"In every neighborhood and in every home, whenever people came together, they would, as if talking about the simply weather, start swapping out rumors about the Fiend with Twenty Faces"
"The Fiend with Twenty Faces"
The amount I read and wrote about Edogawa Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan ("Boys Detective Club") series this week this week is a bit more than should be considered healthy, but I still love it. It made me realise that we need more stories about master-detectives versus master-criminals. Yes, we have the crossover stories between Arsène Lupin and a thinly disguised Sherlock Holmes, but as those stories are written by Lupin's Leblanc, Holmes' depiction is never completely fair. And on the topic of Holmes, he and Moriarty are indeed an example, but Moriarty's appearance in the original canon is so brief and sudden that his impact is less than you'd expect it to be. No, we need more of the rivalries like Conan vs KID! Kindaichi vs Hell's Puppeteer! Q Class vs Pluto! Ranko vs Devil's Labyrinth!
Writing this also makes me realize that these are all Japanese examples. There are probably non-Japanese examples, but I can't think of one right now. Anyway, for the Japanese examples, it's pretty easy to point to the Shounen Tantei Dan series as the grandfather of the trope. Edogawa Rampo's legendary series about master-detective Akechi Kogorou, asssisted by young Kobayashi and the Boys Detective Club and the confrontations they have with the master-thief the Fiend with Twenty Faces pretty much shaped the model for both children's mystery fiction and for stories about master-detectives and master-criminals and it is tempting to think that without this series, we'd never have something like the rivalries mentioned above.
Edogawa Rampo's works never age, so they keep getting remade for all kinds of media. Akechi Kogorou tai Kaijin Nijuu Mensou ("Akechi Kogorou VS The Fiend with Twenty Faces") is a 2002 TV special produced by TBS. The story is a mix of several stories of the Shounen Tantei Dan series (and some non-Shounen Tantei Dan novels featuring Akechi), but also features an original take on the characters. Set in postwar Japan, the bulk of the story is naturally about the Triforce of Akechi, Boy Detective Club (represented by Kobayashi) and Twenty Faces, but the scriptwriter also added a subplot that links Akechi Kogorou and Twenty Faces personally. Because that's more fun, right? When Things Get Personal?
No, wrong. The Personal Subplot That Is Supposed To Make The Rivalry Significant is one of the many problems with this special. The subplot renders the Fiend with Twenty Faces to a poor victim of the war. But that's not the real Twenty Faces! He is supposed to be a genius criminal with the air of Arsène Lupin, he should be grand, he should be invincible! Twenty Faces is a criminal in a children's series, he is supposed to be nothing more than a (pleasant) evil! Making Twenty Faces a poor misunderstood war-victim is just an amateuristic way of trying to make the story more suitable for adults, but that is totally missing the point of Edogawa Rampo when he created the character!
Part of the problem is created by Edogawa himself though. He used the character of Akechi in all kinds of stories, from the Shounen Tantei Dan series aimed children to his work for adults. As a result, Akechi appears in both light-hearted and darker stories, which makes him an ambiguous character at times. Twenty Faces however is different, he was always meant as a children's character. The special mixes up several scenes from different Shounen Tantei Dan novels and it is clear that those spectacular scenes are in fact aimed at children, with a certain boyish naiveness to them. The "dark" subplot with Twenty Faces and Akechi really feels out of place.
Another problem is the casting. I love Tamura Masakazu. Really. Yes, he pretty much acts the same way in most of his roles, but in a good way. But if you put him in the role of a dandy gentleman detective dressed in black, I will think he is Furuhata Ninzaburou. Not Akechi Kogorou. Yes, I admit there are some differences (as Akechi, Tamura at least seems more sincere than Furuhata), but the two characters are just too similar. The other problem is Beat Takeshi, who plays the Fiend with Twenty Faces. There are just too many things wrong with this. Age is one thing (like I said, Twenty Faces should be more like youthful Lupin). The second problem is... is that he is called Twenty Faces. Because he is a master of disguise who is forgotten his own face. Why would he run around the whole time looking like Beat Takeshi then?!! There is a reason that the masked Twenty Faces is the most 'accepted' visual image of him! In fact, the movie K-20, based on an original novel by Kitamura Sou, had a really kick-ass suit for Twenty Faces. Actually, K-20 had a much better Akechi Kogorou vs Fiend with Twenty Faces story than this special, especially the more light-hearted approach is a lot more enjoyable.
The fact that the only enjoyable parts of this special were the parts that were lifted directly from the original novels says something about the strength of Edogawa's writing, but this was really an example of how not to do a TV adaptation of Edogawa Rampo's work.
Original Japanese title(s): 『明智小五郎対怪人二十面相』