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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Crimson Labyrinth

Kishi Yusuke

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To purchase The Crimson Labyrinth

Title: The Crimson Labyrinth
Author: Kishi Yusuke
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 284 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Crimson Labyrinth - US
The Crimson Labyrinth - UK
The Crimson Labyrinth - Canada
  • Translated by Masami Isetani and Camellia Nieh

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Our Assessment:

B : some decent thrills and ideas

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Crimson Labyrinth is the story of an elaborate role-playing-game in which a group of Japanese people are forced to participate. The story centres around the experiences of Fujiki in the game, beginning with him waking up in what turns out to be a desolate part of Australia. He has no idea where he is or how he got there, but he finds he has a 'pocket game machine' that offers some information -- such as that he's in a game and that he: "must survive the labyrinth to win the prize money and be returned to earth".
       Fujiki soon comes across another player, Ai, who seems as clueless as he is, and they head to the first 'checkpoint' where they meet the rest of the people who have inexplicably found themselves here. There are nine of them, and at this first checkpoint they must choose which direction to head in, each offering something different: food, information, survival items, or self-defense items. The choices seem fairly straightforward, but turn out also not to be all they seem. Fujiki and Ai opt for the information, and for the rest of the game they do have an edge on everybody else as far as information goes; however, that can only help them so much.
       It's soon pretty obvious that this is, as Fujiki says, a zero-sum game: for someone to win, someone else has to lose. And it sure looks like surviving means that one has to be the last man (or woman) standing, leaving everyone appropriately suspicious of one another.
       There's considerable arbitrariness to the game, as well as prohibitions against climbing the local cliffs or trying to signal to outsiders or trying to leave the playing-area (with threats of severe punishment to offenders, though it's not clear what that might involve). There's also an accompanying book -- 'The Crimson Labyrinth' -- a fictional version, set on Mars, of much of what they're doing now that serves as an additional sort of guide (though rarely offering straightforward answers).
       The machine Fujiki and Ai have, and the cassettes with additional information they pick up at various checkpoints, reveal more and more about the game -- and their situation. Needless to say, their situation is a dire one. Soon enough, the game is one of hunter and hunted -- and there is some decent tension here as they are on the run.
       The game does not offer a level playing-field, and rather than just pitting the individuals against each other there is additional interference (such as chemical supplements that really do a number on anyone who ingests a certain quantity) that makes certain outcomes almost inevitable. At times The Crimson Labyrinth does seem like a mini-Battle Royale, but with far fewer players and a different sort of intricacy things come to a head much faster, and there's less of a society-in-miniature feel to the game the characters participate in.
       Kishi does offer some backstory about Fujiki and Ai, emphasising how Fujiki went from a comfortable lifestyle and a good job to, briefly, homelessness. The leap (or fall) into the game isn't that surprising for these characters from the periphery of society.
        The Crimson Labyrinth also doesn't end with the conclusion of the game, as Kishi teases out a few more secrets. There's some fun in this, but the arbitrariness of the game and the lingering questions about so much, from the logistics to some of the characters' choices, make it less than entirely satisfying. Still, the novel offers decent thrills and there are some good ideas here. The writing occasionally gets plodding, but for the most part is adequate to sustain the thrills.

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The Crimson Labyrinth: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kishi Yusuke was born in 1959.

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