Wednesday, June 29, 2011

『模様犯』

「そいつは全身墨を塗ったような、恐ろしく真黒な奴だということでした。「黒い魔物」の噂は、もう東京中にひろがっていましたけれど、不思議にも、はっきりそいつの正体を見きわめた人は誰ありませんでした。そいつは暗闇の中へしか姿を現しませんので、何かしら闇の中に、闇と同じ色のものが、もやもやと蠢いたいることはわかっても、それがどんな男であるか、あるいは女であるか、大人なのか子供なのかさえ、はっきりとは分からないのだということです。」
『少年探偵団』

"He was terrifying black, as his whole body was painted in ink. Rumors of this Black Demon had already spread throughout Tokyo, but stangely enough nobody had seen him good enough to say what he was. He only appeared in the nights and even if they saw a black shadow moving in the darkness, nobody could really say whether it was a man or woman, adult or child."
"Boys Detective Club"

Sometimes it might seem like there is some pattern in my readings. Usually, there is not. For example, the uncanny amount of Western novels discussed last week was just coincidental, as all those books happened to arrive on the same day, even though I had expected some books a week earlier and other books later. So the fact I'm discussing another debut work today, just like Norizuki Rintarou's Mippei Kyoushitsu, doesn't mean anything. Just a coincidence.

So Nikaidou Reito's Jigoku no Kijutsushi ("The Magician from Hell") is Nikaidou's debut work and also the first big case solved by (here still a) high-school student detective Nikaidou Ranko. Her (and Reito's) friend Kurebayashi Hideki and his family are threatened by the Magician from Hell, a mysterious bandaged man who keeps popping up near the 'Crucifix Mansion', home of the Kurebayashi family. Our Magician has sworn to take revenge on Hideki's uncle, and because Evil Men with Aliases don't think single murders are threatening enough, he intends the whole family. The alias isn't just smoke and mirrors though, as a murderer who can appear in a locked room, commit a murder and then disappear, must be a magician (From Hell), right?

The first time I read the title, I though this was an Edowaga Rampo novel. Magician from Hell fits easily in with titles like Spider Man, Gold Mask, Magician, Vampire, Clown from Hell and Invisible Man, right? And the whole first part of the book is indeed like an Edogawa Rampo novel. The mysterious appearances of the Magician from Hell near the Crucifix Mansion are very much like Edogawa Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan ("Boys Detective Club"), while the whole adventure Ranko, Reito and Hideki have while shadowing the Magician is very much like the ones the children have in Edogawa's legendary series. I usually have problem getting started in novels, but I was caught quite fast because of this adventure-like beginning. The second and third part of the novel are rather orthodox, but the Edogawa Rampo-ness comes back in the conclusion, with a rather suspenseful incident that feels a bit out of place, unless you see it as an extension of the first part.

While Jigoku no Kijutsushi is a decent debut work, the main 'problem' I have is that at times, Nikaidou's influences are just too obvious, like with the Edogawa Rampo example above. Ranko and Reito comparing situations to detective novels is something that also appears in later Nikaidou Ranko novels ('oh, this locked room, isn't this like in...'), but this is invoked a bit too often in this novel. For example, a rather dark secret lies hidden at the very end of the novel, but this is clearly influenced by a certain novel by a famous writer, and Ranko does make a comment about that, but that doesn't change the fact that it's really like that novel. This occurs several times. I know Nikaidou gets more subtle in later novels, but in this work Nikaidou tries to appeal to the reader too much, screaming "Look, I'm one of you, really!".

Overall, the novel is not bad though. The story's pretty intense, keeping you on the edge till the end. I do have the bad feeling a lot of readers will home in on the true culprit pretty fast. The locked room murders are pretty basic too, not as eloborate as Nikaidou's later locked rooms.

This book shares some problems with Norizuki Rintarou's debut work, Mippei Kyoushitsu. Both works are clearly written by fans of the genre and because of this, their debut works suffer a bit. I like references to other novels, I really like that, but both writers appeal to their 'fan-creds' a bit too much, and the originality of their own stories is compromised because of that. As a complete story, I like Jigoku no Kijutsushi more than Mippei Kyoushitsu, but I think the latter is more original. Once again, the Power of Hindsight (and the fact I never seem to read anything in the right order) tells me both writers get over this problem in later novels, but it's exactly because their later novels are much better than it is rather obvious now.

Original Japanese title(s): 二階堂黎人 『地獄の奇術師』

Sunday, June 26, 2011

『A DAY IN THE SCHOOL LIFE』

「吉沢の言った通りだ。僕は何ひとつ学びはしなかった。ただ通り過ぎただけだった。謎解きがおわれば、本を閉じてしまう無責任な傍観者、それがお前の正体なのだ」
『密閉教室』

"It was like Yoshizawa said. I hadn't learned anything. I was just a passerby. Just a spectator without any responsiblity, who puts away his book the momnt the mysteries have been solved. That was who I really was"
"The Locked Classroom"


Oh, wait, I was supposed to read Japanese novels this summer. And oh^2, I won't be posting every day now, as I'm finally through my backlog of posts! Pretty  much all posts this week were written last weekend actually, but as I don't wanna update more than once a day....

Most detective manga/anime/light novels seem to have children ~ students as the protagonists, for obvious reasons. Schools are therefore often the stage for murder and other crimes in manga. But strangely enough, I don't see the school-setting in novels very often, or at least not in Japanese novels.

And that's why I was surprised by Norizuki Rintarou's Mippei Kyoushitsu ("The Locked Classroom"). But that wasn't the only reason. It was also because this is Norizuki Rintarou's very first novel (written at age 23!) and it doesn't even feature his series-detective Rintarou! In fact, as the novel features a high school student called Kudou, who tries to solve a locked room murder in a school, it reminds a bit more of Conan.... But anyway, class 7R is in for a surprise when one morning, the dead body of classmate Nakamachi is found inside their (locked) classroom. Strangely enough though, all the tables and chairs have disappeared from the classroom too! As a suicide note is found besides Nakamachi's body, the teachers quickly decide it's a suicide. Kudou however isn't too sure about this and starts poking around, which is not appreciated much by students and teachers.

Norizuki Rintarou's debut work feels very uneven. We have some early Queen elements with false solutions, the strange circumstances of the locked room and even quotes from Kafka and other writes. But the writing style is fairly different from later Norizuki novels; because of the very short 'chapters' (2~4 pages), the story never seems to rest, there is always something happening. Which is a bit tiring. The (Japanese) school-setting is interesting in theory, but very few characters are developed (mostly one teacher and just a handful of students, despite a class of 48 students, and that's ignoring the other classes!), which is very disappointing. Few characters actually feel and act like high-school students; with late EQ-angsting and at times hard-boiled noir-ish events and dialogue, it's rather hard to believe this is a high school.

Note that I'm totally ignoring issues like the Japanese education system, suicide at schools, school-culture and rules in this review, even though it may seem relevant for some readers. It just seems like a box of Pandora, if I were to begin writing about the subject, I doubt it would ever end.

The main problem, the locked room and the disappeared chairs and tables, is pretty neat though and recalls classic Queenian problems. I liked the protagonist Kudou too,  probably because he's very recognizable as a student who only reads detective novels and thus tries to solve the mystery of the locked room and the death of his classmate. I'm not sure whether Kudou is re-used in other Norizuki novels actually.  It's just that the road to the solution is done very differently from Queen and later Norizuki Rintarou novels. In fact, Norizuki's second novel, Yuki Misshitsu,already is completely different from this novel in structure and writing-style.

So yeah, it feels very much like a debut work of a young writer. But with the Power of Hindsight, we know that Norizuki Rintarou will grow out  to be a great writer. A bumpy ride, but worth the trouble, I think.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

『心強き名探偵達』

「命っちゅうんは限りがあるから大事なんや。限りがあるから頑張れるんやで」
『名探偵コナン』
"Life's important 'cause it's limited. 'Cause it's limited, we try our best at livin'!"
"Detective Conan"

Third post in this series of re-reading Conan! Once again, spoilers for both past and future volumes, though I do try to avoid very big things, like refering to Hattori dying in volume 6x or something (DOES NOT REALLY HAPPEN). It seems Aoyama is done with just normal cases in this set, as he brings in a group of new chess pieces to play with. I'll stop for a while with these posts though, as they take quite some time to write. And read.

Detective Conan manga & movies:
Part 1: Volumes 1 ~ 10
Part 2: Volumes 11~20; The Timebombed Skyscraper (1) / The Fourteenth Target (2)
Part 3: Volumes 21~30; The Last Wizard of the Century (3) / Captured in Her Eyes (4)
Part 4: Volumes 31~40; Countdown to Heaven (5) / The Phantom of Baker Street (6)
Part 5: Volumes 41~50; Crossroad in the Ancient Capital (7) / Magician of the Silver Sky (8) / Strategy Above the Depths (9)
Part 6:  Volumes 51~60; Private Eyes' Requiem (10) / Jolly Roger in the Deep Azure (11)
Part 7: Volumes 61~70; Full Score of Fear (12) / The Raven Chaser (13) / Lost Ship in the Sky (14)
Part 8: Volumes 71~80; Quarter of Silence (15) / The Eleventh Striker (16) / Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17)
(You will find the links to the reviews of volume 70, 72~76, 78, 82~87 and the films Quarter of Silence (15), The Eleventh Striker (16), Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17), Dimensional Sniper (18) in the library)

Volume 21
Keyhole: Satou Miwako
Cases: Search in the Old Blue Castle Case; The Flying Locked Room - Kudou Shinichi's First Case; MPD Detectives' Love Story; Case of the Locked Room A Night Before the Wedding
Characters: Megure Midori (mentioned)
Police: Sergeant Satou Miwako (Tokyo MPD); Police Inspector Shiratori Ninzaburou (Tokyo MPD); Miyamoto Yumi (Traffic Division)
Item: Wristwatch Flashlight

The search in the castle is pretty interesting, as Haibara is clearly the main character in the story. She is shown as someone with pretty good deductive capabilities. While the tone of the series has become more serious generally, I think that having both Haibara and Conan as guardians for the Detective Boys allowed their stories to become more serious and complex too. The second story is great one, with a murder in an airplane. The story starts with similar misdirection as the KID story, ending in a flashback to Kudou's first case. Aoyama uses his trademark everyone-knows-everyone cliche, as we discover that Megure has known Shinichi since he was a kid (as he's friends with his father) and that Takagi has met him too. Aoyama really takes this trope to an extreme in later stories though. As if Beika-chou is the center of the world. The story is quite memorable for its murder weapon, at least, its hiding spot. MPD Detectives' Love Story 1 starts the long, long story of detective Takagi (and Shiratori) chasing Satou. The murderer has used the cops for his alibi trick, but Conan manages to solve it by giving the detectives hints. Which won't be the last time, nor will they forget it. Yumi of the traffic division also makes her first appearance.The final story is another Hattori story (together with Kazuha). Hattori seems to have finally noticed that he always encounters murder when he's with Conan.

Volume 22
Keyhole: Kudou Yuusaku
Cases: Case of the Locked Room A Night Before the Wedding; Hokutosei 3 Departing from Ueno; Sonoko's Dangerous Summer Love Story
Characters: Kyougoku Makoto
Police: Police Inspector Nishimura (Hokkaidou)

The solution to the locked room has multiple layers, which by now has become a staple of the Hattori stories. The second story mentions the Hatamoto's (volume 3) and features a murder in a running train and a disappearing murderer. The Kudous appear again (Yukiko using the way-to-easy fake name of Akechi Fumiyo) and it's also the first time we get a real glimpse of Kudou Yuusaku's novels (besides the Night Baron references).The final story is like those summer thriller movies, or those Japanese 2 hour suspense dramas, with an innocent girl (Sonoko) being attacked by an unknown assailant during a holiday. Her future not-sure-if-they're-really-having-something boyfriend Kyougoku Makoto makes an appearance. How many skilled martial artists don't we have in this series by now?

Volume 23
Keyhole: Shiratori Ninzaburou
Cases: The Last Screening Murder Case; Murder Intent on the 20th Anniversary - Symphony Serial Murder Case; MPD Detectives' Love Story 2

The Detective Boys go see a Gomera movie marathon, during which a viewer is found hanged. Not a very memorable story, especially as the second one is very, very memorable. Conan, Mouri, Ran and Hattori all board a cruise ship, apparantly together with the Shadow Planner, a master criminal thought dead. What follows is a really complex story with multiple layers and in fact, it's the first time since their first meeting that Hattori and Conan do not agree on their theories. And even more surprising: they're both wrong! Even though Hattori disappears halfway through the story, we have some Hattori-factoids here: another mentioning of his dad practicing kendou (still no mention of Hattori practicing kendou); Hattori is once again put in danger during his investigation; Kazuha's omamori seem to work quite well. The second MPD Detectives' Love Story is about Takagi and the Detective Boys helping a suspect prove he's innocent, with Satou and said suspect chained to a toilet in a museum. Mostly important because the way Satou entrusts the Detective Boys, or more specifically, Conan, with such responsibility is kinda suggestive.

Movie 3: The Last Wizard of the Century
Release: April 17, 1999
Item: Bulletproof Glasses
Plot: Kaitou KID finds out that Conan is Kudou Shinichi

Guest-appearances of both Hattori and KID?! The movie is kinda shizophrenic, with a serial murder, said guest appearances (also the first time KID appears in Osaka) and a Detective Boys-esque castle-with-hidden-hallways. The motive is kinda strange too and I don't think I'd have liked the movie if not for Hattori and KID. Oh, and strangely enough KID finds out about Conan's real identity in this movie, even that wasn't the case in the manga (and even now it's kinda vague). In the movies, KID often appears as Shinichi in front of Ran and the others, knowing that Conan can't reveal his real identity. Funnily enough, KID/Kaito's real face is almost a copy of Shinichi's anyway, so KID can actually appear without wearing any masks.

Volume 24
Keyhole: Araide Tomoaki
Cases: MPD Detectives' Love Story 2; Dead Angle in the Dark; Meeting the Black Organisation Again;
Characters: Araide Tomoaki
Black Organisation: Pisco (Matsuyama Kenzou); Vermouth (Chris Vineyard); the Boss
Plot: Pisco is killed by Gin, Gin and Vodka see Haibara (in older form); Gin's car is a Porsche 356A; Chris Vineyard infiltrates in the cast

Wow. MPD Detectives' Love Story 2 also makes references to an upcoming story, as Takagi mentions that it seems like Satou likes Megure, or when Satou mentions her father died when she was young. The second story introduces Dr. Araide (senior and junior). Junior is supposed to move to Aomori, but as his father is murdered in this story (in bath!), Dr. Araide stays for a while as a recurring character/love interest for Ran. The ending is pretty emotional, as the police and Conan cover up certain facts of the case to protect an innocent person.. The final story is the big story: the first real confrontation with the Black Organisation. Tequila died pretty much the moment he appeared, so that wasn't much of a confrontation. The murder (commited by Pisco, a high-ranking member of the Organisation) isn't that interesting, but we see a very smart Gin here, who deduces that the escaped Miyano Shiho must have entered his car (A Porsche 356A). We see another Organisation member, Chris Vineyard, who will turn out to be a formidable opponent with her disguise skills. We also hear the first mention of the Boss of the Organisation (ano kata literally 'that person') , I think. As Haibara didn't know that Paikaru could work as an antidote to APTX4869, it might suggest that Conan and Agasa don't trust Haibara completely, as you'd think they'd tell her about this if they really needed her to make an antidote.

Volume 25
Keyhole: Kyougoku Makoto
Cases: Revived Message of the Dead - Dying Message; Mystery of the Tottori Spider Mansion; Desperate Revival [Detective Boys in the Cave / Wounded Great Detective]
Plot: Conan gives Ran a cellphone

The first story, a dying message story, is one I like quite much. Probably as it was one of the few dying message stories relying heavily on knowledge of the Japanese culture I actually solved (even though it might be said that is even easier for foreigners...). The case is set in Tropical Land, the place where Kudou disappeared. Conan sends Ran a cellphone at the end of the case; thus giving her a direct line to her. The second story, a locked room mystery linked with Japanese legends, is one of my favorite stories. The murder themselves, the atmosphere with the Spider Demon legends, the creepy twins (probably a reference to Yatsu Haka Mura's elderly twins) and the utterly tragic ending. Seriously, seldom have I seen such a tragic conclusion (oh, and we see Hattori's bike for the first time). And the first part of Shinichi's desperate revival: Ran suspects Conan (again) and the suggestion of Conan of making a Shinichi robot is pretty funny for people who have read Magic Kaito (the killer KID robot). And what starts out as a normal Detective Boys code cracking story (another Yatsu Haka Mura reference it seems, with the cave and the poem), things become more dramatic when Conan is shot, the Detective Boys are forced to solve the riddle themselves and Ran now being convinced that Conan is Shinichi, as she states that she has the same bloodtype as Conan (because she knows she has the same type as Shinichi). A dramatic ending, quite so.

Volume 26
Keyhole: Vermouth
Case: Desperate Revival [The Third Choice / The Black Knight]; Desperate Revival [The Return of Shinichi & The Promised Place]; A Meaningful Music Box
Plot: Kudou Shinichi solves a case at school

The desperate revival is succesful, as Shinichi regains his body and manages to fool Ran, as Haibara is posing as Conan, using a voice changing cough-mask. The poisoning case isn't too interesting though. Hattori posing as Shinichi is pretty hilarious, as his dialect is way too strong to fool anyone (ore ya, Kudou Shinichi ya!). This little costume party does serve as a hint for a later story and I wonder whether Aoyama planned it as such. But good things don't last long and Shinichi changes back to Conan by the next story, just when he tried to take his relation with Ran to the next level. The final story, with a music box is not really interesting and I'm not surprised I didn't remember anything about it

Volume 27
Keyhole: Yamamura Misao
Cases: Suspect Mouri Kogorou; MPD Detectives' Love Story 3; Battle Game Trap; Mushrooms, Bears and the Detective Boys
Characters: Jodie Santemillion
Police: Detective Chiba (Tokyo MPD)
Plot: Jodie works at Teitan High, [Rotten Apple], [Cool Guy]

Suspect Mouri Kogorou is actually the first story where Mouri and detective Yamamura meet. Heh. I always see them as the 'famous combi', but I had never guessed they first met in volume 27! The Kogorou/Eri stories are always entertaining, competent stories and this one is no exception. MPD Detectives' Love Story 3 explores the death of Satou's father, Masayoshi and links it together with a case concerning arson. The clue for Satou's case doesn't really work in English (or any language using the alphabet) as it's way too easy to see and is probably confusing too. Also marks the first appearance of officer Chiba of the MPD. The next story, set in an game arcade, introduces Jodie Santemillion, the English teacher at Teitan High. And a demon with videogames. She is obviously not what she seems and she lingers on for quite some volumes. Very meaningful dialogue to be found here, though the context is only made clear in about 15 volumes or so. The final story is another Haibara-centered one, as she and Mitsuhiko have to flee for a hunter, as they found the man he just shot.

Movie 4: Captured in Her Eyes
Release: April 22, 2000

A movie that makes optimal use of the introduction of the Metropolis Police Department in the previous volumes, as it features a cop-killer story. Add in the fact Ran lost her memory as she saw how detective Satou was shot in front of her eyes (also losing the memory of who the killer was) and we have one of the better Conan movies that actually features a neat plot and character development without being over-dramatic. The internal investigation at the MPD is tense, just like the atmosphere surrounding Ran, as people have to protect her from the murderer who tries to kill the only witness. The plot of an internal investigation at the MPD is actually re-used in  the 13th movie, The Raven Chaser.

Volume 28
Keyhole: Hattori Shizuka
Cases: Mushrooms, Bears and the Detective Boys; The Lying Client; And Then There Were No Mermaids...; The Sealed Secret of Megure
Characters: Hattori (Ikenami) Shizuka
Location: Cafe Poirot
Plot: Miyano Shiho has done research on immortality

The story with the bears is not very interesting. It's in fact another code cracking story. The Detective Boys seldom do something different. The second story introduces us to Cafe Poirot, beneath the Mouri Kogorou Detective Agency as well as the mother of Hattori, who actually seldom makes appearances. By now, both he husband and herself have been established as being very talented at kendou, but strangely enough nothing is said about Hattori. I don't really like the Mermaid Island story as much as I should, I think, though the identity of the real murder is pretty memorable. Also: Hattori gets hurt, again. The final story is just the beginning of a serial murderer story.

Volume 29
Keyhole: Megure Midori
Cases: The Sealed Secret of Megure; The Mysterious Passenger; The Evidence That Didn't Disappear, Osaka "3K" Case
Characters: Megure Midori; Akai Shuuichi
Plot: Akai Shuuichi appears; [a Secret makes a Woman Woman]

Which as usual, is based on finding a missing link.Not very interesting, but it does explain why Megure always wears a hat (and also an appearance of his wife, who was mentioned in an earlier volume). The bus hijack case is, in retrospect, important, as it establishes Haibara's instinctive fear of Organisation members, which is used quite often in later stories to a) foreshadow BO stories or b) misdirect the reader. Akai Shuuichi also appears for the first time, and will regularly make enigmatic appearances in the following volumes. The third story, with a disappearing dog is pretty boring. The last story, is a classic which-of-the-three story, with a neat conclusion.

Volume 30
Keyhole: Hakuba Saguru (Or.: Magic Kaito)
Cases: Shinkansen Escort Case; The Gathered Great Detectives: Kudou Shinichi vs. Kaitou KID; Young Genta's Calamity; Murder Intent in the Pottery Class
Characters: Hakuba Saguru
Plot: Gin is left-handed

The murder of a suspect in the Shinkansen Satou and Takagi were escorting also means the first meeting between Satou and the Sleeping Mouri. I like the clue quite much, as it a) connects to the previous case and b) is kinda Japan-specific. Which is usually very too hard to solve, but this is something that is not too obscure. The second story is a big ode to And Then There Were None, with a group of detectives (based on other detectives) gathered. One of detectives is Hakuba Saguru, from Magic Kaito, which immediately suggest KID's involvement in the case. The detectives get murdered one by one (?) and is pretty amusing, just like KID's role in the story. Young Genta's Calamity is like a code-cracking story, as Conan needs to make sense out of very vague testimony of Genta about a robber. Haibara tells Conan quite randomly that Gin is left-handed, which will probably turn out to be very important. I can't actually remember whether it's mentioned again in later stories. The last story is one of those inverted stories where you see the murderer commiting the murder, but not the details of the murder.

Almost near the half-way point and by now Aoyama Goushou is clearly building up a storyline with the Black Organisation. Every volume or so he places some new pieces on the chessboard. Volumes 21~30 are mostly introduction of these pieces though, movement of the pieces is mostly set in volumes 31~40 right after that. The MPD detectives are also developed more, some of them who actually originally debuted in the anime, most prominently Shiratori, who was a suspect in the first Conan movie and then got promoted when he first appeared in the manga. Oh, and the return of Shinichi is pretty memorable too, right? Hattori has really become regular by now, popping up a bit too often maybe.

The stories themselves are also becoming better and better. Favorites are the three stories in the sky, on a train and on a boat (The Flying Locked Room - Kudou Shinichi's First Case; Hokutosei 3 Departing from Ueno and Murder Intent on the 20th Anniversary - Symphony Serial Murder Case), all very entertaning stories set on means of transport. The tragic Mystery of the Tottori Spider Mansion is a great locked room mystery with a surprising twist on the end. 

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第21巻~30巻 / 『名探偵コナン 世紀末の魔術師』 / 『名探偵コナン 瞳の中の暗殺者』

Friday, June 24, 2011

『奇妙な集まり』

「探偵はその跡を見てなんくせつける…ただの批評家に過ぎねーんだぜ」
『名探偵コナン』

"You detectives are nothing more than critics who look at what we leave and complain about that",
"Detective Conan"

The second part of this series of....  memos...? What I thought about the series and the stories as I re-read them. So once again expect spoilers, as I link things with future cases, if such a link happens to pop up. The first 10 volumes were a bit uneven in quality, but from these volumes on, the series really starts to shine.

And I decided just now that I'lll discuss the Conan movies too. If I'm writing a series of Conan posts, I might as well include them as well, right?

Detective Conan manga & movies:
Part 1: Volumes 1 ~ 10
Part 2: Volumes 11~20; The Timebombed Skyscraper (1) / The Fourteenth Target (2)
Part 3: Volumes 21~30; The Last Wizard of the Century (3) / Captured in Her Eyes (4)
Part 4: Volumes 31~40; Countdown to Heaven (5) / The Phantom of Baker Street (6)
Part 5: Volumes 41~50; Crossroad in the Ancient Capital (7) / Magician of the Silver Sky (8) / Strategy Above the Depths (9)
Part 6:  Volumes 51~60; Private Eyes' Requiem (10) / Jolly Roger in the Deep Azure (11)
Part 7: Volumes 61~70; Full Score of Fear (12) / The Raven Chaser (13) / Lost Ship in the Sky (14)
Part 8: Volumes 71~80; Quarter of Silence (15) / The Eleventh Striker (16) / Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17)
(You will find the links to the reviews of volume 70, 72~76, 78, 82~87 and the films Quarter of Silence (15), The Eleventh Striker (16), Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17), Dimensional Sniper (18) in the library)

Movie 01: The Time-Bombed Skyscraper
Release: April 19, 1997
Characters: Moriya Teiji
Police: Lieutenant Shiratori Ninzaburou 

The first Conan movie and it sets the more action-oriented tone for the rest of the movies. A bomb-terrorist is not a common enemy in Conan, but they occasionally pop in the manga. The movie only has two 'suspects' though (of whom one is ruled out pretty much immeditately), so it's not must-see for the whodunnit. The trick  with the train-bombs is pretty neat though. Oh, and I totally forgot: the first movie also introduced the Conan movie must-have: the introduction! Movies based on running series are usually hard to get into, as they require extensive knowledge of the series, but the Conan movies always begin with a short introduction of the main story and the important characters of the story. It changes every time, depending on the storyline in the movie and no Conan movie would be complete without such an introduction!

Volume 11
Keyhole: Kisaki Eri
Cases: Snowy Mountain Villa Murder Case; TV Station Murder Case; Coffee Shop Murder Case; Mist Tengu Legend Murder Case
Characters: Kisaki Eri
Item: Button-shaped speaker
Location: Nichiuri TV
Plot: Ran attempts to get mother back

I really like the opening story, which is an inverted story, where a TV show hosts commits a murder while on air. Reminds me very much of Furuhata Ninzaburou's Sayonara DJ ("Goodbye, DJ") episode and is just as fun. It's also the first time Kogorou is invited to a TV-show in the series and he makes some comments about his time at the police force annd not being all to great with firearms (which is expanded upon in the second Conan movie, The Fourteenth Target). A second story introduces the lawyer Kisaki Eri, Ran's mother, which establishes her as a smart independent woman (with judou skills learned from Kogorou). Strangely enough, in the recent live action TV special of Conan set 100 days before Kudou shrinked, he interacted with Eri, while he doesn't recognizes her at all in this story. Finally, a great impossible crime story with a Tengu who hangs people (another of those Japanese myth stories). Also the first time Conan uses the speaker on Kogorou, allowing Conan to move around a bit more in later stories.

Volume 12
Keyhole: Tsuburaya Mitsuhiko
Cases: Secret of the Moon, Stars and Sun; Game Company Murder Case; Holmes Freaks Murder Case
Black Organisation: Tequila
Plot: Tequila dies, discovery that the BO wants a list of programmers

The first Detective Boys/Agasa code cracking story. Many, many will follow. Sigh. The story does explain that Agasa earns money with patents, like with the technology used for Conan's voice changing bow-tie. The second story is actually quite important, as it introduces the new Black Organisation member Tequila. Who is killed off in the same chapter. The story is important as it is the first time we 1) get to see more BO members, 2) we get to learn a bit more about the scale of the organisation and 3) a bit about what the BO is trying to do. A small organisation wouldn't blow up a whole cafe just to cover tracks. As for the BO's goal, the list of programmers the BO wanted will turn out to be important many, many, many volumes later. The same story also introduces the game company Mantendou, not sure if that pops up again though. The final story is another important one and the second of Hattori Heiji's appearances. The Holmes Freaks gathering is pretty funny (especially Hattori's comment that he likes Queen more, which is met with a lot of glaring). The comment that he likes Queen more actually makes a lot of sense. Anyway, hilarity ensues as Conan tries to convince Hattori that he's just a normal boy. It's also the first time that Hattori and Conan help each other with their deductions, using the other as a soundboard. It makes the story more enjoyable to read, as just reading thoughts is a bit strange. With two equal minds, the story/deductions develops more naturally.

Volume 13
Keyhole: Suzuki Ayako
Cases: Holmes Freaks Murder Case; Triplet Mountain Villa Murder Case; Illustrator Murder Case; Great Kaijuu Gomera Murder Case
Characters: Tomizawa Yuuzou, Gomera
Location: Taihou studios
Plot: Hattori discovers Conan's real identity

Hoho, Hattori Heiji finds out about Kudou's problem. Which is pretty interesting, as Hattori deduced it from the way Kudou deduces, something he has heard only once. Anyway, they become best of friends rather fast. The murders themselves weren't too interesting, except for the first one which, for an alibi trick, was quite good. The second story is a classic which-of-the-three + alibi checking problem, although it's interesting as the three suspects are triplets. Tomizawa Yuuzou is the fiance of Suzuki Ayako, who we hadn't seen for many volumes. They don't appear that often in later stories. Or not at all, maybe. The third story is an inverted story, which reminds me a lot of Higashino Keigo's Ochiru ("Fall"), using a complex mechanical contraption to arrange for an alibi. Both stories are very similar in their execution. I'm pretty sure this story precedes Ochiru though. Finally, the final story introduces us to Taihou Studio's Gomera, a kaijuu movie series.The premise is good, with a kaijuu killing somebody, but the trick is rather easy. As kaijuu series are meant for children, many if not all of the following stories featuring kaijuu feature the Detective Boys/Agasa.

Volume 14
Keyhole: Kudou Yukiko
Cases: Cornered Great Detective! 2 Great Murders After Another (1); Cornered Great Detective! 2 Great Murders After Another (2); Ski Lodge Murder Case
Police: Yamamura Misao (Gunma)
Item: Earring-shaped Cellphone
Plot: Yukiko poses Conan off as own child

The first story in a long time where Ran suspects that Conan is Shinichi. It took her a while to see through Conan's Clark Kent glasses. Even though she grew up with him. Anyway, also the first story that establishes contact between Eri and Kogorou (over the phone) and the first time magicians appear in the series. A locked room murder with a strange message is solved rather quickly, but anyway, magicians! It might be foreshadowing for an upcoming guest appearance? One of the magicans here actually appears two volumes later. The second story is a more classic murders-in-a-rich-family Conan story. Fun because: Yukiko saves Conan from Ran's suspicions by saying he's a distant relative, because Yukiko later introduces Conan as her second child to a friend and because of the first appearance of Inspector Yamamura Misao, the worst officer ever in the police force. It's a miracle he makes it to chief inspector later. His design is a bit different from later though. Yuusaku is also portrayed as being way better at detecting than his son. It was hinted at in the first story featuring him, but we'll see again and again that Kudou's father is brilliant as a detective. The final story with an old teacher of Ran and Sonoko may be a sign of the Jessica Fletcher-trope of bumping into an acquaintance at the strangest places. Also introduces the Earring-shaped Cellphone, which has a direct connection with Conan's bowtie. Too bad cellphones become mass consumer products very soon. Why would Agasa make a earring-shaped phone for Conan anyway?! And I wasn't really looking for him, but I think this was also the first time we saw the infamous shadow commiting a murder. You know, when they want to show a murder is being commited without showing who.

Volume 15
Keyhole: Hattori Heizou
Cases: Ski Lodge Murder Case; Popular Arists Kidnapping Case; Money Lending Business Director Murder Case; Unnatural Deaths in an Illustrious Family Case
Characters: Deputy Commissioner General Hattori Heizou (Osaka; first actual appearance), Takayama Minami (TWO-MIX), Nagano Shiina (TWO-MIX)

I really, really like the story with Ran's teacher by the way. I think that the atmostphere was a bit more Kindaichi Shounen-ish, but I really liked it. The ending, with Ran solving the case instead of Shinichi was pretty nice too, as interaction between the two characters (if we see Conan apart from Shinichi) is few. The second story, the TWO-MIX kidnapping, is hilarious in a meta-way, as Takayama Minami is the voice actor of Conan (and at a later stadium even the wife of Aoyama Goushou). The case itself is not very interesting, but this is one of the few times real world artists make the jump to Conan in the anime. The third story, with a murder in a money lend-shop, is very much like the karaoke box story in volume 5: figuring out how the victim got poisoned. This time recorded images aren't the vital clue, even though the visual is still very important. The which-of-the-three formula is used very often in Conan, but they're usually quite competent stories. And finally a longer story where we first meet Hattori's father Hattori Heizo, Police Chief of Osaka. He mentions he played kendou, although it hasn't been established yet that Hattori himself plays kendou.The story, featuring a bandaged man and some misdirection is pretty good too.

Volume 16
Keyhole: Kaitou KID
Cases: Unnatural Deaths in an Illustrious Family Case; Seven Mysteries of Teitan Elementary Case; Conan vs. Kaitou KID; Famous Pottery Artist Murder Case
Characters: Kobayashi Sumiko, Kuroba Kaito (= Kaitou KID; Or.: Magic Kaito), Nakamori Aoko (Or.: Magic Kaito), Suzuki Shirou, Suzuki Tomoko
Police: Superintendent Chaki Shintarou (Tokyo MPD), Police Inspector Nakamori Ginzou (Tokyo MPD; Or.: Magic Kaito)
Plot: Volume 7's trauma; crossover with Magic Kaito

^But also a bit tragic. Conan's trauma he got in volume 7 is explored a bit, in turn influencing Hattori. Editor Yamada (volume 7) is mentioned again by the way, as he has left a message on the answering machine! The second story, featuring some school urban legends mostly serves as an introduction of the new homeclass teacher of Teitan Elementary 1B, Sumiko Kobayashi. She'll appear quite a lot in later stories, especially in the last few years. And then our main course, the crossover with Magic Kaito. It was of course just a matter of time before the protagonist of Aoyama Goushou's first full-fledged series would battle with Conan. And it's actually written fantastic. The first chapter sets people on the wrong foot, first by showing Kaito (who looks a lot like Kudou), but not Aoko. At this point, the reader probably doesn't realize what's happening. The story continues with references to kaitou 1412, a name never used in Magic Kaito. Only near the last couple of pages, Agasa tells that a young writer (turns out to be Yuusaku) read the codename 1412 as KID. And then it all makes sense. It's also only from the second chapter on that we actually see Nakamori Ginzou, the main antagonist in Magic Kaito. Aoyama then continues with the red herrings by using a couple of old characters again (Hatamoto Shouji, vol. 3; Mifune Takuya, vol.9; Tomizawa Yuuzou, vol.13; Manada Kazumi, vol. 14),  who all might be Kaitou KID. It's not explained in Conan why KID targets the Black Star, though readers of Magic Kaito will know why KID's targets are always jewels.  Oh, and fridge brillance: Kaito and Aoko have different school uniforms from Ran and Sonoko's, so it's not strange they don't know each other. The only strange thing is that Conan hadn't heard about KID at all, even though a later story confirms that KID and Kudou met once before. The final story, a murder in a pottery, is decent, but not memorable at all, right after the KID story.

Volume 17
Keyhole: Okino Youko
Cases: Famous Pottery Artist Murder Case; Scuba Diving Murder Case; Hospitalized Robber Case; Mysterious Mansion of a Gang of Robbers Case; Jidaigeki Actor Murder Case 

A somewhat tedous volume. The first story with Eri and Kogorou interacting directly with each other and it does show that Kogorou isn't a complete moron, but the case itself is not interesting at all. What follows are a very short story (the only single chapter story in the series?) and a story featuring a house with a hidden secret. While the premise, a house where all the clocks strike at the same time, is interesting, the explanation for it all is rather boring and too farfetched. Strangely enough, houses with hidden mechanisms and such are more a Detective Boys speciality, rather than a Mouri Kogorou one. The last story is the best of the bunch, an inverted story which isn't too hard to solve and I think most readers will get it by the time they finish the first chapter. It's actually pretty much a modern version of one of Queen's more famous stories. What I'm wondering about is why people still try to use Mouri Kogorou for their alibi tricks. It was somewhat logical in volume two, when he wasn't very famous yet, but by now The Sleeping Kogorou should be feared by everyone. Even if I had an alibi trick I believed in, I still wouldn't go with the best-of-the-best detective.

Volume 18
Keyhole: Haibara Ai
Cases: Jidaigeki Actor Murder Case; Memory of a First Love Case; The Girl Who Came from the Black Organisation: The University Professor Murder Case (1);  The Girl Who Came from the Black Organisation: The University Professor Murder Case (2)
Police: Sergeant Takagi Wataru (Tokyo MPD)
Black Organisation: Sherry (Miyano Shiho=Haibara Ai)
Plot: Haibara moves in with Agasa

The first story is the first appearance of inspector Takagi Wataru, who is actually named after his voice actor in the anime (when he (his character) was asked his name, the voice actor adlibbed with his own name). The first 'normal'-leveled police detective we see in the series and one of the more popular characters, I think. I at least like him very much. And then a strange start of a story: Conan, Ran and Sonoko clean up the Kudou mansion as nobody lives there at the moment. Q: why doesn't Conan or his parents get someone to clean up occasionally? It's not like they don't know nobody is living there. Anyway, the mystery club is a theme used quite often in Kindaichi Shounen, as Kindaichi and Miyuki are both members there, but it's actually used pretty much never in Conan. Except here. I don't know, why, but the criminal here has always been one of the more memorable ones to me, even though... he is rather bland. Hmm.  And then we have the introduction of Haibara. Once again a nice piece of misdirection like done with the KID story. The dialogue makes you think that Gin is hunting for Kudou Shinichi, but it's in fact Haibara. We learn a lot more about the organisation, like that they have labs (which they blew up), the workings of the poison APTX4869 (meant to break off cells) and that the Organisation has visited the Kudou mansion twice to see if he's really dead and that Haibara filed Kudou Shinichi away as dead. The final case with a locked room murder is pretty smart, but also very easy to see through as one thing is just way too unnatural.

Volume 19
Keyhole: Tomoya Kazuha
Cases:  The Girl Who Came from the Black Organisation: The University Professor Murder Case (2); Mystery Writer Disappearance Case; Naniwa Serial Murder Case; Stadium Indiscriminate Threatening Case
Characters: Matsuda Samonji, Shinmei Kaori, Tomoya Kazuha
Police: Chief Superintendent Toyama (Osaka), Police Inspector Otaki Gorou (Osaka), Lieutenant Satou Miwako (Tokyo MPD)
Black Organisation: Numabuchi Kiichirou
Location: Osaka
Plot: Information about the BO gained from Haibara; first visit to Osaka; meeting with Numabuchi

The locked room is solved by Conan using Agasa as a proxy in front of Chief Inspector Yokomizo, so Agasa  is slowly making a name as a detective. We also discover that Black Organisation is in possession of the Night Baron virus mentioned in volume 8 and that Haibara is in fact the sister of Miyano Akemi, who died in volume 2. Like I said then, long-game foreshadowing. The second story features the show Tantei Matsuda Samonji, written by Shinmei Nintarou. Shinichi and Ran are said to be fans of the show. Writer Shinmei seems to have disappeared and Mouri is requested by his daughter to find him. The clues are hidden in a manuscript, but pretty much the funniest moment is when Hattori calls the publisher's office saying he solved the code, right when Conan and the gang are there too. It's also the first time Conan tranquilizes somebody whose voice he doesn't know (so he can't use his bowtie). Editor Yamada also appears again (volume 7, 16)! volume 19 also marks the first time the gang vists Osaka. We're introduced to a group of new characters like childhood friend Kazuha and chief inspector Otaki. Aoyama really, really likes his childhood friends, as we have the obvious suspects Shinichi/Ran, Heiji/Kazuha, Kogorou/Eri, Kaito/Aoko and a lot of others to be revealed later. Oh, and here we begin to see why Hattori is more a fan of Queen: with a high-ranking police officer as his dead and a great relation with Otaki, he definately mirrors the Inspector Queen/Ellery/Velie dynamic. The serial murder the gang has to solve in Osaka is OK (looking for a missing link), but not nearly as engaging as the second Osaka story. The story does feature serial killer Numabuchi Kiichirou, who will turn out to be a lower-level Black Organisation member. It's also the first story featuring Hattori where he suffers a big injury near the end of the story. Almost very time he works with Conan, he seems get some kind of injury, strangely enough. And we see that Kazuha's self-made omamori work wonderfully good. The last story is the first in a series where our detectivs needs to determine a single suspect amongst a crowd (here: a football stadium). It's a smart story and it also features a non-speaking cameo of Akagi Hideo (the soccer-player from volume 7) and the first appearance of MPD inspector Satou Miwako, even though she is not named here.

Movie 02: The Fourteenth Target
Release: April 18, 1998 
Plot: Explains why Mouri left the police; seperated with Eri. Conan has learned to use a gun in Hawaii with his father.

The second Conan movie is one of my favorite Conan movies. It's a classic whodunnit murder case with a neat motive for the murders. The movie also explains why Ran's parents don't live with each other again and also explains a bit about Mouri's time at the police. This movie also introduced that strange, strange recurring joke of Shinichi having learned practically everything in Hawaii with his dad. Gunshooting, handling cars/boats/planes/spaceships. Every time Conan needs to do something out of the ordinary in the movies, they say Hawaii. Oh, and Conan actually used the elasticity suspenders in this movie!

Volume 20
Keyhole: Takagi Wataru
Cases: Stadium Indiscriminate Threatening Case; Magic Lovers' Murder Case; Locked Bathroom Murder Case; Search in the Old Blue Castle Case
Characters: Kuroba Touichi (Or.: Magic Kaito)
Plot: Magic Kaito confirmed to be in the same world as Conan 

The murder amongst a group of magician lovers is the main story here and a great one too. The impossible murder, with a body lying in a field of untouched snow is visually impressive, as you actually see all the white (instead of reading about it). The reference to the deceased magician Kuroba Touichi is foreshadowing the end of this story. The fact Conan has caught a cold and wears a cough-mask will actually prove to be very important, as it is used several times to fool the readers in later stories. The appearance of KID is a surprising one though: the appearance in volume 16 might just have been a one-shot crossover (like KID vs. Yaiba in Magic Kaito volume 3), but here KID is finally established as a recurring character. It's also the first time KID gets involved with actual murder, as Magic Kaito was a more light-hearted series. The second story, with a locked bathroom murder is not very memorable and neither is the last story, a Detective Boys/Agasa code solving story in a mansion with mechanical contraptions and hidden doors and stuff.

Wow, volumes 11~20 are much better than the first ten volumes. By now, the formula has been perfected, with the Sleeping Kogorou being asked to assist in a wide variety of cases (or something a murderer tries to use him for an alibi trick). The somewhat clumsy, childish stories have been replaced with more mature stories, with stories that make optimal use of the visual medium of comics and most of which are plotted quite good. More innovative stories and also slowly more stories that are.. modern. Alibi tricks using (cell)-phones and other technology are pretty mainstream in Conan now.

The crossover with Magic Kaito was probably a somewhat bold move, as the KID in Conan is very different from the one in the original series. In the more recent Magic Kaito stories, KID has indeed been more like the Conan!KID rather than the original KID. In these volumes, KID makes no less than two appearances, while Hattori seems to pop up every other volume. By now he acts as the default character to turn to when Aoyama wants an equal speaking partner for Conan. The introduction of Haibara is also interesting, as until now all the leads to the Black Organisation... err.. died. Haibara does make the Detective Boys stories more enjoyable, as the ratio is now 3 brats to 2 smart kids, rather 3 to 1. Haibara serves as the main catalyst for the Black Organisation stories up until around volume 50, so yeah, she's quite important for the main plot.

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第11巻~20巻 / 『名探偵コナン 時計じかけの摩天楼』 / 『名探偵コナン 14番目の標的(ターゲット)』

Thursday, June 23, 2011

『平成のホームズ』

「推理に勝ったも負けたも、上も下もねーよ、真実はいつもたった一つしかねーんだからな」
『名探偵コナン』

"There's no winning or losing, no better or worse in deductions; 'Cause there's always only one truth"
"Detective Conan"

Something new: re-reading Meitantei Conan from the beginning. I'm up to date with the Japanese release, but it's been almost ten years since I first started reading Conan. I've forgotten a lot of the stories by now, so I decided to revisit the series again.

By the way, for a short introduction on all things Conan: I recently wrote about the series on Criminal Element.

With this series of posts, I intend to discuss ten volumes per post. These posts won't be real reviews however, nor summaries of the individual cases. It just wouldn't add much to great (Japanese) sources like The Decipherment of Conan, the official Detective Conan Case Report website, or the Mouri Kogorou Detective Agency (in the linkbar). My posts will mostly serve as a short overview of my thoughts on the individual stories, what I noticed about the story-telling and more importantly, how all of the stories interconnect with the overall storyline of Conan. My writings may seem a bit unconnected, as I just jot down keywords while reading everything and sometimes I don't have keywords for large parts of a volume.

I'll be writing this with the power of Hindsight, so I'll sometimes connect stories/characters/themes/motives in earlier volumes with later stories. It's therefore not really spoiler-free, I'm afraid. The series just passed the 70s this year, so this will turn out to be a series of eight posts, if I manage to finish it this year.

Each new recurring character is noted, as well as new gadgets, important locations, etc. Case names are taken from Shounen Sunday's Detective Conan Case Report .

Detective Conan manga & movies:
Part 1: Volumes 1 ~ 10
Part 2: Volumes 11~20; The Timebombed Skyscraper (1) / The Fourteenth Target (2)
Part 3: Volumes 21~30; The Last Wizard of the Century (3) / Captured in Her Eyes (4)
Part 4: Volumes 31~40; Countdown to Heaven (5) / The Phantom of Baker Street (6)
Part 5: Volumes 41~50; Crossroad in the Ancient Capital (7) / Magician of the Silver Sky (8) / Strategy Above the Depths (9)
Part 6:  Volumes 51~60; Private Eyes' Requiem (10) / Jolly Roger in the Deep Azure (11)
Part 7: Volumes 61~70; Full Score of Fear (12) / The Raven Chaser (13) / Lost Ship in the Sky (14)
Part 8: Volumes 71~80; Quarter of Silence (15) / The Eleventh Striker (16) / Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17)
(You will find the links to the reviews of volume 70, 72~76, 78, 82~87 and the films Quarter of Silence (15), The Eleventh Striker (16), Private Eye in the Distant Sea (17), Dimensional Sniper (18) in the library)

Volume 1
Keyhole: Kudou Shinichi
Cases: Jet Coaster Murder Case; Director's Daughter Kidnapping Case; Idol Locked Room Murder Case  
Characters: Kudou Shinichi (= Edogawa Conan), Mouri Ran, Mouri Kogorou, Professor Agasa Hiroshi, Okino Youko.
Police: Police Inspector Megure Juuzou (Tokyo MPD)
Black Organisation: Gin, Vodka (unnamed)
Items: Voice-changing bowtie
Location: Beika-chou, Teitan High School, Kudou mansion, Tropical Land, Mouri Detective Agency
Plot: Shinichi shrinks, moves in with the Mouris

A somewhat uneven start for the series: it's very clear that Aoyama Goushou worked on the light-hearted adventure Yaiba and more importantly, Magic Kaito, before starting this series, as the art-style, the style of jokes and maybe more importantly, the intended readers are definately the same. It results in somewhat easy detectives stories clearly meant for younger children, not unlike a series like Himitsu Tantei Holmes ("Secret Agent Holmes") (which started two years later, but anyway). The first case, the murder on the rollercoaster is spectular, but surely not without its flaws, while the kidnapping case is kinda forgettable. The third story is mostly important as it is the first case to feature the voice-changing bowtie, an unconcious Mouri Kogorou (this time knocked out by an ashtray) and the introduction of idol Okino Youko, who will serve as the series' main link with the entertainment world by introducing new cases to Mouri. Gin and Vodka make one of their rare appearances (of course), but aren't actually named here. I guess that Magic Kaito readers would have related these two gansters to the secret organisation that appears there, though the members of that organisation have different codenames (animals).

Volume 2
Keyhole: Mouri Ran
Cases: Akaoni Village Fire Festival Murder Case; A Strange Search Murder Case; The Haunted Mansion Murder Case 
Characters: Yoshida Ayumi, Kojima Genta, Tsuburuya Mitsuhiko
Black Organisation: Miyano Akemi, unnamed Miyano sister
Items: Power-enhancing kick shoes, criminal tracking glasses, elasticity suspenders
Location: Teitan Elementary
Other: Yaiba on TV
Plot: Conan is placed at Teitan Elementary 1B; is witness of the murder of Miyano Akemi

The first inverted story in the series and also the first in a long range of stories where recorded images (photo's, film) are used and where Mouri Kogorou's testiomony is used for an alibi trick. All very Conan-ish. Conan also gains three items, of which only the power-enhancing kick shoes are used regularly to protect himself and others. The criminal tracking glasses are nowadays usually used to track his own friends, while the elasticity suspenders are rarely, rarely used. It seems they are used more effectively in the movies than in the manga. And of course, volume two contains two important introductions: firstly, Miyano Akemi, a member of the black organisation. She is the one who actually confirms that their trademark is black clothing. And we have long-game foreshadowing as she mentions her sister just before she dies. And secondly, the first appearance of the Detective Boys, even though they don't have that name yet.

Volume 3
Keyhole: Mouri Kogorou
Cases: Luxary Cruise Serial Murder Case; Once-a-Month Present Threatening Case
Characters: Hatamoto Natsue, Hatamoto Takeshi
Items: Stungun Wristwatch
 
The first long story, featuring serial murders on board of a ship chartered by the Hatamoto family. Starts out very Kindaichi Kousuke-like, with the large rich family and even the drawing of a family tree to clear things up. While the story is a bit clumpsy, I think this is the first story where we see that Aoyama is trying to write more mature detective stories for Conan. The previous stories were rather stereotypical for children's detective manga, and here we see it move towards the longer, complexer stories like we see in Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo (which started two years earlier). Actually, it's pretty clear from his earlier works that Aoyama liked detective stories, so it might have even been Kindaichi Shounen's popularity that prompted him to start with his own pure detective series. Also the first time that Ran suspects that Conan is in fact Kudou. It won't be the last. Oh, and the introduction of the stun-gun wristwatch, which is also a staple of the series. It does change the series a bit, as it allows Conan to directly state his own deductions rather than giving hints to the people around him. Probably made writing easier for Aoyama too.

Volume 4
Keyhole: Megure Juuzou
Cases: The Museum Owner Murder Case; Shinkansen Explosion Case; Metropolis Coded Map Case 
Characters: Kamen Yaiber
Black Organisation: Gin, Vodka (names known)
Items: Glasses-shaped hidden microphone
Plot: Second meeting Gin and Vodka, hears their code names

The opening story ends on a poetic note, something Aoyama likes to do. The image of the man killed by a bloody knight is pretty impressive and even now a story I remember well. It's also another story wher recorded images play an important role. Conan meets Gin and Vodka again (actually learns their codenames this time) in the second story, but loses the track almost immediately. In the last story, Ran meets the Detective Boys for the first time (still not named as such though) and the first of a long, long series of Detective Boys Code Cracking stories. They actually catch a couple of gangsters, so they start to make a name.

Volume 5
Keyhole: Agasa Hiroshi
Cases: Mountain Villa Bandaged Man Murder Case; Karaoke Box Murder Case; Edogawa Conan Kidnapping Case 
Characters: Suzuki Sonoko, Suzuki Ayako, Edogawa Fumiyo
Plot: The Sonoko Zaibatsu is introduced

The first time we see Ran's best friend, Sonoko. Who is immediately portrayed as a man-hunting rich girl. Which has not changed much in the last couple of years. Her sister Ayako doesn't make many appearances after this one, but I think you see her occasionally. The first story is the second of the longer stories in Conan and this one is already an improvement on the first. Also because it contains dismemberment. Also important as Conan uses Sonoko as his proxy in this story and high school-detective Suzuki Sonoko will return often (and the police actually starts to believe her as a great detective). The second story is about a murder in a karaoke-box, wherein Conan contacts Megure as Kudou. He does make Megure promise to keep his name out of the papers. And finally, the appearance of Conan's mother, Fumiyo! (?) Who is probably named after Akechi Kogorou's wife in Edogawa Rampo's novels.

Volume 6
Keyhole: Yoshida Ayumi
Cases: Edogawa Conan Kidnapping Case; Antique Collector Murder Case; The Disappearing Corpse Murder Case;  Tenkaichi Night Festival Murder Case
Characters: Kudou Yuusaku, Kudou Yukiko, Night Baron
Police: Police Inspector Yokomizo Sango (Saitama)
Items: Detective Boy Badge
Plot:  Yuusaku & Yukiko learn of Kudou's problem; the Mouris are officially asked to take care of Conan; Detective Boys established

We officially meet Shinichi's parents and learn things about them that are used in future stories, like Yukiko's talent for disguise and Yuusaku being a famous detective writer and about his fictional character Night Baron. The second story (a man slashed to death) uses a visual clue, which really has become a characteristic of this series by now. Also: kendou is a recurring theme in Aoyama Goushou's work, most prominently in Yaiba, but the Hattoris in later volumes are all skilled kendouka. In the third story, the Detective Boys finally get their transceiver badges and also their group name. They also encounter their first dead body and it won't be their last. Nobody considers sending the kids to therapy or something. And finally, an inverted detective story introducing Chief InspectorYokomizo Sango of the Saitama police. The first non-MPD cop we meet in Detective Conan, and one who often asks Kogorou's cooperation in his investigations in later cases. Foreshadowing of all the other cops we're going to meet in the series?

Volume 7
Keyhole: Yokomizo Sango
Cases: Tenkaichi Night Festival Murder Case; The Moonlight Piano Sonata Murder Case; Pro Soccer Player Threatening Case  
Characters: Yamada (editor); Asai Narumi, Akagi Hideo
Items: Portable bentou fax
Plot: the end of the Moonlight Sonata case serves as a trauma for Conan

The editor in the first story (Yamada) is actually a recurring character, though never in the limelight. You'll be sure to see his name mentioned again later. Volume 7 for me was a turning point in the series. The Moonlight Sonata murder case is really a representative story of the series and I think the anime special is rated amongst the better ones by the fans in Japan. It's really creepy, a series or murders all accompanied by the Moonlight Sonata and the minor code cracking, as well as the linguistic clue to the identity of the killer is something that made impression on me. The next story is more like a cute one where we see how viciously jealeous Ran can get and it also introduces the utterly useless portable bentou fax. With real food. With the introduction of cellphones, the bentou fax, as well as the later introduced ear-ring phone quickly disappeared. They were silly anyway. Also the first mention of star soccer player Akagi Hideo, whose name will pop up once in a while.

Volume 8
Keyhole: Suzuki Sonoko
Cases: Pro Soccer Player Threatening Case; Night Baron Murder Case; June Bridge Murder Case 
Characters: Matsumoto Sayuri
Police: Superintendent Matsumoto Kiyonaga (Tokyo MPD), Police Inspector Yokomizo Sango (transferred to Shizuoka)

The Night Baron murder case, the first of a long series of murders when Conan and the others visit Izu. Yokomizo of the Saitama police has conveniently been transferred to Shizuoka, so they meet again. Together with the Moonlight Sonata case of the last volume, this case symbolizes the slight change in tone from a slightly serious kids-oriented series to a more serious detective series. Also a case featuring computer programmers, whichi is interesting considering later stories. The last story introduces us to Super Intendent Matsumoto and his daughter Sayuri, who used to be teacher of Kudou, Ran and Sonoko. Matsumoto often appears in big cases as the direct superior of Megure.Oh, and high school-detective Suzuki Sonoko makes her first appearance in front of the police.

Volume 9
Keyhole: Kojima Genta
Cases: Ayumi's Kidnapping Case; Kogorou's Reunion Murder Case; Investor's Daughter Murder Case 
Items: Turbo-engine skateboard
Plot: Kogorou is established as an accomplished judouka

Another 'code cracking' story with the Detective Boys, this time by vague descriptions of a location. First appearance of the solar-powered turbo-engine skateboard, which is probably what set of the whole action theme the Conan movies have. If he can ride a turbo engine skateboard, then why not a helicopter/boat/car/train/plane/etc, script-writers must have thought. The second story (a favorite!) is with Kogorou's old friends. It shows that Kogorou is not as dimwitted as he might seem and that his years as a cop weren't for nothing. His considerable talents in judou are also first shown here. The story itself, featuring a Benkei motive, is the first one in Conan using Japanese legends as a motive. Many are to follow and they're all very memorable.

Volume 10
Keyhole: Hattori Heiji
Cases: Investor's Daughter Murder Case; Diplomat Murder Case; Library Murder Case; Snowy Mountain Villa Murder Case 
Characters: Hattori Heiji
Police: Deputy Commissioner General Hattori Heizou (Osaka)
Plot: Discovery that Paikaru acts as an antidote to the shrinking (ironic because it's an alcohol?)

First a regular story with no real interesting features, except for the fact that I 'recently' saw the alibi trick used in a Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo story, but much more complex. But the main meat of this volume is the introduction of Hattori Heiji as a rival to Kudou (Hattori of the West, Kudou of East). A layered locked room mystery and the return of Kudou Shinichi make this a very entertaining story. After ten volumes, Conan and Agasa finally seem to have a clue as to how to turn Conan back into Kudou. Heh. There's also a short Detective Boys story, with our kids' second meeting with the dead, set in a library. The last story is the first of the trademark Conan dying message stories, which are hard to solve if you're not familiar with Japanese culture. And even then they're not easy.

With the first ten volumes read, I'm actually quite surprised that some Conan staples aren't even established yet. I would never have thought that by volume 10, Professor Agasa and the Detective Boys hadn't met yet!  Or that Chief Inspector Yokomizo is the only identified non-Tokyo cop! Some of the older stories were quite hard to read after this many years and if you compare the stories nowadays with those of the first volumes, it's very clear that they are so widely different. Aoyama really grew in the years he wrote Conan, with the stories nowadays much more better structured and in general, better detective stories. The first volumes are clearly more meant for a younger public, but by volume 7~8 the tone does seem to have changed.

Volumes 11~20 tomorrow!

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第1巻~10巻

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ellerius Bibliophilus

"I can understand a chronic bibliophile having this bizarre collection on his desk, for some dark purposes of his own (...) Your employer does not impress me as having the intellectual potentialities of a paleontological field worker, who is a stamp-collecting addict, who has a passion for medieval comerce, who knows so little of music that he must read a child's history of it, and finally who indulges in the sickening horseplay of the year's best - or worst- vaudeville jokes! ... Wes, old boy, there is more here than meets the vacillating eye."
"The French Powder Mystery"

Another Ellery Queen in just a few days? In fact, this was the only Western detective I actually planned to read this year, all the other books just happened to cross my path...

Reviews of Ellery Queen's 'nationality' novels:
The Roman Hat Mystery
The French Powder Mystery
The Dutch Shoe Mystery
The Greek Coffin Mystery
The Egyptian Cross Mystery
The American Gun Mystery
The Siamese Twin Mystery
The Chinese Orange Mystery
The Spanish Cape Mystery 

The French Powder Mystery is the second novel in the EQ series and starts very promising. Every day at noon, an exhibition of a living/bed room is held in a window-booth of the French department store. A girl is supposed to show the various products in the booth and lure the bypassers on the street by her demonstration. But when she pulls down the bed-built-in-the-wall, she, and the onlookers are in for a big surprise as the dead body of a woman falls down from the bed! She is quickly identified as Mrs. French, the wife of the department owner. Inspector Queen is charge of the case, even though he is busy enough with the new Commissioner (who demands reports every day by every officer on the force, checked by Queen) and a drug-ring in the City. Son Ellery on the other hand sees no problems in the French case, as he quickly and steadily deduces himself to the killer.

Wow, I really liked this book! It starts off great, with the public exposition of a dead body and then the logical progress of the story: Ellery Queen notices something at place A, which logically leads him to place B et cetera. Reading the story is like following Ellery's train of thought and that's precisely what I like about the early Queen books: carefully plotted stories that develop at a steady pace that ultimately lead to the one solution. And whereas Inspector Queen and Velie seemed more present than Ellery in The Roman Hat Mystery, Ellery is no doubt our protagonist in this book.

Queen classics like the search of an open, public space (looking for suspects and clues within a department store) and the profiling of the killer through several characteristics indicated by the clues are executed flawlessly. Add in the public display of the dead body, the complete team of Inspector Queen, Velie, Prouty and the others, a Challenge to the Reader, introducing quotes (!), thematic chapter-naming and we have a Classic Queen that has all the elements I love. I especially like the part where Queen uncovers several vital clues by looking at a couple of books and deducing something is not all quite right with them.

My one complaint is maybe that Ellery states his own deductions at several stages of the story, leaving almost no new material for the conclusion: most of his explanations we already know. While the deductions are presented a lot more structured in the conclusion, I think this made the challenge to the reader a bit too easy, as too much of the deductions were already voiced by Ellery, rather than leaving it up to the imagination of the reader.

And that was actually the last of the Nationality novels I needed to read. Still got some Queens left to read, but Classic!Queen is still the best of all Queens, and I doubt I'll encounter something as fun as this amongst the remaining ones.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

「解けない謎はないんです」

"Look, a ladder!"
"That's a "step"-ladder"
"So? What's the difference? You need to stop judging things based on narrow-minded cultural assumptions, Nick!"
"Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney"

Oh, something Dutch! But Japanese!

Whereas modern criminal court-room drama mainly focus on a) defense attorneys, b) prosecution, c) lay judges or c) expert witnesses, you seldom see one featuring judges. Which is logical, I concur, but in the old, old times, judges in Asia were pretty much the only factor of importance in the courtroom, which were more like civil courtrooms, with individuals prosecuting each other and the judge as acting as the one who decides who was right. Probably the most famous example in the West would be Van Gulik's Judge Dee. Which is a pretty amusing series, featuring a Chinese judge who acts as a detective.

Bertus Aafjes did something similar like Van Gulik. Van Gulik based his Judge Dee on the historical Judge Dee (see also Parallel Cases under the Pear-Tree, a translation by Van Gulik of real Chinese court records). Bertus Aafjes wrote several stories starring Judge Ooka, who was based on Ooka Echizen, a famous judge presiding in Edo in Tokugawa Japan and who is still revered as a wise judge, who was able to find solutions for seemingly impossible problems. Like Van Gulik, Aafjes didn't 'storify' existing Ooka legends, but came up with original stories. Een Ladder tegen een wolk ("A Ladder against a Cloud") is the first short story collection by Bertus Aafjes featuring ten  original stories with Ooka. They're all quite short, maybe ten pages, sometimes less and usually feature a problem that is seemingly impossible to solve, until the wise Ooka intervenes (note that my summaries are really short this time, as the stories themselves are short too).

De haan heeft gegaapt of de zaak van de vele moordenaars ("The Cock Yawned or the Case of the Multiple Murderers") is about three old friends who accuse each other of murder. One says he did it, the other she did it and the last one says they both did it. Which of them is the real murderer?

In Een ladder tegen een wolk of de zaak van de afperser ("A Ladder against a Cloud or the Case of the Blackmailer"), an old couple is forced to steal in order to pay a blackmailer who had found out they had illegally left the city of Edo. The old couple gets caught while stealing. Ooka wants to be lenient on the old couple, but that would mean that he would have to let the blackmailer go.

In Wie de schaduw liefheeft krijgt het koud of de zaak van de wanhopige samoerai ("He Who Loves the Shadow gets Cold or the Case of the Desperate Samurai"), Ooka gets a strange request by a woman: her husband, an ex-samurai, is unhappy now he has to work in a store (rather than carrying a sword) and because of that, they lose clients everyday. How is Ooka able to make the ex-samurai content again?

In Wie zich met vermiljoen mengt wordt rood of de zaak van de identieke verdachten ("He Who Mingles with Vermillion turns Red or the Case of the Identical Suspects"), Ooka is confronted with the ancient problem of unreliable witnesses. The witnesses point to two different men as the thief of their store. Ooka is sure one of them is the thief, but which one? 

In De ware mens is geen werktuig of de zaak van de woedende winkelier ("A True Man is Not a  Tool or the case of the Raging Retailer") a woman begs Ooka to help her son: he works at her brother's store, but gets abused a lot. Ooka takes the case and uses his wisdom in sorting things out.

In Een wilde gans is honderd goudstukken waard maar men moet er eerst drie uitgeven voor een pijl of de zaak van De Wenkende Kat ("A Wild Goose is worth 100 Gold Coins but You have to Pay 3 Coins First for an Arrow or the Case of the Inviting Cat"), Ooka gets out to find decisive proof that one of the suspects in his custody is the person they're looking for.

In Zelfs de koelies bemerken nog wie de geliefde van de keizer is of de zaak van de zonderlinge spion ("Even the Coolies know who the Emperor's Lover is or the Case of the Strange Spy"), Ooka has to sort out a strange case wherein one family has planted a baby as a spy in another family.

In Ook een aap valt wel eens uit een boom of de zaak van de dief van Toranomon ("Sometimes even a Monkey Falls Out of a Tree or The Case of the Toranomon Thief"), Ooka is having troubles catching the Torananomon Thief and a different judge, Kujou is appointed to take over the case of Ooka.

Ooka faces his biggest challenge in Beter zijn leven te verliezen dan zijn gezicht of de zaak van het vrijwillige doodvonnis ("Better Losing His Life than his Face or The Case of the Voluntary Death Sentence"), as thanks to a trap by his enemies, Ooka is forced to sign his own death sentence!

Finally, in Als men er drie jaar op gaat zitten wordt zelfs een rotsblok wel warm of de zaak van de beide eerstgeborenen ("If You Sit On It for Three Days Even a Rock Will Become Warm or The Case of the Two First-Borns"), Ooka has to identify which of the identical twins is the first-born in an inheritance case.

The stories are amusing, very much like the cases in Parallel Cases under the Pear-Tree (even though that's Chinese). The focus on finding solutions for seemingly impossible problems is fun, even if sometimes it's not nearly as brilliant as the text tries to make you think. As someone studying Japanese studies though, I sometimes had to let out a Marge Simpson "hmm...." moan though. While I gather that Bertus Aafjes has visited Japan and it's mostly correct, some details do seem a bit iffy. Which is also a reason I don't think Judge Ooka's as fun as Judge Dee. At least, this particular short story collection was OK to read as a snack, between other books, but it sure didn't leave me satisfied.

Original Dutch title: Bertus Aafjes, Een Ladder tegen een Wolk