#603: I’ll Do My Loving in the Winter – Kaiki Tantei Sharaku Homura: ‘The Hagoromo Witch’ (2019) by Nemoto Shou [trans. Osakanon 2019]

Hagoromo header

Earlier this year, Ho-Ling reviewed the sixteenth volume of the Kaiki Tantei Sharaku Homura manga by Nemoto Shou, an essentially self-published manga that has received raves for its detective plots and was picked up by a mainstream digital publisher.

This volume — ‘The Ogress with the Robe of Feathers’ — was especially interesting to me because it had a superb-sounding no-footprints-in-the-snow murder which Ho-Ling described as:

[R]eally original…and this alone makes this issue worth a read. While I know of variants with other impossible crime situations that use a similar idea, it’s the way it’s contextualized and set-up in this particular story that makes it a memorable story. The means are singularly unique to this particular story and its background story, yet properly clewed and foreshadowed.

Now, Ho-Ling is far more intelligent and well-read than I — being fluent in at least two languages — and I’m used to coming away from reviews of these superb-sounding Eastern impossible crimes with a slightly disconsolate feeling of missing out.  But something about this one really struck me — maybe it was the combination of the picture above and the promise of “several (fake) solutions” — and my comment on that post (Gah! It is not fair to taunt me with amazing-sounding no-footprints problems!) sums up my feelings pretty accurately.

And then Irregular Scans got in touch, saying that they’d be doing a translation and asking if I’d like to read it when it was done.  Who or what is Irregular Scans?, you ask.  Why, they’re a scanlation site.  And what the behoozles is ‘scanlation’?  Well, cue Wikipedia:

Scanlation (also scanslation) is the fan-made scanning, translation, and editing of comics from a language into another language. Scanlation is done as an amateur work and is nearly always done without express permission from the copyright holder.

So, essentially, they’re a bunch of fans bringing manga over the language barrier for those of us too dim to learn Japanese, working exclusively on detective manga — Tantei Gakuen Q (which has featured on here before), the Kindaichi Case Files, Q.E.D, etc — for about four years and 700 chapters.  Is it morally grey?  Very.  Did any money change hands?  No.  Is there currently an alternative way for these works to get known in English?  No.  Would I pay for this if  was guaranteed that some of the proceeds would go back to the creators?  Hell, yes.  After this experience, I’d love nothing more than to see this manga translated and on sale everywhere…but, let’s face it, the English language market is slow to catch on to these sorts of things; I imagine there’ll be a renaissance in about 30 years when everyone else has moved onto the next thing, and I wasn’t willing to wait that long.

four-little-chow-chow-puppies-portrait-waldek-dabrowski

“Patience is a virtue, Jim.”

The copy of this I read, translated by Osakanon at Irregular Scans, has been given the title ‘The Hagoromo Witch’ and — ahead of its publication on IS in January — I wanted to share my thoughts, add to Ho-Ling’s enthusiasm, and (y’never know) possibly get someone interested enough to make these translations official in the future.  Because, yes, I have that much influence.  Ha.

We start with our teenage detective pair Sharaku Homura and Yamazake Yousuke looking for mushrooms in the snow-covered mountains that comprise the property of a nearby monastery.  After witnessing a man walk past them, and then being scared away by a second man with a dog who claims they’re trespassing on his property (and I, for one, learned something about how to transport mushrooms in the process), the two wander in the woods lost for a little while before emerging in a clearing where the man who passed them earlier is lying face down in the snow, dead.  As shown above, only his footprints approach the spot where he fell, which becomes a problem when it transpires that he was killed by a sharp point thrust into his ear, the tip having snapped off in the wound.

It’s difficult to go into details from this point, but one of the joys of the visual medium is how the various ersatz solutions discussed can have their flaws demonstrated so cleanly and efficiently in a single panel: had the attacker, for instance, strung up a zip line across the clearing, the attack would have to have been timed to a perfection not attainable since the victim could easily have ducked out of the way, and this would be evident in the footprints in the snow.

Hagoromo 1

The joy in these 90 pages is the sheer density of the plotting — there is so much going on, and yet — as with the best detective stories — it remains clear and well-focussed throughout: there’s never an attempt to muddy the waters by hurling lists of information at you, and frequent notes in the text point you back to where a piece of information was established beyond doubt so that you’re able to confirm what you saw.

It does seem increasingly to m — as Locked Room International bring out their shin honkaku translations, as I continue to read Case Closed/Detective Conan, ans as translations of works by the likes of Akimitsu Takagi, Soji Shimada, and (soon!) Seishi Yokomizo drip-drip-drip into the English language market — that there’s much more understanding of this sort of puzzle scheme in these Eastern impossible crimes.  Having recently only been able to pour scorn on the half-assed efforts by modern English writers (see here, here, and here for the most egregious), the key difference with these higher quality stories is that ingredients are only put in because they serve the wider purpose of the plot.  It spoils nothing to say that even the bag the victim is carrying has a part to play, a detail of quite devious and insidious malice that would most likely be overlooked by anyone working in my native tongue, I’m inclined to feel (at least in a traditional publishing milieu — we still have James Scott Byrnside to fly the flag…).

A huge amount of fun is also deployed in the confidence of the scheme: you’re told that one of a selection of weapons mentioned in another round of false solutions (one of which would have made a very pleasing solution of its own), and then a separate Challenge to the Reader where the appropriate clues and questions are dropped ahead of the solution.

Hagoromo 2

And, after all that wildly enjoyable speculation, the solution is a magnificent coup de grâce.  Not entirely original, but using the multitude of cultural and incidental ingredients mixed in with a real flair — and explaining away the core principle (and difficulty) behind the method very intelligently indeed.  A little while ago I tried writing a post on the various alternatives offered by different surfaces in no footprints murders — snow, sand, dust, thick carpet, etc — but it proved a little beyond my capabilities at the time.  This is one of the perfect examples to draw in that case, since while many schemes — say, ‘The Night of the Wolf’ (1990) by Paul Halter — would work on almost any of them equally well, there are distinct difference offered by each one, and when (as here) they’re exploited to the full, that’s when this sub-subgenre shows itself at its very best.

English publishers who see these manga stories as something of a literary white elephant, then, are doing we fans no justice at all in this neglect.  Yes, we’re a small and ultimately not hugely profitable corner of a market going through a huge amount of upheaval, and understandably any such undertaking would be approached gingerly in those conditions, but — as the British Library Crime Classics series has shown — there’s a real appetite for diverse, well-told stories in the detection genre, and this is so brilliantly done, and so imaginatively conceived, that you’d hope someone would take an interest in bringing it over more officially before too long.

Until then, Irregular Scans can be found here for the curious.  Yes, an imperfect solution to an imperfect problem, but when the material we’re missing out on this this damn good, and when someone is going to such great efforts to bring it to you, it seems churlish to pass it up.

18 thoughts on “#603: I’ll Do My Loving in the Winter – Kaiki Tantei Sharaku Homura: ‘The Hagoromo Witch’ (2019) by Nemoto Shou [trans. Osakanon 2019]

  1. Someone really got the manga mystery bug! I hope we’ll be seeing more of these reviews from you (and others) in the future. And thanks for letting us know about this series. I’ll be sure to check it out in January (I’ll never get to the vol. 4 of Q.E.D. at this pace).

    It’s difficult to go into details from this point, but one of the joys of the visual medium is how the various ersatz solutions discussed can have their flaws demonstrated so cleanly and efficiently in a single panel

    Honestly, if you see how the anime/manga detective have taken advantage of the visual medium, you have to wonder why practically nobody in the West has done something similar. As you said, you can show, instead of tell, so much in a single panel that you can go heavy on the plot without sinking the story or characterization. You can prominently display a clue in the artwork, like a bag, without having to specifically mention it. It adds a whole new dimension to clueing!

    More importantly, the visual medium can elevate a detective story that would have been merely brilliant in print to an absolute masterpiece. This is what made the nightmarish solution to the locked room murder from the Detective Conan TV-special The Cursed Mask Laughs Coldly so effective.

    What I’m trying to say is that I don’t understand why there isn’t more of a crossover between classic mystery readers and fans of detective anime/manga series.

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    • “What I’m trying to say is that I don’t understand why there isn’t more of a crossover between classic mystery readers and fans of detective anime/manga series.”

      I could at least see why detective manga/anime fans probably wouldn’t bother delving too deep into classic mystery novels. Part of it is for the very reason you mentioned — the visual display of information and an overall faster sense of pace. They’re also generally more accessible to find. Part of it is also that a lot of them take place in modern times, and the characters are more likeable/relatable than something you’d find in a traditional GAD novel (in my opinion, at least.) Plus, detective manga in general have so many volumes that readers have their work cut out for them to keep up; putting a ton of novels on top of that wouldn’t be too tempting for most people.

      …Thinking about it, that last point might also be applicable to the reverse. Since most detective manga is so long (like, Jesus, Conan has like infinite volumes at this point), the sheer size of the series might seem like too much of an investment to bother starting with. Or, maybe the person did give it a try at one point, randomly selected a volume, and accidentally ended up with one of the duds. That can definitely throw some people off.

      Anyhow, while we’re on the subject of throwing people off, why not try the Summer of Ubume manga, since the actual book it’s based off of is impossible to find in English at a reasonable price. really, it’s a fun ol goofy time. fun for the whole family. guaranteed.

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      • I gotta confess, there’s definitely something in this where I’m concerned. I remember reading TomCat’s reviews of Case Closed and thinking “This sounds awesome, but this is issue 70…how the hell do I have the time and money to read 70+ issues of this?!”. Had the first 15 not just randomly appeared in a nearby charity shop, I think I still wouldn’t have started it. And I’m only up to volume 20 at the moment as it is,. and that just made a callback to volume 2 that I only know is a callback to volume 2 because I emailed TC to ask what the hell was going on. So, cutting both ways, yes, I agree that the volume of stories is going to be off-putting, no doubt.

        the characters are more likeable/relatable than something you’d find in a traditional GAD novel

        Yeah, these manga do seem to be filled with genius amateur detectives who swoop in and apply staggering insights to baffling cases that amaze the professional detectives and reader alike. There’s certainly none of that sort of thing in GAD 😁

        Didn’t realise there was a Summer of the Ubume manga. Although, if these new Yokomizo translations do well, maybe Pushkin will consider Ubume for a new edition, who knows?

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      • Sure, I can see the technical reasons, if you will, why there’s only a small overlap at the edges, but the ever curious fanboy in me is simply baffled by this. Both fandoms essentially like the same thing, told in different mediums, but don’t appear to be interested in what they have to offer each other. This lack of natural curiosity has always astonished me.

        My reading/viewing of anime/manga detectives is rather shallow compared to what’s out there, but have helped myself to everything that came on my path and have come across some unmitigated classics this way. The Cursed Mask Laughs Coldly and The Case of the Séance Double Locked Room, from Detective Conan, are two of the best impossible crime stories I’ve ever seen! So why anyone who loves locked room mysteries can give them a pass, because they’re part of long-running, animated/manga series, is beyond me.

        Only, somewhat understandable excuse, for not reading Conan, is that Western mystery readers have a problem with looking past SF-like premise of the series. I remember John Pugmire brought it up once when I criticized a short story by Halter. Something along lines of “Oh, you’re fine with a high school detective shrunk back to an elementary schoolboy by an experimental drug, but two people talking in the snow is stretching things.” 😀

        So, yeah, I don’t understand why detective fans of any stripe would ignore a mountain of excellent detective fiction, because it happens to be in the next room.

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        • Hmm, your “SF trappings” ppint is interesting, especially in light of how we in the impossible crime mob have been perfect happy — indeed, insistent — to adopt those Asimov robot stories into the fold.

          My biggest issue with Conan is how frequently Richard Moore/Kogoro Mori can be knocked out by Jimmy so he (Jimmy) can deliver the solution and yet still believe himself to be a great detective 😆 Like, the dude suspects nothing? Jeepers…

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          • I gotta confess, there’s definitely something in this where I’m concerned. I remember reading TomCat’s reviews of Case Closed and thinking “This sounds awesome, but this is issue 70…how the hell do I have the time and money to read 70+ issues of this?!”.

            Your outlook is very different from mine. When I learned of Case Closed, there were already 12 volumes available in English with the Japanese releases being up in the high fifties. So I gleefully began picking away at the series, volume by volume, and now even Ho-Ling doesn’t seem to be that far ahead of me anymore.

            Hmm, your “SF trappings” ppint is interesting, especially in light of how we in the impossible crime mob have been perfect happy — indeed, insistent — to adopt those Asimov robot stories into the fold.

            Don’t we forget we also smashed-and-grabbed James Hogan’s Inherit the Stars. Well, technically, our Japanese counterparts stole it, but we were waiting outside the SF clubhouse with a running engine.

            Like, the dude suspects nothing? Jeepers…

            Sometimes, you get a glimpse, or hint, Moore is not as dimwitted as he appears to be, but simply loves drinking, women and playing mahjong more than doing actual detective work.

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        • My own problem with the anime/manga part of the genre is very similar to what JJ mentions – it’s incredibly hard to get an overview of. For you young whippersnappers I guess it’s very easy to find the material in a readable/watchable format, but for an old fogey like me it’s dead hard. That’s why I’ve only ever read the Detective Conan saga – I’ve not even ventured into the anime, because I simply don’t know where to look. And is the anime simply animated versions of the manga stories, or are they original stories? Questions abound…

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    • you can show, instead of tell, so much in a single panel that you can go heavy on the plot without sinking the story or characterization.

      This alone makes me wonder if there’s a market in Comicisation of Unreadable GAD Novels — imagine if someone rendered Michael Innes’ plots visually so that you didn’t have to wade through all that awful, turgid prose.

      Hell, it’s been done to novels that don’t need it — there’s one of Murder on the Orient Express, I’m sure — so how about taking on these books that would actually benefit from such a treatment? It’s cheaper than making a movie…

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      • Not only unreadable novels, but just think what it could do with really complicated plots or trick that are otherwise hard to swallow. Just imagine if you can see the clueless, but amused, face of the victim from Carr’s The Problem of the Wire Cage! It would make the trick so much more believable.

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    • I don’t want to push this theory too hard, but maybe novels readers assume that, “Oh, it’s just some Japanese comic, it’s probably for kids and not that good.” I would somewhat doubt this, but you never know, as shown by your Pugmire comment (although that’s more about plausibility).

      I think that DWaM has the right of with the archive binging involved into something like Conan, and with the fact that manga/anime and novels are very different experiences. I’m re-reading a mystery manga, and frankly I could blast through it much faster than I can a mystery novel or short story collection. If you’re used to reading the former and/or don’t want to/don’t have time to commit to a book, I can see just focusing on manga.

      That being said, why do you think manga fans don’t read novels as much? From what little I’ve seen of them (mainly Irregular Scans), I see a lot of book discussion as well, but I couldn’t speak on how wide that crossover is.

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      • That being said, why do you think manga fans don’t read novels as much?

        I don’t know how much you can relate to this, but one of the initial stages of becoming an unrepentant detective-addict generally seems to be a hunger for exactly the same thing that brought you to the detective story.

        So, if you started out with Christie or Carr, you’ll likely tackle the Crime Queens or locked room specialists next. This purist state eventually softens as your personal taste matures and gets fine-tuned. But where do you go when anime/manga was your introduction to the detective story? Where do you find a Western detective-series along the lines of Detective Conan, Detective Academy Q or The Kindaichi Case Files? This possibly makes the jump from anime/manga detectives to mystery novels a bit more difficult than from novels to anime/manga.

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        • See, I’d argue it the other way round: I reckon those of us raised on plots written out word by word have a sort of — I’ll admit it — snobbishness when it comes to believing how thoroughly a detective plot can be communicated (mostly) visually. Carr tells me a door is locked, I believe him; someone shows me a locked door, and I’m already looking around it for the exceptions and caveats.

          Now, calm down — I’ll also admit that I was wrong in holding this (loosely-explained) belief, and that Detective Conan, Tantei Gakuen Q, and now ‘The Hagoromo Witch’ have comprehensively shown up the fallacy of this — that, as we’ve already discussed, the compact delivery of this information in a visual way is smooth, easy, beautifully wrangled, and wonderful to see (hell, this is why I comment on it above, because it’s been such a joyous delight)…but I can believe that transition from novels to manga/anime is difficult for some because the visual medium just seems less rigorous somehow.

          My 2c., anyway…

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      • For my own part, I very much enjoy the security of clue-dropping that these manga and anime allow, which makes a real difference to possible continuity or presentation errors in movies or TV — someone has (presumably) deliberately drawn in each element, and so if it’s there and you pick up on it then chance are it’s supposed to be there. That alone makes it very different to the written word, where — even though the words are equally deliberately written — typos or mix-ups can still mess things up (I always think of my Rue Morgue edition of The Danger Within/Death in Captivity, which has a very, very crucial misprint…).

        The speed of consumption is definitely something I experience, too, though I’m not such a fan of that: I find it very difficult to remember each Conan case, because you can rip through two or three in about 40 minutes. And — my biggest bugbear,m I have to say — how each volume starts off with the end of the previous case, and then ends with a similarly incomplete one irritates the crap out of me. There’s no narrative closure, and this really doesn’t help with my memory of events.

        But those are my sole gripes. And the one Christian raises above above trying to get an overview of it all. Apart from that, the experience of getting into these has been wonderful, and it’s yet another thing I have to thank TC for,

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        • Oh, absolutely. I’ve never understood how consumers can stand for stories being stretched out over two collections like that. It’s a very artificial way to force you to buy the next one and the next one again. I can understand that stand-alone issues of a comic books are by necessity not concluded – there aren’t that many pages in a single comic book – but in a collection such as this there should be some kind of closure. A pet peeve of mine as well.

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  2. Thanks for the review – hoping there will be more official publications of mystery manga. I suppose I shouldn’t complain since some has been translated into Chinese. 😸

    On a distinct but related note, Pushkin Vertigo has released earlier this month Seishi Yokomizo’s “Honjin Murders”; “Inugami Curse” should follow sometime early next year. 🤩 The main sleuth in these novels seems to be the renown grandfather of Kindaichi in the Kindaichi manga – but this allusion seemed to have caused some problems for the manga in the early days. 😅

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