Sunday, August 21, 2011

「君は一体、何者なんだい?」

「名探偵ゆく所に殺人事件ありさ」
『少女探偵金田はじめの事件簿』

"Where great detectives go, murder happens"
"The Casefiles of Girl Detective Kaneda Hajime"

Going over my bookcases, I finally noticed that some of my detective series feature rather strange detectives. And I don't mean strange in the sense of a strange personality. I refer to the unlikely detectives. Not the private detectives, not the police, not even the magicians or the laywers or anything. 'Cause it isn't very strange that they are capable detectives. Not even thieves or something like that. Just detectives who are just very unlikely to be great detectives. Yet they are. Famous examples would be Father Brown and Mrs. Marple. So I'll avoid those in this post, 'cause that would be to easy.

And I guess this is Edogawa Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan's influence, but there's huge amount of young detectives running around in Japan. Conan (Detective Conan) is probably the most famous of these child detectives (being both child and a young adult). And Conan is actually still relatively normal as a child detective. As Kudou Shinichi, he wants to be a famous detective and by the time the series begins, Shinichi has already made a name for himself as a private detetective, so it's not strange that people come to him for help. The same holds for Conan, where most of his work comes via Kogorou. So it's not strange that he has a lot of work. So Conan is actually a bad example for an unlikely detective.

Kindaichi Hajime is more of an unlikely detective. He might be the grandson of Kindaichi Kousuke, but he is nothing more than just a somewhat underarchieving high school student. Besides his intellect, he has nothing. Not a special interest in mystery fiction (he is only in the mystery research club because he was forced into it), he has no other strange talent that assists in his detecting. Even though he has solved many cases, he does not want to be a detective like Shinichi in Detective Conan. It's not like he purseus cases actively: Hajime is just forced to solve crimes as he always happens to get involved with them. He detects out of necessity, not out of his own will.

With bukatsu (extracurricular activities in the form of clubs and circles) being an important part of the Japanese society (being like a practice stage for later human relations), it's not  surprising that quite some novels and manga feature a detective who is a member of a school's/university's mystery research club. As experts in the genre, these people are usually wonderfully genre-savvy, often resulting in discussion that refer to older, famous works. Student Alice, Mizuno Satoru and Nikaidou Reito and Ranko are good examples of this trope. But what about... an actual detective club at school.

Shoujo Tantei Kaneda Hajime no Jikenbo ("The Casefiles of Girl Detective Kaneda Hajime") is a little known parody manga and protagonist Kaneda Hajime is actually a detective only because she entered the Detective Club. Meaning she is only a detective because its part of her extra-curricular activities. When club activities are over, she goes home immediately, leaving any unsolved murders for tomorrow.Of course, the whole series is crazy like a bat, with a 40-year old 'boy' detective and a forensic pathologist who uses dead bodies as a ventriloquist's dummy when giving his autopsy report. For some reason, nobody knows this one-shot manga, even though it's pretty funny.

Usami-chan, one of the segments in the hyperactive supernonsensical Gag Manga Biyori series, is another parody of the genre: the rabbit Usami just likes to make calls to the police to report someone. That's the only reason she's a detective. She is good at it too, but that is also because the bear Kumakichi is always the one behind crimes like peeping on girls and stealing swimsuits. Yes, the premise is a bit strange and may sound lame and I admit that one needs a particular sense of humor to appreciate Gag Manga Biyori, but I think it's brilliant.

Even stranger are the protagonists from Himitsu Keisatsu Holmes ("Secret Police Holmes") and Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q").  Cause these kids actually have official authority to solve cases. For some reason, someone thought it was smart to give these kids official power, often even the power to overrule police authority. Which is just plain nuts. Heck, the children in Himitsu Keisatsu Holmes are still in elementary school! Yet they solve locked room murders and stuff! It's not like in Detective Conan, where Conan is technically a young adult who will try to keep the real children out of trouble. The kids here are really just kids. Which makes this series a bit frightening.

Tantei Gakuen Q's Q Class is slightly more realistic, as the five members in Q Class were selected by the famous detective Dan Morihiko himself, and are to be trained to be his successor. The members of Q class are a bit older, a bit wiser than the kids in Himitsu Keisatsu Holmes, but still. They are kids. With the power to take over any police investigation whenever they want. Which is silly. Of course, Edogawa Rampo's Boys Detective Club was even more insane (because it's Edogawa Rampo), with some children even carrying guns and stuff... but still.

I can't remember whether the protagonist in Karakurizouji Ayatsuri Sakon ("Puppeteer Sakon") still went to school or not, but his main occupation isn't a student anyway. Sakon is a young performing bunraku artists and together with his dummy puppet Ukon, he solves mysteries. Which are usually murders. Ignoring the fact that puppets are, together with clowns, the scariest things on this world, Karakurizouji Ayatsuri Sakon is also actually a horrible detective series. Not even Obata (Death Note)'s art can save this boring series. In the same Japanese culture-thingy-mode, we have the houkan Sharoku, who specializes more in coded messages than murder, but still an amateur detective with a somewhat surprising main occupation.

Kujiragi Yuu (nickname: Kujira/Whale) from The Accidents ~ Jikochou Kujira no Jikenbo ("The Accidents - The Casefiles of Accidents Investigator Kujira") doesn't have a occupation unrelated to the official authorities, but as nobody seems to know this series, I make an exception in mentioning it. I'm actually not sure which of his two jobs is his main occupation, but Kujira is usually found in his little toy store. But he's also working as a high ranking investigator of accidents. Whenever a plane crashes, a train rides off a bridge, a satellite stops working or even when a bride suddenly bursts in a ball of flame (yes, they all happen in this series), we have Kujira to investigate the cause of these accidents for the government. It's a bit like Master Keaton, with protagonist Keaton working as an insurance investigator, but while Master Keaton isn't only focused on Keaton's investigations, The Accidents is really only about the investigation of pretty impressive accidents. Which of course aren't always just accidents.

Writer-detectives are not rare. We have many, many mystery novel writers who detect themselves actually, like Ellery Queen, Jessica Fletcher, Arisugawa Alice and Norizuki Rintarou. We also have reporters, like Rouletabille and the reporters in Shimada Kazuo's novels. We even have someone like Mitsuhiko Asami, a freelance writer who specializes in historic research. He usually writes for travel magazines, but the crimes he encounters are actually related to his field of expertise.

Takano Seiya (Kuitan) however, is a writer of historical novels. Yet the crimes he solves are all food-related, whether it being related to the food itself, or the way how people work in restaurants, or even the cultivation of food. His expertise is the whole chain of food: from creation of food to the consumption of food. But like I said, his main occupation is writer of historical novels. His work as a writer therefore has absolutely nothing to do with his amateur sleuthing. Which is actually a bit strange. He could have literally been anything.

And to finish it off, the really weird amateur detectives. While Mitarai Kiyoshi did switch jobs to be become a full-time private eye in Mitarai Kiyoshi no Aisatsu, he started off as an astrologist. Who solved crimes. An astrologist. At least, a physicist like Galileo makes sorta sense as many crimes he assists in are sorta science-related. But the whole astrologist-thing isn't even really related to Mitarai's way of deducing, while Mitarai can be a bit vague and dreamy in normal conversation, his deductions are always as clear as any hard science.

And then we have travel agent Mizuno Satoru. Yes, a travel agent. Who is also a detective. Well, to Mizuno's credit, he was a member of the mystery novel club when he was a student and he was actually in practically all clubs, making him knowledgable about pretty much anything (but mainly otaku-fields like tokusatsu kaijuu). Writer Nikaidou Reito has actually two Mizuno Satoru series: one about his student years, the other about his time as a shakaijin, a contributing member of society (i.e. a working man). Of course, of all the jobs he could have, Mizuno chose to be a travel agent. Who occasionally detects.

And yes, I'm sure there are a lot more of these unlikely detectives, but I just picked out the ones I actually have in my bookcase. Because that makes things a lot easier. Not surprisingly, most of these characters originate from manga and anime, but that certainly doesn't make them less interesting. Well, except for Karakurizouji Ayatsuri Sakon, but that's because I really, really hate puppets. Now if the series was actually good, I might have been able to forgive the puppets....

Original Japanese title(s):
青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』 / 天樹征丸(原作) さとうふみや(画) 『金田一少年の事件簿』 / あさりよしとお 『少女探偵金田はじめの事件簿』 / 増田こうすけ 『ギャグマンガ日和』 / 立神敦(原作) 犬木栄治(画) 『秘密警察ホームズ』 / 天樹征丸(原作) さとうふみや(画) 『探偵学園Q』 / 写楽麿 (原作)小畑健(画) 『人形草紙あやつり左近』 / 山田貴敏 『アクシデンツ -事故調クジラの事件簿-』 / 寺沢大介 『喰いタン』 / 法月綸太郎 作家法月綸太郎シリーズ / 有栖川有栖 学生アリスシリーズ・作家アリスシリーズ / 島田荘司 御手洗潔シリーズ / 二階堂黎人 水乃サトルシリーズ・二階堂蘭子シリーズ

6 comments :

  1. I've always wondered, are the Secret Police Holmes stories any good? It impresses me as a classic mysteries for dummies type of series, i.e. something to brainwash and convert young readers with. And with brainwashing I mean, of course, introducing them in a fun and informative way to the literary universes of John Dickson Carr, Seishi Yokomizo, Ellery Queen and Edogawa Rampo.

    You have to give that Ayatsuri Sakon props on two points: at least the stories were, sort of, original with interesting characters and settings. Yes, these positive attributes were rendered completely useless by the mind numbing stupid plots that featured killers who labored under the assumption that dropping a key through an air shaft is a nifty trick to create a locked room illusion with. But I really liked the idea of a ventriloquist detective with a puppet for a Watson and settings were often fascinating.

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  2. I only read the first volume of Himitsu Tantei Holmes (the German version actually) and it's pretty much like the first couple of volumes of Detective Conan. Which isn't strange actually, as the series ran in CoroCoro, aimed at an even younger public than Shounen Sunday

    As I hate puppets and Sakon and Ukon (who is, in fact, a doll) were the only interesting characters in the series, I have to say that I really don't like Ayatsuri Sakon. Well, except for maybe the art-design. Obata's art is still crude, but at least better than the plot!

    The only acceptable 'dolls' by my standards: the dead body-dummy ( Shoujo Tantei Kaneda Hajime no Jikenbo) and the sock-puppet from The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.

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  3. Yeah, it's impossible to defend Ayatsuri Sakon when your main concern as a reader/viewer are the construction of the plots, but I have no doubt that there are character-orientated mystery fans who would absolutely love this series – and take the atrocious plotting for granted.

    Oh, and I had to think of your coulrophabia while watching an episode of Leverage. One of the characters confessed she didn't like horses, because she "once saw a horse kill a clown." The scene then cuts to a short flashback of her as a child during a birthday party where a man in a horse costume is beating up a clown. ;D

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  4. For some reason that lasts one sounds interesting... I think I willgo and do some research :)

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  5. you'v gone through so many mystery manga, and so i'm going to recommend you:
    Q.E.D. 証明終了、ミステリー民俗学者 八雲樹、火災調査官ナナセ

    --SI

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    1. I've read a bit of QED in the past actually (and even seen the drama!), but I never really got into it. Not bad, but I didn't find it that appealing and the fact it's also quite a lengthy series makes it harder to 'just dive in'.

      And I've been looking for the Yakumo series lately, actually, because I developed an interest in folklore... Will probably pop up eventually on this blog! Same with Nanase (which has been on my list ever since it was released in the States, but somehow I never get around to it).

      Thanks for the title drops!

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