Apologies, we’re a bit late — there were some hold-ups on my end of things — but here at last are the thoughts of the blogosphere’s resident impossible crime expert TomCat and myself on ‘The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case’, part of the Tantei Gakuen Q (Detective Academy Q) anime based on the manga of the same name.
Hopefully you know the drill by now, but just in case: full spoilers ahead, with killers named, details of the plot laid bare, and everything on the table — so don’t sally into this under the impression that we’re not going into much detail; this series is called Spoiler Warning for a reason.
Also worth mentioning is that conversation does, very briefly, turn to Wilders Walk Away (1948) by Herbert Brean, Death on the Nile (1937) by Agatha Christie, and The Phantom Passage (2005) by Paul Halter — I’ve tried to edit the precise details down so nothing is given away, and I’ll flag anything risky with the following…
…but I wanted to mention it just in case.
Okay, with further ado, here goes:
JJ: I don’t have much experience of anime — indeed, my only experience of non-novel/short story Japanese detection is the Detective Conan manga and The Perfect Insider TV show, both of which I think you put me onto. For anyone in the same position, is there anything about Detective School Q that you want to mention before we get started?
TC: Well, for the uninitiated, Tantei Gakuen Q (Detective School Q) originally began as a manga (comic) series, written and illustrated by Amagi Seimaru and Satō Fumiya — who are perhaps better known as the creators of The Kindaichi Case Files. A detective-series most of you probably only know through the sporadic reviews on my and Ho-Ling Wong’s blogs.
Detective School Q focuses on a specially selected group of youngsters, Class Q, who were hand-picked by a legendary, now wheelchair bound detective, Dan Morihiko. The founder of the equally legendary Dan Detective School (DDS).
All of the Class Q members have a special ability. Kyu and Ryu are the all-round talents of the class with great deductive abilities, but, personality-wise, they’re the polar opposites of each other. Megumi has an amazing photographic memory, allowing her never to forget anything she sees, but this can come with some baggage. Such as when she’s being confronted with a dead body. The youngest member of the group, Kazume, is a computer genius, while the oldest one, Kintaro, is the athletic, more hardboiled, type with 20/20 sight – which makes him perfect for tailing people. So this should give most people some idea of what the series is about.
JJ: I find it interesting to compare Class Q with Class A, as at the start of this story. Where Class A seems more up-together and emotionally restrained in the classic detective mould, each perhaps an island on their own and possessing the various facets a detective would need, the focus with Q seems to be more on collaboration, of each person bringing their skill to solving the puzzle. In a way this is very much the rejection of the classic detective of yore — who was much more like your Class A student on their inexorable path to the truth with little concern for personality — and seems to be a way to update what is but now a fairly old routine. It makes it feel fresh even while we also want it to feel reminiscent of something far older.
TC: Well, there were some detective-teams during the Golden Age (see Craig Rice), but nothing that can be compared to Class Q. You might appreciate to learn that there’s an early (school trip) story-arc, entitled ‘The Cut-Throat Who Crossed Through Time’, in which they begin to understand how to pool their different talents and skills. Something they’ll put to the test in this episode.
But before we go to town on this multi-episode story, I wanted to briefly explain why I picked this series. And in particular ‘The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case’.
JJ: By all means…
TC: Firstly, I think these episodes perfectly demonstrates the difference between the status of the detective story in the East and West. You have to keep in my mind that Detective School Q, originally serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine, is targeted at high school and college students.
Now just think back what kind of impression mystery writers, like John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle, left on us when we discovered them around that age. When you’re born in Japan, you’re likely introduced to the genre through Detective Conan, Kindaichi or Detective School Q. Just imagine ‘The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case’ is one of your first memories of the detective story. A story about two lonely, isolated villages, dominated by a plague-cult, where people vanish under miraculous circumstances and that scene when they arrive in Kamikakushi Village — after going through the tunnel Hyoutan Village. And they walk out in a gloomy, mist-enshrouded village with that soft, haunting music playing the background and everyone wearing those grotesque masks. That’s the kind of stuff fans are made of!
Secondly, I wanted to see if you recognized what I recognized in the plot.
JJ: We get two impossible crimes here — the vanishing of the student with the footprints stopping in the middle of the field that occurs before Class Q arrive at the village, and the impossible flying into the air of the TV journalist which is captured on his video camera. While the first might be argued as fairly clued, the second most certainly isn’t. Equally, the revelation that the two villages are simply one divided down the middle is never really prepared for beyond that whole “the sun is to the right of me” thing (we have no idea where the crucial dam is in relation to anything else, for one thing…). I’m a fan of fair play and feel that the visual medium afford more chances to show this sort of clewing, but I’m curious how you feel about it.
TC: You’re so wrong here, I hardly know where to begin! Firstly, there’s a third impossible crime, which is set up in episode 19, when the mysterious founder, “Eki Shin,” prophetizes another death in Hyoutan Village and challenged Ryu — telling him to stay at “the lodge located at the entrance of the tunnel.” This is the only connection between the two villages. So, when the murder is committed, the founder has a rock-solid alibi backed by Ryu and Megumi. This alibi-trick, tied to the village-puzzle, counts as an impossible crime (see my comment on this blog-post).
JJ: Hmmm, but that’s only an impossibility after the fact though, right? When you go “But Mio was the killer!” and everyone is amazed because she was thought to be elsewhere on the phone the whole time. There’s nothing about it as presented that makes it impossible — especially as a point is made of them being able to hear the clock chiming in the background when she phones them, but they’re not able to hear the victim’s loud snoring. Nah, as it’s presented what happens is that someone walks into the room and stabs a dude…could’ve been anyone at that stage.
TC: Yes, it was an impossibility after the fact, but so’s Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile (1937) and you don’t hear anybody complain about that, now do you? It’s an impossible crime. And didn’t she cover the victim’s mouth and nose with his blanket? [Turns out no, she didn’t]
JJ: Wait…what? Death on the Nile? I’m always tempted to bow to your greater experience, but…Death on the Nile is an impossible crime?!
TC: Technically, Death on the Nile qualifies as an impossible crime, because [there followed here a discussion on the mechanics of the first murder in Death on the Nile; I’ve removed it to preserve it for anyone who doesn’t know] However, the real discussion is whether, or not, Rex Stout’s The Doorbell Rang (1965) has any claim to the status of a locked room mystery, but that’s a discussion for another time.
The solution to that village-puzzle was not only fairly clued, it was clued in a brazenly and audacious way. In episode 17, the first clue is a drawing of the infinity symbol, which was left by one of the people who disappeared, followed by map of the two villages. Only difference between the two is the two circles (villages) on the map are separated by a tunnel and spiral staircase. If you put this together, not only don’t you need the very late sun-clue, but realize what it means the moment Kyu figures it out. So how, in Poe’s name, did you miss that visual clue?
JJ: Hang on, the infinity symbol is the two villages? Huh. Yeah, I missed that. I had assumed it was something about being spun around by the staircase and not being fully aware of which way you were facing when you exit the tunnel.