More and more people I love
That is a wonderful thing
Life is really a treasure
Second part in the Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q") case by case review series. Yes, I am going fast, but it's also because I kinda skimmed throught the stories I still remembered. Which was about half of the stories here. The previous four volumes formed a solid foundation for this teamwork based detective series, but volumes five to eight are more focused on developing the characters and the main storyline.
Detective Academy Q
「迷Ｑ!?」: Volumes 1 ~ 4
「迷宮」: Volumes 5 ~ 8
「MAKE★YOU」: Volumes 9 ~ 12, Premium
Kateikashitsu no Nazo ("The Mystery of the Home Economics Classroom") continues the trend of cases tailor made for individual students of Q Class. This time the story is set at Kazuma's primary school, where Kazuma's favorite teacher gets attacked by somebody with a cursed poison blowpipe in her office. The would-be murderer flees into the home economics classroom, next to the office, but when Kazua enters the room, he is astounded to find it completely empty, with every window locked from the inside and no other ways of escape. Oh, I did mention cursed poison blowpipe, right? Those things apparently can be found at primary schools. Anyway, the trick behind the impossible disappearance of the assailant is really smart and it is almost a shame that it was 'just' for a story two chapters long!
Alibi Ressha de Ikou ("Let's Go With The Alibi Train") is one of my favorite stories of the series, even though it is nothing special. I just have a thing for inverted detective stories. Kyuu and Kinta are sent away on an assignment for DDS and travel by train to their destination. The same train an illustrator (and murderer-to-be) has chosen for her alibi trick. She starts up a conversation with Kyuu and Kinta, making sure they remember her as she will need them as decisive witnesses she couldn't have commited the murder during the ride (of course, she did). Of course, using two members of the prestigious DDS's Q Class as pawns in your murder plan is definitely going to fail. Especially if one of them is Kyuu. The story mirrors a series of short inverted stories of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, complete with the humorous tone and the elegant simplicity of the slip-up and it is really a shame there are so few inverted stories in Tantei Gakuen Q.
The trio of Megu, Yukihira and Kuniko (of A Class) are sent to help Kyuu and Kinta, as they were mistaken for gropers on a train in the last case. Thus Bishoujo Tantei (Trio The Beauty) Kikippatsu ("Beautiful Girl Detectives (Trio The Beauty) In A Pinch") starts off with our three girls taking the train (which is packed because of the rain), but during the trip Kuniko is molested by a groper. As Kuniko screams, the groper's arm disappears into the mass of people, but Megu is able to find the groper thanks to her photographic memory and bring the man to the train police. The suspect denies all charges though and claims that he wasn't even on the train during the period Kuniko was being molested.
By now, we've seen quite a lot of gruesome murders in this series, yet I was kinda surprised to see a story addressing sexual harassment here. The story is pretty simple, but the problem of proving someone's guilt or innocence in a grope case are quite well known in Japan. Famous are the 'women only' sections in trains during the busy morning rush in Tokyo. I have the unforgetable memory of being squished every morning in the train in Tokyo for three months and I can say that as a male you do make an effort to make sure the position of your hands isn't going to be mistaken for a more criminal act. Which isn't always easy if there is literally no place to move because everybody is leaning against you. The movie Soredemo Boku Wa Yattenai (based on a true story) is pretty famous, where a man is accused of molesting a high school girl in the train and he sees no way to proof he did not do it.
I think this is one of the last stories incorporated in the anime and it is a pretty interesting story, even if a bit straightforward. The scale of this story is mostly derived because the murderer commits several murders, but the individual murders are not all that interesting to be honest (except for a cool alibi trick used in the first murder). Suspense in this story is mostly derived from the fact the people in the Gensou Mansion are cut off the outside world because of a storm, while Kinta and the DDS teacher Hongou are still on their way to the villa. The closed circle setting and the motive behind the murders is definitely a throwback to Kindaichi Shounen, but 'fresh' in this series.
Maybe the more interesting part of Gensoukan Satsujin Jiken is that Hongou finally explains the truth behind Pluto, the criminal organisation that sells perfect murder plans, to Q Class and its connection to the cases Q Class has solved in the past. They also manage to capture Miss Kaori, one of Pluto's agents, but not before Ryuu was stabbed by the murderer (who was hypnotised to fight back if he was caught). Ryuu also finally realized his connection to Pluto in this story, which is made even more clear in Shisha wa Kurayami Yori ("The Messenger from the Darkness"), a transition chapter that introduces Kerberos, a high ranking Pluto agent who will act as the face of Pluto for the time being.
Shounentachi no Yoru ("Boys' Night"), Kuzuryuu Takumi no Nazo ("The Mystery of Kuzuryuu Takumi"), Shiunryuu no Hen'i ("The Change of the Shiunryuu"), Uketsugareshi Mono ("He Who Inherits") and Kuzuryuu Nikki no Himitsu ("The Secret of the Kuzuryuu Diary") is a little story arc that I think is missing from the anime. After the events surrounding Pluto, Ryuu decides to leave his home and decides to live in Kyuu's home. There the two boys decide to do more research on the mysterious Kuzuryuu Takumi, whose art seems to have the strange power of bringing the worst out of people. Thanks to a lucky break (Kyuu's mom once had a translation assignment connected with Kuzuryuu), the duo manages to track down the Shiunryuu, a beautiful vase Kuzuryuu made. There is a little disappearing case with the Shiunryuu during their visit, but they manage to solve that and also a small secret behind the vase. It appears that there is a secret behind every thing Kuzuryuu made (for example the secret prison in the old school building) and when the boys get hold of a translated copy of Kuzuryuu's diary, they suspect there is a secret code hidden there, but they can't solve it.
Mittsu no Yubiwa ("The Three Rings") is a supplement story about a ring Megu wears, but nothing special (cute though!). Hikari to Kage no Kizuna ("The Bonds of Light and Darkness") is another transition story, where we learn a bit more about the fate of the Pluto agent Miss Kaori, who has lost her mind ever since Kerberos hypnotised her. Dan Morihiko still has no idea how to retrieve her mind (so he can question her about Pluto). At the DDS, Megu is presented with a code she has to solve herself, which is I guess to be considered her 'own' case like Kyuu, Kinta and Kazuma got? Or it was volume 5's Bishoujo Tantei (Trio The Beauty) Kikippatsu, but that was actually done with three people...
Kochira DSD Kagaku Kenkyuushitsu ("This is the DDS Laboratory") is a short story that introduces Doctor Skull, the man responsible for the gadgets used by the DDS. He is short on hands and he asks Kyuu, Megu and Ryuu to solve a case for him (while smart, Doctor Skull is technically not a detective, so he leaves this up to the real detectives). The case involves a murder of a woman in her own flat, with the main suspect living two apartments above her. The problem is that the suspect has an ironclad alibi, as he had friends over at his apartment during the time of the murder. The trick is a good and simple one, which is also the best way to describe this story. While this case is solved completely at the DDS laboratory, the live action drama turned this story into a case Q Class actually has to investigate themselves. And added in a weird idol otaku subplot.
Shinrei Camera de Scoop ("A Scoop With a Ghost Camera") is the first in a series of stories related to supernatural phenomena. During school, Kuniko of A Class shows off some of her ghost photographs. Most of the students think that they are fun, but nothing more than retouched pictures, so they don't think much more about it. On their way back home, Ryuu and Kyuu are witness to an awful train accident and help out a bit with identifying the man. They have a feeling something is wrong though and visit the victim's closest relatives, his brother and sister-in-law, but come up with nothing. But imagine the surprise as Kyuu makes a photograph of Ryuu (Kyuu has been playing with his new camera for some time) and they discover the face of the deceased man floating behind Ryuu on the photograph! The mystery the ghost picture is surprisingly clever and one of the most original tricks in the series. This might be a short, relatively light-hearted story, but the quality is still as high as any other story.
Contuining the investigation into urban legends, Q Class investigates the mystery of the headless woman dressed in kimono who is supposed to haunt a certain neighbourhood in Meirokouji no Kubinashi Onna ("The Headless Woman of the Road Labyrinth"). Kyuu, Megu and Kinta stake the place out and actually see the headless woman and they decide to chase and catch her. The ghost (?) runs into a small labyrinth of walled off alleyways, with Q Class right behind her, but when Q Class arrive at the end of the labyrinth, the ghost has disappeared. This is a really light and easy mystery, not much more to be said about it.
After ghost pictures and monsters, now aliens in UFO Kara Ai wo Komete ("From UFO with Love")! Kazuma has a mail-friend from Hokkaidou who has made a picture of an UFO and she also says that a certain class of her school has been acting very strange ever since the appearance of the UFO. Q Class flies to Hokkaidou (paid by Kazuma) to investigate the case, but who would have expected that even crop circles would appear near the town?! A case of misdirection, with some smarter mysteries hidden behind the main mystery, which is not really difficult to deduce.
The previous stories already refered to an upcoming exam at DDS, that determines your class ranking. Q Class naturally has to take the exam too and there is a real danger of being degraded to a lower class. The five students therefore decice to go on a training camp in Kurayamidera Yuurei Jiken ("The Kurayamidera Ghost Case"). Their training location is at the summer house of Kinta's family, a place deep in the mountains where he spent his youth. There they meet Sumire, an old friend (love interest?) of Kinta and she convinces the five members of Q Class to do a kimodameshi (test of courage) in the Kurayamidera temple, involving passing a candle in a relay. But even though one of them chickens out of the test, the relay doesn't end in a failure. Which is impossible with just four members due the rules. The only conclusion: a ghost took over the place of the one who chickened out! Another light-hearted story, but this story is actually set up to serve as a meaningful introduction of the following story. The kimodameshi is a trope that is used a couple of times in Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo actually. They always ended up in murder.
Setsugekka Satsujin Jiken ("Setsugekka Murder Case") is a very long and complex story, probably the longest of the series save the last case and includins substories titled Q Class De Aru Tame Ni ("Because We Are Q Class"), Abakereta Katachi ("The Blown Cover") and Setsugekka no Shinjitsu ("The Truth Behind Setsugekka"). The Setsugekka are a set of scrolls painted by Kuzuryuu Takumi and in the possesion of the Kiryuu family. Kiryuu Ukon, the youngest son of the family, is a childhood friend of Kinta and Sumire and was once known as a genius trickster, but some years ago his mind suddenly turned for the worse and nowadays has a very childish personality. He is still best friends with Kinta though and happily shows Q Class the three Setsugekka scrolls, depicting a demoness with a snow, moon and flower setting.
But the Kuzuryuu Takumi art objects are always connected to crime and the following night one of Ukon's stepsisters is found stabbed in her neck in the room of the scrolls. Seeing only Ukon and his father have keys to the room (and Ukon's father isn't able to walk anymore), Ukon is seen as the main suspect of the case by the police. Kinta has to solve the case to save his friend, but little does he know that Kerberos, the top Pluto agent, is behind this case.
And what a case this is! The live action drama did a poorly distilled version of this story, but that really didn't do any justice to this impressive case. It's a very deeply layered case that is sure to fool most readers and is made even more impressive as Amagi ups the Pluto storyline, by letting Kyuu discover Ryuu's connection to the criminal organisation. This story is also the first time we see Kerberos in action and what a debut! He takes his cues from Kindaichi Shounen's Hell's Puppeteer, as both are extremely smart criminals who sell murder plans, but don't dirty their own hands (which in turn builds on the identity of the criminal in a certain famous novel I won't mention by name). Kerberos easily uses several psychological tricks on Ryuu, tricking him into making rash deductions and it takes the likes of Nanami Koutarou and Dan Morihiko himself to cope with the watchdog of Hades. This is the most satisfactory story in the whole series until now, splendidly mixing in the whole idea of detective teamwork, visual clueing and the idea of fighting a criminal organisation that are central to this series with a really complex detective plot. One of the subplots also eerily mirrors the Conan story KID and the Four Masterpieces (volume 53).
Amagi seemed eager to further the main story line and in thus deals with the 'mystery' behind the mysterious detective who taught Kyuu everything he knows in Sono Na wa Renjou Satoru ("His Name is Renjou Satoru"), Oshie wo Tsuide ("Inheriting the Lessons") and Takusareta Inori ("The Entrusted Wish"). It shouldn't be a big surprise to hear that Kyuu is the son of the (deceased) first assistent of Dan Morihiko and while it makes for a nice 'now-the-circle-is-complete' feeling, no mystery is present in these chapters. Well, except for the fact that Kazuma makes the daring (yet perfect!) guess that Pluto might have infiltrated the DDS, seeing as several of Pluto's actions lately seem to rely on information that must have come from the DDS itself. This is confirmed in Akuma no Egao ("The Devil's True Face"), where Dan Morihiko manages to release Pluto agent Miss Kaori's hypnosis and asks her the question: who of the people he brought with him here is the spy inside DDS?
Volumes five to eight really show the difference of this series with series like Conan and Kindaichi Shounen, by focusing much more and better on the main storyline and the fight with Pluto. There are some great short and long stories in these volumes, which really shows off the diversity of this series and it also moves away from the impossible crime-oriented beginning of this series. We also see that Amagi tries to develop the characters a bit more by giving everyone their own story arcs and while Ryuu and Megu seem to have little attention at this point, their importance will be shown in the last part of the series, so Amagi was able to pay a little bit less attention to them.
Even though I already read this series, I am actually really excited to read the last part now!
Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸（原）& さとうふみや（画）『探偵学園Ｑ』 第５巻～８巻 （文庫）