Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Fiend with Twenty Faces

If you've read any of the other reviews here, you've probably been irritated by the upper case surnames. They irritate me too, to be honest. So I only put them at the first occurrence of a name in a post. The problem is that the form that a Japanese name gets known in the west is mostly Given name -> FAMILY NAME, but for some writers it's the Japanese order FAMILY NAME -> Given name. When I started learning, that sometimes made me unsure which was which. So I was hoping to spare other beginners the same problems.

The pseudonym EDOGAWA Rampo (江戸川乱歩 1894-1965) is one of those exceptions, known abroad with the Japanese name order, perhaps in order to preserve the punning reference. (Or is there some reason I don't understand? The Japanese Wikipedia regularly refers to him as Rampo, which would be an unusual use of the given name; but apparently obvious pseudonyms are treated differently.) He is one of the most influential figures in Japanese crime writing, with stories in a variety of subgenres. The best known are probably those which have an emphasis on horror and abnormality, a trend in Japan at that time. I have only read two short stories, both more classical mysteries (and both excellent): D坂の殺人事件 (The D-Slope Murder Case 1925) and 二癈人 (Two Invalids 1924).  The first of these is a locked room mystery of sorts, at least it is presented as such by the narrator, whose judgement is not terribly reliable. But in a few pages it runs assuredly through innumerable familiar tricks of detective fiction, turning them on their heads. (Often when reading puzzle detective stories, I've thought, 'You know, there've been some quite thorough demonstrations of the unreliability of eye-witnesses. Someone should write a story with awareness of that research.' I hadn't realized that it had already been done in 1925.) It's also the first appearance of Edogawa's series detective, AKECHI Kogorou (明智小五郎), who is also the hero of the book in the title to this post.

The Fiend with Twenty Faces (怪人二十面相 1936) is the first in a series of adventure stories for children. The title character is a brilliant thief, able to disguise himself perfectly. He is currently busy collecting the fine art and other treasures of the richest families in Japan, always sending a letter ahead of his attack, to let them know that they are about to be robbed. Appropriate to a story for children, he has a strong dislike for shedding blood; and the gun he carries on his first appearance is a toy. For the first half of the book Akechi is out of the country, but his assistant, the twelve year old KOBAYASHI Yoshio (小林芳雄) stands in for him, with incredible self assurance.

Soutarou entered the room and found a boy of twelve or thirteen, with apple like cheeks and large eyes.

"Mr. Hashiba? Pleased to meet you. I'm Kobayashi of the Akechi Detective Office. Since you were so kind as to telephone us, I've come to discuss things."

The boy spoke distinctly, his eyes large and alert.

"Ah, you're Mr. Kobayashi's assistant? It's a rather complicated case, you know. I would prefer to speak to the man himself ...."

The boy put his hand up as if to stop Soutarou, and replied, "No, I'm Kobayashi Yoshio. There's no other assistant but me."

The self confidence is fairly well justified, particularly as, in contrast to the villain, Kobayashi is equipped with a real gun. But of course Twenty Faces remains at large to escalate his threats in the second half of the book, with an attempt to steal all the art works of the National Museum.

This is broadly written adventure aimed probably at readers slightly younger than Kobayashi. Towards the end of the book, Kobayashi gains a group of allies, the Boy Detective Club, who are about ten years old. It's easy and amusing reading, though the twists are signalled more obviously for the book's young readers. The gleeful lack of sophistication in the writing is one of the book's strongest qualities, emphasising the writer's awareness of his readers, who are addressed directly, and invited to speculate or react to the events described. In addition, the background of prewar Tokyo adds an extra interest for modern readers. For instance, the suspicious figure of a kamishibai man is actually one of Twenty Faces henchmen, observing Akechi's house.

For once, there is an English translation. I haven't read it; so I can't speak for its quality. (I will say I hate the cover, which is not my idea of the book at all.) At least the few reactions to it that I can find online are positive.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

奇想、天を動かす

What brought good Wilkie's genius nigh perdition?
Some demon whispered, "Wilkie, have a mission!"
 (Swinburne on Wilkie Collins)

There are various ways you can divide up crime fiction. Greater or lesser realism is certainly one important spectrum; but in practice, the decision of where a book belongs can be complicated. Discussion of Japanese crime fiction often brings up a 'social school', which is supposedly more realistic and more concerned with depicting the nature of the modern world, as opposed to purely puzzle stories. In fact the two classics most often named in this context, Points and Lines (点と線
1958) and Inspector Imanishi Investigates (砂の器 1962) by MATSUMOTO Seichou (松本 清張, 1909-1992), are both distinctly unrealistic, particularly the latter. Nor do they avoid puzzle elements. But (on the basis of these two books) the style does avoid many of the conventions of traditional puzzle stories. There are alibis and tricks of misdirection by the criminal ; but fantastic crimes like locked room murders, fantastic disguises, unusual buildings or other such settings, the appearance of the supernatural etc. do not occur.  Some recent Japanese writers particularly cultivate such elements. When SHIMADA Souji (島田荘司, born 1948) gets mentioned, it is often as the forerunner of this style. But the stories that I've read featuring the policeman YOSHIKI Takeshi (吉敷竹史) seem to have more in common with the realist school. From western stories the most comparable figure is perhaps Freeman Wills Crofts: an investigation which goes through a period of orientation, then focuses on one suspect, with a problem like an alibi that still needs solving left to the end; a professional policeman as hero, characterised by stubborn persistance.

The 1989 Yoshiki novel 奇想、天を動かす has a rather unusual place in this. One part is pure 'social school', as Yoshiki patiently traces the early lives of a murderer and his victim. The other is a deliberately fantastic impossible crime story. I'll say in advance that this makes a truly, truly terrible mix. But I like both types of story; so it's a readable book despite its faults.

The book starts in the 1950's with a night train journey through a wintery Hokkaido landscape. Down the corridor between the seats, in which almost all the few passengers are asleep, a man in clown's makeup, with a strange and unsettling smile, dances silently past. One wakeful passenger hears a shot and goes to the door through which the dancing clown had passed. He meets another passenger coming from the other compartment; and the two deduce that the shot must have come from the locked toilet. They summon the conductor who unlocks the door. There is the clown, surrounded by burning candles, with part of his head blown off. The conductor relocks the door; but some travellers complain that the burning candles are a danger. He reopens it to extinguish them, and finds that the clown has disappeared.

The story moves to the present day, where a homeless man, less that 1.50 m. high, wanders round Tokyo playing his harmonica at train travellers, but seeking no money. He wanders into backstreets near Asakusa and, apparently in an argument over change, stabs the owner of a small shop. Yoshiki suspects there must be more to the story and finds that the man had previously been wrongly imprisoned for murder. Another prisoner remembers the stories that the man had written, which in turn prove to be reflections of an impossible event in Hokkaido thirty years ago, when the man had been a clown in the circus there. Indeed the events of the night include not only the locked room mystery, but a corpse returned to life, an invisible giant with glowing eyes, and a force that hurls one carriage off the rails.

The final explanation has a wealth of ideas, with a train alibi added to the problem for good measure. But a lot of the explanation comes down to coincidence. The solution to the locked room is not very credible, but it will probably occur to readers. The worst problem for me is that the motivation just doesn't seem to make sense. Even if it did, the mix of social mystery and fantastic mystery feels like a well meaning lapse of judgement.

A core element of the back story is the Japanese kidnapping and use as forced labour of Korean civilians and associated crimes in the period of military rule. Yoshiki is portrayed as someone with no idea of this part of history, which might imply that Shimada expects other Japanese readers to be similarly ill informed. (On the other hand, Yoshiki's role in the novel is generally that of an ignorant but interested listener, whatever the subject.)

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Little People of the House in the Tree's Shadow

木かげの家の小人たち is a children's book from 1959 by INUI Tomiko (discussed here). As with A Long Long Penguin Story, there's no English translation. But if you speak French, Le secret du verre bleu seems to be a translation. [UPDATE: There is now an English translation, "The Secret of the Blue Glass" (2015) by Ginny Tapley Takemori, published by Pushkin Press.] The book reads as if it is aimed at older readers than ながいながいペンギンの話, and it's quite long, just under 300 pages in my edition. (Japanese books are small. So there isn't room for much text on a page; but a Japanese page probably works out to not much less than an English paperback. The syllable alphabet and lack of spaces between words saves space.)

The story is a fantasy featuring tiny people, like many children's books in English and Japanese literature. Inui in an afterword mentions being enthralled by a book on fairies by Yeats; and the little people here are in fact British fairies. MORIYAMA Tatsuo's English teacher brought the little people with her when she came to Japan as a young woman. Now, in 1914, she is returning to England and asks Tatsuo to look after them, giving him a blue glass in which they must be given milk every day. Tatsuo installs them in an unused bookroom in a tree shadowed corner of the house. And there they stay, provided with milk first by Tatsuo then by later generations of the family.

But the core of the story is the experience of life in wartime Japan, which the little people first witness as two men come into their room, pulling volumes from the shelves to pile up on the floor as they search through the books.

"The books here are mostly just the children's books."

"Madame, in your house is this the kind of book your children read?" said one of the men, pushing a black covered book in German in her face.

"Ah. Kropotkin. That's .... well yes, that is my father in law's -"

"For now we'll take it with us to the station for consideration."

The story on the one side centres on the young daughter of the family, Yuri, who is evacuated to the countryside and must try to find the milk that the fairies in her care need to live, on the other on the fairy family themselves, the parents, Balbo and Fern, who are accustomed to rely on the human family, and their children Robin and Iris, who gradually start exploring the world outside. The depiction of the wartime mood in Japan is fairly bitter: Yuri's father is imprisoned for unpatriotic sentiments; but one of her brothers thinks he deserves it for betraying the country and that Yuri is similarly unpatriotic in giving milk to the fairies. In the countryside where Yuri is sent, she soon becomes isolated, since the other children's families regard her family with disapproval, in particular the mother of her friend, who is proud of the her other sons, who have lost their lives in the war. And sickness and the difficulty of getting milk lead to a bitter parting with the fairies in her care. The expanding horizons of Robin and Iris are more optimistic, as they make friends first with a pigeon then with a Japanese fairy. But although the book's ending is not exactly unhappy, and there is a reconciliation of sorts between Yuri and the fairies, the reader is likely to be left a little melancholy and thoughtful.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Villa Lilac Murder Case

I have a terrible memory for names. I can generally remember what people tell me about themselves, but not the name. Even in Europe that can be a problem. The ancient Romans had slaves whose job was to remind their master of the name and personal details of people they met in the street. Something like that would be useful for people like me today. Without the slavery, of course -- a smartphone app perhaps. Trying to talk Japanese makes that even worse, since you need the name in place of  saying "you".  A practiced memory for names is a real necessity when reading books too. Some names you can work out from the common kanji, others feature unfamiliar kanji or readings that you would need special knowledge to recognise. Mostly the first time a name is used in a book, it comes with furigana. Japanese readers note the reading and keep it in their head for the rest of the book. I note the reading then forget it three pages later. So unless they're called something simple like Tanaka or Ogawa, their subsequent appearances register in my head as "So and so" or "Yama-something" or some wild guess, since the alternative is to hunt back through the book to the page where they made their first appearance.

In the long run I need to improve my memory, somehow. Or else I could stick to reading こころ and 博士が愛した数式. In the short term, I sometimes replace the bookmark that Japanese publishers kindly provide with a piece of paper on which I can note down the names of the characters as they appear. That works quite well. Actually perhaps the act of writing them down helps them stick in the memory, as I find that quite quickly I don't need to refer to the bookmark unless the character hasn't appeared for a hundred pages or so. If you're learning to read like me, I strongly recommend it.

That said, if you're going to read りら荘事件 (The Villa Lilac Case) by 鮎川哲也 (AYUKAWA Tetsuya), perhaps my notes can save you some time.


園田万平 SONODA Manpei caretaker of the Villa Lilac
園田花 SONODA Hana his wife
日高鉄子HIDAKA Tetsuko art student
行武栄一 YUKITAKE Eiichi music student (bass)
尼リリス AMA Ririsu music student (soprano)
牧数人 MAKI Kasundo Ama's fiancé, music student
橘秋夫 TACHIBANA Akio music student (piano)
松平紗絽女 MATSUDAIRA Sarome music student (violin)
安孫子宏 ABIKO Hiroshi music student (bass)
由木 YUKI Saitama police (keiji)
須田佐吉 SUDA Sakichi charcoal burner
堅持 KENMOCHI Saitama police (keibu)
二条義房 NIJOU Yoshifusa student, amateur detective
星影龍三 HOSHIKAGE Ryuuzou amateur detective
水原 MIZUHARA Tokyo police (keiji)

To be honest, I didn't find it a very enjoyable book. It's an attempt at a thoroughly classical puzzle mystery, first published from 1956-7 and then in book form in 1958. A group of students gather for a break at a villa belonging to their university in the hills north west of Tokyo. One by one they and those around them get killed, until the police are left with hardly any suspects to choose from. It's a carefully plotted mystery, with a lot of tricks and clues. But I think it has some terrible problems.
Firstly, the murderer is much too obvious. Before I was a quarter of the way in I had a rough idea of who the killer was and what was going on. That was less than a hundred pages in, and it's a long book (about 400 pages), so that I had another 300 pages to go. At the end more or less everything I'd worked out or guessed turned out to be right. All this time the police are shown as bumbling incompetents, neglecting the most obvious questions and evidence. The experience is like having to watch someone else play a computer game badly for hour after hour. The real detective is not even mentioned till the last fifth of the book; and we have to read on quite a few pages before he makes an actual appearance. There's the same structure, and the same problems, in a 島田荘司 (SHIMADA Souji) book that I read recently, 斜め屋敷の犯罪 (The Crime of the Slanted Country House), a locked room mystery from 1982, which seems a deliberate attempt to emulate traditional mysteries like りら荘事件. In that case too, the culprit is very obvious; but I at least did not have the solution to the central puzzle (though certain elements of it are obvious, too).

Coming back to Ayukawa's book, the characters were a problem for me too. They are none of them interesting and most are fairly unlikable. A writer has no duty to cater to a taste for likeable characters of course. If you've always wondered, 'What's it like to spend a couple of weeks with dull, unpleasant, quarrelsome people?', you may find it enlightening.

But perhaps my level of Japanese is a problem here. It took me over two weeks to get through this. If it was in English, I would have read it in a couple of days and looked more tolerantly on the characters and the puzzle. You can read another blogger's more positive take on the book here.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Vampire Legend Murder Case

I don't really read manga; but people say it's a good way to improve your Japanese reading skills. Since most manga are written for children, they come with furigana; and as the story is being told in pictures at the same time, you get a lot of contextual clues to what is going on. I have read a few volumes of the detective series 金田一少年の事件簿 (The Case Files of Young Kindaichi). Like Japan's other major detective manga 名探偵コナン (Case Closed), the series has been running for about twenty years. Quite a few of the earlier volumes have been translated into English; but I've only read some of the later volumes, which haven't yet been translated.

If you think about it, comic books have some real advantages for a puzzle detective story. The worst medium is probably film. Filmmakers can't easily show exactly what is going on, if it's a complicated event involving the viewpoints of several people; a whole range of problems are excluded by their nature (railway timetables, for instance); and the audience doesn't have time to think about the problem. A television series can be better in the last respect, but otherwise shares the same problems. I prefer novels and short stories, but those too have their problems. Even in prose, it's a little tricky to make sure the reader understands exactly what is supposed to be happening. You can sometimes solve a puzzle because the writer's necessary gear shift from normal narration to very detailed narration makes it obvious that some particular action is going to be significant. And sometimes the writer knows that prose is just not going to be enough. Like golden age detective stories, most Japanese puzzle detective stories have maps or plans; some have more than one. A comic book is already a visual medium; so it can have maps and plans without admitting a failure of the main means of expression. And it can make clear what is going on without shifts in narrative style beyond those that the authors themselves choose. Interestingly those Young Kindaichi books that I have read make hardly any use of one opportunity that comic books give: any clues that are in the illustrations are almost always also in the text (i. e. in the dialogue or in documents); I've only once or twice noticed a clue that was only in the illustration.  That doesn't mean that the illustrations are superfluous, so that you could throw them away and have a workable radio script. Apart from atmosphere and characterisation, you need them to understand what is being described.

AMAGI Seimaru (天樹征丸) is one of the two writers for the series, and the only one I've read. The Vampire Legend Murder Case (吸血鬼伝説殺人事件 2004) features the regular series characters KINDAICHI Hajime, his not-quite-girlfriend NANASE Miyuki and Inspector KENMOCHI. Kindaichi is supposed to be a typical teenager, without many good qualities except a deductive ability which is generally not exercised until really needed. It was originally hinted that he was KINDAICHI Kousuke's grandson (most stories have a point where he swears on his grandfather's name to solve the puzzle). This isn't spelt out in most stories, presumably to avoid conflict with the estate of YOKOMIZO Seishi; but I remember one book where it is said directly. So perhaps they came to a deal. Miyuki and Kenmochi play the generally thankless role of Watson, identifying by their own suggestions the elements of the puzzle that need to be solved.

The Kindaichi series has its own conventions: a closed set of suspects; a house with a dark history or legend; several murders; a chapter where Kindaichi gets serious, generally ending with the statement "All the puzzles are solved" (i.e. a challenge to the reader); a long chapter with the solution; a final chapter in which we see the backstory from the murderer's point of view. The haunted house this time is an abandoned and dilapidated former mansion, now being used unofficially as a guesthouse for people who enjoy the atmosphere of ruins. The vampire legend is an obvious bit of decoration like in a John Dickson Carr novel or Scooby Doo; but when we've read through to the end, it turns out to have more justification than we might have imagined. The long chapter with the murderer's motivation is the biggest deviation from modern detective stories, though readers of Sherlock Holmes may be more tolerant.

As a puzzle, there is a lot of ingenuity there. The setup is always less realistic than any detective story for adults could allow itself. But within that, Amagi deploys some really surprising tricks.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Mysterious Town Beyond the Mist

Kiri no mukou no fushigina machi (1975) is the first novel by children's writer KASHIWABA Sachiko (葉幸子, born 1956). It seems that there is a translation by Christopher Holmes, The Marvelous Village Veiled in Mist, published by Kodansha in 1987. But it looks like it might be hard to get hold of, even second hand. If you've heard of the book, it will probably be in connection with the MIYAZAKI Hayao film, Spirited Away, which is sometimes said to be based on it. It isn't based on it, and the plot and atmosphere of the two works is quite different. But the book clearly did have an influence on the film. It was one of the works that Miyazaki had been trying to adapt before he made Spirited Away (as he explains in this interview); and a few elements of the story, along with one central theme, clearly made their way into the film.

During the summer holidays six year old Rina is sent on her own to stay in the village in the countryside where her father had stayed as a child. From the village policeman's accent, I would guess that this is in the north east (where e.g. ka becomes ga). Like Japan's most famous children's writer, MIYAZAWA Kenji, Kashiwaba is from Iwate. Where Rina gets off the train, the village people are only half convinced that her destination, the valley of mist, exists, but following their uncertain directions, she sets off, and helped by her umbrella, which gets blown away so that she has to chase after it, she finds herself in a strange one street village.

The house where she will be staying belongs to a tiny old lady, who seems perpetually angry and delights in putting people on the wrong foot.

"What are you dawdling for? If there's one thing I hate, it's dawdlers," the voice she had heard earlier sounded angry.

Rina inched fearfully into the room. By the window there was a big flowery sofa, and on that sofa, like a black fleck, a little old woman was sitting.

The old woman did not look at Rina. As if she knew who it was without looking, she went on eating her biscuit and drinking tea.

Rina, not knowing what to do, stared at the old woman who was ignoring her. Finally, the old woman broke the silence, "Six years old and you still don't know how to greet a person."

"Uesugi Rina," Rina said, bowing, "Thank you for your kindness in having me."

"Who said anything about kindness?"

 Anyone who stays in her house must work while they're there, she tells Rina. So Rina helps in the house or is sent to the different shops that make up the village. But this is no punishment, as they are all fascinating places run by different magicians. As she works Rina becomes more self confident and finds her true character. This theme is central to Spirited Away, of course, and also crops up in Taro the Dragon Boy; so perhaps it's a popular theme in Japan (or at least with Japanese parents).
 




Thursday, 11 July 2013

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Taro the Dragon Boy

Most of the books I read don't have translations I could read instead. But  龍の子太郎 (Tatsu no kotarou), the 1960 children's novel by MATSUTANI Miyoko (松谷みよ子 1926-), seems to have translations in both English and German. I've taken the post title from the English translation (which I haven't read). It's another book aimed at younger readers, a story told in folktale style and based on elements of various Japanese folktales. Probably most people starting on Japanese at some point read some version of the more famous Japanese children's folktales like Momotarou and Issunboushi. A full length novel on the same sort of material is likely to be more of a challenge. Still, it's a fairly easy book to read, though the dialogue might occasionally demand some experience (or guessing).

Tarou is a common boy's name or part of a name in folktales. Tatsu no ko means dragon's child and was added to Tarou's name by the village children, mocking the birthmarks on his body, which looked like a dragon's scales. Tarou is an orphan, cared for by his grandmother, who tirelessly works in the fields to provide for him, while he goes playing in the hills with the wild animals. One day, a drum-playing red demon kidnaps Tarou's friend Aya, a flute-playing girl. Tarou sets off to get her back. And this is the start of a series of adventures that will lead him to find his mother, who, it turns out, is not dead, but transformed into a dragon.

Putting together folktale type stories to make a larger story sounds easy enough. But it works very well here. Like The Hobbit, the episodic story turns out to add up to much more than the various parts. And it's quite subtly done. As you read, you enjoy the lively folktale style and scenes; but when you get to the end, you see where the story was heading, although there was no didactic over-emphasis along the way.

The story has been dramatised several times. There's a 1979 cartoon, which is available in Germany at least (as Taro Der Drachenjunge) and seems to be well regarded. I haven't seen it yet, as it currently costs 25 Euros. (Germany is like Japan in this respect: they reckon the fans will pay what they're asked.)


Saturday, 6 July 2013

Dancing Gimmicks

If you don't like the title, don't blame me. It's the translation that AWASAKA Tsumao (泡坂妻夫, 1933-2009) gives to his 1977 mystery novel Midare karakuri (乱れからくり). Quite often, when you read a Japanese detective story, you find that the book has an English translation of the title on the cover or on the title page. The English title is often fairly bad English. I have a slight suspicion that this might have started as a marketing trick to give the impression that the book has been translated. Very few Japanese mysteries do get translated: in ARISUGAWA Arisu's 46番目の密室 (The Forty-sixth Locked Room) translation is mentioned as proof of the high status of a writer.

Karakuri dolls were a kind of automata. The tradition of making them reached a high level of art in the late Edo period, when Japan was largely cut off from the technological advances of Europe and America. They are sometimes seen as forerunners of Japanese success in technology (the firm Toshiba goes back to one of the most famous karakuri makers). But the word karakuri is also sometimes used for a trick or contrivance of some kind (such as the trick the murderer uses in a detective story). Midare is "confusion, disorder". So the meaning is something like "Clockwork Chaos"; but I don't know how to get the idea of a trick in, if that's needed.

Midare karakuri is one of those mysteries where the reader gets immersed in a specialised field of knowledge, in this case the history of mechanical toys. KATSU Toshio is a young man, who has just given up on a career as a boxer. His new employer UDAI Maiko is a former policewoman, who left the force on suspicion of taking a bribe and now runs "Udai Financial Research", a one woman operation doing essentially private detective work for commercial customers. Toshio's first job comes from MAWARI Tomohiro, head of production in a toymaking firm, to follow his wife, Masao. It seems as though Masao is having an affair with Tomohiro's cousin, the son of the firm's owner. But while tracking Masao, Toshio and Maiko see husband and wife involved in a spectacular accident (truly spectacular: the car, it seems, is hit by a meteor). Masao survives the accident, but soon other members of the family are dieing by various means. And Toshio seems to be falling in love with his suspect, Masao.

It's a very entertaining book, in the slightly over the top tradition of earlier Japanese detective stories, with dieing messages, mazes, codes and secret passages, and a mystery going back to intrigue in the last days of the shogunate. As a whodunnit, it has to lose points for being too obvious: the fairly small cast of suspects gets a lot smaller by the end. But one of the tricks is simply brilliant. The victim's daily medicine bottle contains only poisoned pills. So unless by bizarre coincidence he had till then taken only the unpoisoned bills out of a bottle containing both, the pills must have been switched that day; and only Masao had the opportunity. I had my own solution, which would have worked perfectly well, I think.  But the Awasaka's trick is one of the best I've read in a Japanese detective story.

If there's a problem with the book, it's the incorporation of the research. I like books that take you into a specialised field; and the history of mechanical toys, particularly in early Japan, is the kind of thing that would interest me. But Awasaka works the research in very clumsily. We get at least four lectures on the subject, from various characters. While we're still getting to know people, that's fine. The first lecture is from Maiko, who's an interesting character; so we're happy to listen to her. But then we get two lectures from people with no relation to the story, and one from a character whose sister has just been brutally murdered.