Since Hyouka was released in 2001, Yonezawa-san has walked on and progressed along with the <Classics Club>. Now that they have become “old friends”, we will cover the inside story behind the <Classics Club>, and talk about how it came to be, and where it will go.
Interviewer: Takii Asayo
Q: I heard that you started the <Classics Club> series in 1999, and that you wrote the prototype while working on your graduation thesis. Is that true?
A: Yes, that is correct. In my prototype, the protagonists were university students, but I changed them to high school students in my submission draft; that was because I wanted to downsize their world. If a university student wishes, they could go anywhere they want, but a high school student’s world ends at the small school grounds. I thought that a journey in that time axis and direction would be a better fit to what I wanted to write.
Q: In Hyouka, 4 students of the Classics Club try to find the truth about the past events of their school. What was the inspiration for that mystery?
A: A big part of it was from reading Kitamura Kaoru-sensei’s Princess Rokunomiya. It is a story that explores one of the mysteries of Akutagawa Ryuunosuke’s works, and I was surprised that there were so many ways to approach the “everyday mystery”. I wanted to write about people becoming sacrifices in the wild enthusiasm of a crowd, and that’s when I thought, ah, I could try writing it as a mystery.
Q: The main character, Oreki Houtarou, is a youth who has a policy of saving energy and does not want to do anything unnecessary. How did you come up with his character, as well as the other characters?
A: Oreki takes on the role of the detective, who often has to walk in someone else’s shoes. That would be fine for someone who does it for a living, but it is something a mere student would not enjoy. If they did, they would probably become a character hard for a reader to understand. I wanted my detective character to have some hesitation.
Chitanda Eru brings in cases with her curiosity, and fills the role of “client”, who asks the detective to solve cases. The next character I thought of was Ibara Mayaka. She is a friend to Chitanda, and holds an outlook close to the readers. Her role is to point out the normal way of thinking while the detective is trying to solve the case. Finally, I thought of a Watson, or partner for the main character, and that would be Fukube Satoshi.
Q: You finished writing Hyouka when you were a 4th year student in university, applied for the Kadokawa School Novel Prize, for the Young Mystery & Horror category, and you debuted after winning the prize. Did you have the intention of trying for the prize at the beginning?
A: I had planned to apply for a prize at the end of the year with a closer deadline, but the toner of my laser printer ran out. I asked around at all nearby electronics stores, but the only store that had it in stock was one in Matsumoto. It was too far, so I gave up and applied for the next closest prize.
Q: After you graduated, you worked at a bookshop while writing another short story, and it was at that time when you received notice that you had been selected for the prize, is that correct?
A: I had no idea that the selection results would be out on that day, so I stayed out late after work. When I got home, I was told by my family that there had been a phone call regarding the prize. In other words, I was not there in person to receive the awaited phone call. (Laugh)
Q: What…… (Laugh) Anyway, did you write your second work, The Credit Roll of the Fool after that?
A: No, I had written the first chapter of that before receiving the results. I had grown attached and wanted to write more about them. I was thinking of using my experience as a student as a basis for writing, so I decided to write about making a movie in the Cultural Festival. In fact, I wrote the script for a video movie when I was in my third year of high school. It was a story of a detective deducing the culprit of a series of murders.
Q: In The Credit Roll of the Fool, there was also a script about a serial killing for an independently produced movie in the Cultural Festival. However, it had an unfinished ending, and the book is about Oreki and the Classics Club finding out how it should end.
A: At that time, I wanted to write a serial killer mystery, but it could only be fiction in the world of the Classics Club. Furthermore, I had experience of writing a script for a short film, so I felt that all the tools were assembled for me to write the story.
Q: In the afterword, you referred to Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case. Did you want to write about a battle of deductions?
A: I did think that that type of mystery really fits my writing style of reasoning before action. In the denouement of Hyouka, there was also an argument of pros and cons, and that was meant to be a mini version of The Poisoned Chocolates Case. The Credit Roll of the Fool, on the other hand, was a full version of The Poisoned Chocolates Case that took the entire book to resolve.
Q: Moving on, I heard that Goodbye Fairy, which was released by a different publisher, was planned to be the third work for the Classics Club series. Did something happen?
A: The <Sneaker Mystery Club> label that released my first two works got discontinued. As a result, I could not release my next work, which had already been written. At that exact time, I was contacted by an editor from Tokyo Sogensha, who asked me if I had any unpublished manuscripts. I passed him the manuscript, and after reading him, he proclaimed “This is a story that must be published for this world.” After that, the two of us had a meeting with my editor from Kadokawa Shoten, who said, “It’s hard for us to release this story at this time, so please take good care of it.” Following that meeting, I remade the story into Goodbye Fairy.
Q: Tachiarai Machi first appeared in Goodbye Fairy, then subsequently appeared in The King and the Circus and Ten Metres Before the Truth. Which character in the Classics Club series took over Tachiarai’s role?
A: Such a character does not exist. I only wrote in Tachiarai after the remake.
Q: I see! It was 3 years after that incident that you continued with the Classics Club series, is that right?
A: Fortunately, Goodbye Fairy and Spring: The Case of the Strawberry Tarts, which were both published by Tokyo Sogensha, were widely read. As a result, my first two works were put under the Kadokawa Bunko label, and I could release the third work, The Kudryavka Sequence, in paperback form.
Since the first two stories were about the Cultural Festival, it was imperative that I write about the actual days of the Cultural Festival, set in autumn. (Laugh) At that time, I wanted to use multiple perspectives. It was tough to plan out where a character is at a specific time for the four characters, as well as plan for the intersection of their individual stories. Well, Oreki was mostly sitting down in the clubroom, so I technically had to only plan for 3 characters. In the previous work, where the students who could not write the script were not just plot points of the mystery, but had their own individual thoughts and circumstances. Just like that, I wanted the four members of the Classics Club to not exist solely for the sake of solving mysteries. In that sense, The Kudryavka Sequence was a turning point in the series.
Q: After two years, you released The Doll that Took a Detour, illustrating the events the Classics Club members experienced throughout their one year as freshmen.
A: I could have let the events play out slowly, but I decided to apply some proper time progression. Stories without it tend to spill over, and above all, I wanted the characters to grow up. I wrote “If I have to do it, make it quick” as an attempt to emulate Chesterton’s paradoxes. I also wrote in the afterword that Those Who Know Something could serve as a gate way to Kemelman’s The Nine Mile Walk, and “Sappy New Year” to Futrelle’s The Problem of Cell 13. This series originally started out at a label to encourage younger readers to read a wide variety of books in the mystery genre, so I would be happy if I could serve as a intermediary between these readers and prominent mystery writers and their masterpieces.
Q: 3 years later, you released the next book in the series, Approximating the Distance between Two People, where the Classics Club members have become second year students, and are about to participate in a marathon.
A: Since The Doll that Took a Detour, I have written more about the world outside school. While I was reading Lewin’s Type A Girl, or by its original name, Ask the Right Question, it made me think of a type of mystery in which a precise question is asked just once. It turned out to be completely different upon further reading (laugh), but it made me want to read what I had imagined. King’s The Long Walk was in my head as I progressed the story through long distance movement. Also, the marathon I ran in my high school days, a 15-kilometer run around a mountainous area, left a strong impression on me, and that was a huge part of my inspiration for this story.
Q: We got to see yet another side of the Classics Club members, thanks to the appearance of a junior.
A: It is fun to write them as always being a set of four, but I thought that as the needle of time moves on, that style of writing would not suffice. In Approximating the Distance between Two People, I wrote about the changes that occurred from a new outsider joining the group; and in Even Though I’m Told I Now Have Wings, I believe I wrote about the changes that the members had to go through.
Q: In Even Though I’m Told I Now Have Wings, which was a short story collection released 6 years before the previous volume, there were two stories told from Ibara’s perspective.
A: I had already published The Mirror Doesn’t Reflect in a magazine, so I was thinking of writing Our Legendary Volume in Fukube’s perspective. But that was a choice to have balance in the short story collection, but it would be a wrong choice to make for the progression of the story. Speaking about the necessities of a story, it would be strange for the story to not be about Ibara, so I decided to insert two stories told through the eyes of Ibara into the anthology.
As for Satoshi, I thought that I had already managed to write most of his emotions in The Case of the Handmade Chocolate (from The Doll that Took a Detour). Moreover, I don’t think he would become an adult while staying as a person with a broad but superficial knowledge, so I would like to write more about him, bit by bit, and see him grow up.
Q: In the latest title work, summer has arrived and Chitanda is in a difficult situation.
A: I actually decided on the title 3 or 4 years ago. It was not just for the sake of plot progression; I clearly knew that Chitanda would start having these thoughts and feelings. On another project, when I was thinking of each member’s bookshelf, I could not easily do it for Chitanda. On top of having to accept that her future has already been arranged for her, she is in a situation where she is forbidden from having such worries. By breaking that foundation, I was able to imagine what books she might read.
In the original prototype, Chitanda was an empty character, like a robot which only existed to bring in mysteries. I feel that I have drawn out Chitanda’s true inner self over the last 15 years.
Q: The <Petite Bourgeoisie> series also features the youthful mysteries of high school students. What would you say is the difference between that and the <Classics Club> series?
A: The world depicted in a mystery novel is colored with conventions specific to mysteries. An example of that is detectives encountering numerous murder cases during their travels, but that does not happen in real life. The <Classics Club> series shies away from that kind of world, but the <Petite Bourgeoisie> characters are true inhabitants of that kind of mystery world. They come into contact with cases when they take a step outside. By the way, I will be writing a short story for this series at the end of the year……
Q: Of course, I am also curious about the future of the Classics Club.
A: I am thinking of writing about their summer break, based on the incident with Chitanda. After that, I would like to write about a school trip. All of my works are important to me, but the Classics Club has been my oldest companions, and I have certainly grown attached to them. However, since I have known them for so long, I might have picked up certain writing habits, so I have to keep that in mind while writing about them.