Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Too Many Suspects

"The murderer is amongst us AKB members!"
"The AKB Murder Case"

Reading Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo or something like Ayatsuji's Jukkakukan no Satsujin, would make you think that every Mystery Club summer camp ends up in a gruesome bloody serial murder case. So I was surprised I made it out in one piece last week. I also went on a trip to Seoul last week visiting friends. I can't read Korean, even though I've actually started studying it several times now: I just never seem to make it to the end. So I am not sure why I was so excited when I was browsing a bookstore. I made it to the mystery section and there were some interesting finds, like a bizarre flood of Sherlock Holmes novels (probably riding on popularity of the BBC series Sherlock and the Richie movies), a semi-rare novel like McCloy's Through a Glass, Darkly available new and my biggest find: a copy of Queen's The Tragedy of Y with a cover that practically spoils who the murderer is. It wouldn't be possible to portray that person more sinister, more evil, more murderer-like than there. Not sure what the publisher was thinking.

Anyway, I haven't read that much lately, so once again a review of a manga. Because they don't take that much time to read. But this is a somewhat special kind of manga. AKB48 Satsujin Jiken ("AKB48 Murder Case", English title: Detective AKB48) is a one-shot manga based on the widely popular idol girls group AKB48. It is impossible to get around the group in Japan, with members not only performing their musical acts, but also appearing in TV shows as regular guests and in commercials. Oh, and did I tell you that there are over 80 members in AKB48 alone (there are also 'spin-off' groups, which would bring the total to a number nearing infinity). The group also has its own manga series and anime, and in principle, AKB48 Satsujin Jiken is just a tie-in manga to accompany a series of commercials starrring AKB48 for Glico's Ice no Mi candy, where AKB members are getting killed off and member Maeda Atsuko tries her hand at solving the murders. The story in the manga is the same as in the four commercials ads, though naturally more detailed in its portrayal of the story and characters.

I am not particularly a fan of AKB, so why a review of this manga? Well. Conan's Aoyama wrote the story for both the commercials and the manga (and he made one promotional piece of art). Which was enough for me.

AKB48's most popular member, Maeda Atsuko is about to graduate (quit) from the group and she has already decided on her life after AKB: she is going to become a detective. But before that, she has to finish her last task as a member: a photo shoot at a private island together with the other 88 members. The photo shoot goes smoothly and the members are to stay for the night at the mansion on the island. During the night however, member Katou Rena is killed. Because the bridge connecting the island to the outside world has been burnt down and a storm was raging over the island, the murderer has to be one of the other AKB48 members on the island. But who and why? With the photo shoot finished and thus her last job as an AKB member over, Atsuko is now ready to take up her first job as a detective.

Well, for what is technically one big ad, AKB48 Satsujin Jiken is really not that bad. But you really need to have some basic knowledge about the group and the inner workings of the whole AKB world to get it. There are naturally loads of inside jokes and references that refer to the various members and the whole election-system (popularity rankings) that drives AKB48. This is definitely not an easily accessible work, especially because there are a lot of characters that are probably instantly recognizable to fans of the group, but to me it was quite confusing. Naturally, only a small amount of the 89 members actually do anything (because there are just too many of them!), but even still, it was a bit confusing at times to me. And just to give the reader a fair warning: the mystery of the murders (yes, more people die) is really only solvable through an expert knowledge of all things AKB.

Which I could have guessed beforehand, as this is still something aimed at AKB fans, even if it is written by Aoyama. There were some missed chances too: the puzzle plot would for example have been more fair to the reader if every member had been properly introduced to the reader (instead of just a handful, and the other girls just being there  'for the atmosphere'). As it is now, Aoyama did come up with a logical elimination plot that allows the reader to cross out most of the members on the suspect list if they pick up on the hints, but as the list becomes shorter, you really need specific maniacal knowledge if you want to get to the end of the elimination process. Which can be presented fairly, if all the data is available within the story, but it is not the case here. Aoyama just expected all readers to be super AKB fans. Which probably most of the readers are. For the fans, this is probably really fun. I was at a loss.

And for the Conan fans, there are some little references here and there that are cute enough. But still, not recommended for those not into AKB48.

I should start going back to good old books again one of these days...

Original Japanese title(s): 秋元康(案)、青山剛昌 (原)、梧桐柾木(画) 『AKB48殺人事件』


  1. It makes sense Aoyama would write this. He has been known to write pop stars (Two-Mix), not to mention groups with a seemingly infinite number of members (Black Organization).

    1. Well, the Two-Mix deal was of course because lead-singer Takayama Minami is the voice actress of Conan (and for a some years, even Aoyama's wife).

    2. Ah, I never knew about her being in Two-Mix. That does explain things... also, I never knew she was in Kiki's Delivery Service and Whisper of the Heart (two of my favorite Ghibli movies, especially Whisper)... man, she has a lot of talents.

    3. Actually, the whole joke behind the Two-Mix story was that Conan and Takayama don't just have similar voices, they have the same voice ;)