Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Timetable Affair

「レールの上を走れる電車は走らない電車よりもいい電車」
『クビキリサイクル』 

"A train which runs on rails is still better than a train which doesn't run at all."
"The Kubikiri Cycle"


This is a very odd (e-book) cover: it has the text you usually find on the back of a book, on the front!

Disclosure: I translated Ayukawa's short story collection The Red Locked Room. Advertisement: if you haven't bought the book yet, please do!

As a Japanese puppet state located in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia, Manchukuo had a very international population, which of course brought its own set of troubles when it came to fighting crime. Inspector Onitsura is one of the many Japanese police detectives who has been posted in the city of Dalian and one day, he is put on the case of the murder on the Russian Ivan Petrov. The man lived all on his own in a secluded place, but was known to be quite wealthy. He had no family of his own, but his deceased siblings all had children, and he has taken good care of his three cousins Anton, Nicolai and Alexander. But as of late, things didn't go smooth between the three cousins and their uncle, as Ivan was a far too-proud Russian and wouldn't allow for his cousins to marry non-pure Russians. This obviously gave all three of them a good reason for killing the old man. At first, Onitsura may think it's an easy job, but to his great surprise he finds that all three cousins have perfect alibis for the time of the murder: Anton was travelling across the country by train and was seen several times by various witnesses, Nicolai went to collect research materials at a local farmer and Alexander had been on a date with his fiancée the whole day. One of them must be lying, but who? That is the question that drives the plot of Ayukawa Tetsuya's debut novel Petrov Jiken ("The Petrov Affair" 1950).

If you have read the introduction by Ashibe Taku in Ayukawa's The Red Locked Room, you might remember there's quite a tale behind the debut of Ayukawa, a person who would become one of the most important figures in the history of puzzle plot mysteries in Japan. Ayukawa had been brought up in Manchukuo, as his father worked for the Manchurian railways. He had written his first novel (Petrov Jiken) there, but his family had to flee Manchukuo when World War II intensified, and he lost the manuscript during that chaos. And even after re-writing the story and winning a competition with it after the war, luck still wasn't on Ayukawa's side, as financial problems at the publisher again proved to be an obstacle. But after all of that, Petrov Jiken finally did get published, and it's very much a story like you'd expect from Ayukawa.

For when you think of Inspector Onitsura, you think of mystery stories revolving around perfect alibis that need to be cracked, and that's also true in Onitsura's first appearance. All three of Onitsura's suspects have perfect alibis that depend on very different elements, so not only does he need to figure out which of them could've been faked, he also has to dig deeper to see whether the fact a person faked an alibi also means they killed old Petrov. The story's setting is definitely what makes Petrov Jiken an interesting read: not surprisingly, this is the very first novel I've ever read that is set in Manchukuo, and the region around Dalian makes for a captivating locale. The fact that Ayukawa grew here is definitely noticable, and the city truly comes alive within the pages of this book. Dalian has a very international population, and one of the earliest scenes that stands out involves local policemen not being being able to speak all of the many languages used around here: some may speak Japanese, but no Russian or Chinese, and the customs and 'common sense' of the various people living here is also of importance to the mystery plot: some of the minor mysteries Onitsura manages to solve depend on unspoken, yet important cultural differences which create interesting and even ingenious problems. None of this is necessary knowledge to solve the big questions, so as a reader, I just thought it was educational and amusing to see such ideas pass by. There's some cultural stereotyping here, but on the whole Ayukawa portrays an interesting international cast in an international setting that is now nothing but a memory of the past, as Manchukuo doesn't exist anymore of course (the cities themselves of course still exist).

One of the witnesses's alibis depends on his trip by train, and of course: everyone associates Ayukawa with trains nowadays. In this case, the most interesting note to mention is that Ayukawa apparently made use of actual railway schedules of that time while planning out this character's trip across Manchukuo. I like mystery stories that incorporate real railway schedules, like Matsumoto's Ten to Sen. The little maps of the railways and Dalian itself in the book also help you in making you imagine how the setting must've looked like. Oh, and in case you thought I spoiled something substantial by mentioning fake alibis and trains here: not only is it Ayukawa's MO, let's say everyone has something to hide here and there's definitely more here than just 'haha, his alibi was fake because he took another train.' It's certainly not only the character on the train who has a perfect alibi that is not really perfect.

Though that brings me to the point of the length of the plot. As a novel, Petrov Jiken is definitely not long at all. But it does feel very slow, too slow even. Perhaps it's the very methodological structure that reminds of Crofts (Ayukawa was obviously inspired by Crofts), where you have a chapter about the investigation of X's alibi followed by a chapter about the investigation of Y's alibi followed a chapter about the investigation of Z's alibi, and then again with chapters about Onitsura trying to break each alibi in subsequent chapters. But I also have the idea that some ideas seen in this novel would've worked better as a short story. Perhaps it's because I'm more used to seeing Ayukawa as a short story writer (though I have read a few of his railway novels), but especially the core idea of this novel would've perhaps make even more of an impression if it had been standalone and with a more focused plot. In Petrov Jiken, it appears Ayukawa had an interesting core idea for a perfect alibi, but then tried to be even cleverer than his own idea: the final solution ultimately falls a bit flat because Ayukawa's attempt at outsmarting the core idea doesn't really work and doesn't feel satisfying after all we've read until then. Perhaps this is because it was Ayukawa's first novel and he wanted to outsmart everyone, even himself, but I think the novel would've been more satisfying if he had more confidence in the core trick he came up with and gone 100% with that.

Petrov Jiken is everything you'd expect from an Inspector Onitsura story by Ayukawa, featuring unbreakable alibis and a very original setting, but you can also tell it's his debut novel, as some of the concepts shown here are that of a person who is perhaps too eager to be cleverer than everyone, including himself, resulting in an ending that isn't nearly as satisfying as some of the other ideas he has shown in the book earlier. Obviously, I read this book after translating The Red Locked Room, but I have also read a lot more Ayukawa stories/novels besides the ones I translated, and I think that's perhaps for the best. Petrov Jiken is not a bad mystery by any means, but it's not as keenly thought out or focused as some of Ayukawa's other output. Interesting read if you're already into Ayukawa and want to see how he started!

Original Japanese title(s): 鮎川哲也『ペトロフ事件』

Friday, April 23, 2021

Countdown

Neunundneunzig Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont 
"99 Luftballons" (Nena)

Oh, I finished Twilight of the Golden Witch earlier this week by the way, so I'm now done with Umineko no Naku koro ni. Due to the type of story being told in that episode, I didn't add much to the my Umineko no Naku koro ni playthrough though. Now to find some time to organize my thoughts...

Gee, it's been a while since I last read a new Detective Conan volume, I thought after volume 99 was delivered. Looking up the release date of the previous volume explained things, at it's been exactly a year since volume 98 was released. While the Detective Conan release schedule hasn't been regular for some years now, the one constant is that they'll release a new volume in April to coincide with the annual Detective Conan theatrical release. Last year's volume 98 was released to accompany the scheduled April 2020 release The Scarlet Bullet, but that film first got delayed to the summer and then all the way to April 2021. And while Detective Conan 99 was originally slated for a Winter 2020 release, they decided to push that release back to April 2021 too (for the new The Scarlet Bullet release), so that means we only got one Conan volume last year. Interestingly, the release of volume 98 was announced first by Aoyama himself... on his Animal Crossing: New Horizons island, months before the official listings came!

The Truth Behind Poisons and Drugs started in the previous volume, where Ran, Sonoko and Sera are invited by their classmate Yumi to her joint birthday party with her older sister Remi, a succesful model. The party is held at a small restaurant where an old classmate of Remi works as a cook, and among the other guests are also people in the modeling and entertainment industry, including the sleazy (but talented) hair artist Hanasaki, who's infamous for trying to hit on all the models, including Remi and her sister Yumi. After the birthday cake is brought to the room, the lights in the restaurants are dimmed for a short slide show while everybody is given cake, but Hanasaki cries out at that moment. At the same time, the projector suddenly switches off, leaving the room in total darkness. After the lights go on, they find Hanasaki lying dead on the floor, with the words "Heavenly Punishment" written on his head with permanent marker. The victim's piece of cake was apparently poisoned and afterwards, the murderer wrote something on his forehead. While the layout of the room and other circumstances limit the number of suspects to Remi, Yumi, Remi's manager and Remi's old classmate/the chef, none of them seem to have been able to do it for various reasons, like Yumi having a permanent marker, but sitting too far away from the victim to have poisoned his cake, to the chef who could easily have poisoned the victim's piece of cake, but not being in possession of a permanent marker.

It's the familiar poisoning story in Conan, which seldom really disappoint. It's not a bad story, but after 99 volumes, it's pretty easy to see how Aoyama structures these stories, by combining smaller tricks in a calculated manner to make the mystery seem more baffling than it actually is, but if you can identify the two 'core ideas' you can see that the individual problems can be solved fairly simply and that also makes the identity of the murderer obvious. That said, this story is definitely worth a read for long-time fans who follow the big storyline, because as the poisoning case in the restaurant unfolds, Sera also reflects on past events, which include some pretty big reveals and also introduces a very neat tie-in to an earlier story that I hadn't expected! Great to see how Aoyama reveals how some past stories we read like 10 years ago turned out to be a puzzle piece in current storylines.

The Tragedy at the Farm is a very unique story in comparison to the first story, as it follows a slightly different story format than the usual ones. The Detective Boys and their two elementary school teachers Kobayashi and Wakasa are riding a bus to visit a chicken farm outside of town. Teitan Elementary's pet chickens have recently died, but the owner of Hatoyama Farms has kindly offered two chickens to the school. In the bus, they also meet a few other people who also get out at the same stop, but they seem to have some business in the woods around the farm. The kids and their teachers arrive at the farm only to find it completely deserted though, and the chicken coop outside is damaged with a big hole in the side, with not one chicken inside. They split up in two groups and explore the farm, but Ayumi is taken hostage by someone claiming to be the brother of the owner of the farm, and he locks the group up in a cellar, where they find the body of Hatoyama himself. Meanwhile, the other group of Haibara, Genta and their teacher Wakasa is still roaming outside, but they too stumble upon hints that something odd is going on at the farm, but what?

An interesting story because the tale really focuses on presenting a mystery that doesn't seem to make very much sense. Why is there a body in the cellar? Why did the man lock them up in that same cellar, and didn't he kill the kids and Kobayashi? What are those men on the bus looking for? Why are the chickens gone? As things develops, things slowly come together to reveal a fairly unique story, with an original background story to the motive. The story is in some ways similar to other "Detective Boys in the woods meeting new people" stories, but the way the story is told is different from the usual pattern. Meanwhile, this story too has some ties to the overall story, as Kazama of Public Safety is also involved as he's tracing a stolen load of explosives, but that too leads him and his superior to a curious connection to another major storyline in this series.

The Locked Room Murder in the Attic starts with Kogorou in desperate trouble in his own office bathroom: there's no toilet paper, but he is too embarrassed to ask for paper because his beloved idol Okino Youko is in the office, with a new case. Youko recently went on location scouting with the network producer Heijima Wanya for a detective drama with a ghostly theme. They eventually found the perfect villa to film, which is also the holiday villa where the producer's older sister disappeared from a few years ago: the villa is owned by his brother-in-law Baba Nukiyasu. Nukiyasu happened to be staying at the holiday villa together with his younger brother Fuugo and his wife Himi, and both Heijima and Youko were offered to stay for the night. During the night, Youko woke up hearing odd noises and she found a trail of blood in the hallway, which stopped suddenly. The others woke up too, which was when they noticed that Nukiyasu was nowhere to be found. They all started looking for him, but there was no trace of Nukiyasu, until he sent a picture to Fuugo's smartphone, of a curious formation of playing cards. Heijima and Youko stayed longer to search for Nukiyasu, but on the fourth day, Fuugo recalled he and his brothers used to play cards in the attic when they were children. When they try to pull down the attic door however, they find it locked so the police was finally informed. The police broke through the attic window at the front of the villa, where they found a dead Nukiyasu, with a crossbow arrow in his back. But how could Nukiyasu have been killed with a crossbow inside an attic which was locked from the inside when they found the body?

A story that often feels a bit weird, though that is calculated. The howdunnit of the locked room is relatively simple, but it does lead to an interesting whydunnit: a lot of the actions of a certain character could make the locked room possible, but at first sight it doesn't seem to make any sense for that character to have act in that manner. The story ultimately does a reasonably good job at providing an explanation as to why the character would take those actions despite them not making any sense initially, which makes for a nice switch in dynamics in the solving of a locked room mystery. There is a part that doesn't make any sense at all though in terms of time: two middle-aged characters refer to a certain nickname they used as children based on a certain acronym, but two people who are middle-aged now, could never have used that word when they were children. I know Conan has a sliding time period, where "the present" in the earliest Conan stories use mid-1990s technology etc. while current Conan stories uses 2021 technology, even though in-universe, not even a year has passed in these 99 volumes. But still, I'm mostly used to "modern" technnology and concepts showing up in "present" Conan stories, not "modern" technology and concepts being introduced in segments that are clearly set several decades ago.

The final chapter in this volume is the first in Kudou Yuusaku's Detection Show, which deals with a series of locked room murders across the country, a television special starring Kudou Yuusaku where he's going to reveal the truth behind these murders and.... a very ill Kudou Yuusaku who can't possibly appear on television, and it seems like it's going to be a fun story, but we'll have to wait for the next volume for confirmation on that!

Detective Conan 99 did not have any 'big' stories, though Aoyama did make sure to insert segments in the smaller stories that do tie in to the current storylines in the manga and especially the first story has some of the major story puzzle pieces finally falling into the right place. The announcement pages at the end of volume 99 have volume 100 scheduled for a fall 2021 release, which I really hope they'll make this time. And I guess that the special occassion is a great excuse to do a special Conan-themed post around that time... anyone any ideas? 

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第99巻

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Forgotten Lady

忘れても消えないこの温もり
「溢れるもの」(Goodbye Holiday)
 
This warmth will never fade even if I forget
"Overflowing"  (Goodbye Holiday)

Forgetting things that only occured yesterday? Sounds like me on a normal day...

Ever since his parents gave him his name, Yakusuke (yaku means calamity) has lived a life full of misfortune. Running around with the other kids, he'd be the only one to fall victim to bird droppings. On his way to school entrance exams, a meteorite struck right next to him, flinging him off his bicycle and causing him to be late. So was Yakusuke really surprised when a micro-SD card with confidential information was stolen from his new workplace and everyone started to accuse the new, nervous guy who had been at the wrong place at the wrong time his whole life? Fact is however that Yakusuke really didn't steal the micro-SD card. The advanced security gate outside the office that can even detect micro-SD cards if you'd swallow them seems to suggest that the card should still be somewhere in the office, but a thorough search of the office and the people there does not lead to any results. Yakusuke decides to contact a private detective broker he knows, who first asks Yakusuke whether the case can be solved within one day, before he recommends Okitegami Kyouko, the "Forgetful Detective". Kyouko, a young woman with white hair, is a very good detective, but she has a small problem: she suffers from a special kind of amnesia, which makes her forget everything that happened at the end of each new day. While she has memories up to a certain point in her life, she's not able to remember anything afterwards, so each time she sleeps, her memories are "reset". This is why she can only take cases that can be solved within a day. Yakusuke becomes interested in Kyouko after she proves his innocence, and because of his "ability" to get into trouble easily, he finds himself hiring Kyouko rather often to get him out of trouble, even though to her, she's always meeting Yakusuke for the first time in her life in the 2015 television series Okitegami Kyouko no Bibouroku ("The Memorandum of Okitegami Kyouko").

I don't read NisiOisin (Nishio Ishin)'s work regularly actually, but the Okitegami Kyouko series, also known as the Forgetful Detective series, has always been one that managed to linger somewhere in my mind. The series has been running since 2014 and while I knew a new volume was occasionally released, I hadn't quite realized there were already twelve volumes out now until I took a look at the Wikipedia page to prepare for the review. I knew it was about a detective who would forget everything at the end of each day, which sounded like a concept that could lead to original situations, but I never tried the books, nor the manga. And in a move that's actually not that rare for me, I know ended up trying the series through the drama adaptation. Which was surprisingly broadcast only a year after the series started. While the title of this series is taken from the first volume, the drama is based on stories from multiple volumes in the series and includes an original series finale. There are also few characters created especially for this series to fill out the main cast, like Kyouko's landlord/broker and two sidekicks.

So I knew nothing about the original novel series, but I ended up enjoying Okitegami Kyouko no Bibouroku a lot, even if the detective plots remain fairly simple over the course of the series. It's definitely the type of series where you just have to have fun watching the weird characters interact, from the forgetful Kyouko who writes notes on her limbs and turns out to be a surprisingly cheapskate to the always unlucky Yakusuke and the weird trio at the cafe Sandglass which serves as the series' headquarters. The series betrays its origins as a light novel series with its weirdly named characters (a staple of NisiOisin's work) and very slow hinting at something big in Kyouko's life which caused her to lose her memories, but the latter is obviously not the real driving force of the whole novel series (which is still running) so nothing truly important is learned at the end of this adaptation, and you'd best just expect a case-of-the-week set-up.

As a mystery series, Okitegami Kyouko no Bibouroku has fairly simple plots, which one could partially explain because Kyouko isn't suited to handle cases that would take too much time: she'd be reset at the end of the day, and as a principle, she does not write down any notes for herself save for some bare essentials like her own name, meaning she can't bring her progress in a case to the following day. The opening episode for example is about the theft of the micro-SD card under impossible circumstances, as nobody could've gotten the card out of the office, yet it can't be found. The trick used by the thief is fairly simple, though I like how the idea makes good use of the medium, and while the core idea is simple, the story is made more interesting by adding a second "crime" by the thief who wants to use Kyouko's special condition agains her: the reasoning surrounding this second crime is unique and memorable. The second episode also makes interesting use of Kyouko's amnesia to give a unique twist to a story that on its own would be pretty simple as a mystery story: a swimming coach is accused of murdering a former rival, but the man swears he has an alibi for the time of the murder, because he was having a coffee with Kyouko that day. She of course can't remember a thing of her encounter with this man, so they have to find another way to prove his innocence.


I think the most interesting episodes were the third and eighth episode, as they worked the best as standalone mystery stories. In the third episode, Yakusuke's been working as a museum guard, and to his great surprise, Kyouko's been visiting every day too (as she forgets every day she's been to the exposition already). One day, he strikes up a conversation with her about the painting she's always admiring, and she confides to him she's most of all impressed by the value of the work. Yakusuke decides to come to the museum on his day off as a visitor to talk to Kyouko again, but for some reason she doesn't seem impressed by the painting today, which utterly baffles Yakusuke. Later, Yakusuke and a rather angry elderly man damage the painting in a struggle,  but to Yakusuke's surprise the news is kept silent, further fueling his doubts about the painting. Kyouko is hired to figure out what's wrong with the painting and why her impression of it changed so much in one day. The solution is so simple, yet nicely hidden through the misdirection and it looks great on the screen! The eight episode is about a "soft" locked room: a woman's found dead inside the fitting room of a boutique, her head hit with a hanger. Witnesses in the store saw the woman entering the shop and going into the fitting room, but none of them noticed anything out of the ordinary until Yakusuke accidentally discovered her body when he tripped in front of the fitting rooms. Due to the cramped space of a fitting room, it doesn't seem likely the killer could've gotten inside the fitting room together with the victim to club her with the hanger, so how was this "locked room murder under observation" (with the door being a simple curtain) committed? The core idea probably sounds familiar, but the way it was adapted to the context of a dressing room of a boutique was good, with a slight cultural-specific touch to it. It wouldn't work like that in many countries, but most definitely in Japan, making this a nice variation on the idea.


The drama has great presentation by the way! The series has a slight Sherlock-feel to it because it often "labels" things on the screen for the viewer to read, but also builds on it, using this on-screen text also like thought balloons are used in comics. It has a very comic-like feel throughout, with collage-esque crime scene recontructions. But while Gakki is also absolutely adorable as Kyouko in this series, and it's not like the wig looks absoutely awful, her hair does stand out. I kinda wish that Gakki'd dyed her hair in a not-so-bright color, or that the team hadn't gone with the setting of the unusual hair color in the first place. I'm one of those who doesn't think that an adaptation needs to stick to the source material that closely if it works out better in a different manner/can give an original touch to the adaptation, and ultimately, it's not like her hair color really matters in this series.

So despite the fairly simple plots, I did enjoy Okitegami Kyouko no Bibouroku, as it's a series that has both style and a funny cast that make the series fun to watch even when the mystery stories can't always keep up with them. I'm kinda interested in the novel series too now, though it'll be hard to figure out where to start as I know parts of the earlier volumes now, even if they have been changed partially for this drama series. Will have to figure out whether I really want to re-read familiar plots again or not before I get to the new stuf.

Original Japanese title(s):『掟上今日子の備忘録』

Saturday, April 17, 2021

How to Dial a Murder

 「この世に光がある限り、俺はいつでも蘇る」
『仮面ライダーBlack RX』
 "As long as light exists in this world, I will always come back to life"
"Kamen Rider Black RX"

I'm done with Requiem of the Golden Witch, which I means I only have one more episode to go in my Umineko no Naku koro ni playthrough! People who have played this episode already will probably know why I didn't write that much in the Umineko no Naku koro ni playthrough memo this time. Anyway, it's likely I'll be able to finish the main game in April and hopefully I'll write a review soon after that.

Once you're really started diving into mystery stories, you're bound to come across them sooner or later: interesting looking titles that aren't in print in anymore. In some cases you're lucky, and there are still enough used and/or translated copies in circulation, but in other cases, you're expected to pay a very hefty sum to purchase a rare copy or there aren't even any copies in circulation. And I'm just talking books here, a relatively simple medium: in principle, you only need to get hold of a book. Things become a lot more difficult when it comes to out of print mystery video games: you don't only need to find a copy of the game in question, you also need to have the right console and peripherals, and it can take a lot of resources to gather necessary everything to play a certain game.

But when it comes to unavailable mystery fiction, few things are as difficult to get a hold of as feature phone mystery games. Before smartphones and the associated apps and games took over the world, there was an interesting market for Japan-exclusive 3G feature phones (garakei) in the first decade of the twenty-first century, with many games developed exclusively for feature phones. These games however could only be purchased and downloaded on a feature phone via the network provider, and only worked on those models. Smart phones eventually replaced feature phones and these old feature phones and their services aren't supported anymore, meaning that those games have been lost: you can't purchase or re-download them anymore (and there are no physical releases like cartridges) and the phones themselves aren't made anymore. Even if you find an old feature phone with some games on it, it's hard to say if you could actually play them as often the games did need to signal back to the network provider occassionally (I know I had a phone with a game I couldn't play anymore after cancelling my plan and it couldn't catch a signal anymore). Among the many exclusive feature phone games were of course also mystery adventure games, making them one of the hardest types of mystery fiction to find: the games only exist digitally, need a working digital license and haven't been available for purchase for many years, and the hardware (specific feature phone models) haven't been supported for many years either.

I was not alone in thinking that feature phone games were basically a lost treasure cove, covered by the waves made by smartphones and few had hoped to ever see them again, which is why a lot of people were overjoyed when publisher and developer G-Mode started releasing ports of their feature phone games on the Switch under the title G-Mode Archives. Last year, I discussed the mystery merits of the game Herakles no Eikou III - Kamigami no Chinmoku ("Glory of Herakles III - Silence of the Gods, 2008), which is one of the games G-Mode resurrected for the Switch and I've been enjoying more of those games, but unfortunately, it appears G-Mode never made mystery adventure games themselves (though if you like horror novel games, try the three Senbazuru games!). 


And then G-Mode surprised me again last month by announcing that they'd start releasing feature phone games from other publishers too under the title G-Mode Archives + and that they would start with the Tantei Kibukawa Ryousuke Jikendan ("Detective Kibukawa Ryousuke's Case Stories") series, probably the best known mystery series on feature phones and also the series I wanted to try out the most! In this series, you play as Ikurumi Masao, a writer of video games, who is friends with the eccentric private detective Kibukawa Ryousuke and his assistant Izuna. Ikurumi writes his games based on the cases Kibukawa solves, making them a modern kind of Holmes and Watson. The series originally started in 2003 with Kamen Gensou Satsujin Jiken ("The Masked Fantasy Murder Case"), which would be followed by over twenty sequels, one of which on the Nintendo DS. Currently, the first "volume" titled Kamen Gensou Satsujin Jiken ("The Masked Fantasy Murder Case") and the second volume Kairoukan Satsujin Jiken ("The Sea Structure Murder Case"; also named The Structure of Mirage) have been released, and I do hope they'll eventually release all of them, even if the games can be a bit quirky.

As adventure games the Kibukawa Ryousuke games are very simple, playing like most mystery games I discuss here: you use simple commands like "Talk" and "Examine" to speak with everyone and to gather clues, which will drive the plot forwards, and as you approach the climax, you'll be 'tested' a few times with a few questions to see if you got it, though this game does not penalize you for making mistakes, just repeating the question until you pick the right answer (though I think at the end, Kibukawa does say whether you did a good job or not depending on how many guesses you needed). But I do think both games I played have captivating angles and it's pretty interesting to see what kind of mystery games they tried to make, compared to the more human drama mystery-driven feature phone games in the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series (those feature games have been available for ages on Nintendo DS/3DS by the way). The first game, Kamen Gensou Satsujin Jiken ("The Masked Fantasy Murder Case"), for example is about a curious series of mysterious deaths of people while playing the online RPG Criticlimax: the deceased were all discovered dead in their apartments, still holding the controller in their hands with a running game. One of the people who died is a game developer, and Kibukawa is hired to investigate whether his death is just an unfortunate accident, or there's something more sinister behind it. Meanwhile, other rumors surrounding Criticlimax seem to indicate other circumstances behind his death.


And while this first entry takes on a pretty modern approach with a story about online games and game developers, the second entry Kairoukan Satsujin Jiken ("The Sea Structure Murder Case") uses the classic trope of a closed circle in a weird building: the Sea Structure looks like some kind of base built in the sea, and is the result of a whim of the eccentric president of a construction company. The Sea Structure is built partially below sea level and can only be accessed by an artificial island which acts as a pier: a tunnel below sea level connects the island to the only entrance to the Sea Structure. A strange group of people are invited here by the president for a special occassion, but just as the party is supposed to start, they discover the dead body of the president and find out that the entrance to the tunnel won't open anymore, meaning everyone, including the killer, is imprisoned in the Sea Structure.

While this series is titled the Kibukawa Ryousuke series, the titular detective actually barely appears in these first two games. The player takes on the role of writer Ikurumi, who is accompanied by Kibukawa's assistant Izuna, who is a capable detective herself and the two of them have pretty funny banter as they try to solve the case together. Kibukawa himself only appears at the very end to solve the case, though usually Izuna (and Ikurumi) will have solved part of the case already, even if often, Izuna and Ikurumi will also have gone the completely wrong direction regarding certain other parts of the case. The first two stories do provide interesting stories, Kamen Gensou Satsujin Jiken focusing on a varied cast of suspects and the mystery of how the deaths tie in to Criticlimax, while Kairoukan Satsujin Jiken plays out like an Ayatsuji Yukito-esque story with an And Then There Were None-inspired plot and of course strange buildings. To be honest though, often the real solution of Kibukawa is not nearly as interesting as the "slightly" misguided deductions of Izuna: this is especially the case in Kairoukan Satsujin Jiken, where Kibukawa's solution is nowhere as imaginative and memorable as the Izuna solution (which was also the solution I thought the story was working towards to), while in Kamen Gensou Satsujin Jiken, Kibukawa basically cheats by presenting information nobody had heard about until that moment.

But I did have fun with the first two entries in the Tantei Kibukawa Ryousuke Jikendan series, as they have fun characters and interesting plot ideas. There was also noticable improvement going from the first to the second game, as well as a boost in length (though these games are pretty short, somewhere between one or two hours). I'm definitely looking forward to playing more of these games if they'll release them, though I doubt I'll be discussing them regularly here: probably only the ones that truly stand out or perhaps a larger post discussing multiple entries in one turn. But for now, I'm thrilled that these old mystery games are made available again and I hope other feature phone mystery games are released soon too (like the Psycho Mystery series!)

Original Japanese title(s): 探偵・癸生川凌介事件譚 Vol.1「仮面幻想殺人事件」, 探偵・癸生川凌介事件譚 Vol.2「海楼館殺人事件」

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Ten Days' Wonder

"Revolution"
ノートに書きとめた言葉 
「Seven Days War」(TM Network)
 
"Revolution"
The word written in this notebook
"Seven Days War" (TM Network)

I finished Dawn of the Golden Witch earlier, which seemed to provide a major hint to solving the Rokkenjima murders, so I added my new thoughts based on that episode to the Umineko no Naku koro ni playthrough memo. Two more to go!

Huh, I only just realized, but this cover may be a bit misleading, for the story is actually set in contemporary times, even if the art kinda invokes Vampire Hunter D in a way.

It occured two years ago, in February of 1999. A small village near an active volcano in rural Argentina suddenly became news when something unbelievable happened. Each week on the same day, a group of twelve locals would gather in the evening at the church to discuss the upcoming church activities and markets, but on that fateful day, the church was blown up in a gas explosion. When one of the twelve arrived late at the church only to find it had been destroyed, he believed the other eleven had been killed, but to his great surprise, one of them appeared behind him, having also arrived late. More and more of them popped up from behind, until all twelve of them were standing there outside the burning church. They had all been late for different reasons. One had been struggling with homework, the other had overslept, another had been having trouble finishing up work. It was only then they fully realized what had happened: the lives of all twelve of them had been saved, only because they happened to be all late for their meeting for different reasons. This was obviously not just some coincidence, but an act of heaven, so they and everyone in the village considered this a true miracle, and the incident soon became international news, with the twelve survivors now commonly known as "the Chosen Twelve".

Arthur Clemence is an inquisitor of the Vatican who investigates miraculous incidents that occur across the world. The Vatican decides whether to acknowledge said incidents as true miracles based on his thorough reports. Arthur is sent to the home village of the Chosen Twelve to determine whether it was truly a miracle which had saved the twelve's lives. His timing is both fortunate and unfortunate: the priest of the local church has to undergo a heart operation, and Arthur agrees to watch over the church for the time being, but lately, the volcano nearby has been active again, causing tremors and ash rains. Arthur becomes acquaintances with the Chosen Twelve and other villagers while he examines the incident two years ago, but impossible murders involving the Chosen Twelve occur during his stay. One of them is seen being attacked and stabbed in the chest in his home, and thrown through the window down a cliff even though multiple eye-witnesses swear there was nobody else in the room besides the victim. Another victim is shot from close range in the head while he was flying in a hang glider in the sky. And another is killed in a locked room only moments before Arthur himself broke into the room, but there's not a sign of the killer anywhere, even though the whole building was under observation. Are these murders also miracles on their own, or are they crimes committed by man? It's of course up to Arthur to find out in Tsukatou Hajime's 2002 novel Kiseki Shinmonkan Arthur - Kami no Te no Fukanou Satsujin ("Miracle Inquisitor Arthur - The Impossible Murders By The Hand of God").

I first heard that story about all fifteen church choir members being late for different reasons and thus miraculously avoiding a horrible explosion first in an episode of Trivia no Izumi, a legendary Japanese television program about trivia. I believe it happened in the US in the 50s. This novel adapts that incident, relocating it to Argentina and making the number twelve. Also: don't confuse this series with the series Vatican Kiseki Chousakan (Vatican Miracle Examiner), which is probably known better due to an anime adaptation. That anime is based on a novel series, but it has nothing to do with Tsukatou's older Miracle Inquisitor Arthur series.

The first impression Kiseki Shinmonkan Arthur - Kami no Te no Fukanou Satsujin made on me was that's long. Like, really long. Easily double the length of the novels I usually read. That said, it reads pretty smoothly and while a lot happens in this novel, it never feels like it's too slow or dragging. Anyway, this book will be a feast for the lovers of impossible crimes, because this lengthy work is focused completely on them and each of these murders has really interesting ideas to them, even though they don't all work as well, especially not when taken together. To begin with the latter point: all of the crimes that occur in this novel rely to a degree on coincidence, either it being a coincidence that a murder is made to look like an impossible crime, or just events happening at just the right time for no other reason than that the author wanted it to happen. To keep it to a point that won't spoil the story too much: for some reason the bodies of the murder victims keep getting "lost" due to unforeseen circumstances, like a body falling in a river or a well-timed earthquake disposing of a body after it had been discovered. This happens again and again, making the police investigation more difficult. While a big part of it is just the author making a grand show of the impossible murders, it's undeniable that the murderer got away with a lot solely thanks to very timely coincidences, and a lot of the mystery is only there because heaven (and the author) was just helping the murderer too much. This wouldn't be that bad in a shorter story, but when you have like four or five murders where each time, the murderer gets several lucky breaks, it becomes a bit weird, especially as some murders would've been solved more easily if the police just had more time with the corpses. Sure, the whole book is about miracles and such, so you could claim that it's just a miracle they were so lucky, but it does make the murders less fun to solve, as you also have to deduce very unlikely events to happen at just the right time.

Tsukatou's definitely great at creating alluring murder situations though, like the murder discussed in the prologue. A man is standing alone in a room, under the observation of several witnesses (including police) in a different room in the cliff-side house. The man suddenly starts fighting off an invisible attacker, but he's cut in the chest and ultimately falls through the window, down the cliff. At the same time, the police was also trying to subdue a possessed young man who was swinging a knife around in another room in the house, and some start to think the possessed young man committed the murder through some evil magic, making him capable of stabbing in the air in one room, while actually hurting someone in another room. This murder has some brilliant ideas, but also ideas that seem really forceful and a bit hard to swallow. The part about how the murderer managed to get away unseen is quite clever for example: incredibly easy to overlook yet so effective. And the actual way in which the murderer attacked the victim while remaining unseen is also clever, but at the same time not completely fair to the reader as it's unlikely anyone would think of that without any hints. Having the victim fall down the window and basically exploding was... just overkill with the coincidences.

The problem having good ideas coupled with obviously very forced elements holds also for the other major murders in the novel. The idea of someone being shot from close range in the head, while he was flying alone in a hang glider is brilliant for example. The burn marks show the man was shot from very close, but that's impossible as he was alone in the sky, and there were only a few people around the lake where the murder happened. I can't discuss this in detail because of spoilers, but there are parts of the story that are really clever as misdirection (the additional motive for the murder for example), but also parts that are utterly impossible to believe because it's so obvious that those events only happened because otherwise, Tsukatou coudn't have the murder situation as he had imagined it. We're not talking about coincidences anymore even, but characters acting very oddly only so we'd end up with the murder at the end. There's a locked room murder in an abandoned fish farm that was under observation from outside, which too has great elements and not so great elements: the misdirection regarding the identity of the murderer is memorable, and there are some interesting concepts going on regarding how the murderer managed to escape the farm unseen, but the way the locked room situation was created makes less of an impression, especially due to the vague way the whole building is presented to the reader. One final murder too follows the familiar pattern by now: a man is seen by Arthur and his sidekick being strangled by red hands in an otherwise empty room and obviously, there's not a sign of any killer hiding anywere. Some parts of the mystery revolve around phenomena nobody is going to know about, which makes it less memorable, while I do like how it ultimately ties back to the whole plot. I do have to say that most of the murders ultimately build on very recognizable patterns, so the core solutions are not very original perhaps, though Tsukatou does a good job at 'dressing them up' for this novel.

And that's perhaps what does make this novel a better experience than I may make it sound. As said, this is a very lengthy novel, but Tsukatou does manage to weave all these various murders and elements into a cohesive story that is really captivating with its impressive murder situtions and the background story of the miracle of the Chosen Twelve and Arthur's investigations. Even if it does rely a lot on coicidences to keep things together. As a whole, complete work, Kiseki Shinmonkan Arthur - Kami no Te no Fukanou Satsujin manages to leave an impression because it's a really well-constructed and plotted story in the sense that it incorporates so many ideas (even familiar ones), yet Tsukatou uses all these pieces very expertly to create a story that's simply quite entertaining.

So I did enjoy my time with Kiseki Shinmonkan Arthur - Kami no Te no Fukanou Satsujin, as it does present a captivating narrative about miraculous events, even if sometimes the pieces feel either a bit familiar or implemented in a very forceful manner. It's not a brilliantly inspired novel perhaps, but it's constructed in a way probably only an experienced writer could handle, resulting in a novel that is entertaining nonetheless and you could do much worse, as this book does have a lot of memorable ideas spread across the narrative. I'm definitely interested in reading more of this series.

Original Japanese title(s): 柄刀一『奇蹟審問官アーサー 神の手の不可能殺人』

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A Break in the Chain

"Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently. “I can't make bricks without clay."
"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"

You know, I like the watercolor-esque cover art for the bunko pockets better than the original covers.

During high school, Tanabata Kikuno was active as one of the three members of the local idol group Blue Sky G. Soon after the release of their first single however, their lyricist passed away: the elderly Takemoto was a very beloved industry veteran, but he had never written the text for a pop song before, but he was surprisingly fond of Blue Sky G and of course Kikuno paid her respects at his wake. When she accidentally overhears Takemoto's attorney discussing with a police detective that Takemoto's death was a murder, she can't help but get involved, and with the help of the mysterious young man who accompanied the police detective, Kikuno managed to clear up the circumstances surrounding Takemoto's death. This experience drove her to enter the police academy after Blue Sky G was disbanded and she finished high school, and a few years later, she has become a full-fledged police officer of the National Police Agency, who even has gained a reputation of sorts: the manner in which she managed to utterly destroy the Self Defense class teacher earned her the nickname Kick. To Kick's great surprise however, she finds she's appointed to the Homicide division of the Metropolitan Police Department, even though she's just a rookie. 

The Homicide division is the "face" of the Metropolitan Police Department and usually, only the best of the best are scouted into the division, but after a while Kick realizes why she was posted there: as a former idol, she's just to be a pretty face and to be used as a PR resource. Kick is determined to show that she's truly suited for the job and gambles everything on her first murder case, figuring that if a rookie like her can accomplish significant on her first case, the people above are sure to look at her differently. She's not alone either, for she's getting hints from two curious people connected to the investigation into the murder of a woman who was pushed off her balcony after an assaillant made his way into the appartment and locked her husband up in the closet. Kusatsuji Renzou is a criminal psychologist who has been assisting the police as an advisor and has solved a few impossible murder cases in the past. While he can be a bit eccentric and hardly speaks with people, he seems to get along with Kick and gives her some valuable hints at time. And while Kusatsuji appears at the crime scene from time to time, Kick's encounters with Shinkai "Angler" Yasukimi are usually at HQ. Angler is a data analyst who double-checks all the internal case reports for mistakes, and while the manner in which he points out all the mistakes and incongruencies in these reports are far from polite or educational, Angler has been able to solve cases simply by noticing small mistakes in the reports written by the detectives on the scene. As a rookie, Kick's reports of course have plenty of mistakes for Angler to jump on, but even Kick realizes that Angler is not just being a nuisance, but that the mistakes he points out are indeed often vital points in the investigation. With the help of these two minds and her own guts, Kick's out to catch her first killer in Katou Motohiro's Tsukamaeta Mon Kachi! Tanabata Kikuno no Sousa Houkokusho ("Those Who Make The Arrest Win! - The Investigation Reports of Tanabata Kikuno", 2016).

After starting with Katou's mystery manga Q.E.D. and C.M.B. irregularly two years ago, I also became curious about the novel series he had been writing, and last year, I read Quantum Man Kara no Tegami - Tsukamaeta Mon Kachi!, the second novel in the series about the former-idol-turned-police-detective Kick. And the reason I first read the second novel in the series was simply because I had put the wrong book in my shopping basket. I usually don't mind reading novels in a series out of order, and unless I'm following a series 'in real time' I often read books completely out of order. I mentioned in the review for Quantum Man Kara no Tegami - Tsukamaeta Mon Kachi! that luckily, everything you needed to know was explained in the first few pages, but now that I have read the first book in this series, I have to say I really regret having read these two books in the wrong order. I won't explain this in detail, but the second book does in a way spoil what eventually becomes a significant plot point of the first novel (or at the very least, strongly hints at it). So err, don't make the same mistake and read the books in order.

In the review of Quantum Man Kara no Tegami - Tsukamaeta Mon Kachi!, I wrote that I enjoyed the novel, as one complete product, the best out of all I had read of Katou by then. While thematically, it had a lot of similarities with Q.E.D. and C.M.B, including the pattern of an atlethic, impulsive female protagonist paired up with a male detective figure who works in the background, a scientific theme in the form of the Quantum Man and some human drama background, I found the focus on Kick's antics quite enjoyable. I was therefore quite surprised when Tsukamaeta Mon Kachi! turned out to be different in style. Whereas the second novel was completely focused on one single case (involving multiple murders), Tsukamaeta Mon Kachi! consists of two distinct parts, and even within those parts, the reader is treated to several smaller cases. The first quarter of the novel is focused on Kick as a high school student and her time in Blue Sky G and the mysterious death of their lyricist Takemoto. During the wake at the late writer's manor, Kick learns that the elderly Takemoto had intended to only let one of his two children inherit the manor and all his fortune: the money is needed to pay the enormous inheritance tax involved with the manor, which Takemoto wanted to be preserved. The other child would only get his second home, but that house is in need of a lot of maintenance and would only cost them money. So that's a motive for murder  for the children and their families before Takemoto would change his will. During the wake, Takemoto's attorney tries to get permission from the children to have an autopsy performed on Takemoto to prove it was murder, but they refuse. Kick and the mysterious young man who accompanied the police detective try to figure something out themselves too, when the body of Takemoto has disappeared from the manor. But how could anyone have gotten the body out of the casket without anyone in the room noticing? The mystery of how the body was spirited away is fairly simple, and the whereabouts of the body can be guessed at easily due to a segment that stands out a lot because it didn't serve any purpose but to establish one single, certain fact.

The second part of the novel is about Kick's first murder investigation, but this plot involves a few other minor story elements. For example, at one point, Kick decides to look up some of the old cases criminal psychologist Kusatsuji has solved, and we are treated to what's basically a mini quiz, where Kikuno shortly summarized the (impossible) murder cases and then tells the reader how it was done. If the backstories had been fleshed out more, I guess these ideas could've been used in Q.E.D. and C.M.B too, though only one of these stories can be considered as truly fair to the reader (as in: you are given all the hints in advance to solve it yourself before Kick tells you the answer) and ultimately, these old police reports are just filler. For the most part however, the narrative focuses on Kick's efforts to help out in the investigation of the murder on the woman thrown off the balcony. Most readers will probably have an inkling what has happened, as the case itself is fairly simple, but Katou does do a lot to make the story fairly engaging by pushing Kick in the right direction at set times. Katou basically uses the characters of Kusatsuji and Angler like a sort of Columbo, by making them ask Kick about all kinds of seemingly minor contradictions and small things that don't quite add up, which gives Kick a hint about what's really going on. Because of this structure, there's a proper build-up to the solving of the case and the reader isn't only confronted with all the things the murderer did wrong at the very end of the novel. Katou also tries to go beyond "just another case for Kick" by hiding a larger conspiracy behind her first case, but personally, I thought the "surprise" was telegraphed too obviously, and while overall, I think this book is entertaining in the sense that a lot happens/many cases are discussed, none of the cases that occur really manage to make that much an impression on their own.

I liked what was done with the subtitle The Investigation Reports of Tanabata Kikuno by the way! Throughout the novel, Kick writes several reports about the discoveries she's made and her questioning of suspects, and they are all included in the novel. At first, I thought they were unnessary padding, as they basically summarized the very events we had read about in the preceding pages, so you'd be reading about the same things twice, but Angler does actually pick out a few mistakes or omissions in Kick's reports that eventually help out in the investigation. In my review of the videogame A.I. The Somnium Files, I wrote a lot about the importance of information management in mystery fiction: who knows what at what time determines if and when a case can be solved. While not a major theme of Tsukamaeta Mon Kachi! Tanabata Kikuno no Sousa Houkokusho, it does show that even if the protagonist and the reader do learn certain facts, this information that should cause other characters to act can still be lost if it's not properly written or omitted in a report that is shared with others: an example of why information management is so important to a good mystery novel.

While I really liked the sequel, Tsukamaeta Mon Kachi! Tanabata Kikuno no Sousa Houkokusho didn't quite manage to make as strong an impression. While the story is entertaining enough and it's a very smooth read, the story set-up with several smaller cases is less engaging, and the individual cases themselves are also rather simple in terms of mystery, with some literally told in just a few pages. Kick's also less active/effective compared to her second appearance, where she's much more fun character to root for. On the whole though, I still like Kick as a character (best Katou protagonist I've read until now!), so I'll be sure to pick up the third volume in the future too, as well as pick up those crossover stories in Q.E.D. iff and C.M.B. at some point. 

Original Japanese title(s): 加藤元浩『捕まえたもん勝ち! 七夕菊乃の捜査報告書 』

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Mystery of the 99 Steps

"You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?"
"Appointment with Death"

Man, I want to read more mysteries set at the Kumano Kodou now, because it's a visually stunning place and would make for a great setting for a mystery revolving around perfect alibis!

The famous detective Suguro Takeru enjoys a well-deserved holiday in Tengu Village in Wakayama Prefecture, near the Kumano Kodou, a series of ancient pilgrimage routes and sacred sites that cross the Kii Penisula. One of the other guests at the same hotel is Mrs. Hondou, a filthy rich widow who spends her time travelling across Japan with her family. While her (step)children are adult, they have all been terrorized by the commanding and controlling woman since a young age, and they literally can't do anything but follow her around and beckon at her orders, even if it makes them deeply, deeply unhappy. Not only Suguro is greatly disturbed at the sight of the woman intentionally playing her children apart to make them as miserable as possible, but also the young doctor Sara who is also staying at the hotel and who has become attracted to the younger Hondou son. Suguro is also rejoined at the hotel with an old friend, Uesugi Honami, who has become a Dietwoman. Uesugi convinces Suguro to come along on an excursion to explore the pilgrimage routes of the Kumano Kodou (even though Suguro would rather prefer to stay in the comfortable hotel). The Hondou family has the same plan, but after bossing her children around for a while in the bus, Mrs. Hondou insists she wants to be left alone for some time, and sends her children off, while she takes a rest at one of the sacred sites. At the end of the day, when the bus is ready to return back to the hotel however, Sara stumbles upon Mrs. Hondou still sitting there, but then realizes that she's dead. It turns out Hondou had been injected with something to kill her and it's obvious that her whole family has a motive for wanting her dead. But what makes matters even more serious is the fact that Suguro on his first day at the hotel overheard someone of the family saying "You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?" But which of them did it?

After a capable adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express in 2015 followed by a very impressive adaptation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, screenwriter and playwright Mitani Kouki returned on March 6, 2021 with his third adaptation of a Hercule Poirot novel for television: Shi to no Yakusoku is a three-hour television special based on Agatha Christie's 1938 novel Appointment with Death. The summary above might make you suspect that this is a very loose adaptation of the Christie novel, but you'd completely wrong. While Mitani's adaptations do take place in a post-war Japan and star the eccentric detective Suguro Takeru, these specials have been very faithful to the source material and an absolute delight for fans of Christie's work. It's strange that even though these specials take place in another time, in another place than the original novels, they manage to capture the spirit of the source material so incredibly well. This respect for the original work can be seen in all the Japanese character names for example, which are clearly derived from the original names: the Boyntons became the Hondous, Doctor Sara King became Sara Kinuko, family friend Jefferson Hope Juumonji Kouta etc. There are some changes here and there that some might find significant, like the absence of the character of Dr. Gerard in this adaptation or for example the fact that Uesugi was made an old friend of Suguro (Poirot), but Mitani always does a good job at justifying each change from the novel, and the script never feels unnatural despite his tinkering. For example Uesugi is used to make Suguro a more involved character in this adaptation, while Poirot doesn't really appear that much in the original novel.


It's funny how the theme color of Shi to no Yakusoku is green by the way. Appointment with Death is set in Jeruzalem and they visit Petra in that book, so I always associated with a more... sandy yellow.

In terms of atmosphere, you can definitely feel Mitani's hand like in the previous adaptations: he is best his comedic storytelling and while lately, he's done a lot of historical drama, he's also quite experienced with mystery productions (like in Furuhata Ninzaburou, the fantastic Japanese Columbo and Ellery Queen-inspired TV show). His cozy, comedic style does fit Christie's stories pretty well, so the comedy never feels weird, and while Suguro is perhaps more of a physically comical character compared to Poirot, these adaptations have also shown a Suguro who's much more human than Poirot is in the original novels. Which is also shown here, as Suguro knows the Hondous are better off without their mother, but his own morals don't allow him to ignore this murder. We had a glimpse of this Suguro in the previous adaptations too, but Suguro is a detective who doesn't always enjoys his calling, but he knows it's the right thing to do, and this focus works very good with Mitani's own style. The setting move to the Kumano Kodou however is amazing. There are some fantastic shots of the party exploring the mountain woods and while in the original novel, several witnesses talk about Mrs. Hondou shooing off an Arab servant while she was alone, in this adaptation, it's changed to a pilgrim wearing a Tengu mask and it looks stunning visually. 

As for the mystery plot itself, it's mostly the same as the original novel and I'll have to be honest and say that Appointment with Death has never been one of my favorite Poirots. A lot of the plot revolves around Suguro having to reconstruct a timeline of who saw Ms. Hondou when while she was alone at the sacred site, but that makes the middle part of this story rather long, while the pay-off is... just a timeline of the events. Sure, Suguro builds on that to eventually identify the killer, but it does make this a rather slow story. What I did like about Appointment with Death was an iconic moment where the motive for the crime suddenly becomes clear: it's hard to explain what this is without spoiling the surprise, but people who know the original story will probably understand what part of the story I mean. It's basically the moment the victim actually makes her own appointment with death, making her own murder inevitable. I'm surprised to say that I actually like the variation in Shi to no Yakusoku even better than the original! It's when the little changes here and there by Mitani really pay off, because while the scene is basically the same as in the original novel, the set-up to have that particular scene play out the way it did is even better in this television special, and feels sooooooo much more satisfying when they talk about it again at the end of the story. 

So yep, Shi to no Yakusoku was yet another highly enjoyable and very well-made Christie adaptation by Mitani. In comparison to the adaptation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, this televsion special might not be as ambitious, but like the previous two adaptations, Shi to no Yakusoku is a production where the combination of Agatha Christie and Mitani Kouki really feels like a match made in heaven, with the end result is more than the sum of the parts. The core plot by Christie has one very memorable moment in terms of mystery, while the changes made by Mitani to fit "his" version of Appointment with Death aren't made for fun, but often support or even elevate the original story. It's a shame that Suguro doesn't have his own Hastings at the moment, because tone-wise, it'd love to see how Mitani would tackle an adaptation of Curtain!

Original Japanese title(s): 『死との約束』