Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Red Chipmunk Mystery

から紅に染まる渡月橋
導かれる日願って
川の流れに祈りを込めて
「渡月橋 ~君 思ふ~」(倉木麻衣) 

The Togetsukyou-Bridge is colored crimson
I wish for the day that we'll be led here
Sending my prayer along the stream of the river
"Togetsukyou ~Thinking About You~" (Kuraki Mai)

And as I had hinted at in the previous post: the final post this year is about Detective Conan. It's becoming a bit of a tradition now, a Conan review either at the end of the old year, or at the beginning of the new year, which is of course because's there's usually a new Conan release late December.

The 94th volume of Detective Conan, released in December 2017, starts with the final chapter of The Two Swordsmen from Naniwa, a story which started in the previous volume. Osaka-bred high school student detective Hattori is in Tokyo to compete in an inter-high school kendo competition, and he has decided he'll tell his not-quite-girlfriend Kazuha how he feels about her if he manages to win the gold. Hattori's chances are pretty good, despite some serious competition in the form of Onimaru and Okita, who both make a guest appearance from Aoyama's earlier fantasy action-comedy series Yaiba. Luck has it however that a murder is discovered in a faraway corner of the gymnasium grounds during the competition. The victim was one of the judges, which means that the person who was capable of slicing the victim's neck with one single clean cut must be an accomplished swordsman too. A blind witness however heard the murderer flee into the public toilet. The kendo gear the murderer wore is found, but the murder weapon is gone and inside the toilet the police find three persons, who of course all claim to know nothing about the murder. Can Hattori and Conan figure out where the murder weapon went, who the murderer is and get back in time for the kendo competition?

Like I mentioned in the review of the previous volume, The Two Swordsmen from Naniwa is basically a sequel to a story from volume 31, which was also about a murder during a kendo competition, a time limit for Hattori to work with and guest appearances from characters from Yaiba. Okita makes a more substantial appearance this time, as he invites himself to the murder investigation and is revealed to be a classmate of Oo'oka Momiji, the self-proclaimed fiancée of Hattori, who debuted a few volumes earlier and one of the main characters of the 2017 Conan film The Crimson Love Letter. I was really excited about this story when it started in the previous volume, but I have to admit that my final impression isn't as favorable. This is partly because it's been four months since I last read the first three chapters of this story: I had forgotten most of the details, and this volume starts right away with the final chapter. But there were some other points that bothered me: the idea of the disappearing murder weapon is fairly interesting, as it is a very original variation of an old trick that works perfectly in this setting, but it's not hidden very well, and there's no way the police wouldn't have figured that out on their own even through a routine examination (though one can say that Hattori's time limit can be an excuse). Another clue however depends on some knowledge of kendo wear, and it's a visual clue too, but I found it hard to make it out on paper even after being pointed to it, and again, it's something I wasn't aware of in the first place, so it doesn't really feel clever. In fact, most of the fun I had with this story was the character interaction: Okita plays a funny fool at the crime scene, while Hattori (and Ran) are trying to work as fast as they can so they can get back to the competition and win it.

In Ran's Travel Plans, Kogorou and Conan follow Ran into a restaurant after seeing her act all giddy, only to learn that she's meeting with Sonoko and Sera there to make plans for the upcoming school trip to Kyoto, and that she hopes Shinichi (Conan's real identity, before he was turned into a child) will participate with the school trip too, as Shinichi is still a student of Teitan High and it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One of the waiters in the restaurant however is murdered in the employee locker room during the lunch. The man, an ex-boyfriend of the manager of the restaurant, was a prolific foodie blogger, who had ruined the business of several restaurants with his harsh criticism, including those of the brother of the manager, who used to be the former chef cook of the restaurant (who had left to take over his father-in-law's restaurant) and that of the parents of a fellow waitress. The likely suspects were all in the restaurant during the murder for convenience's sake. What makes this case puzzling however is that the murderer appears to have tremendous strength, as they swung a heavy decorative standing vase filled with flowers and water like a baseball bat to the head of the victim and of course, none of the three suspects appears to have been able to accomplish that feat. At least, that's what the story wants to sell, but the murder method is hinted at too obviously, making it extremely easy to guess how it was done. The question of who relies on an extremely minor visual clue, that sorta makes sense because of a certain reason, but man, you need to look very, very carefully to pick up on it. Overall a very minor story that's mostly meant to be set-up for the school trip.

And that can be said of The Whereabouts of Haibara's Strap too. Conan wants to participate with the school trip to Kyoto, so he begs Haibara for the experimental antidote to the drug that gave both him and Haibara the body of a child. Haibara refuses to give it to Conan however: the effect on Conan's body is becoming less with each use, and while at first the drug managed to remain effective for several days, the last few times the drug only lasted him a few hours, so she considers it far too dangerous to let him go on a school trip. Also: Haibara is an awful mood. She managed to buy the final phone strap with a cute figurine of the soccer player Higo at a match, and Higo even held it in his own hands, making the thing extra special for Haibara, but she lost it on the train back, when a sudden stop made everyone in the train bump into each other. Conan swears to find Haibara's phone strap, hoping to get on her good side so he can go to Kyoto too.

The Whereabouts of Haibara's Strap is really light mystery story, which has Conan deduce the destination station of a father and his kid who they suspect picked Haibara's strap up by accident. What makes this story 'memorable' however is that we actually got a very deep look into how this story came to be in the first place. October 2017 saw the release of Gōshō Aoyama 30 Years Anniversary Book, which celebrated the long career of Aoyama Goushou. Besides illustrations, interviews and messages and art by fellow comic artists, you'll also find a segment that goes into detail into how Aoyama actually creates Conan. As he has to turn in a chapter each week, things are very hectic, with him only sleeping for three hours a day. About three days of the week are spent on storyboarding, five days a week are spent on drawing the actual chapter (yes, there's some overlap, hence the eight days). The mystery plot is usually decided upon within one single day, with the help of his editors. As most stories in Conan usually last for three chapters, that usually means they have a story meeting once every three weeks.

Gōshō Aoyama 30 Years Anniversary Book also contains a transcript of the meeting Aoyama had with his editors for The Whereabouts of Haibara's Strap, giving us insight in how Aoyama creates the mystery plots for this series. The Whereabouts of Haibara's Strap's meeting lasted for six hours (starting at midnight), and as it was already decided this would be like a prologue to the following story, most of the meeting was about deciding the mystery plot. The core tricks in Conan are apparently usually suggested by the editors: they bring all kinds of random ideas to Aoyama, who tries to incorporate them in his story. For example, one of the editors brought a fidget spinner (Aoyama had never heard of them), explained how they worked and gave some suggestions for how they could work in a mystery story. They also brought a novelty fake Coke bottle, with a secret compartment in the middle so you could hide something inside the cola, which obviously has potential in a mystery story (these ideas were not used in The Whereabouts of Haibara's Strap by the way, so no spoilers). Conan's editors will bring like four or five of these ideas they might use for a mystery story each meeting, and then Aoyama and the editors will have a long chat, in which they eventually decide on the main trick of a story and work out into a complete story, with setting, general story flow (accommodated for the planned number of chapters), and things like who'll appear. Once they're done (this meeting was over in the morning at 06:00), Aoyama starts working on the storyboards for that week's chapter.


Detective Conan 94 ends with the first four chapters of The Scarlet School Trip, with the opening chapter marking a milestone in Conan history, as it is chapter 1000! Conan was given the experimental antidote by Haibara under some conditions, so he manages to turn back to his former teenage self to go on the Teitan High school trip to beautiful Kyoto in the fall, mingling among old friends and of course, enjoying his time with Ran. Shinichi runs into the actress Kurachi Keiko at Kiyomizu-Dera, who's a friend of his mother Yukiko (a retired actress). Keiko want Shinichi to solve a code left by a friend who committed suicide at Kiyomizu-Dera. Her latest film is a remake of a film her friends made when they were students, and like her, all of them have become famous people in the industry as actors/directors/screenplay writers etc. Shinichi and Sera are interested as detectives, while Sonoko and Ran are simply interested in the film, so they take on the job, but it's only moments later when the screenplay writer is found murdered inside his hotel room, and bloody footsteps left on the ceiling suggest something pulled the man up to the ceiling, stabbed and dropped the victim on the floor, and then walked on the ceiling to the window to fly away. Or simply said, it's as if the Tengu from their film has come to life! More seemingly supernatural attacks and murders follow, but Shinichi is unable to focus completely on the case as he also has to make sure he doesn't turn back into Conan in front of the others.

The Scarlet School Trip is obviously a story Aoyama created for the special occassion, and it's absolutely packed. Conan/Shinichi having to manage his use of the antidote during the school trip, school comedy involving Shinichi and the rest of his class, the serial murders involving the Tengu, te code, and many, many guest appearances, from Hattori to Oo'oka Momiji and Okita (all three of appearing in The Two Swordsmen of Naniwa), as well as the first appearance in the manga of Inspector Ayanokouji (and his chipmunk pet), who was originally created for the 2003 theatrical feature Crossroad in the Ancient Capital and has become a recurring character in the Conan film series since. The Scarlet School Trip is so incredibly stuffed that I have to admit that the main mystery plot is a bit underwhelming: the murders themselves are rather straightforward at this point (with only the bloody footsteps left behind being weird) and the code is obviously one I'll never figure out on my own. I have to admit I had hoped for murders what would have made more an impression, but it's all drowned out by all the antics going on besides the murders, with all these characters appearing and interacting. I'll have to read the end of the story to see how this'll work out, but at the moment, The Scarlet School Trip is better enjoyed as fanservice, rather than a mystery story.

Detective Conan 94 shares its release date with the first volume of the Conan spin-off Meitantei Conan: Hannin no Hanzawa-san ("Detective Conan: The Culprit Hanzawa") by the way! Last year, I wrote an article about "The Dark Shadow", the figure you see committing the murders and other crimes in visual mystery media like anime and manga before the viewer is allowed to know the identity of the culprit. Like I mentioned in that article, the Dark Shadow had become a meme in Japanese mystery on its own, and now they're even the protagonist in their own spin-off! In Hannin no Hanzawa-san, we follow Hanzawa who has recently moved to crime capital Beika to murder a certain person, but that's easier said than done: while the crime rate in Beika is insane, the police always manages to capture every single murderer, sometimes with the help of even elementary school kids, so life's difficult for a potential murderer, especially if you have just moved to Beika. Finding a dirt cheap, good apartment for example is pretty easy in Beika, but only if you don't mind living in a room where somebody got killed, as it's neigh impossible to find accomodations in Beika where someone hasn't been murdered. And forget about getting your address changed on your driver's license at the police station: the police is far too busy solving murders!

Last week, I reviewed the Kindaichi Shounen spin-off Hannintachi no Jikenbo, which follows a similar premise (a gag comedy about the culprit), but they are actually quite different. Hannintachi no Jikenbo is a parody of existing Kindaichi Shounen stories, and as I mentioned in the review, it's absolutely funny if you know those stories, but otherwise you won't get any of the jokes. Hannin no Hanzawa-san on the other hand is much better accessible, as it's not a parody of a specific story, but a parody in general on the notion of ingenious murders happening in Conan every week, usually all within Beika. So I'd say that Hannin no Hanzawa-san can be recommended even if you're not that well-read in Conan, while you really need to know your Kindaichi Shounen to appreciate Hannintachi no Jikenbo.

Detective Conan 94 thus proved to be a somewhat disappointing volume: most of the stories were very light, as they were basically just there to pave the way for The Scarlet School Trip, but that story itself is at the moment not as impressive as a mystery story as you'd hope, even if it is a blast reading it as a character-centred comedy story. As a spin-off, Hannin no Hanzawa-san manages to hit the right notes, and while it's definitely not deep material, it's hilarious to see the world of Conan from the other side for a change. There's no planned date/period for the next volumes for both these series by the way: Aoyama has to take a rest from his busy schedule to recharge his battery while Hannin no Hanzawa-san is running on a somewhat irregular schedule. I assume however that Conan 95 at least will release in April 2018, together with the new theatrical feature Zero's Executioner.

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第94巻
青山剛昌(原), かんばまゆこ 『名探偵コナン 犯人の犯沢さん』

7 comments :

  1. A bummer that the overall quality of this volume was lacking, but the stories do come across as fun reads. So the real bummer is that we'll probably never get a proper translation in the West of Hannin no Hanzawa-san. I remember your "Dark Shadow" post and would very much like to read these stories for myself. Oh, well, maybe I'll get to read them through an, uhm, alternative source.

    By the way, I know how the vase-trick was worked. I remember a story that posed a similar problem about a statue that appeared to have been too heavy to have been used as a murder weapon. The trick used in that story would work even better with water-filled vase.

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    1. You're right that the stories are at least fun to read: sometimes you have a volume with mediocre mystery plots that also fail to do anything funny/interesting with the characters, and those are far worse than this volume.

      You're about thirty volumes behind, and I guess Viz releases about 4 volumes a year? I guess you'll find whether you're right about the vase in a few years :P

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    2. Come January and I'll only be 29 volumes behind you! Remember, I'm now farther into the series than you were when you started this blog! I know that's non-argument, but it will help me bridge the years.

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  2. Did you watch the series 99.9 ?

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    1. Nope. I think the second season is about to start the next drama season (so January) by the way.

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  3. 1000 chapters. Unbeliveable. 100 volumes next.

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    1. Yeah, it's an amazing feat. Personally, I wouldn't mind if the series would about wrap up at volume 100 (so that'd be in about about two years), but it seems Aoyama is planning to do much more with his "recent" characters like Momiji and Amuro, so that might be too soon yet.

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