I once discussed, which was actually quite informative.

Anyway, so QED Baker Gai no Mondai is about a murder committed among Holmesians, and meanwhile Tataru's also occupied with a Holmesian problem that bothers him: why was Sherlock Holmes acting so differently before and after the events of The Final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House? While the novel does give brief explanations and summaries about all the relevant Holmes stories mentioned, it's clear that this novel is best enjoyed if the reader has some affinity/prior knowledge of Sherlock Holmes, or else you'll just be wondering why everyone is making such a big deal about a fictional character (blashpemy!). To be honest, the Holmesian mystery is far more interesting than the actual, real-time murder. In fact, the death count doesn't stay at one in this novel, but the other death isn't that interesting either, even if it involves a dying message with a Holmesian twist. But while the murders themselves are rather straightforward, in order to solve some parts of the mystery you need to have rather specific knowledge about medicine that isn't mentioned in the story until the denouement and basically, it's the 'anyone could've committed the murder, so let's focus on motive' type of story.

The motive behind the murders of course ties to a Holmesian problem, and I found that part far more interesting. Over the course of the novel, the reader will be presented various types of Holmesian problems of varying importance, but the most important is of course the one that's on Tataru's mind. The ground he treads with his theory is not particularly unknown, but it's fairly entertaining and well within the realms of what you'd expect of a Holmesian theory. And as you may expect from this series, aspects of Tataru's literary theory are also mirrored in the real murders, so it's necessary to solve the literary mystery in order to arrive at the motive, and even partially the modus operandi behind the actual deaths. I do like this linking idea, but in this particular case, it becomes a bit too artificial, with a lot of coincidence having to happen to create such a nicely mirrored situation in motive and actual murder.

I'm not even actually sure what to make of QED Baker Gai no Mondai. I definitely like the Holmesian background theme and it goes just deep enough to entertain me as a moderate Holmes lover, without feeling too detailed, but it's also very... vanilla-flavored in terms of the main murder mystery plot. The literary side of the mystery is far more interesting and while there are some interesting ideas like the dying message left by a Holmesian (can you guess what he did?), I thought the 'real' side of the mystery so plain and nondescript, I'm sure I'll have forgotten the details in a few months, while I am sure I will remember Tataru's Holmesian theory. QED Baker Gai no Mondai is a very safe read if you like the Holmesian theme, but on its own, it's hardly a stand-out mystery novel.

Original Japanese title(s): 高田崇史『QED ベイカー街の問題』

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Mystery of Magnolia Mansion

"We all change, when you think about it, we're all different people; all through our lives, and that's okay, that's good, you've gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be."
"Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor"

There's nothing quite comparable to the transformation process of a videogame ported to different hardware, remastered or remade. I mean, novels are published with new covers all the time, but usually the contents remain (mostly) the same. One might be tempted to first think of censorship when it comes to post-publication text changes, but there are of course more reasons: from updating the body of text for later printings to correct spelling/grammar mistakes that had been overseen earlier, or perhaps because to reflect new spelling conventions. Most of the Rampo I've read for example, has been corrected for modern Japanese conventions, rather than the original pre-war spelling conventions (which can be very different). And then there are also the cases where the author chooses to change the text contents-wise, sometimes because there's a special occassion that allows them to go over their writings again (a brand new reprint for example), sometimes because an internal error was pointed out to them and they want to correct that. Ultimately though, these changes across versions of books are incredibly minor when compared how different the same base videogame can be across hardware and versions. The transformation process can be quite varied: sometimes it's a brushed-up version like a remastered, cleaned-up version of a film, sometimes the game has to be built completely anew from the ground up for a specific piece of hardware, which makes it a bit more similar to a remake of a film, but often at the core closer to the original game than a remade film usually is.

The iOS version I played of the Riverhillsoft adventure game Kohakuiro no Yuigon - Seiyou Karuta Renzoku Satsujin Jiken ("The Amber-Colored Testament - The Tarot Serial Murder Case") looks and sounds nothing at all like the original game which was released in 1988 on the Japanese PC-8801/PC-9801 personal computer systems, and even the way in which the player interacts with the game (the interface) is completely different, but the core plot and the progression in the game is basically the same. After the original release, this game has been ported and remade for a lot of hardware, from MSX2 to Windows 95,  Nintendo DS, iOS and Android, often changing appearances quite drastically whenever it arrived somewhere else. It's quite strange to see the same mystery story look and sound so drastically differently, yet be in the same medium (videogame). It's something that I just can't imagine with a mystery novel. The screenshots in this review are from various versions and look nothing alike, but they are also clearly the same core game.

But no matter on what hardware you're playing the game or how it looks, it always starts the same. Kagetani Koutarou was a very wealthy man in the 1920s who made a fortune with the trade in medicine. One day, he was found dead in the garden by his granddaughter and it was determined he had died because of poison. While it didn't seem likely the man would commit suicide, the remaining family members, including his second wife and several sons and daughters in varying ages from both his first and second wife, seem very reluctant to help the police, and the investigation soon gets stuck. The private detective Toudou Ryuunosuke is hired by the Kagetani family butler, who is convinced his master was murdered, but who wants the case to be investigated in a discreet manner, as the murderer is likely someone of the family. Toudou is invited to the Kagetani manor as the author friend of Kagetani Koutarou's nephew and is allowed to stay a few days as a house guest. During his stay, Toudou attempts to lure each of the Kagetanis into revealing what they are hiding about Koutarou's death, but little did he know that the first death was not to be the last.

Kohakuiro no Yuigon - Seiyou Karuta Renzoku Satsujin Jiken ("The Amber-Colored Testament - The Tarot Serial Murder Case") was the first game in the so-called "1920 Series" of mystery adventure games starring the character Toudou Ryuunosuke, but when developer Riverhillsoft closed in 2000, the rights to this series went to Althi, which renamed the series to the current Toudou Ryuunosuke Tantei Nikki ("The Detective Chronicles of Toudou Ryuunosuke") title. If this case this sounds familiar: the same actually happened with the J.B. Harold series, of which I have reviewed the first three games. The J.B. Harold games were also mystery adventure games originally developed by Riverhillsoft and the rights too were transferred to Althi (its current developer/publisher). One name that has to be mentioned to is that of Suzuki Rika: she originally worked at Riverhillsoft, and it was she who wrote both the Toudou Ryuunosuke and J.B. Harold series. She left Riverhillsoft with some other employees to start her own company Cing, which was responsible for a few great mystery-themed adventure games on the Nintendo DS and Wii (the Another Code and Kyle Hyde series), until Cing went defunct too in 2010.

As a mystery game, Kohakuiro no Yuigon basically plays exactly the same like the J.B. Harold games. The story starts in a non-linear manner, as you are free to walk around in the enormous Kagetani manor and you can visit each suspect in your own preferred order (and there are a lot of characters). As you chit-chat around, you'll learn facts about the other characters that will raise your suspicions towards that character (for example, A will say she saw B in the kitchen, or B will say that C hated the victim.) As you talk with each suspect about all the other suspects and other facts, you'll slowly connect the dots and construct a clear profile for each character. Once you have gathered enough information on a certain person, you can confront them, which usually results in you learning a significant fact that brings you closer to the truth. Rinse and repeat and you'll eventually find the killer. Different from the J.B. Harold I've played until now is that the murders don't stop with the first murder of Kagetani Koutarou (who is killed in the prologue anyway). Like the subtitle The Tarot Serial Murder Case suggests, more murders follow as you progress in the game and start poking around, but it's all part of the story and there's no threat of the player running out of time or not being able to solve the game because a suspect's been eliminated. Not much thinking is required on the part of the player, though making the connections yourself does make the game a lot smoother: if you yourself can't remember what line of investigation you're pursuing at the moment, you'll be forced to go around questioning everyone on everything, which can take ages. I can basically quote myself from the J.B. Harold: Kiss of Murder review to summarize my thoughts, as the games are, mechanically speaking, almost identical:

Kiss of Murder's emphasis lies on unraveling the complex ties between all the characters. At first, you'll only have a face and a name, but as you progress, you'll slowly uncover how each of these characters are connected, and most of them will turn out to be quite different from your first impression. As a game it's certainly not a very engaging or thrilling experience, as you're basically only going through dialogue, with everyone snitching on each other. The fun lies in going through this story in a non-linear fashion and making the connections yourself in your mind, as the game itself doesn't explain (for example, the game might tell you need to confront suspect A with their lies now, but you yourself have to remember that a while ago, suspect B and C both provided proof that suspect A had lied in completely different testimonies). At the best times, it does really feel like you yourself are solving this case, but at the worst of times, Kiss of Murder feels like a chore, as you run around asking everyone about everything in the hopes of coming across a clue. 

I do like the 1920s setting though. There are basically no other mystery videogames that use this setting. Almost. A few years ago, I reviewed the PlayStation 2 game Glass Rose. Which was also set in a fancy Western-style manor in 1920s Japan. But if you read the review, you'll understand that this is no coincidence, for Glass Rose was a game written by the same Suzuki Rika, but in her Cing period. It is quite clear Suzuki was also thinking of her older game Kohakuiro no Yuigon when she was working on the 2003 Glass Rose, for there are a few neat references to be found: not only do these games share the same time setting, the protagonist of Glass Rose is also called Kagetani and what was most surprising was that the floorplan of the second floors of both the Kagetani manor and the Kinema Mansion in Glass Rose are exactly the same, only flipped upside down! These are the kinds of inter-work references I really like!

Kohakuiro no Yuigon - Seiyou Karuta Renzoku Satsujin Jiken is not a mystery adventure game I would immediately recommend to everyone. You can tell it's a very dated game from the way it plays. It's very sober in design and the story moves very slowly. It is atmospheric though, and as a fan of Suzuki Rika's work, I simply couldn't skip this one. If you've played games in the J.B. Harold series, you know exactly what you'll get. Considering how similar they play, they are almost interchangeable, but I did find the story of Kohakuiro no Yuigon less engaging than the three J.B. Harold games I've tried.

Original Japanese title(s): 『琥珀色の遺言~西洋骨牌連続殺人事件~』

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Das Fräulein von Scuderi

ほら ti ta ta ta ガラスの針
「Marionette Fantasia」(Garnet Crow) 

Look ti ta ta ta
When the glass hands strike twelve 
On the holy night, the seven-headed shadow
reaches out for the powerless figure
"Marionette Fantasia" (Garnet Crow)

One of the best novels I read last year was Kobayashi Yasumi's Alice Goroshi (2013), also known as The Murder of Alice. This brilliant fantasy mystery novel introduced us to Ari and Imori, two college students who discovered they shared a common dream, linking them to another world. Each night, both of them would dream very lively dreams about being characters in a mysterious Wonderland with fantastical creatures and having adventures or simply nonsensical conversations with characters like the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, Boojums and the Queen of Hearts. The characters from Wonderland in turn always dreamed about living on some boring Earth, doing mundane stuff there, completing this two-way link. The slow-witted Bill the Lizard for example was the sharp-witted Imori on Earth and while both characters had their own distinct personalities, they shared their memories. In Alice Goroshi, Ari and Imori learn that if a person dies in Wonderland, even if it's 'just a dream', the Earth counterpart dies too and they realize someone is murdering people in Wonderland to kill their Earth counterparts. With Alice in Wonderland being framed for these Wonderland murders, Ari and Imori, and Alice and Bill the Lizard work together to uncover the true culprit.

A second volume followed with Kobayashi's Clara Goroshi (The Murder of Clara, 2016), though this is technically a prequel, set shortly before the events in Alice Goroshi. The mentally-challenged Bill the Lizard one day takes a wrong turn in Wonderland and eventually finds himself in a world he has never seen before, inhabitated by humans, but also automata (robots), magical snake-women, seven-headed mice and talking nutcrackers. Bill meets with Clara, a girl in a wheelchair, and Drosselmeyer, a judge and inventor, who quickly realizes that Bill is from a different world. He explains to Bill that this is a different world from Wonderland, but that the people in this world, which he dubs the Hoffman Universe, also have avatars in the world they call "Earth" and that they'll meet there because they have something to discuss with him. Back on Earth, Bill's counterpart Imori is approached by... Kurara, a Japanese girl in a wheelchair and Drosselmeyer, her German uncle who teaches at Imori's college. Clara has received a threatening letter, but attempts have been made on both Clara in the Hoffman Universe, as well as on Kurara here on Earth (which is why she's in a wheelchair). They hope that Imori and Bill, as an outside party present on both Earth and the Hoffman Universe, can help figure out who is trying to kill Clara in both worlds. Imori reluctantly agrees to the job (though he has Professor Drosselmeyer promise that Judge Drosselmeyer will find a suitable partner for Bill the Lizard while in the Hoffman Universe, as Bill is rather dense). However, Imori is unable to prevent Kurara from falling into a deathly trap, while Clara too disappears from the Hoffman Universe. Bill the Lizard (and Imori) is at the risk of becoming the scapegoat for these murders, until Mademoiselle de Scudéri in the Hoffman Universe decides to get involved.

Okay, so before I started reading this novel, I genuinely thought, nay, I never even doubted that this novel would be about Klara from Heidi. I mean, I knew this book started with a meeting with a girl in a wheelchair, and how many girls named Klara in a wheelchair could there be in children's literature? Turns out that was a fake-out, for it's revealed very early on that Clara Goroshi is not set in the universe of Heidi, but in a literary universe featuring the creations of German author E. T. A. Hoffman, known for works like Nussknacker und Mausekönig (The Nutcracker and the Mouse King) (on which the ballet is based). Unlike the Wonderland in Alice Goroshi however, Clara Goroshi is not set in the universe of one specific Hoffman work, but in a universe where characters from various stories all live side-by-side: from characters like Drosselmeyer and Marie from Nussknacker und Mausekönig to Clara, Nathanael and Coppola from Der Sandmann and Mademoiselle de Scudéri from Das Fräulein von Scuderi. The characters don't follow the settings from the original stories exactly either (as they all live together now), so it's a bit of a mish-mash in a Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque approach. I myself am not really familiar with Hoffman's work, but fans may find it interesting to see how these characters are portrayed in their new roles in this novel.

While Clara Goroshi is technically a prequel set immediately before Alice Goroshi, it's most definitely best read after reading the first novel, as it builds on the great premise of the first novel. In Alice Goroshi, Kobayashi explored the relation between Wonderland and Earth to bring a wonderful fantastical mystery, by having the reader, Ari and Imori slowly learn how actions in one world were reflected in the other world, and the avatars in both worlds had to work together, sharing knowledge and information in order to catch the brilliant murderer who made use of these connections. Clara Goroshi is built upon these foundations, so some elements that are only revealed later in Alice Goroshi are actually mentioned early on in Clara Goroshi, so that might spoil the former if you don't read them in order. That said, knowing Alice Goroshi certainly doesn't make the job easier for the home detective, because Kobayashi once again makes fantastic use of the premise of avatars in two connected worlds, while also portraying an enchanting fantasy world with larger-than-life characters with incredibly funny and whimsical dialogue that fits so well with the atmosphere of these novels, that embrace the dark side of children's literature.

While Clara Goroshi is definitely a fantasy novel, with characters like automata and talking nutcrackers, the core mystery plot is of course pure deductive bliss, one that works exactly because it is set in a world that is not real. Kobayashi does a good job at going beyond the framework he laid out in Alice Goroshi, taking a step back and saying "Okay, I did this and established that in the first novel, so now I can go this way with this second novel." Having Alice Goroshi as his base allows him to pull of some nice ideas, and especially the misdirection is once again great. In Alice Goroshi, the misdirection was mainly focused within the whimsical, nonsensical dialogue between the utterly nuts characters from Wonderland: in Clara Goroshi, we have a murderer who does a far more impressive job at using misdirection to confuse the detectives, and the great thing is of course that these ideas only work because of the supernatural setting of these novels: these tricks and ideas can simply not be used in "normal" settings. While technically, the underlying idea is something you'll often see in mystery fiction, the variation shown here makes such clever use of the rules and ideas established in both this and the first novel, that it's absolutely original, and due to the careful way in which Kobayashi plotted the novels, it also feels completely fair, despite the 'magic'. It's therefore such a shame Kobayashi used such a lame clue to out the identity of the murderer (the accidental slip of the tongue), as the core idea is far better than that.

What I think is especially great about this novel is that the underlying premise is very likely to fool readers who have read Alice Goroshi already, the readers who are familiar with how Earth and the other worlds are linked. The rules for both the Earth-Wonderland and Earth-Hoffman-Universe connections are exactly the same, and given their experience with Alice Goroshi, you'd think experienced readers will have an edge and have some idea of what to expect, Kobayashi does a commendable job by not subverting the established rules or even adding new rules on top of what we already know, but very simply, yet effectively using those same rules to create a plot which experienced readers are more likely to fall for than new-time readers. Some elements of the plot may raise questions with experienced readers, but it's unlikely they'll see through the whole thing, while I have a feeling first time readers will have less trouble asking the right questions.

Some parts of the story are less cohesive than the first novel though. The underlying reason for the motive for example is incredibly convoluted, involving several characters to simply act as horrible as possible for... no absolutely reason at all than to be cruel to everyone around them and to serve as the background setting for the titular murder. You don't need to figure this part out to directy identify the murderer/murder method, but it is quite difficult to truly accept the circumstances which led to Kurara's murder, whereas Alice Goroshi ultimately had a very human motive. Kurara Goroshi also seems to be a sort of ultimate crossover novel for Kobayashi: a few detective characters from his other stories also make guest appearances, and there's even a part that's confusing until you look it up: one secondary character will experience something that seems to go utterly against the rules that have been established so far about the link between Earth and the other worlds and Kobayashi uses his characters to explicitly tell the reader that his experience is singularly unique and not of consequence in solving the mystery of Kurara Goroshi. Turns out that the experiences that character had are described in an unrelated horror story by Kobayashi. Feels a bit cheap and distracting to have such a scene solely to link to another story, even if Kobayashi makes it clear that that one scene should not be considered when trying to solve the mystery.

While I had of course expected this already considering the first novel, I can safely say I really liked Clara Goroshi too: it's a great example of the fantasy mystery novel, using its unique, but clearly established supernatural rules to present highly original mystery plots. The way in which Kobayashi utilizes famous existing literature as its backdrop also gives this series a unique feeling, and while I myself was not familiar with Hoffman's work before, I loved seeing all these fantastical creatures interacting with each other, and with Bill the Lizard. I read the pocket version, which was released early 2020, and I hope the pocket version for the third novel (Dorothy Goroshi, which I think is about Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz) will follow soon too.

Original Japanese title(s):  小林泰三『クララ殺し』

Saturday, May 9, 2020

番外編:The Red Locked Room Released

Some readers may have been disappointed when Locked Room International didn't release a full-length Japanese mystery last year. Abiko's hilarious locked room mystery The 8 Mansion Murders was released in 2018 and while Abiko's short story A Smart Dummy in the Tent was published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 2019, most people had probably expected something more from Locked Room International after the annual releases of The Decagon House Murders (2015), The Moai Island Puzzle (2016) and The Ginza Ghost (2017). But I'm happy to say we can offer you something now in these times.

For the short story collection The Red Locked Room was released today, with a selection of seven stories with locked room murders, perfect alibis and other impossibilities by none other than the illustrious Tetsuya Ayukawa. I was once again very fortunate to be involved with this project as the translator. Ayukawa (1919-2002) was one of most respected driving forces of puzzle plot mysteries in post-war Japan. His creative output was excellent, with meticulously written plots that often involved perfect alibis that had to be cracked, but he was also a master of other impossible mysteries like the locked room murder. While he has not been translated in English before, you may know his name from the award named after him: the Ayukawa Tetsuya Award is awarded annually by the publisher Tokyo Sogensha, which gives newcomers an opportunity to debut as a professional authors. Ayukawa was very keen on finding and nurturing new and old mystery talent, as he himself had a rather rough start as a mystery writer. Keikichi Osaka was for example a mostly forgotten author, but Ayukawa was one of the people who brought his stories back on the stage and for all we know, The Ginza Ghost would never have been released without Ayukawa. Many shin honkaku authors made their debut because of Ayukawa's editiorial efforts. Two of them are Taku Ashibe and Alice Arisugawa, the duo responsible for the initial selection of the stories included in Locked Room International's The Red Locked Room.

Unfortunately enough, Ayukawa himself did not see an English translation of his own works during his own life-time. One of his short stories was actually considered for Ellery Queen's anthology Japanese Golden Dozen: first that story didn't made it because it was considered perhaps too complex, and when it was finally included in the second volume of Japanese Golden Dozen, that second volume never got an actual English release!

The Red Locked Room includes seven stories, four starring the foppish great detective Ryūzō Hoshikage, three starring the ever-diligent Inspector Onitsura. The Hoshikage stories are about locked room murders and other impossibilities: a murder in a locked autopsy room, a killer clown disappearing from a tunnel and more. The Red Locked Room, The Blue Locked Room and The White Room form a colorful trio, and especially The Red Locked Room is regarded very highly among fans of the genre. The Clown in the Tunnel is a personal favorite with its brilliantly plotted impossible vanishing, and I don't even like clowns! We also have Inspector Onitsura, who is always facing suspects who appear to have a perfect alibi even though Onitsura's certain he's on the right trail. Both Whose Body? and Death in Early Spring keep you guessing what really happened as Onitsura investigates each possible trail, while The Five Clocks is a genuine masterpiece about a man with a perfect alibi vouched for by no less than five different clocks! The book also features an introduction by Taku Ashibe, who has been a tremendous help in making this project possible in the first place. His preface gives you insight in how important Ayukawa was for the genre both as writer as well as an editor.

My own reviews of the stories included are a bit scattered, as The Red Locked Room features an original selection: you can find the Hoshikage stories here and here, and the Onisura stories here (never reviewed Whose Body? I realize now). Publishers Weekly's early review is also available now, which gave the book a starred rating and says "The seven whodunits in this outstanding collection reveal Ayukawa (1919–2002) to have been one of Japan’s most accomplished writers of classic fair-play mysteries" and "Ayukawa’s ingenuity will make golden age fans hope his novels will also be translated." On The Threshold of Chaos also has reviews of the Japanese version of the Hoshikage stories here and here.

Anyway, I think that people who have enjoyed the previous Japanese release by Locked Room International will have a lot of fun with these stories too. The fantastical impossibilities of the Hoshikage stories and the slightly more realistic approach of the Inspector Onitsura stories cover a wide range and on a completely personal note, I am really thrilled to see Tetsuya Ayukawa finally getting an international audience! And that's it for today's service announcement. Enjoy The Red Locked Room!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Trouble in Triplicate

"The thief," said G., is the Minister D--, who dares all things, those unbecoming as well as those becoming a man. The method of the theft was not less ingenious than bold. The document in question --a letter, to be frank --had been received by the personage robbed while alone in the royal boudoir.
"The Purloined Letter"

In case you haven't seen it yet: the Ellery Queen television series is really good!

The Karazawa family is an upper-class family in the provincial town of Hagi in the Yamaguchi Prefecture, consisting of father Mitsumasa (a local banker), his wife Sumie and their three beautiful daughters Reiko, Noriko and Keiko. One day, they are visited by a distant relative: Robert "Bob" Fujikura is the grandson of Mitsumasa's older sister living in the United States. Bob is travelling across Japan to further his studies in Asian History. Bob is welcomed into the family, and is offered to stay in the furnished home originally built for Noriko and her to-be husband Toshiyuki. Noriko had been engaged with this bank employee of Mitsumasa, but he suddenly went away three years ago, leaving Noriko an emotional wreck. Soon after Bob's arrival, Toshiyuki re-appears again in town, and while the rest of the family is naturally quite angry with Toshiyuki, Noriko is thrilled to have him back in her life again. The two swiftly decide they still love each other and that they should marry at once. After a honeymoon in Europe, the two move into the house originally built for them (Bob is offered a room in the main house). One day however, Noriko comes across three undelivered letters written by Toshiyuki, hidden away inside a book, and the contents greatly startle her. When Keiko and Bob take a look too, they realize the letters seem to hint at some plot by Toshiyuki to murder his wife. The two can hardly believe it, but they decide to keep an eye all the same, but despite their precautions, the cousins are unable to prevent a deadly poisoning during a party in the 1979 film Haitatsu Sarenai Santsuu no Tegami ("The Three Undelivered Letters").

And if this summary sounds familiar despite the names, you have probably read Ellery Queen's novel Calamity Town, as this movie is indeed an official film adaptation of the Queen novel, directed by Nomura Yoshitarou, who did many mystery novel-to-film adaptations back then (I myself have only seen his Suna no Utsuwa and the 1977 film adaptation of Yatsu Haka Mura). Like I mentioned in my review of the novel, Calamity Town is considered to rank among the best Queen has written in some circles, though personally, I disagree greatly. As a mystery story, I think it's far too limited, simple and unimaginative compared to the other (earlier) output of Queen and while it does a good job at presenting the fictional locale of Wrightsville as a true living town, that's hardly enough to make it an interesting tale of detection. But I did note in the same review that "there is a Japanese film based on this book (...) which is supposedly quite good, though I haven't seen it yet. Considering that Nomura has done a ton of mystery films emphasizing human drama with a larger society backdrop (a lot of Matsumoto Seichou film adaptations for example), the choice for Calamity Town is an understandable one though."

Ultimately, I'd say Haitatsu Sarenai Santsuu no Tegami is a very competent, and faithful adaptation of the source material. Sure, there's the major change in background setting, with the whole story being set in the provincial town of Hagi and the writer Ellery being replaced by Bob who speaks ridiculously accented Japanese, but the core mystery plot is left completely intact. I'd say the truly major difference between the original novel and this film is that the film shows very little of the town and its people: while not surprising, the movie decides to focus completely on the core Karazawa family and its members to emphasize the human drama there, rather than spending the film's limited runtime to showing how the people around them react. This is also the difference between the characters of Ellery, who came as an outsider to the Wright family, and Bob, who may be an outsider, but is (mostly) treated as a family member. Noriko is at the center of the drama, who starts out as emotionally dead, becomes thrilled and alive again when Toshiyuki returns, but turns terrified once she's found the letters, and her ever-changing state of mind also has its effect on Keiko and Bob, who work together in secret to help Noriko.

I said most of what I wanted to say about the core plot in my review of the book, so I'd recommend you to take a look there, but I do have to say the film can be very slow due to the source material. I mean, the movie is just over two hours long, but I believe it takes around ninety minutes before the deadly incident occurs. So a lot of time is spent on characterization and fleshing out the human drama and setting up the incident. Sure, a detective story does need set-up and foreshadowing and things like that, but if you want a mystery film that focuses on a detective plot, this is not the place for you. In that respect, Haitatsu Sarenai Santsuu no Tegami is really a lot like the original novel. Many praise the novel for its characterization, especially in comparison to Queen's earlier output, but personally, I find the scale of the core mystery plot too small, and that's something you also notice in this movie. In the novel, it took Ellery months to realize something about the death which seemed very out of character. Fortunately, we don't have series detectives in this movie, and the timeline of the movie is also compressed a lot (it doesn't span months), so things do feel a bit more natural? or less contrived as it seemed so unlikely in the original novel nobody would ever think of that one slip-up they made in such a long time.

Haitatsu Sarenai Santsuu no Tegami is thus a faithful and well-made adaptation of the source material. However personally I was not a fan of the original novel, and obviously, this film didn't change much about my opinion of it. If you're a fan of Calamity Town however, I can definitely recommend this movie, as it's pretty good. I do know there's also a Japanese television drama adaptation of The Tragedy of Y, which may be a lot more interesting than this film

Original Japanese title(s): 『配達されない三通の手紙』

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Adventure of the Unspeakable Story


I feel like I'm right in the middle of a fight scene of a historical drama
 "2012Spark" (Porno Graffiti)

Perhaps I should also reread the Gyakuten Kenji manga...

If you look around on this blog, you'll find a lot of posts that cover the Gyakuten Saiban ("Turnabout Trial") videogame series. While it started a low-key zany Columbo-inspired courtroom drama mystery game on the GameBoy Advance back in 2001, Gyakuten Saiban, better known outside of Japan under its localized title Ace Attorney, is now nearing its twentieth birthday as a multimedia franchise. I have reviewed the various videogames in this series, but also other media outings like novels, serialized short stories, guidebooks on the actual Japanese justice system, musicals, stage plays, theatrical films and probably more. Nowadays you also have events like real life Ace Attorney Escape Rooms, but I vividly remember that the series really started to develop as a multimedia franchise after the release of the 2005 Nintendo DS title Gyakuten Saiban; Yomigaeru Gyakuten, which was also the first game in the series to be released outside Japan with the title Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. This was an enhanced port of the original 2001 videogame, but after this release, it was also announced that the fourth game in the series was in development. It was the marketing surrounding the release of the Nintendo DS game Gyakuten Saiban 4 (AKA Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney) that really made the franchise grow into something much more than videogames.

The serialized manga Gyakuten Saiban ("Turnabout Trial") by Kuroda Kenji (story) and Maekawa Kazuo (art) was probably one of the more remarkable moments that helped the series' development. This limited series was serialized irregularly between 2006 and 2008 in Young Magazine and ultimately collected in five volumes. While it was based on the videogames, basically no prior knowledge is necessary to read this series. All you have to know is that this is a comedic mystery series about the attorney Naruhodou. Each story revolves around a trial, where he and his client face absolutely hopeless situations, but by slowly pointing out contradictions in the prosecution's story and pulling a Columbo, Naruhodou always manages to turn the case completely around and find out who the real murderer is. The stories featured are completely original creations by the mystery author Kuroda and the recurring characters from the videogame that do appear, are properly introduced for first-time readers/players.

So the manga Gyakuten Saiban wasn't a comic made exclusively for existing fans, but it was written to introduce new readers to the world of Ace Attorney, to entice the readers to purchase and play Gyakuten Saiban 4, which was released soon after the serialization of this series started. You'll find no obscure references to in-game events or a story steeped too deep in the lore of multiple videogames: this is simply a highly enjoyable mystery comic that made great use of the characters and setting of the original videogames. This comic was also published outside Japan, and to be honest, at times I do think this series may be better to introduce mystery readers to mystery manga than for example Detective Conan or Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, because it's a fairly compact series at only five volumes, while still featuring a few interesting locked room murders and other types of tales (and the English version features localized names, making it easier to follow for people who can't memorize Japanese names). So I'd definitely recommend this series even if you haven't played any of the videogames or ever read any mystery manga.

This was an interesting re-read for me by the way. I hadn't quite seriously started studying Japanese yet when this series started, and I bought the recently released first two volumes during my first visit to Japan. My Japanese studies started after that and reading Gyakuten Saiban really made it clear how much I was learning. I could hardly read any words when I started with the first volume, but by the time the fifth volume was released, I was already preparing for my first extended study exchange in Japan... And now of course, I can race through these five volumes in the same time it took me to read one chapter in the first volume when I first started. The 2007 prose short story Turnabout Bridge, which I reviewed in 2016, was also written by Kuroda Kenji by the way, so you consider that 'part' of the manga series.

In the opening story Kaze to Tomo ni Gyakuten ("Turnabout in The Wind"), Naruhodou has to defend his childhood friend Yahari, who has a real knack of getting into trouble, and causing trouble for others. He is the suspect in the murder case of Shinjou Hikaru, a middle-aged married man who had an affair with Yahari's girlfriend Suzune. She broke up with Shinjou after finding out he was married, but even though she was dating Yahari now, Shinjou kept bugging her. On the night of Shinjou's murder, Yahari had made a rather threatening call to the victim, and Shinjou was found not long after Yahari's call, stabbed in the abdomen. Making Yahari the perfect suspect. While it's not hard to guess who the real murderer is, I think this story is an excellent showcase of how the mystery plotting of the videogames go, and it works also perfectly in this manga. The reader is thrown into the trial right at once and basically backed into a corner immediately with all the evidence the prosecution has, but you'll slowly uncover small contradictions that string together into an actual line of reasoning. The clues are really good: some make clever use of the visual medium, some require you to also make deductions and conclusions yourself based on previously presented information. There's a really nice flow to the story: you're not waiting until the very end of the story to see things unfold, but you move there step by step, clearing up smaller contradictions one at a time. The way the evidence of the prosecution is turned around in the defense' favor is also great, and if you'd plot all the clues/foreshadowing on a graph and how they sometimes return later in the story, you'd see that despite the simple and short set-up of this tale, it's a very well crafted and fair tale. For example, there's one aspect of the story that requires knowledge that is a bit specialistic, but Kuroda's clever plotting and clewing allows the reader to deduce that piece of knowledge on their own, so even if you didn't know that, you can make an educated guess based solely on the information given to you within this story. So the game is played very fairly.

Naruhodou and his assistant Mayoi are invited to the manor of IT company CEO Komori Akamune in the second story, Gyakuten no Shikeidai ("Turnabout Gallows"). Two weeks ago, his arrogant, but talented employee Kimura Jirou committed suicide by falling off a platform in the park and Akamune fears he may be arrested for Jirou's death. On the night of Jirou's murder, Akamune had invited Jirou to his manor to discuss his attitude, but when Jirou left the house, he was in an extremely agitated state and ultimately made a fatal fall. When Naruhodou and Mayoi talk to Akamune's daughter Sara and Jirou's older brother Hatsurou however, they realize that Akamune had probably murdered Jirou, by making use of Jirou's fear for spiders. Akamune's younger brother Sasao lives in an annex building with his huge collection of spiders, and Hatsurou suspects Akamune tortured his younger brother with those spiders. Later that night, Akamune is knocked out by an unknown figure, and he wakes up to findhimself tied up to a chair in the Spider Mansion. To his great shock, he sees a spider-man walking on the ceiling. His wife, daughter, Hatsurou, Naruhodou and Mayoi had been looking for Akamune in the main manor, and when they use the intercom to contact the Spider Mansion, Akamune explains he's being held captive in the Spider Mansion and that's there's a spider-man roaming around. But then Akamune's killed by a knock on the head and the Spider Mansion goes up in flames. The suspect in the murder case is Akamune's younger brother Sasao, as he was the only one absent during the intercom call to the Spider Mansion from the main manor.

Again a case that makes good use of the theme of a "turnabout" and visual clues. The visual clues are really clever and nicely incorporated in the background, and it really gives you a good chance at figuring out what happened and how the real culprit managed to fake their alibi. It's pretty easy to guess who probably did it, but I really like how you also need find the logical argument to prove that the real murderer did it, and it's here again where the trope of re-using earlier presented clues/evidence in new context really shines. In the videogames, most evidence pieces are used multiple times in various context, and that is replicated perfectly here, with utterances and clues being used in one way in deductions presented earlier in the trial, coming back in a completely different way at the end. The trick behind the murder is really original, though to be completely honest, it's a bit hard to swallow anyone could've prepared all of that within that short time period. It's a lot of work. Still, it's a really interesting case.

Gyakuten no Showtime ("Turnabout Showtime") is a much shorter case, but still interesting. Narohodou and Mayoi are visiting the entertainment park Kira Kira Land, but during the Kirarin Show with the three mascotte figures Kirarin, Pikakorin and Dekarin, one of the actors collapsed on stage. When they realize he's so bleeding heavily it's seeping out of the suit, they try to get the actor, Ichinomiya, out of it but the zipper in the back has been glued tight. It's already too late when they finally get him out, but to everyone's great surprise, Ichinomiya had been stabbed in his stomach. As the three suit actors can't zip themselves up (the zipper is in the back, but it's impossible with the suits' arms and hands to even attempt to zip up yourself), suspicion of the murder falls on the actress Juri, as she is the only one of the group who doesn't wear a big fluffy suit and could thus unzip Ichinomiya, stab him, and zip him up again. Everyone has a few moments backstage during the show, so the police suspects Juri stabbed Ichinomiya while they happened to be backstage together. Assuming that Juri's innocent though, it means Ichinomiya died inside a locked room: he was inside a mascotte suit that had no exterior damage at all (so the knife did not pierce through the costume), yet all the other suspects were zipped up and none of those two could unzip themselves or Ichinomiya in a swift manner to stab him in the stomach. I love this story: the setting of a murder during a mascotte costume show is really original as is the notion of the "smallest locked room murder" as Naruhodou calls it. You're constantly presented with information that at first seems to be in your favor, then dismissed in a logical manner by the prosecution, only to come back again later in the trial in surprising manners. The theme of "turnabout" (the situation being exactly the opposite of what you assumed) is used fantastically here too.

In Gyakuten no Yogensho ("Turnabout Prophecy"), Naruhodou and Mayoi visit the fortune tellers' corner at the local department store, where they also meet with Kaede, a high school student with a love for the occult. The corner houses five different fortune tellers, and because of the immense popularity, visitors are put in time slots and scheduled for three fortune tellers. Naruhodou is having his palms read when he hears a woman's cry from the room of Oracle Reika, a fortune teller who is considered the real deal. They break the locked door open to find a shocked Kaede inside. Reika however has been brutally murdered with the Deathscythe which usually decorated the wall. Because the two doors to the room (one connecting to the plaza in front, the other to the backyard) were locked from the inside, it appears only Kaede was capable of slaying Reika, but Kaeda swears she couldn't have done so, as Reika had instructed the girl to put her arm through the Hell's Gate and that a demon on the other side held her hand until moments before she herself found Reika's body.

Are fortune tellers corners a thing in Japan? It seems so extraordinary, but I've seen the same setting (a courtyard with various fortune tellers with different specialties) used in series like Puzzle Game ☆ High School and 33pun Tantei now... I think it's a shame these stories always feature such a small cast, because you can usually guess who the murderer is (not very imporant) and as a result, make an educated guess about what happened (I find this more disappointing). In this case, I think it becomes pretty obvious soon in the story how the locked room of Oracle Reika could be penetrated, but I do think the explanation of how that trick was done and why everything was arranged like that was really good: the foreshadowing for that reveal is excellent.

Tengoku kara no Gyakuten ("Turnabout From Heaven") is the most minimalistic story featured in this series, and has no impossibility/perfect alibi angle whatsever. The story revolves around the death of Kanenari Nihachi, the elderly owner of a famous buckwheat manufacturer. Ironically, the man had developed a buckwheat allergy recently, and someone had swapped his medicine for buckwheat, which obviously killed him. The suspect is his daughter Tsukimi, who was the only other person at home that night. She however claims it must have been her mother who killed her father. Tsukimi's mother died 16 years ago, but lately, Tsukimi has been seeing her a lot in her dreams, especially in the dreams about when she was kidnapped for a few days when she was young. She was saved by her mother then, and she believes her mother's ghost killed her father, as he had been abusing Tsukimi. The story seems to revolve around who could've swapped the medicine with buckwheat, but then turns into a very different story as Naruhodou has to prove the motive of the killer. I love the theme of turnabout here, and this story offers a very weird experience you don't even really see in the games. It's very different from the more technical murder mysteries in this series, but I think it's a welcome change of pace.

Gyakuten Kuishinbou ("Turnabout Gourmet") is about the televised food fighter competition The Strongest Gourmet King Competition. Naruhodou, Mayoi and her cousin Harumi are watching because their local ramen food stall will be offering the meal that will be used in the finals: whoever finishes the Yatabuki Special Super Spicy Miso Ramen Muscle (Super-Sized) the fastest, will be the new Gourmet King. Justice Masayoshi manages to beat his rivals Muscle Taketora and Eko Risa, but he's halfway through his victory speech when he falls down dead. The announcer becomes the defendant in the murder case, as he was the only one who could poison Justice's bowl of ramen, but was it really a case of a targeted murder? Perhaps the most disappointing case in the series, even if it's fairly entertaining on its own. The murderer's plot consists of hoping a lot that characters will do exactly as planned, which is plausible for one single action, but not if multiple characters have to do various things at various stages. I think the case does make good use of the visual medium, and the way Naruhodou deduces something had been going on behind his back is pretty good, ultimately, this is definitely the story that stands out the least in this series.

The final story in this series is titled Gyakutenryoku VS Jinzuuriki ("Turnabout Power VS Supernatural Power"), which reunites Naruhodou and Mayoi with Kaede from the fourth story. She's been interested in the shady sect The Great Tengu Association, a group which worships the Heavenly Tengu. Naruhodo had been calling Kaede everyday during her stay, but when she stopped answering his calls, he became worried and decided to visit the Association together with Mayoi. When they arrive at the cult's five-storeyed pagoda in the middle of nowhere, they find that the Association is also being harrassed by a private detective, who is determined to prove the sect and its founder Hime Tengu to be a fraud. Naruhodou and Mayoi find a safe Kaede, who has become a true believer of the Tengu. After a discussion with the founder, the detective takes the elevator down to the ground floor, an act witnessed by every member of the sect, Naruhodou and Mayoi, but when the elevator arrives on the ground floor, Kaede (the only person at the reception desk), swears the elevator is empty. The sect fears the detective is still snooping around the premises, so they search the pagoda going from bottom to top, but can't find any trace of the man. When the group is about to give up and decide to take the elevator downstairs again, they find the detective's body lying in the elevator! As Kaede was the only one who had been alone at the time, prosecution thinks she killed the detective, hid his body and later put it back in the elevator, but Naruhodou is of course sure Kaede wasn't the murderer.

A disappearance from a moving elevator! I love the trick behind it, and the clewing is really good too. There's plenty of visual clewing going on, some of them directly related to the actions of the murderer, but also a lot of clewing and foreshadowing that is utilized during the trial segments, when the defense and prosecution go back and forth with their arguments to prove or disprove Kaede's involvement in the case. Because these stories are not only about uncovering how and whodunnit, but also about making a logical argument during a trial that moves from the question of whether Kaede's guilty or not, to building a case to accuse the actual murderer, the plots in this series are usually really packed with all kinds of smaller mysteries/contradictions, and this is another great example of that leading to a story that is engaging start to finish. There's always something happening, the reader is always put in position where they're able to deduce things themselves and in the end, this is without a doubt a highly entertaining mystery story with an original impossible angle.

This post has become rather long as I decided to discuss all seven cases in this five-volume series, but as I said: Gyakuten Saiban is a really good mystery manga that is also recommended to people who don't know anything about the videogames it's based on. The stories Kuroda wrote for this series feature really original plots, most of them featuring some kind of impossible or locked room mystery, but they also do a great job at playing with the "turnabout" theme of the videogames, with the deduction battles between prosecution and defense going back and forth. The way the series makes use of the visual medium is also great and considering the series is only five volumes long, I truly think this is an excellent entry point for those who want to try out mystery manga.

Original Japanese title(s): カプコン(監修)、黒田研二(脚本)、前川かずお(漫画)『逆転裁判』第1-5巻