I haven’t updated you on my progress with Detective Conan for a while, so now seems like a good time to discuss the elements that make this on-going one-man Manga both so very, very brilliant and so very, very meh.
For those who don’t know, a precis: Jimmy Kudo is a genius teenage detective who is shrunk down to the appearance of a six year-old after being fed a mysterious poison by mysterious people in black (just go with it…). Taking the name Conan Edogawa, he lives with his secret crush Rachel and her semi-inept PI father Richard, neither of who are aware of his real identity. Each volume is typically made up of three separate cases, often with the final one being left at a cliffhanger which is then resolved at the start of the next volume.
Aoyama is to be commended — lauded, even — for the diversity of his plots, and the compact way he expands and then resolves them. Not all of them work (one case, in which a school friend of Conan’s is kidnapped by two men with a dead body in their car and Conan gives chase while overhearing their discussion of the murder, stretches credulity to a limit never before encountered), but there’s a real talent in laying clues, playing with expectations, and applying the typical trappings of a (mostly) fair-play mystery to a variety of settings and shapes.
Volume 11, though, might just be my favourite to date — and not solely because it contains three impossible crimes.
The first — a semi-inverted impossible shooting at a TV station, where we know the murderer was live on air while the murder was committed but have no idea how it was achieved — utilises the manga medium perfectly: the explanation is visually delightful, especially the moment where Inspector Merguire works out the significance of the window, and if a few infelicities with architecture make this technically not quite fair play, there’s easily enough information given to get the gist even if you don’t get the precise details.
The second case — a murder in a restaurant toilet, where three or four people could be guilty — again has a very clever use of the visual aspect of the clues. You appreciate here how much easier Aoyama makes it for himself by drawing his own art, because there’s not a detail that doesn’t count. The impossibility of the murderer getting past the body of to exit the stall (it’s blocking the door) gives a great false interpretation, and I was looking the wrong way for a different interpretation of this until the key thing comes to light. A great, cunning tale, resolved superbly, and with a nice little twist of sorts at the end.
Finally, we have the body of a monk found hanged at a remote monastery, but the rope is too short for him to have stepped into the noose from below, and the rafters above are covered in dust. This is again a very clever resolution — though the specific property of a key item seems a little…unlikely, and how the hell you test it to ensure that’s the case I have no idea — but you sort of feel this is more of a show-off resolution than a realistic one. Had the murderer wanted to get away with this, they could have just made the rope longer…
All told, though, this is what Case Closed does brilliantly when it gets it right: swift characterisation, evocative locations, and cunning ploys that appear dense and are then rendered transpicuous by a simple addition or reveal. Aoyama wields Occam’s razor with a dexterity that would make Sweeny Todd blanch, and is able to tie in myth and superstition without missing a beat alongside moments of shuddersome malice in his at times very real world detection. When it’s right — which it is a most of the time, if not quite to the heights herein — this is honestly excellent and commended to everyone.
This visual analogy brought to you by my lack of imagination
But then, inevitably, sometimes it goes very wrong. Like in Volume 12.
Now, I completely understand that all the code-breaking episodes will struggle in translation because it’d be insane to attempt to translate the clues and the nature of the Japanese language into English. So I’m happy to simply sit back and watch anything with a code in it just happen here, because if I could even begin to follow them I’d be reading this in Japanese anyway. But the house-based clue hunt of the first case just makes no sense, none, and when you get to the end you sort of wonder what the point of it was. Especially as it seems to’ve required a lot of effort on Aoyama’s part to construct. Like, dude. It was not worth it.
The briefcase-swaparama of he second case is transparent from the first, and has easily the biggest shortfall between complexity and convolution of anything I’ve read in this series so far. You’ll never figure out the why, but the who and the how are fine. But, yeah, it barely warrants mention.
The final and longest case — resolved in issue 13 — concerns members of a Sherlock Holmes experts weekend being killed off one by one. There’s a lovely moment at the start where Richard Moore attributes And Then There Were None to Doyle, as this (no doubt deliberately) ends up resembling that far more than anything Sherlock ever took on, but really it’s a loose and not very interesting plot of people getting killed while everyone appears to have an alibi. The explanation of the explosion is nifty, I’ll give him that, but two problems: a) the motive is bullshit through-and-through and is so awful as to almost make me angry, and b) all the killer has to do at the end is go “No, I didn’t do [something they didn’t do] because [give a simple reason, e.g. I couldn’t be arsed]” and there’s no evidence to convict them.
More than anything, these three cases feel like the remainders that Aoyama is trying to clear from his mind so they don’t distract him later down the track. I get we all have off days, or the occasional thread in a novel is dropped or mis-handled, but in comprising a trifecta of undercooked ideas this volume really suffers in comparison to the others, especially given the brilliance of the one immediately preceding it. And there’s no denying that the development that caps this story feels like a deliberate attempt to make up for this — it’s the first time we’ve had something happen that seems as if it will have a permanent effect on the series. Where will it go from here? Time will tell…
So, in summation: some great, some thoroughly not great, but it’s proving to be a helluva ride. Not sure how long I’ll be keen to keep reading, but it’s going very well so far and more will certainly follow.
Watch this space!
16 thoughts on “#223: A Study in Contrasts – Case Closed (a.k.a. Detective Conan) Volumes 11 and 12 (1996) by Gosho Aoyama”
Ah, yes! Your conversion process is going along fine, JJ. Just fine. Why would you not be keen to keep on reading? There are more stories like the ones from volume 11 ahead of you. All you have to do is keep reading. Simply keep on reading.
Hey, I told you this series would begin to pick up in quality after the first six volumes and find its groove once the series hits double digits.
You’re right about the impossible murder in the monastery being a show-off resolution, but loved the sheer originality of the idea and it worked really well as a comic book story. One of my favorite locked room mysteries from the series.
The only reason I might stop is availability and cost, perhaps — I got lucy with the first 15 showing up at a bargain price, but it may prove expensive getting the next 45+ as they get translated.
But, if the standard remains high over 13-15 I’ll doubtless justify it the way I justify all my other book spending: with a frank absence of reason, and with often-unrealised promises to compromise on spending elsewhere to account for it.
It’s been a lot of fun discovering these, though, and I’d be foolish to turn my back on something that does this so well. And it’s not like I have to buy 15 at a time, though waiting to resolve those cliff-hangers would be bloody irritating…
OK, I will get volume 11 and go through it. I want to see what you are so excited about !
I can see TomCat’s excitement about this when the stories are as well-told as they are here; tue, it’s not always to this standard, but there’s a lot of really good work being done here, and I think a great number of we GAD fans would get a lot from reading these.
I shall look forward to your thoughts, Santosh.
So funny. I DID get through 11 but I stalled on 12. It was getting harder and harder to read “real” books, and 12 just slowed down. So don’t go TOO fast: I’ll probably pick this up again in June.
Great minds…read(?)…alike, I guess…
Volume 12? Man, you need to step up the pace, volume 92 is to going to be released next week! (Two days before the 21st annual theatrical feature of Detective Conan is released: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d44tuuPbAw8&ytbChannel=%E6%9D%B1%E5%AE%9DMOVIE%E3%83%81%E3%83%A3%E3%83%B3%E3%83%8D%E3%83%AB)
There are of course still hits and misses even up in the nineties, but it’s understandable once you realize that Aoyama (and his drawing assistants) are on a very tight schedule (more or less a chapter per week all the year through), and that’s not even counting in the fact that Aoyama himself also works on the theatrical releases each year serving as both a supervisor and key frame artist. On the whole, the quality of the series remains quite high throughout. It’s also serialized in a magazine aimed at a younger public (pre-teen ~ teen), so the occasional code cracking story or ones like the kidnapping you mentioned are also quite reasonable considering the home and core audience of the series.
Interesting fact about the TV station story: both the murderer and victim are based on and named after real persons. In the animated series of Detective Conan, the murderer is actually voiced by his name-sake, while the victim (the producer) shares his name with the real-life producer of Detective Conan.
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Yeah, but aren’t the English translations only up to like Volume 60? So if I rush ahead too much it’ll be aaaaaaages between cases then 😀
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Hey JJ, ‘Case Closed’ is definitely worth reading. I was purchasing volume after volume when they were still available via Amazon Kindle Australia store (cue Santosh). And then when they were withdrawn, I developed withdrawal symptoms. 😦
Didn’t even think they might be available on Kindle…although, upon reflection, I’m not sure how good that would be. Might check this out, thanks for bringing it to my attention…
All the volumes from 1 to 61 are available in kindle. Vol 62 will be released after 2 days on 11 April.
Aaaaah, see now I have a quandary — having started these in paper form, do I keep going, or do I switch over and save space? And what flavour of hummus do I pick for lunch? And how will I ever find kitchen staff who will poach my eggs in just the way I like???!
For me, this might be a great solution, since I read everything in Swedish, up to volume 63 when the series was discontinued. Even though they were all in paper form, the English design is somewhat different from the Swedish one so there’d still be a very noticeable changeover if I decided to continue in paper form. So maybe the Kindle variant would be for me… But on the other hand, paper is still the wonderfullest.. Oh woe.
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I have since obtained vol 11 and read the first complete story which deals with the shooting at a TV station. It was good, but the method of murder reminded me of a famous Hercule Poirot short story !
Initially, I was very confused and could not make head or tale of my reading, but subsequently I realised that each page has to be read from right to left and the dialogues in each box are to be read from right to left !
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Hahahaha, yeah, I have on occasion remembered the order of the panels but forgotten the order of the speech bubbles and been thoroughly confused. The brain’s a weird thing, eh (or mine is, at any rate)?
Hope you continue to enjoy these…
I now realize that studying Hebrew did more than prepare me for my bar mitzvah! It was two years of intense preparation for reading Case Closed.