As you all know by now, I am physically incapable of putting down any video game that involves crazy puzzles, big gay lawyers, or both. I've found out that there are Detective Conan games, because of course there are, and that they are not available in the US, because of course they aren't. This is why I have a flashcart.

My Japanese is, by my own standards, not fantastic. This is because my standards are based on English, a language that I learned to read so early that I do not remember what it was like to see marks on paper and not have them mean things. By the standards of normal Americans, who took two semesters of Spanish in high school and have long since purged it from their brains, my ability to hammer my way through games like this in Japanese is some kind of crazy magic power. The level of incredulity in Boston is much lower than in Flagstaff, where I would get people walking up to me when I had my nose jammed into a not-English book specifically to ask, "Can you really read that?" I've never come up with a good answer to that, but Tommy suggested, "No, but I'm determined to find Waldo in here somewhere!"

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure that my literacy level is technically high enough to be playing these. I meta-game a lot, in these and related things, like Professor Layton and Ace Attorney titles. I'm so familiar with the genre I could probably solve one -- or write one -- in my sleep. I've legitimately picked a lot of things up from context (protip: It is a bad idea to shout "You can't prove that!" at the detective, regardless of what language it's in), but there are a lot of things you simply can't do that with. It's kind of the point with this kind of mystery: the case seems bizarre and insoluble at first because you've found a thing that is inexplicably outside of its usual context, with no indications as to how it got there.

[It's a particular problem in Japanese. The triumvirate writing system of kanji, hiragana, and katakana results sometimes in different spellings of the same word that are almost, but not quite, interchangeable. And, because they stole most of the kanji from Chinese and then smashed tone when importing the readings, there are a metric fuckton of homophones. Someone in the first proper case of the Detective Conan game found a 「クモ」 ("kumo" in katakana) on the front of the victim's kimono. Katakana is the pure phonetic syllabary, used for writing out loanwords, onomotopaeia, occasional names, and things that English would put in italics or all-caps, like shouting or mechanistic robot voices. I spent a few dialogue bubbles tying to figure out if they were talking about a spider, or if someone was just being really emphatic about clouds.]

[[Double tangential note, katakana is one of the reasons Ran comments on Conan's name being weird when they're first introduced. One, legal names in Japan generally come off of a list of things that are traditionally approved as names. I don't think it's a requirement, like it is in France, but you don't sign things in Japan, you stamp them, and anyone with a bizarre katakana loanword name is going to have a hell of a time finding a hanko. (Normally you can find them in convenience stores. Moggie went with 『金子』, "Kaneko", while she was there, because she is very blonde and the first character is the one used to describe blond/e hair.. All of the Japanese people she handed paperwork to gave her a very funny look, as if wondering if the foreigner knew it was being funny. It did succeed in its purpose, however, which was to make sure none of them ever forgot who she was.) Even foreigners have to choose an official Japanese name made of official Japanese characters if they harbor any ambitions of doing any damn paperwork while there.

And two, for various historical and cultural reasons -- read: blatant sexism -- only girls' names can be spelled in kana. "Conan" is spelled out in katakana, which in all my years of jamming my head full of manga, I have never seen on a guy who was not specifically supposed to be non-native Japanese. "Edogawa" has kanji (江戸川), but they're ateji -- kanji used strictly for their pronunciation without regard to meaning -- and moreover they are part of a stupid pun on the part of the mystery/horror author who used them as a pen name in the first place.]]

It is incredibly strange to run through a piece of text and realize that there are a lot of spots in it, where I either I know what the character means but not how to read it aloud, or that I know what sound it makes but have no idea what the meaning is. Is this how normal people feel when reading complicated things in their native language? Like things are full of holes and they have to guess constantly? It's disconcerting. I much prefer when I just look at things and information magically filters into my brain.

My reading comprehension is surprisingly not that bad. There are points where the game presents you with a question and you have to pick one of three answers to make the dialogue progress. A good 50% of the time, I know which option the game is going to consider correct before I even properly read the damn things. I find this somewhat creepy, because it means there's some linguistic thing going on that I'm not consciously aware of. It's some kind of black box process wherein things seem to have gone from unfamiliar pixel blots to recognition vocabulary without passing through an intermediate subvocalization stage. The end result is that I go 'fuck if I can remember what that means, but it's clearly being used as a noun and it's been in a lot of speech bubbles lately, so that's probably what the game wants to hear'. It does depend on the story being a fair-play mystery, which games have to be, but novels don't.

There's a similar minigame involving spelling out an answer by picking kana off of a roulette wheel, but I can do more traditional code breaking on that. It boils down to 'what is the least common character on here and why would they have included that one'. Nobody's going to think of sticking ぶ on the Wheel of Spelling unless they need it. I expected to have to brute force all of those with combinatorics, but it turns out I have just enough random access to the stuff in the Japanese language banks that I can run through a list of recently encountered words, looking for one that has the oddball kana in any position.

My vocabulary, as usual, is weird. I could not for the life of me tell you what the Japanese word for 'traffic signal' was, but 『密室殺人事件』 is a locked-room murder case.

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