Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ace Attorney Retrospective : Locked Rooms and Other Impossibilites: Part 1

          "Why can't we have a normal, straightforward killing once in a while in this country!?"
 
                                                       "I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
 
This has been in the works for a bit, yes.
 
I’ve reviewed two cases from the long-running Ace Attorney series, one of which was a locked room mystery. Considering how the series deals with defending those falsely accused, locked rooms tend to appear quite frequently, about one per game. And considering how there are ten or so games total, that’s a fair few locked rooms to go through.
 
I’ve elaborated about the series in detail in other posts, so I’ll skip to the good stuff. The goal here is simply to give a brief overview of the locked room encountered throughout the course of the series. I’ll offer comments, certainly, but these aren’t in-depth reviews (since it’s been years since I played them in some cases!), more like a summary (as well as blatant bait to get TomCat and JJ and now Dan to check these games out).
 
Ready?
 
We’ll take it from the top, with the first game in the series: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. While there are a few set-ups that can be described as “impossible” (Cases 3 and 5, if you must know), I don’t know enough to know if they would fall into spoiler territory. So I’ll just stick with the one unambiguous impossibility in the game: the fourth cases in the game: "Turnabout Goodbyes".
 
It’s Christmas. Two men who haven’t met in years take a boat out onto a foggy lake. Suddenly, two shots ring out. One man falls back into the water. Sometime later, the body of attorney Robert Hammond is pulled out of the water, shot from close range. The other man in the boat is swifty arrested.
 
He’s innocent, obviously.
 
This isn’t a complex impossibility by any means. You get told what happened on the second day of investigation, and it won’t exactly cause JDC to be revived in ecstasy, But the main fun of the case comes not from the mystery per se, but from how writer Shu Takumi does an excellent job of forcing the player into the position of underdog. The prosecutor for this case is a “god among prosecutors” Manfred von Karma, who’s gone undefeated for forty years! Much of the trial is desperately flailing about, trying to get momentum against a seemingly unstoppable force. This feeling of desperation would be used to good effect in the next game’s final case as well, but I digress.
 
Speaking of said next game, we can now move onto the black sheep of the series: Justice for All. A reputation it gained for a variety of reasons, such as weaker mysteries and a lack of a real overarching plot. But it was my first AA game, and will always hold a special place in my heart. Also, when you consider the sheer work Takumi put into it, (wrote the script in three months, then rewrote it to include a different prosecutor) I can give the flaws a pass.
 
I’ve already talked about "Reunion, and Turnabout," so I’ll move onto the game’s third case, "Turnabout Big Top"….which has a reputation as the worst case in the series!
 
The case this time takes place at a circus, which seemed to have pushed Takumi’s normal talent for making eccentric but grounded characters to their limit, resulted in a rather unlikable cast for Phoenix to contend with in his investigation.
 
The victim of the week is the ringmaster of the Berry Big Circus, Russell Berry. A much-loved ringmaster and surrogate father figure to some in the circus, but that didn’t stop someone from bashing him in the back of the head. The scene, however, raises questions. Such as the heavy box the victim was slumped over, which contained a small container of pepper. Or the the fact that the snow around him lacked any footprints besides his own.
 
Compared to the case before, this is a better impossibility, though the well-read mystery fan will see right through it. The main draw of the case is the backstory, and the events leading up to the murder, which results in one of the sadder cases in the series’ history. I'll admit that it’s far from perfect, but I do feel that it deserves a tad more credit than it gets.
 
The third game in the series, Trials and Tribulations, is the only one in the series without an explicit locked room. I do believe that one comes up in the last case, but for the sake of spoilers and my unsureness, I’ll just pass from that.
 
We now jump seven years ahead into the next game in the series, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. As the name implies, the protagonist role has shifted, this time to the titular Apollo, a bit of a loudmouthed rookie who has a magic bracelet that lets him see people’s nervous tics. But we don’t learn that until Case 2, whoops. The locked room in question appears in Case 3, "Turnabout Serenade."
 
This time, Apollo is on enemy ground, in a sense. He’s backstage at a concert by the Gavineers, a band run by rival prosecutor Klavier Gavin. Gavin is actually friendly and the backstage tickets are genuine, but Apollo’s dislike of rock leaves him covering his ears backstage. Of course, this leads to him being a near-witness to murder. While he’s chatting with a detective in the hallway, two shots ring out from a nearby dressing room. They run into the room, and find Romein LeTouse, manager for the singer Lamoir, dying on the floor, only able to cough up, “the siren” before expiring. The problem? There’s only one small window in the room, barely bigger than a head, and the only door had Apollo and Ema standing outside it. A ladder leading into an air vent points to a certain culprit, Lamoir’s pianist, Machi Tobaye, a young child….
 
This is far from a perfect mystery. The trick at the center of the mystery is simple enough, but the mystery plays well with different mystery tropes, such as the dying message * and a common set-up in Japanese mysteries: crimes following the pattern of a rhyme (or song in this case). Most of the gripes I’ve seen (and agree with) are about the contrived nature of why the defendant is even accused in the first place (Essentially: How likely is it that a waifish teenager could fire a heavy caliber gun twice, drag a heavy body, then knock himself unconscious?) There’s a reason for it, but one that isn’t directly stated.
 
There’s also a smaller impossibility mixed in, a magic trick in which the before-mentioned singer somehow travels all the way across the building in a matter of seconds, but that one isn’t a shocker either. But the unraveling of that proves to be a key part in the murder.
 
The fourth case, "Turnabout Succession," wraps up the game’s overarcing plot with a couple more impossibilities of its own. The first being the poisoning of a reclusive artist by his daughter, or so the police claim. After all, the coffee she served him was the only thing he ate or drank, and the poison used is a “unique” (read: fictional) type that kills in fifteen minutes, making other methods of poisoning impossible. The method again, is not complex, but the method ties back seven years, to a certain trial in the past, and points the finger at a particularly cruel murderer.
 
As part of the investigation, there’s a long-time flashback to the events of seven years ago, which continue to work their influence on the present. One of these is the disappearance from a defendant after his trial was postponed. He was spotting running into one of the defendant lobbies, but when a bailiff entered via the only entrance, only a young girl stood inside. Again, not complex, but clever, with the method waved in your face long before this.
 
After this, the series took a bit of a break, with more focus on spin-offs, before roaring back to life with the fifth game in the series, Dual Destinies. Meant as a game which new and old players could enjoy, the game introduces another new character to the cast, Athena Cykes, and her amazing power of Hollywood Psychology (™). This is also the first main series game directed by Takashi Yamazaki, who’d previously been working on the spin-offs. Yamazaki has a thing for more technically complex mysteries, which is clear from the first locked room in the game, "The Monstrous Turnabout."
 
Nine-Tails Vale is a small town started by Japanese immigrants to California, and one that carries its own legend: It’s said that the guardian of the town fought against the bird demon Tenma Taro, ultimately sealing it away. Thankfully, this age-old feud hasn’t had much of an impact on the present, with talks of a merger between the vale and Tenma Town. But a masked wrestler (this makes more sense in context) called “The Amazing Nine-Tails” firmly opposes the merger. And it seems the incident may have led to murder.
 
The alderman of Nine-Tails Vale, Rex Kyubi is found murdered in his home, apparently during a meeting with the mayor of Tenma Town, Damian Tenma. Obviously, Daimin has no memory of what occurred, due to being drugged, but when the locked room was opened, only he and the victim were inside. Not to mention the feathers and bloody footprints implying that a giant bird ran through the room, and the sighting of it flying through the sky not long after the murder...
 
This is a pretty solid locked room, and a clever variation on an old trick. Some might find it a bit of a stretch, but I enjoyed it, and it is set-up well. There’s also a very clever reversal of expectations that should make certain of you stand up and clap.
 
The last case, "Turnabout for Tomorrow," also has an impossible crime thrown into the mix, but to give the deep details would spoil the case. So I’ll merely say that a killer vanishes from a room where the doors were either under direct observation by witnesses or security cameras. It’s simple but well-done, and one of the only mysteries that I know of where only someone of a certain personality could pull it off. But I’ll leave it at that.
 
I know this post is long, but hold on!
 
Spirit of Justice is the sixth and most recent game in the main series, as well as a locked room banquet. The second case, "The Magical Turnabout," involving murder at a magic show, isn’t a straight impossible crime, but it soon becomes clear that the killer has an unbreakable alibi...and Apollo and Athena are only able to break it thanks to a minor error in the killer’s plan. The third case, "The Rite of Turnabout," is no-holds barred.
 
A good chunk of the game’s plot goes down in the Kingdom of Khura'in, a kingdom that has all but eliminated defense attorneys, courtesy of a law that forces them to suffer the same penalty of their clients, and a pool that lets the court see the last moments of victims of murder! It’s a great idea, and it’s played with quite well. But I digress. One of the major figures in Khura'in is Lady Kee’ra, a cloaked figure who’s been gaining attention recently, since she seems to be operating in the modern day, attacking members of a rebellion against the government. But more important is the ritual honoring her, in which Maya Fey, Phoenix’s former assistant, will play the role of Lady Kee’ra. She and the abbot make their way up the mountain to the ritual site...and murder is done.
 
The abbot is found stabbed to death and dumped into a spring at the ritual area. It’s an open air plateau, but the ritual took place in a tent, sealed off from the outside world. Yet someone was able to enter it, and discovering what took place that night will push Phoenix to his limit. Locked room purists will grumble at the solution, but it’s well-hidden and motivated, with a few good reversals along the way. There's also a fair bit of pathos at the ending.
 
The next case, "Turnabout Storyteller," dials down the tension with a pretty unambiguous filler case, that also gives weight to my theory that the game developers and translators are in a Cold War with each other, with the former making the cases as Japanese as possible to frustrate the translators.
 
The victim is one Taifu Toneido, a master of rakugo, a form of Japanese theater. Someone slipped into his room and smothered him to death, and the cards on the table point the finger at a young chef who has a fair bit of anger at the victim, since he was keeping a family recipe back from said chef. To make matters worse, the door to the room was being watched, and the defendant was the only one seen going in and out. Athena mostly plays solo act here to unravel the truth.
 
This is a filler case, but I liked it. The identity of the killer won’t shock most people, and the way it handles a certain mental disorder can be questioned, but as a mystery it works quite well, toying with the dying message and unbreakable alibi.
 
The final case, "Turnabout Revolution," is a true Yamazaki finale, in that it’s overly long and while it’s amazing you realize a day later that it’s really stuffed to the brim. Such as here, where the first day could almost be a case on it’s own, with Apollo hunting for a valuable treasure and getting involved in a civil trial that turns into clearing up the murder of an archeologist. The impossibility shows up in the second day.
 
Sadly, to give any more than the bare minimum of details would spoil too much, so I’m forced to merely say that the case hinges around a stabbing that took place while the murder site was surrounded by guards...and the only one seen to enter was the defendant. Like the previous cases in this game, the fundamental trick is simple, but what makes it unique is that it takes a form that could only happen in the madcap world of Ace Attorney. I shall say no more. (Other than that there’s also a fair and plausible false solution thrown in.)
 
And that’s the main series done, albeit in broad strokes and not as detailed as I might of wished. But nevermind that.

*I think this the only case in the series that plays the dying message trope straight. That’s a whole nother post though.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Death Invites You (1988) by Paul Halter

Death likes pizza.

A few years ago I reviewed Paul Halter’s The Night of the Wolf, a very good short story collection that I still think is worth your time. I planned to look at the novels, but whoops, that took a while. Since I’ve read most of LRI’s Halter translations (barring The Madman's Room), I figured I might as well do this long overdue review.
 
Death Invites You is Halter’s third novel, and the first to feature Dr. Alan Twist and Inspector Hurst in the same book. The book opens with these two sitting in a pub, musing on how good criminals are just so hard to find these days. Hurst is particular is feeling smug and boasting about the police need a new, meaty case, unaware that one is beginning just a few feet away.

Simon Cunningham was the officer who helped to bring an end to the Lonely Hearts Killer, who targeted and seduced widows, spinsters, and the like before killing them and taking their money. Cunningham’s pursuit led to the killer’s suicide, as well as the officer himself rising up in the ranks and prestige. Now he’s facing a task that made even Spider-Man struggle: telling his fiancĂ© that he can’t make it to her show. What he doesn’t say is that this is because her father, Harold Vickers, a writer of locked room mysteries, has invited him over for reasons unknown (as well as telling him not to inform anyone.)

Cunningham arrives, only to find that Vickers has invited another man, a famous crime reviewer, as well. Also, according to his wife, Diane, Vickers hasn’t left his study in two days, as he sometimes does. A quick check confirms that the shutters are latched, and when the smell of roasting chicken is smelled within the choice is made to force open the bolted door, revealing one of the stranger crime scenes in fiction.

Harold Vickers is found shot to death at a large table with freshly cooked food on it. His hands and face have been dunked into boiling oil. A pair of gloves are found at the scene. A bowl of water sits beneath one of the windows. The scene suggests a bizarre suicide, but it's soon clear that this is a case of murder… And more than that, it’s a scene straight out of Vicker’s latest in production novel.
 
Death Invites You shows Halter’s greatest strength: He keeps the plot moving. There’s rarely a dull or unexciting moment, and almost every chapter has some form of complication or resolution, which combined with the short length makes for a quick read. The novel presents an interesting set-up, but doesn’t fully deliver. For example, the water in the bowl. There is an explanation for it, and it works, but everyone else is facepalming and going “How could I have been so blind!” over something that isn’t obvious in retrospect. The set-up is amazing, but it’s all hand waved to fit in with the killer’s over complicated scheme, which feels unneeded. Why not just kill who needs to be killed instead of complicating the issue? I understand that this is a mystery novel and every killer has to be Machiavelli, but at least have everything be relevant to what the killer actually wants.

I also have to question how fair this book is. It’s mentioned in the denountment that one of the things that tipped Dr. Twist off to the killer was their reaction to an event. We see this event, but never get the killer’s reaction, not even disguised. Admittedly, the killer isn’t hard to pin down, if just due to the limited number of suspects, but it feels less like a well-reasoned deduction and more like Twist going, “Well, they probably did it.” Even during the denountement, we get no real evidence of the killer’s guilt. It’s plausible, yes, but so was the case Twist made ten pages ago against someone else entirely!
 
That being said, Halter does do a good job working with a limited cast and managing to bounce suspicion between them all. He even does a good job playing with the "relative from Australia/twin" ideas in good, non-obvious way. I still think it ends up being a tad too tangled by the end, but fair points for making it workable in the first place!
 
Still, for all my griping, I found myself enjoying the book. Halter creates a maze of mirrors and quite successfully leads the reader down it, piling on complication after complication, and while the resolution isn’t near as grand as it should be, it’s far from a dud, and the locked room itself is simple and neat--leaving me annoyed that I missed it. I’m not sure I’d go with JJ’s suggestion that this be new people’s introduction to Halter, but fans will enjoy. Recommended.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

AAR : Turnabout Time Traveller

I took too long to get to this case, really.
 
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, is the sixth main game (not counting spin-offs) in the long-running Ace Attorney series. I already reviewed a case from this series, but that was a case I was recalling from the dark valley of memory. This is far more recent, I was just watching it a week ago!* (No 3DS. I have to make due.)

Turnabout Time Traveler is the DLC for the game, taking place directly after the events of the game (though without directly spoiling them). The previous main series game, Duel Destinies, had a pretty good DLC case in the form of Turnabout Reclaimed (the one where you defend an orca), but can this game match up?

The case opens with Phoenix in his office, watching his daughter Trucy and his co-worker Athena Cykes struggle over Trucy appointing Athena as the new assistant in her magic show. It’s a nice bit of domestic fun, but the day is derailed with the sudden arrival of Phoenix’s childhood friend, Larry Butz, who has a woman in a wedding dress in tow, and is claiming that they’re getting married

Needlessly to say, the childhood saying around Phoenix’s school “When something smells, it's usually the Butz.” holds true, with the woman identifying herself as Ellen Wyatt, the fiancĂ©e of Sorin Sprocket, soon to be CEO of Sprocket Aviation, a company specializing in flight. Oh, and she’s on the run for murder. And a time traveler.

According to Ellen, shortly after her wedding reception, she was attacked by Dumas Gloomsbury, the butler (insert jokes here). He forced her to the edge of the “Flying Chapel” the airship where the wedding was being held, but Ellen made a wish on her pendant to go back in time to her “blissful moment”, passing out just as a shadowy figure struck Dumas on the head. When she came too, it was time for the wedding reception again! This time, there was no attack, but while cleaning up, she knocked over a lantern, exposing Dumas’ battered body...and the situation points the finger of suspicion on her.

Needless to say, Phoenix finds himself taking up Ellen’s defense, and the case soon turns into another form of time travel for series fans in the pure nostalgia department. Not only is Phoenix reunited with his long-time assistant, Maya Fey, but standing across the courtroom is Phoenix’s old rival Miles Edgeworth as “the Prosecutor’s Office is full of cowards” who have been intimidated by the powerful Sprocket family. Not to mention that the murder weapon is once again an unusual clock.

It’s hard to judge this case in a pure mystery basis, as like Reunion, it’s not a fair play mystery in the normal sense. There are only two positions for murderer, and you aren’t exactly in a position to solve things in advance per se. The fun comes from having to adjust to the new information that gets tossed your way. Such as why the lanterns at the reception were mismatched or what the flower petals in the lantern with the body mean.

That being said, I can still judge this in the pure mystery sense. Sadly, the time travel gimmick isn't wholly satisfying, though the motivation behind it works. The case as a whole feels a tad shorter than it should. While some of the contradictions are difficult, I can’t imagine skilled players having much trouble with this. The killer is also bit too obvious, though to be fair Ace Attorney isn’t really a traditional whodunit. The cast is well done and distinct, though I feel that Edgeworth gets walked on a bit more than normal in this case.

Speaking of the killer, their big transformation is fun, but a little too over-the-top for my taste, thought maybe that’s because the main game spoiled me on those. Those who are new to the series will get a rush from it though. (Though as a fan, I hope they tone it down for the next game.)

All in all, a fun addition to Spirit of Justice, with plenty of enjoyment for older fans, but I wouldn’t say newcomers should start with it.
 
*At the time of writing. Now it's been like....a few months. A year. Maybe.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Inside Edition

                                                  "The thesis has been proven"

9/10 mysteries take place inside.

In the year 1994, Hiroshi MORI (I swear he wants his name written like that), wrote The Perfect Insider, which got quite a bit of attention as a scientific detective novel. In Japan. In the West it was an unknown, as expected. In Japan, it was the start of the oddly named S&M series, starring architecture professor Sohei Saikawa and his student Moe Nishinosono. Oddly enough architecture plays almost no role in the stories.) Each episode is a two-parter adapting one of the original novels.

The first is “Doctors In Isolated Room”. Saikawa and Moe get to sit in on an experiment performed in a freezing room, which goes off perfectly and without issue. However, during the after party, people realize that the two involved in the experiment seem to have vanished, and soon their bodies are discovered in the locked lab. But how did the killer get into the locked and sealed lab? And why weren’t the victims wearing their suits? And does this have anything to do with a student who went insane and started slashing with a knife before vanishing years ago? (Hint: It does.)

This is a decent opening episode, but the mystery is a tad weak. There simply aren’t enough alternative solutions for the mystery, and while I get that that’s sort of the point, it still makes it easy to tumble to the solution simply by guessing in spite of the attempt at misdirection. It also suffers from the same issue that plagues most episodes in this series: The rest of the cast just aren’t that distinct. The reveal of the killer isn’t “I knew it was them!” but more “Wait, who was this again?” for me, at any rate.

The next episode, “Who Inside?” takes Saikawa and Moe to the home of a family of Buddhist painters. It doesn’t take long for Saikawa to realize that Moe didn’t bring him there to gawk at the architecture, but to offer his opinion on the death of a previous patriarch of the family, who was found stabbed to death in his locked studio. The locked room forced the police to declare it a suicide, but they never could find the weapon used. Needless to say, modern day murder rears its head, and leaves the current head of the family stabbed to death by the side of a bridge.

While I like the atmosphere of this case (creepy Buddhist mansions need more popularity), it’s the weakest episode of the series. Maybe it’s because I’m biased because I really don’t like this solution, especially for locked room mysteries, but it does feel like an anti-climax, and we never really get a real reason why it happened. This episode also suffers from the “killer has so little presence until the summation” problem.

It’s worth noting that there’s another locked room in the present day, but the circumstances behind it are a mild spoiler, though I don’t think it came off how the creators intended. It’s also worth noting that this episode makes good and plausible use of a child to give a clue. I felt it was a little obvious, but also fitting.

“The Perfect Insider” is the series’ high point, and I’ll say right now that if you watch any of this series it should be this. Saikawa and Moe set off to have a meeting with Shiki Magata, a famous scientist who’s been under confinement ever since killing her parents at the tender age of fourteen. However, when our heroes show up, Magata isn’t responding to calls from others at the island facility, and the door to her rooms won’t open...until they do, revealing Magata’s dismembered and wedding dress-clad body comes rolling out (literally, it’s on a rolling robot. It’s not somersaulting down the hall, funny as that is.) How could the killer get into a room that’s effectively been locked and under observation for fourteen years? And what does Magata’s final message “Everything becomes F” mean?

Don’t think you can figure out the message, by the way, it’s not something a layman can deduce. Speaking of deductions, I admit that this series doesn’t fall on the fair play end of things very often. It is better than Galileo, however. I think there’s more of an effort here, and an observant watching can at least grasp the outline of what went on in that sealed room. Very well-done.

“Numerical Models” is my favorite non-arc episode, even though Ho-Ling doesn't care for it. A young researcher is found strangled to death in a locked lab. Her boyfriend is quickly focused on as a suspect, but he’s found unconscious at the scene of a another bizarre locked room murder: the decapitation of a famous cosplayer. Sadly, the locked rooms are far less interesting than you’d think, but what sells the episode is the background, taking place among the world of models and cosplay, which isn’t something you see in mysteries. The almost macabre take the episode goes in the second half is also probably why I enjoy it, in spite of it’s flaws...such as a denouement that comes slightly out of nowhere.

The whodunit aspect is better than normal at least, and the final sequence has Saikawa putting on a pretty good showing.

The finale, “The Perfect Outsider” takes place almost a year after the previous, and has Moe being invited to a theme park by her pseudo-fiance, (their engagement was arranged by Moe’s parents before their death in a plane crash) the CEO of Nanocraft, a software company who created the theme park in question, modeling it after an old European town. But it seems something anti-modern has creeped in.

Moe learns from an employee that a woman stumbled on the body of a man, freshly killed by a dark knight, but when she returned with security, both had vanished. It seems like nothing more than the words of a drunk man, but soon he turns up dead in a chapel, apparently dropped through a stained-glass window. By the time Moe returns, he’s apparently been pulled through the hole again, but how could anyone have done that? Things degrade even more as the one witness is murdered in her locked hotel room and an attempt to show new holographic technology ends in a holographic stabbing that proves to be real and in impossible circumstances.

Add in an old face from the past, and you have...a very uneven finale.

The crimes felt a tad simplistic for the finale, but I fully admit that I was expecting something very different from what we got, which was probably the intent. The murders still felt a tad too simple, and the killer felt a little sudden, but thinking about it in retrospect, I’ll give the series the benefit of the doubt on this one. What I can’t let off is the rushed ending, which leaves almost everyone involved in this disaster unpunished or on the run. I assume this is because of the shift from novel to drama meant some cutting, but why can’t you get the murderer of the week at least! Saikawa’s actions at the end also ring hollow, considered what was established at the end of “Numeric Models”. I know it soured someone I was watching the series with on him, and I can't blame them.

And why was Moe dumped in the chapel at the end of part one? Still don’t know why that happened. The murder plot also is really badly motivated: Why was it started in the first place, exactly? What was the goal? And I’m not talking about the killer’s goal.

All in all, I liked this series. Compared to Galileo, it’s far more even, with better mysteries. Admittedly, they could have used more fair play, but I still enjoyed the ride. I enjoyed the chemistry between to two leads, especially the lack of a “will-they-won’t-they” dynamic, if just because Moe is very open about her attraction to Saikawa, which is nice. I would recommend “The Perfect Insider” even if you don’t watch anything else from this series, but the whole is worth your time, with even the worst having some good ideas.

Next time, more Ace Attorney!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Ace Attorney Retrospective: Reunion, and Turnabout

A while back, I said I intended to do a retrospective of the Ace Attorney series. Needless to say, this plan faltered when I realized the sheer number of hours I’d have to contribute to it. That doesn’t mean I can’t ramble about one of the most important moments in my mystery obsession. So this will more nostalgia than an actual review.

The second game in the series, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All, is considered by many fans to be one of the weaker games in the series for a multitude of reasons., such as weaker mysteries and a lack of an overarching plot connecting the cases. However, it was my intro to this amazing series, so I can forgive a fair amount. Especially when I consider the role this played in my love of mysteries.

The second case of the game, Reunion and Turnabout, opens with Phoenix Wright’s office being invaded by Dr. Turner Grey, who has an unusual request for the attorney. Two years ago, Grey’s clinic went through a double round of controversy. A nurse mixed up medications, resulting in the deaths of fourteen patients. Shortly after, she died in a fiery car accident. Allegations began to spread that Dr. Grey may have overworked the nurse in the first place, then drugged her to get rid of her in the accident. The good doctor’s plan to clear his name is an idea that’s only plausible in the Ace Attorney world: Spirit channeling.

Grey’s plan is to have the nurse channelled and get a signed confession from her, admitting her full fault about the incidents. Phoenix isn’t sure why he’s needed for this, but then Dr. Grey mentions who the channeller is: Maya Fey, Phoenix’s assistant who returned to her home village at the end of the fourth case of the previous game. She wants Phoenix to accompany Grey before she does any channeling, and Phoenix eagerly agrees.

Of course, the reunion is cut short by the expected murder. Maya and Dr. Gray enter the channeling chamber, and Maya herself locks the door with the only key. Phoenix, Maya’s aunt Morgan, and reporter Lotta Hart are all outside the door when a shot, then another, ring out from the room. The door is swiftly broken down, revealing Dr. Gray's body, and a woman dressed in Maya’s clothes holding a gun. Phoenix and Lotta are ushered out, and the case begins in full, as Phoenix is soon called upon to defend Maya (the fact that she would have been, under the prosecution’s theory, possessed at the time is never brought up) on the charge of murder, against a whip-happy prosecutor.

But then, I’m not talking about that.

The mystery is, to be fair, rather weak. The killer stands out, and the solution to the locked room is one of the basic ones. There’s a rather odd contradiction regarding a bullet that followed more of a miracle path that Lee Harvey Oswald’s. But even in spite of all of that, this mystery still had an impact (the fact that I didn’t realize most of these contradictions and flaws for a while also helps). The final set of reveals, showing the motive for the killer to plunge a knife and bullet into Dr. Grey is one that could only apply in the Ace Attorney universe, and the truth behind the killer (I have to be vague) left me in such awe that I ended up babbling for like twenty minutes to someone (who was in retrospect very uninterested) about it. But that still doesn’t stop this mystery from being my own personal gateway. I was a fan of mysteries before this, but I’m sure this this is the mystery that moved me into being a mystery fanboy.

Anyway, I do hope to be getting to more AA in the future. Next time will either be me taking a look at the DLC for game 6, or a massive info dump of the many locked rooms in this series!

Monday, November 20, 2017

For Science!

Ironically, science really isn’t my thing.

Image result for galileo series
While I haven't mentioned him on this blog yet, I’m a fan of Keigo Higashino. To me, he does an excellent job of combining both the more modern mystery story with the classic ideas of old. He’s not perfect, and I’m sure that modern critics like him for very different reasons than myself, but I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve read of his so far. Such as two novels starring Manbu “Galileo” Yukawa, a physics professor who keeps getting involved in police investigations, mainly those involving the impossible. The novels didn’t really focus on this (barring Salvation of a Saint) but the short stories tend to focus more on physics part of things. But they’re all in Japanese. What’s a fan to do?

Watch the live action drama, of course.

Galileo is a J-drama consisting of eleven episodes, though episode four is not available due to something with one of the actors being involved in something criminal. The episodes star the Holmes/Watson team of Yukawa and police officer Kaori Utsumi. While I’ll end up tagging this as “Locked Room Mysteries” or “Impossible Crimes” (once I get the tags figured out, so sometime in 2020), only one of the episodes involves an actual locked room, the rest deal with phenomena that seems impossible, but can be explained by science (even though Yukawa scrawls math formulas on everything when he solves the case, even when they have nothing to do with anything). The two leads have the obligatory “will-they-won’t-they” chemistry, but it works well, with neither really having the upper hand on each other.

But then, you aren’t here for that.

(Disclaimer: I got these titles from the Viki.com subs. If they're inaccurate, inform me and I'll edit accordingly.)

The first episode “Ignite” opens with a bang, when the head of a delinquent catches on fire while he and his friends are trashing a dock. The audience sees who was responsible, but not how he did it. Yukawa finds himself called in, and deduces the truth, based on burn marks around the scene of the murder. Sadly, there’s almost no chance that the average viewer can come up with the solution, except by guessing. There’s an attempt to twist the plot at the end, but it’s too obviously foreshadowed and set up. Personally, if they had played with the sequence of events at the end of the episode, the twist would have had more impact. But that’s a spoiler.

The next “Astral Projection” is one of the more disappointing episodes for me. A woman is strangled to death and the police quickly zero in on a suspect. His alibi is that he was in his car hungover, but no one can back him up...or so it seems. A young boy claims to have seen the car as the suspect states, but he must have seen it while astral projecting, due to the large factory doors blocking his view. The idea is a good one, but the episode itself fell flat for me. I think this is because I expected more from the murder angle, but most of the episode was focused on the boy and his father’s attempts to milk his newfound fame. Though I have to ask: Did the police just announce that they needed help backing up a suspect’s alibi? Because I don’t know how the boy or his father knew about the case.

“Poltergeist” reverses the normal formula, as Yukawa comes to Kaori: The sister of one his students wants a police officer to look into her husband’s disappearance. He was last seen entering the house of an old woman who died of a heart attack after his visit. A late-night stake-out reveals the four people living in the house leave at nine every night...and an investigation reveals why: the house violently shakes at that time. Is it the ghost of the old woman? Obviously not, but Yukawa’s explanation for it is both unsatisfying and underclued. Still, the end wrings some genuine pathos out of the set-up.

The next in the line-up is “Fireball” and it’s a genuine locked room! A man is drugged and strangled in a hotel room under observation, and the only clue is a fireball seen buzzing in the room at the time of the murder. There’s some good bits, such as the deductions that Yukawa makes at the crime scene leading to his final solution, but the solution is one that I normally find very unsatisfying, and the lack of fair cluing doesn’t help. Also, why in the world does the office worker not mention <that important fact> until later? You’d think you’d bring it up first thing!

The next episode “Dream” is a flawed masterpiece (mild exaggeration there, but you get my point). A childhood friend of Utsumi’s is caught in the act of breaking into the home of a girl named Remi Morisaki, but is (non-fatally) shot by her mother in the process. Utsumi turns to Yukawa for help, mainly due the the odd backstory of the case. You see, her friend has been dreaming for Morisaki for twenty years….even though Morisaki is only nineteen. Combine that with words seemingly calling the friend to her appearing in ordinary water, and it seems that there’s more behind this case. And there is and I love it. Sadly, the execution stumbles. The trick with the words in the water isn’t fully explained (how did the words remain when the water was disturbed, for example) and the backstory is discovered off-screen by Yukawa. And one wonders if the motive behind this plan was worth the risk. And one would think that Utsumi would remember what she did much earlier.

Next up is “Sight.” A man is called on his honeymoon by the woman he’s having an affair with, and when he opens his curtains, he sees her ready to hang herself. Despite his best efforts, she takes the plunge and the fallout ruins his marriage. However, there’s still an unsolved question about the incident: A few weeks before the hanging, he saw someone else hang herself in that same apartment. A series of events brings the case to Yukawa, who seems oddly interested in it. In  fact, he and Utsumi more or less switch roles for this episode. It’s a good one, mainly just for Yukawa playing the role of a more traditional detective, though most will understand the plot pretty quick, even if they don’t get the mechanics.

Sadly, “Teleportation” is another weak episode. A woman is stabbed to death by a stalker a few hundred times before the attack is interrupted by a security guard. The man falls to his death in the escape, which would seem to make the case open and shut if it weren’t for the victim's sister, who claims to have seen the victim out her window...while she was being stabbed to death across the city. The idea is neat, but…

In my review of A Caribbean Mystery, I mentioned how different detectives deal with different cases, and that’s fine, in fact, preferred. Marple isn’t going to go traipsing all over the city to deal with ABC, and Poirot isn’t going to be challenged by what happens in A Caribbean Mystery, because they’re different people with different focuses and different styles, even if there are similarities. When it comes to series’ like Galileo, with a detective with a certain unique specialty, I expect the Great Detective to deal with crap that appeals to that specialty. This case does not. Really, Yukawa isn’t needed at all for this, Utsumi could have handled this on her own. The solution is simple, in spite of a mild trick the director throws at you.

The two part finale, “Burst Open” has an interesting hook. Utsumi and colleague, are doing a (under attended) presentation at a school when attention is drawn to a student’s art project “Death Mask of a Zombie” a realistic face of a dead man...then a woman runs in and identifies the face as that of her son. The student got the mask by modeling a weird metal faceplate he found in a river, and the investigation leads to a body. But how did the metal take that shape in the first place? The resulting investigation leads to more deaths, radiation and an old figure from Yukawa’s past. All of this implies good stuff, but the end degrades into cheesy Bond level of suspense, and in a way that doesn't even make sense when you consider the villain’s ultimate goal.

I admit, I wasn't sure about an adaptation of the short Galileo stories, since Ho-Ling’s reviews implied that they weren’t as good as the novels. Still, I had hope, but I wasn’t fully satisfied. There are interesting premises here, but the resolutions and the fairness thereof are usually lacking. If you’re going to watch, I’d recommend “Dream” and “Sight.” Otherwise, only recommended if you need something light, and are willing to watch it as a cheesy but fun J-drama and not a complex mystery series.

Also, apparently there's a second series out there, but I didn't know about it until I was looking up images to put in this post! I shall try and track it down then.

Next time: Ace Attorney!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Loop-de-Garou

Image result for the howling beast noel vindryA note to all French authors who want to use or imply wolves: I only have so many jokes I can make with this title. This applies if you’re dead. Or if a publisher puts a picture of a wolf on the cover of your book after you died.

Noel Vindry, known to some as the French John Dickson Carr, first came to the attention of the English-speaking world with Locked Room International’s translation of The House That Kills, and frankly he needed a better introduction. Not the worst book of whatever year it came out, and with some good ideas, but all in all it felt thin. This is much better.

The Howling Beast starts with M. Allou, magistrate, on vacation, ignorant of the recent happenings. This allows him to provide some assistance to the desperate and disheveled man he meets who says, “I have not eaten in three days monsieur.” Said man is Herry Pierre, who is currently on the run for a brutal double murder. M. Allou is willing to hear out his bizarre story, under the logic that a liar will surely trip themselves up…

JJ of The Invisible Event has stated that this is a book best left unspoiled, as the blurb gives too much away, which I suppose is fair (then again, those who read the back of The Crimson Fog or even The Seventh Hypothesis know better than to trust whoever does the blurbs at LRI.), but I don’t feel that it gives away anything else that anyone who’s read a mystery before can see coming. Still, in the interest of generosity, I shall stick to vague descriptions. The book is split into two narratives, one concerning events at the home of Comte de Saint-Luce, four years ago, and one concerning the events of three days ago and Allou’s unraveling of everything. Herry gives us information is perfect and exact detail, which is acceptable to make the plot work. The former narrative involves Herry more or less crashing at the fancy and creepy castle of a man he hasn’t seen in years. The result brings with it a Buddha statue, a love triangle, a pair of brutal assaults in the night, and the disappearance of one of of the guests, as well as a note implying murder.

Also, there’s the slight matter of those mysterious, barely audible howls in the night, that sound like no animal in France….

The second part is where the real meat is, but all I’ll say about it is that it involves a sudden double shooting, as well as attempted murder, with all shots fired by an apparently invisible murder inside a literal locked fortress.

All in all, a much better book than The House That Kills, though the two are similar, what with a group of people isolated in a fortress-like environment under siege from a seemingly unstoppable foe. Carr would have played it up for more horror, but Vindry does a decent job of showing the paranoia and isolation of the main cast, even as they go on and on about how brave they are. All the time. Herry brings it up to the point of nausea.

Still better characterization than The House That Kills.

The main gripe is that the shooting comes so late in the book, that there’s really not a chance to solve it, it’s more watching Allou piece the crime together, which he does without issue. The solution is a simple one, but because of how quickly it’s introduced and solved I don’t have an issue with it. The few elements of horror, such as the nature of the beast, are well done, though the reader doesn’t have much in the way of cluing for it.

All in all, I enjoyed it. It may not be the best thing to come from LRI, but it’s a very competent mystery/suspense story. Recommended.