Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Smoke and Mirrors

「放課後の魔術師・・・お前の仕業なのか? この事件、絶対解決してみせる。名探偵と言われた、ジッチャンの名にかけて!!」

"After-School Magician, was this your work? I'll definitely solve this case. In the name of my grandfather!"
"The Young Kindaichi Files: The Seven School Mysteries Murder Case"

And as I reread Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q"), I thought, if Tantei Gakuen Q and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo are set in the same universe, why would Hajime have chosen to go a normal high school? He would have been a great student there. Oh, because of Miyuki of course.That explains everything. That's when I realized that I had been reading too much of both series lately. Oh, and hey, I've almost posted half the amount I posted in 2010 in total within the month.

Gakuen Nanafushigi Satsujin Jiken ("The Seven School Mysteries Murder Case") was originally serialized in 1993 as the fourth story arc in the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series, but it has been used as the pilot story in both the TV drama starring Doumoto Tsuyoshi (1995) and the anime (1997) and acquired a very prominent place within the Kindaichi Shounen mythos. People might wonder why the story order was changed, but it was actually a very wise choice of the producers of both the TV drama and the anime to choose this story as their opening story, as what is a better way to introduce a high school student detective than in his own natural habitat, the school?

Slacker (and grandson of famous detective Kindaichi Kousuke) Hajime gets recruited into the school's Mystery Study Club (and Miyuki tags along to keep an eye on them) and it is decided that the club is going to investigate the Seven Mysteries of Fudou High School, a set of urban legends surrounding the old school annex building. It is said that if a student gets to know about all seven of the mysteries, he will be killed by the After-School Magician. It also seems that someone calling him the After-School Magician has sent a threatening letter to Fudou High's director, telling him to stop the plans of breaking down the old annex. The club members thus start their investigation into the Seven Mysteries, but it does not take long for the After-School Magician to appear before the eyes of the eager student. With the hanged body of their club's president. What's even more puzzling is that the After-School Magician manages to escape, together with his victim, from a locked and watched classroom in just seconds!

Well, let's start out with saying that it does not take a masterdetective to solve the puzzle of the instant disappearance out of the locked room, because the solution screams at you the moment the investigation starts. The TV drama tries to mix things up a bit by adding an original subplot, but the basic idea is still very basic and will not fool anyone. The way the Seven Mysteries of Fudou High are connected to the murder is done pretty good though and definitely one of the high points of the story.

This story misses the big closed circle serial murder cases-angle of the previous stories, but Gakuen Nanafushigi Satsujin Jiken does work a lot better as the introduction to the series. The manga's pilot story, The Opera House Murder Case, does involve school activities, but the setting of a high school as a high school detective's debut is much more natural. Furthermore, the story has several plot twists that involve Hajime's own friends, making Gakuen Nanafushigi Satsujin Jiken a much more personal story compared to the previous stories.

While the story does not feature a particularly memorable trick, it is still one of my favorite Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo stories and to be honest, I do not really know why. I have an at times irrational weak spot for Kindaichi Shounen, but there is more to this than that. Part of it is probably because Gakuen Nanafushigi Satsujin Jiken was the first detective story that introduced me to the world of Japanese high schools. To be precise, the world of high schools as depicted in horror stories. By now, I've come across many, many stories that reference urban legends surrounding Japanese schools and it is an often used trope in horror stories (Hanako-san is a famous example), but the Seven Mysteries of Fudou High were the first school urban legends I got to know. But the old school annex is also an often seen trope in horror stories and in my totally poluted mind, a Japanese school just needs a ghost and a haunted annex before I can properly call it a school. Actually, Kyushu University's Hakozaki campus has quite some buildings that fit the image.

But Gakuen Nanafushigi Satsujin Jiken also made quite an impression on me because I first saw the anime version of this story. I usually prefer the original manga to anime adaptations, but the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo anime is really a well-made production. One of the biggest characteristics is how creepy the anime is in comparison to the manga. The whole atmosphere of the TV series is a lot darker than the manga and the production team really nailed the whole horror-tone the series in general tries to invoke (but it does not always succeed in the manga because of the way scenes are cut). I also have to praise Wada Kaoru for an awesome soundtrack. Shissou / The Wild Run (the main theme) and Jicchan no Na ni Kakete / In the Name of My Grandfather are memorable tracks that really set the more epic tone of the anime series.

And this is slightly offtopic, but am I the only one who prefers traditional cel-animation to digital animation? It might be my age, but I really feel there is something special to cel animation. I know that there are some simply amazing things out there animated digitally, but watching some of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo anime really made me realize how awesome traditional cel-animation was and how much of an impact it had on the overall ambience of a production. Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo ran from 1997 to 2000 and started out as a traditionally animated series. Those episodes are really the best part of the series, as they really convey the feeling of terror and fear of the stories. It is the way the colors are displayed on the screen, the movements, the whole way a cel animated show turns out be. The later episodes are animated digitally and suddenly everybody looks all shiny with saturated colors and gone is the whole creepy atmosphere! The jump to digital animation really took away an important aspect of the anime I think. Compare the Hajime above to this Hajime! You can just tell that cel-animated!Hajime is much more awesome!

OK, I admit that digital animation was the best thing that could have happened to the Conan anime. But even you have to admit that the cel-animated episodes feel less... almost sickenly clinically clean compared to the digitally animated episodes.

While not a perfect story by a long shot, Gakuen Nanafushigi Satsujin Jiken really works well as an introducing story of the series and I think the school urban legends angle makes this a story worth watching. And as I write this conclusion, I remember that I should praise the English translation of the manga a little here, for a simply brilliant adaptation of a particular message that was originally very dependant on a cultural specific thing (not going into details here): the adaptation actually makes it possible for English readers to solve it themselves. It's pretty ingenous in the original story too, by the way.

And no, I am not going to review every episode of the anime. I might do one on the two original stories of the anime though.

Original Japanese title(s): 『金田一少年の事件簿: 学園七不思議殺人事件』


  1. Man I'd never had thought that I would actually see a site discussing Japanese detective fiction and Kindaichi AND in English to boot ! Keep it up I say !