The Crimson Labyrinth by Yusuke Kishi
Which Is the Real Nightmare
Fujiki lays down in his crappy one bedroom apartment, thinking about the time when he had a wife, a successful business, but that was long gone. He thinks that the he has hit rock bottom when until Fujiki awakes in the Bungle Bungles of the Australian outback in Yuske Kishi's The Crimson Labyrinth.
Meeting nine additional players, the novel is akin to that of Battle Royal and The Hunger Games in its pitting unwilling participants against each other to win their freedom and survival.
Each player awakes with a small canteen of water, a lunch box of a dozen nutritional bars, and a handheld game, which the game cartridge instructs players in how to complete the checkpoints needed to win the game on the ten hours of battery life.
Setting up the players with their first bit of information, with directions to food, weapons, medical supplies, or information- the players are put to the test and stupidly break off into teams showing their preference for what is most important. While not knowing what they are facing except they have been moved from Japan to the Outback- each player remembers being on the train and nothing more, leading them to believe it was the point where they were all abducted from and moved into the game as unwilling participants.
The last anyone remembers is being on a train and waking up in the Austrialian Outback next to a lunch box, canteen of water, and a handheld children's game with just enough battery life to instruct the players through the checkpoints of the game before they will be killed off or lost forever.
The game's first instructions come in a choice- picking what direction to start off in. With the amount of paces to reach food, weaponry, medical supplies, and information, the survivors start to show their true colors in what is most important to them as they pair off.
A group defiantly wants to locate the food, others weapons, Fujiki hangs back and teams with a young woman that has a malfunctioning game machine. He feels sorry for her and they decide to find the information station as that would be most important to understand what is going on. Ai, she says her name is and she is an illustrator of sex comics before ending up here. She hadn't intended to use her talents that way but it was a way to make a living. Fujiki laments how the former math major once was a successful businessman before he hit his decline.
Fujiki likes Ai, she is nerdy but sexy. She talks a bit about her love for role playing games and how she once worked on a manual for such a game. She has a glass eye and a hearing aide, but it doesn't distract from her beauty somehow.
She craves knowledge as much as Fujiki and they are ever grateful when they reach the information station only to find that they have been rewarded with an additional game cartridge, information about the edible plants and animals, some of the traps set in the game, and the clue that the food station was poisoned and those that eat the tampered items will become ghouls.
Thinking at first that it was all derived for laughs from some sick man watching from the helicopter they saw pass using humans as his lab rats to run his maze, Fujiki and Ai decide to keep their distance from the other players just in case any of the warnings are true.
Others can not be trusted in this world and they have to be the ones to get out.
They are warned they can not leave the game area and there are severe consequences for anyone not willing to play along.
Using their clues from the information station, Fujiki and Ai can make it far in the game, especially after they see some of the game participants changing into hideous creatures from eating the tampered with food and begin to find human remains of other players along the maze.
The food and beer has been tampered with, the information station warns but only Fujiki and Ai know this as the other groups have rushed off to weapons, medical supplies, and food stations. When they begin to find human remains among the checkpoints, it is clear the warnings about people in the maze becoming ghouls is true and Fujiki and Ai begin to play a deadly game of cat and mouse with the others in the game, hoping to either find a way to kill the others and get out.
Don't leave the boundaries of the game by scaling the cliffs, was among one of the first warnings as there are severe consequences for such action. After coming across a receiver and already seeing the helicopter, Fujiki knows someone is monitoring the game play and he tries to convince Ai to give up the batteries in her hearing aid so they can listen in on the other group. She grows angry with his, but they eventually make up after Fujiki takes the batteries out of the operational game machine that has been guiding them so they can listen in on the other groups.
Realizing his mistake as they could have taken the batteries out of Ai's non functional handheld game,Fujiki begins to wonder if Ai can be trusted. She has gotten him along so far and helped protect him from the others in the game, but did it seem too coincidental that she seems to know so much about the game? He lets his doubts fade and they eventually end up coupling up overnight.
While the other groups have either become ghouls or been killed by them, Fujiki decides that he must exit the game area and find help before they are killed themselves.
Leaving the game area is dangerous. It was stated in the first rules- but what is beyond? Fujiki decides to take the chance after having suspicions about Ai when she didn't want to sacrifice her hearing aide batteries. He makes it to an Aboriginal Tribe and asks a man for help only to have shots fired at him and Fujiki is forced back into the game area and reunites with his partner.
From Ghouls To Worse
Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, Fujiki knows the rules of the game.
Mars Labyrinth as the game calls itself says it was originally played on Mars and players had to find their way back to the earth. Now it was only played to find your way back to Japan after facing death in the Bungle Bungles.
While some teams have been killed, others turned into hideous ghouls from consuming the food, Ai and Fujiki have been the only ones to know all the extra information that came from reaching the Information checkpoint.
As they move along, Fujiki feels that he as been entrapped and that something he couldn't put his finger on still wasn't right about the situation with Ai even though she proved a faithful companion helping kill wildlife and other players alike to get them further along in the life or death game at hand.
When Fujiki suddenly wakes up he is back in his apartment with an envelope full of money- realizing he has won the game, he isn't sure just how it all ended either.
He is back on the train when everything came flooding back.
Was It Ever Real
Fujiki is forced into the knowledge that he had been kidnapped and forced into playing a deadly game he never asked to play. While some of the players died at his hands, monsters or not- they were also innocent people that were forced into the game arena.
No one had a choice in the outcome of the game...except.
Ai had been a plant in The Crimson Labyrinth Fujiki was sure now. Behind her glass eye was a recording device, the nerdy girl acting as the means to broadcast the event to whoever was behind it. Then there was her not wanting to give up the hearing aide batteries- it was an earpiece, Fujiki figures out and she was getting instructions from the game creator when it was decided that he was the one that must be pushed to win the game.
Everything from the beginning with Ai was too good to be true. She knew too much because she was a spy inside the Bungle Bungles.
The Crimson Labyrinth is a thrilling read for those that like the modern takes on the deadly game genre. While it holds it similarities to everything from The Running Man to The Hunger Games trilogy, what makes The Crimson Labyrinth so special is never knowing exactly why the participants were picked, and what happened after Fujiki has his realization on the train.
We never know if there is someone that will still keep tabs on him after completling the game and winning the money, how he got home, or why Ai was a willing accomplice. Was she the mastermind of the game with her knowledge of writing game books and comics?
Fujiki must live the rest of his life never being able to explain what happened over those two weeks and how he survived it and that is the biggest horror of the novel of how Fujiki will move forward from these events.