Friend Guilt
Author: Gaku Yakumaru
Specifications: ISBN  978-4087453799
593 pages
10.2 x 15.2 cm / 4.0 x 6.0 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shueisha Inc.
Tokyo, 2013
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In a 1997 incident that shocked the entire country, a 14-year-old boy in Kobe murdered two elementary school children, gruesomely decapitating the second and placing his head at the gate of the victim’s school, then claimed credit for the crimes in taunting letters to the police and the media under the alias of Seito Sakakibara. This novel features a similar but fictitious double murder by an eighth-grader, but trains its focus mainly on what happened to the perpetrator afterward in a thrilling narrative that also delves penetratingly into a variety of issues associated with juvenile crime.

The central character of the story is Jun’ichi Masuda, now 27. When he was in the eighth grade, two lower-elementary boys were murdered in the neighboring town roughly a month apart. In each case, the body was found with both eyes torn out. A note left behind by the perpetrator explained that the victim was killed as a sacrifice to the Black Demon, leading the incident to be called the Black Demon Murders. In due course, a boy Masuda’s own age, Kentarō Aoyagi, was arrested for the crimes. In spite of the saturation coverage that surrounded the incident at the time, no one in the media has been able to discover Aoyagi’s whereabouts during the past six years since he was released from the medical reformatory at which he served his sentence.

Near the end of July, Masuda lands a job at a small stainless-steel products company on the outskirts of Tokyo. Hideto Suzuki, another man his own age, is hired at the same time. Both Masuda and Suzuki are extremely hard up and cannot afford to rent their own apartments. They had applied to this company mainly for the low-cost dormitory facilities it offers its employees.

Masuda has had his sights set on becoming a journalist since college, and his former girlfriend from those days, Kiyomi Sugimoto, now works as an announcer for a major TV station. She gets back in touch with him one day, saying she’d like to interview him about his views on a recent juvenile crime incident. She knows that he has long had a particular interest in juvenile crime and even made it the subject of his senior thesis. As Masuda conducts some research on the Web and elsewhere, some of it leading back to the Black Demon Murders, he begins to suspect that Suzuki may actually be Aoyagi. Since joining the company at the same time as Masuda, Suzuki has made no effort to get to know the other employees in the dormitory, and has revealed almost nothing about his past, but he has for some reason confided in Masuda and seems to regard him as a friend. Though tormented by doubts about his friend, Masuda cannot bring himself to question Aoyagi directly. Instead, he travels back to his hometown to meet with a former classmate of Aoyagi, who confirms his suspicions. Another college-day friend who now works in the editorial department of a weekly magazine persuades Masuda to write an article about Aoyagi’s current life. After he submits it, the article is altered and expanded without his input before being published. With his true identity exposed, including to his employer, Aoyagi disappears.

The story prompts readers to consider the nature of friendship, and whether one can remain friends with someone even after learning that he has committed a serious crime in the past. It is another deeply thought-provoking work by an author who appears to be making the subject of juvenile crime his lifework.