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!