Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Beautiful Ruin

「所詮始まりの終わりは終わりの始まりなどではなく、どうしたところで始まりの終わりでしかない。その後に終わりが始まるかどうかは、結局は終わってみないことには分からないのだ。」
『サイコロジカル 兎吊木垓輔の戯言殺し』

"After all, the end of the beginning is not the beginning of the end. Ultimately it's nothing more but the end of the beginning. Whether the end will begin afterwards, is just something we won't know until the end begins.'
"Psycho Logical - The Killing Joke of Utsurugi Gaisuke"

Ha, I knew the cover for this volume would connect to the previous one!

Sixteen-year-old Samidare Yui and thirteen-year-old Kirigiri Kyouko may appear to be normal students of a Girls Missionary Academy at first sight, but they are also both officially registered detectives who have solved many crimes. A curious murder case at the Sirius Observatory first brought these two girls together and in the few months that have passed since, the two have become best of friends. But the two are also united in their fight against the Crime Victim Salvation Committee, a secret organization that sells perfect murder plans and the means to commit them to crime victims, their family and/or loved ones looking for revenge. However, while the Committee draws up these intricate murder schemes, they will also invite a detective on the scene who will attempt to solve the murder and catch the culprit. This game of wits where the Committee arranges for both a criminal and a detective to be present and forearmed is dubbed the Duel Noir and this clash is broadcast to the Committee's financial sponsors as a form of entertainment. The last few months, Yui and Kirigiri have managed to inflict heavy blows to the organization and their sickening games by defeating the executive members of the organization and with that, the Crime Victim Salvation Committee is near destruction.

Kirigiri receives one final Duel Noir challenge: in the next 168 hours, a locked room murder will occur in the Sirius Observatory, where her battle against Crime Victim Salvation Committee started. Kirigiri and Yui travel back to the cold, snowy place there they first met, but they find they are not the only visitors. Three other "0" Class detectives (the highest class) are also present. The three detectives are all after the immense fortune managed by the Committee, as they have received information that the Crime Victim Salvation Committee is about to fall and that the Committee's financial resources are hidden within the Sirius Observatory. Kirigiri and Yui notice the Sirius Observatory has undergone quite some renovation since their last visit, one of the changes being a special door that only opens if five different persons register their biometric data in the system. The five enter the renewed Sirius Observatory, which is shaped like a five-pointed star, with five triangle-shaped rooms surrounding a main hall. The five detectives learn they have to chain themselves to each other in order to start the system inside the observatory: each chain is twenty meters long and connects to the right hand of a person at one end, and to the left hand of another person at the other end. Everyone is thus connected to the person next to them, and the chains themselves are also connected to the doors of the guest rooms in the building, meaning everyone is chained tight to the building itself too. Putting the chains on reveals a two-meter-wide pillar of ice is standing right in the middle of the main hall, holding a little black box in the centre: presumably the box will hold both the key to unlock these chains and the whereabouts to the Committee's fortune. The other three detectives are desperate to get their hands on the box, but the pillar of ice forms a formidable obstacle, as there are no tools to be found inside the observatory, and most of the furniture either burns badly, or is bolted down to the floor.


Little is achieved the first day and when the night falls, the five detectives learn that they all have to sleep in seperate rooms, which are all locked automatically until the morning. Not complying with these rules results in the detonation of a bomb, so they have little choice. The following morning, the doors are unlocked again, but they find one of them has been murdered in their room during their sleep! But how is this possible? All the guest rooms were locked automatically, there were no footprints in the frost on the floor of the main hall, the windows were locked from the inside, there were no footprints in the snow outside and the twenty-meter-long chains on each person's arm only allow little freedom of movement outside the observatory itself, so none of them could've sneaked out through the windows anyway. Chained to each other and with little food and water left for the following days, Kirigiri and Yui have to work fast to identify the murderer and escape this icy observatory in Kitayama Takekuni's highly anticipated Danganronpa Kirigiri 7 (2020).

For this volume is the long-awaited finale to the spin-off prequel series of the videogame series Danganronpa. The references to the main series are fairly lite by the way and knowledge of the games is not really necessary to read this novel series which focuses on the past of the popular character Kirigiri Kyouko. Kitayama Takekuni started in 2013 with this series, but the release schedule was rather irregular: sometimes we had two volumes within a year, sometimes nothing in over two years, so you never knew when the series would continue. He finally managed to finish this series now, on the tenth anniversary of the Danganronpa franchise, and I'm happy he did, because I do like the series, but the long wait between certain volumes was really frustrating.

This volume makes it clear right away that this is really the grand finale to the series: the story goes full circle by returning to the place where the series first started, we go more in-depth in the past of the novel-exclusive character Yui which was mostly alluded to in the first volume and even the core mystery plot feels like a grand finale, as it cleverly incorporates elements from previous stories. Five detectives locked and tied up in the Sirius Observatory, every detective being given a stash of cash money and the existence of rules governing their movements during the night, other elements originating from the obstacles faced during the trial of the Twelve Locked Room Temples (volumes 3, 4 and 5): nothing is spoiled from these earlier volumes, but the faithful reader will definitely notice the little references here and there to the whole Danganronpa Kirigiri series, with certain ideas and concepts from earlier murder plots making a reappearance, making this specific case really feel like the end point of the story. It's an interesting way to a finale in a mystery series: thinking about it, I don't think I have ever read a final story in a detective series that so cleverly incorporated elements mystery plots from earlier stories in a meaningful manner: Kitayama obviously isn't doing these references just because he's out of ideas and rehashing old material, he's intentionally making you recall earlier events and tricks to give you the "grand finale feeling," but also to play tricks on the reader, daring them to guess how he'll cook those ingredients this time to fool them.

The mystery plot itself is the kind we've come to expect from Kitayama: we have all these grand gimmicks like all the people being changed to each other and carefully thought-out settings that limit the movement/possible actions of all the actors in the tale (the dimensions of the observatory and the available furniture) and of course there's the Kitayama Special: the very silly, but highly entertaining locked room murder that depends on some mechanical trick that involves the layout of the setting. Interesting is how it uses the Sirius Observatory from the first volume in such a different manner: while the building is slightly renovated, it's still the same basic place, so I wonder whether Kitayama had already planned to use this place as the finale and knew he'd use this spot for two different stories, or that he came up with the trick for this novel at a later stage. For the idea is really fanciful and almost cartoony, but I really love the impossible locked room murder in this story, as it's just the type of ridiculousness I want from my mystery fiction and it fits perfect with the location. One thing I always like about Kitayama's locked room murders is how you often the trick can always be explained visually. Most of the books I've read of him, including this series, feature a lot of diagrams, and often there's that one diagram that explains all the magic in just one simple figure, even if the concept and execution is fairly complex. The same here, where all the little things and hints suddenly fall in their right place the moment you see the corresponding diagram. The idea also works wonderful with all the side-elements Kitayama introduces for this story and it even allows for some really nice deduction scenes that are less about "somehow guessing how that ridiculous trick was done", but more about layered logical reasoning based on the evidence we see before us and the logical implications of the actions taken by the characters. This volume and volume 2 were the longest volumes in this series, and they were also by far the best parts of this series.


This volume even finds room to add in false solutions and actually tell a genuine story, which some of the previous volumes really struggled with: volumes 3 until 5 especially were far too short and often felt like lengthy summaries of a mystery tale, rather than actual stories that could stand on their own. It didn't help that they were also written in a way that certain cases weren't solved within the same volume, but would carry over to the next one, but even if you'd ignore that, it can't be denied that most of the locked room murders we see during the Trial of the Twelve Locked Room Temples lacked depth because it had to handle a lot of locked room murder cases within limited page numbers, while something with the length of Danganronpa Kirigiri 7 really shows what this series could have done. Danganronpa Kirigiri 7 takes the time it needs to properly end its tale of how Kirigiri and Yui bonded over the course of this series and to set things up for the events of the first Danganronpa videogame. Oh, and for Kirigiri fans: ever wanted to know the backstory of why Kirigiri wears gloves? It's here!

Danganronpa Kirigiri has been a series that did not always live up to its potential. While the core impossible murder plots were always interesting, the hasty middle part lacked depth, making the series feel more like a work-in-progress at times. Danganronpa Kirigiri 7 however brings the series back to form in its long-awaited finale, and it was worth it! A great conclusion with much-appreciated references to past events/murder plots and a genuinely well-built up ending to the tale of the besties Yui and Kirigiri. At one hand, I'm happy this series has ended now, especially in this form, but I have to admit I'm sad we won't see the duo of Yui and Kirigiri anymore, as the whole franchise has moved on already, and it's unlikely we'll ever even hear references to Yui, as she's a character exclusive to this novel series and Kirigiri's story in the other media (games/anime) is now over. Danganronpa Kirigiri might not always do what you want it to do, but in the end, I'm glad I decided to read this series, and that's not even said only as a Danganronpa fan.

Original Japanese title(s): 北山猛邦 『ダンガンロンパ 霧切り7』

8 comments :

  1. Thanks for the review. I can feel your enthusiasm for the locked room just by reading this! Very pleased to hear the finale lived up to expectations after the last few volumes. Kyoko deserves it! She's one of my favorite detectives based on her design and personality

    It's such a crime that the series isn't available as ebooks. Without kindle's dictionary, I'll have to wait a long time until either the fan translations finish or I become a kanji master. Well, for now I'll get my taste of Kitayama by continuing to read Rurijou Satsujin Jiken

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    1. I believe none of the books in this label are sold as e-books, same with those Fate/Grand Order mysteries I reviewed last year by Van Madoy. To be honest, these books are a bit pricey considering the page count, but I guess fans like us will buy them anyway... ^_~' I kinda wish there'd be an anime adapation of this series, with a slightly fleshed-out mid-section. Perhaps for the 20th anniversary? :P

      The thing with Kitayama's locked rooms is that I am not like a focused fan of the locked room mystery subgenre, and variations on the thread and needle solution or a switcheroo about who went inside when don't really make me enthusiastic unless it's a particularly well done version, but the locked rooms of Kitayama are so wonderfully silly with ideas/concepts like whole buildings moving around, complete rooms turning out to be death traps or other 'gimmicks' like special rules that govern the movements of the characters, and I feel like they are *far* more fun than 'realistic' or mundane locked rooms. Like, who comes up with the idea of having every character chained to each other with long chains inside a star-shaped building and make the impossibility revolve around the length of the chains!?

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    2. I've played Danganronpa V3, so i get what you mean about Kitayama's locked rooms. If I'm reading his wikipedia entry correctly, it says he first got interested in mechanical tricks after reading Shimada's naname yashiki no hanzai, so that explains a lot!

      I'd love to see an anime adaptation as well, which would visualize the mechanical tricks as well as have a higher chance of being localized or translated. You'd think there would be more adaptations of this type of mystery given the immense popularity of conan and all his (string-based) mechanical tricks, let alone something with preexisting fanbase like danganronpa. Like you said, let’s wait and see if they have anything for the 20th anniversary x'D

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    3. They just released all DR light novels on Kindle (DR Kirigiri, Togami, and Zero). Someone at Kodansha must be monitoring my comments ¯\_( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)_/¯ Looking forward to try and read the books now!

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    4. Enjoy them! I haven't read the Togami novels myself, though skimming through some reviews it seems that series is the least interesting out of the three (not even sure if it's a mystery series or not). If you're going to try them too, let me know if they're good :P

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  2. Fresh 2019-2020 prints in my mail of that real Japanese detective fiction:
    https://i.imgur.com/Y2Jj7ti.jpg

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    1. By the way, is the Crime Victim Salvation Committee kind of similar to Pluto?

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    2. Nice purchases. Enjoy!

      An important difference with Pluto is that the Crime Victim Salvation Committee produces a 'Duel Noir' instead of just a crime. A would-be murderer can buy tricks from the Committee and have them prepare everything like building renovation if necessary, but all of that costs a lot of money. If the murderer wins (commits murder/gets away), all debts will be erased, but part of the deal is that the Committee will also invite a detective to the crime scene. The skill level of the detective depends on the value of the purchased 'items,' but the detective is only invited (so sometimes, no detective appears). As it's a duel, the murderer is not allowed to harm the detective and there are even judges from the Committee who will interfere if the murderer decides to break the rules.

      So the Committee is different in the sense they aren't just creating crime, but more like creating a murderer vs detective game on purpose, which is not the case with Pluto. The summoned detective even receives the 'grocery list' of the murderer each time, like '1 locked room murder, 1 knife, 2 ropes' etc.

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