Friday, January 27, 2012


"I wanna be a pirate!"
"The Secret of Monkey Island"

And every time the hardest thing about writing a post is coming up with a title that is related to the subject matter and finding a fitting quote. And every time I think about letting go of these silly rules of mine, but hey, they are still around after how many years now?

Tantei Gakuen Q ("Detective Academy Q") is a detective series I absolutely love, but for some reason practically never mention here. Which is mainly because it is a finished series I read a long time ago and I tend to focus on recently read material. But now is as good as any time to rave about this series, right? Tantei Gakuen Q is written and drawn by the same team behind the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series (Amagi Seimaru and Satou Fumiya), but is actually quite different from that classic. The story revolves around Q Class, a special class at the Dan Detective School (DDS), an academy for future detectives. The five members of Q Class have been selected as possible successors to Dan Morihiko, the legendary detective and head of the school. Besides taking classes on tailing persons, code-cracking and reviewing old cases et cetera, Q Class, like all students at the DDS, often also cooperate with real police investigations and private investigations (because Dan Morihiko also runs the detective agency DDC). Q Class thus differs greatly from the amateur detective Kindaichi Hajime.

Q Class consists of Kyuu and Ryuu, both deductive geniuses (but every different in character), Megu with a photographic memory, Kazuma the wizzkid and Kinta, the brawn of the group. They thus all thave their own role within the team. Detective teams are not particularly rare in fiction. We have for example Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin and the Beresfords. Q Class works kinda like the Beresfords, with everyone working on a case according to their own judgement and making use of their own strong points. It results in a very pleasant read, because the cases are tackled with diverse methods simultaneously, making it much more interesting to look at their investigations. Kinta's way of investigation is totally different from how Ryuu's way for example and it is this diversity that keeps investigatons from getting boring.

The premise of the series might sound a bit childish, with children going to detective school learning to be detectives with detective classes and stuff, but Tantei Gakuen Q is really a fantastic series. Amagi and Satou really took everything they learnt from Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo (Tantei Gakuen Q was produced after Kindaichi Shounen's first season ended) and improved on it immensely. Tantei Gakuen Q mixes the humor and charm of the Kindaichi Shounen short stories with the grand-scale impossible murders of the main series and adds a main storyline that actually develops (Conan, I am looking at you!). With a bit over 20 volumes, this is a really powerful series that is satisfying overall, but also on its individual parts (the murder cases).

Too bad for those who watch the anime though (which is out there completely subtitled in English) is that the anime only goes halfway through the main storyline. The live-action series of Tantei Gakuen Q reimagines the story in a more geek-hip Akihabara setting, but is pretty satisfying and includes stories not done in the anime (including the last case).

I intend to do a complete review of every case of the manga, similar to what I did with Detective Conan. The difference being that Tantei Gakuen Q is not as ridiculously long as Conan. I discuss about four volumes of the bunkobon release a time, meaning this will be a series of three posts. And I'll probably stick the supplemental Tantei Gakuen Q Premium volume at the end of it all. Like with Conan, there is the problem that even if I don't spoil any of the solutions to the individual cases (which I won't), there is a main storyline to this series and I will mention important events that bear upon the development of said storyline.

Detective Academy Q
「迷Q!?」: Volumes 1 ~ 4
「迷宮」: Volumes 5 ~ 8
「MAKE★YOU」: Volumes 9 ~ 12, Premium

Tantei Gakuen Nyuugaku Shiken ("The Detective Academy Entrance Exams") is like the first four or five hours of an RPG. You know, the first couple of hours where you find your companions to accompany you on your quest. And naturally, our heroes all have different stats and characteristics. Funnily enough though, we are introduced to our hero Kyuu in a Monkey Island-esque way. Because Kyuu basically only says he wants to be a detective. He enters the entrance exams for the Dan Detective School (along with masses of other people), which consists of several exams that test an examinee's deductive, tailing and physical skills. Other examinees include Megu, who has a photographic memory and Kinta, a physically impressive young man with an amazing intuition. For people familiar with shounen anime and manga, this is pretty much like any exam part (see for example the exams in Naruto and Hunter X Hunter), only the topics are quite different.

This first story pretty much shows a glimpse of the way the series will progress, even though it is masked by the shounen exam formula.Visual clueing is something often done very well in detective manga (and was often used in Kindaichi Shounen), but Megu's photographic memory is pretty much telling the reader that the illustrations are not just to meant to dress up the story, but that they are an integral part of the way the cases in this series are presented. Having someone like her in the series really reminds you that you have to pay attention to everything. In the Holmes stories, Holmes has that trick where he tells Watson the conclusion of his deductions, before he explains them. The problem there is that Holmes often tells you about visual clues you had no access to. In Tantei Gakuen Q, words and images are working together to bring you a story and it works wonderfully. The most interesting of the exam is probably the first test, where the examinees have to deduce who the murderer is based on two pictures. It is an excellent example of how the visual and the text cooperate.

Kyuu, Megu and Kinta all made it into the last round of the exam in Kirasakijima no Satsuriku ("The Kirisaki Island Massacre"). All the examinees who made it to the last round, including wizzkid Kazuma and the silent Ryuu, are all transported to Kirisaki island for the last exam. The island was famous for a massacre that had happened many years ago, commited by someone calling himself Jack the Ripper. What's more, the murderers happened within a locked room! The exam consists of solving the locked room murder, but when the examinees enter the scene of the crime for their examination, they discover that one of the examinees has murdered there. Ripped into two to be exact. The exam turns into a practical exam, as the examinees have find out who killed their fellow examinee and how.

This story initially feels like a Kindaichi Shounen story, with all the examinees trapped on an island, locked room murders, the fear of Jack the Ripper having come back to life and such and I suspect that Amagi wrote this story to mess around with the readers' expectations. Any reader would instantly recognize it as being written by the person behind the Kindaichi Shounen series, yet Amagi also shows what is possible if he is freed from Kindaichi Shounen's formula, creating a superior story that subverses the expectations one would have.  It is thus a really entertaining story, with a decent locked room mystery and one of the best meta-hints I have ever seen in a story. It is too bad they removed it from the anime version!

Tantei Gakuen Hatsu Toukou ("The First Day at the Detective Academy") and Kamikakushimura Satsujin Jiken ("The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case") are linked stories and definitely one of my favorites of this series. The story starts with an introduction of the DDS and the old school building where Dan Morihiko first started out his career (and Q Class's base of operations). Dan then presents Q Class with a puzzle: they have to solve an impossible murder of a person who was killed in the middle of a wet paddy field, with the only footsteps on the field being those of the victim. It does not take long for Q Class to solve it, but they are told that this was an actual murder case that happened at Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) Village, deep in the mountains, that is still under investigation. Many people have been reported missing from that place since a long time ago and people seem to have started to disappear there again recently and Q Class is sent on their first official investigation of an unsolved case.

This case invokes Kindaichi Kousuke more than Kindaichi Shounen, with a rural village that is literally hidden deep within the mountains: one has to enter a mountain through a tunnel to reach Hyoutan Village and one has to enter another tunnel to reach the even deeper Kamikashi Village, which is ruled by a suspicious sect that worships epidemic deceases. Q Class is split into two teams, as only two members are allowed into Kamikakushi Village. As they work on their investigations into the mysterious disappearances and murders from both ends of the mountains however, new murders happen in both villages and it is up to Q Class to solve their first assignment for the DDS.

Like I said, this is one of my favorite stories, because it really does so much right. With the possible exception of Megu, everyone in Q Class makes a valuable contribution to the solving of the case. Which is the whole point of the series. The murder case itself  is also really captivating, with impossible murders and even more hidden behind it all. Seriously, there is one revelation in the story that is so awesome I am almost tempted to spoil it. Almost. But seriously, The Kamikakushi Village Murder Case should persuade any people who are still hesitating about the series.

Oshie wa kakumo Kibishiku ("A Hard Lesson") deals with the aftermath of the  previous case and serves as a brief introduction of Nanami Koutarou, the right-hand detective of Dan Morihiko and master of disguise, but it quickly continues into Hajimete no Shukudai ("The First Homework"), where Q Class is presented with an old case Dan Morihiko solved. The problem is that of a lady who was deceived by her own brother when they split the piece of land they inherited from their father, leaving her with a smaller piece of land. The funny thing though, she herself was the one who measured up the new boundaries and she swears she split it in two equal parts. The problem is a small, but interesting one, but this story is also one that shows that Tantei Gakuen Q is not solely built on long cases like Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, but also mixes in short case studies done at the DDS. It also works a bit on the whole Kyuu - Megu relation thing that does not go anywhere for a long, long time.

Kiken na Houkago is another short story, where Megu finds out that there is a burglar hidden in her apartment as she returns home together with Kyuu and Kinta. The three quickly deduce where the burglar is hidden, but this story also shows hints of a mysterious organisation that is monitoring Q Class. In hindsight, this turns out to be a very important story actually.

Kyuu gets a request for an investigation of one of his 'normal' friends in Koureijutsu Satsujin Jiken ("The Necromancy Murder Case"). Kyuu's friend's mother has died in an airplane accident, but a psychic claims to have been able to come in contact with her. While not all members of the family are convinced, they agree in participating in a seance, with Q Class present to see if nothing funny goes on. But something does happen during the seance session and they find the psychic stabbed to death. But everybody was standing in a circle around her holding each other's hand, making it impossible for anyone to have stabbed the victim!

This story continues the series of impossible murders and the problem of the stabbed psychic is as alluring as the other impossible crimes up until now. The visuals are once again an important part of the story and show the possibilities of visual detective fiction. I guess the trick and the hinting could be done in text, but I do not think it would be presented as naturally as it was done here. One is supposed to hide a leaf in a forest, so where better to hide a visual hint than in a comic? It would really have been too obvious if this was a text and a map had made been made to accompany it, but it works perfectly in comic-format. Koureijutsu Satsujin Jiken also shows Q Class' first encounter with murderers who are the victims of post-hypnotic suggestion by Pluto, a criminal organisation which the teacher at DDS seem to know more about.

Q tai A ("Q Vs A") is set back at the DDS, where the five top students of A Class, the former top class before Q Class was created, challenge the five members of Q Class in a series of deduction battles, in the hopes of getting into the prestigous Q Class themselves. Dan Morihiko (?) agrees to this match and organises a series of 1 against 1 deduction matches, based on his old cases. Three of the battles are pretty minor, but Ryuu is presented with a great problem about a dead man who is found sitting at the dining table with a full course meal set before him! It is a wonderful ridiculous and mysterious situation, which makes the case so much fun. The solution also makes so much sense that you might be inclined to say you would have done that too if you were a murderer. And, most importantly, I love food in my detectives.

The match between Q Class and A Class is stopped just as the final contestants, Kyuu of Q Class and Yukihira of A Class are presented with their problem, an unsolved locked room mystery that happened just a couple of days ago. Though the class matches are over and nothing can be gained from it anymore, both Kyuu and Yukihira decide to go the actual scene of the crime of 'their' problem in Q tai A Enchousen ("Q VS A Extra Inning Game"), as the problem piqued their interest. The victim was a campaign girl and she was found dead in her room, which was locked from the inside and with a small barred window being the only other way out of the room. But the case didn't stop with one murder and more murders happen even under the watchful eye of both Kyuu and Yukihira.

By now it seems that all longer cases are impossible murders, which is not a bad thing. The solution to the puzzle is not very hard once you pick up on a particular hint (that sadly enough is hard to convey in any conventional type of media) and while the detective plot itself is not particularly memorable, this story is interesting as it is the first case where Kyuu works seperate from the other members of Q Class, something that will happen more often as the series continues. We also get to learn a bit more about the mysterious Pluto, as DDS teacher / detective Nanami Koutarou and a member of Pluto finally have a direct confrontation. The actual explanation about Pluto is in Meiousei no Kage ("Pluto's Shadow"), a single chapter story where Dan Morihiko tells Superintendent Touyama (Kinta's father) about Pluto, an organisation that sells murder plans for those interested. They keep their own hands clean, but arrange things that if one of their clients is caught, that they will commit suicide through post-hypnotic suggestion (as seen in several cases earlier). Q Class however knows nothing about Pluto yet.

Kinta Jishin no Jiken ("Kinta's Own Case") is exactly what the title says it is, a case that Kinta, who is probably the least smart of Q Class, handled completely on his own. Kinta works at a construction site to earn a living and one day he is witness to a suicide jump of his boss from the top of the building they're working on. Kinta does not believe his boss would have commited suicide and swears that he'll solve the case (in the name of his forefather, Touyama no Kin-san). It is not a difficult case, thought the hint that points to the murderer can be missed quite easily, I think. This case was actually adapted as the first episode of the anime, making it the case where Kyuu, Megu and Kinta met for the first time.

Kyuukousha no Himitsu ("The Secret of the Old School Building") differs greatly from the previous stories. Kyuu and Megu discover a secret room in the old school building of the DDS, but  they get locked inside by an unknown person. To make things worse, Megu is bitten by poisonous snake. Half of the story is about how Kyuu and Megu try to communicate with the outside world, but the other half is about the strange discoveries they make inside the room. Their prison is literally a prison and they find an old diary of the person who was locked inside here before them. The old school building was designed by an allround genius artist called Kuzuryuu Takumi and it seems that there is a big secret connected to this prison, the prisoner (who Kyuu deduces has escaped from the prison) and Kuzuryuu Takumi. While at first sight, this seems like a minor story, Kuzuryuu Takumi will actually turn out to be one of the most important characters in the series, as Q Class will encounter more cases that are connected to this mysterious artist.

Satsujin Collector ("The Murder Collector") is one of the better stories of the series, featured heavily in both the anime and live action series. Rumors have been spreading on a high class prep school about the snuff films of someone called the Murder Collector, who is supposed to be one of the students at the school. Most people think it is just a urban legend, but a girl has actually disappeared from the school a month ago and she might have been the victim of the Collector. Ryuu and Megu go undercover at the school to investigate whether the rumors are true. It does not take long for a snuff film to be sent to Ryuu with the actual murder scene of one of his classmates!

Not actually an impossible murder this time and the slip-up the murderer makes is kinda clumsy, but that does not matter, because this is just a really fun story! The best part is the setting at the stressful prep school, with performance-oriented students trying to outsmart each other and an intranet used to harrass each other. No, this is not a nice place, but it sure makes for one exciting locale! It also plays with a theme also addressed by Amagi in his Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo novel Dennou Sansou Satsujin Jiken ("The Computer Lodge Murder Case") and it is nice to see how he develops the themes of earlier works in subsequent works. This is actually one of the few stories in Tantei Gakuen Q I feel that could have been used in Kindaichi Shounen without feeling out of place, due to the rather Kindaichi Shounen-ish setting and conclusion.

This first third of Tantei Gakuen Q offers the reader some great impossible murder stories that should please any fan of orthodox detective fiction. The beginning is very much like a shounen fighting manga and the premise might sound silly, but this is really an outstanding series made by people with a solid background in the genre. As a whole it easily trumps Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo through better storytelling and a wider variety in story types and includes an actual overall storyline (that doesn't take ages to develop, unlike Conan). It had been a while since I last read this series, but this reread really made me realise what a must-read this is for fans of the genre! And hey, I noticed that I don't remember much of the later cases, so I am actually excited about rereading this series now!

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸(原)& さとうふみや(画)『探偵学園Q』 第1巻~4巻 (文庫)

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