Monday, December 17, 2012

Murder on the Orient Express


"Are you ready? 
"Detective Conan" 78

Finally regained my reading spirit. Yes, I realize there isn't much left of this year, but I think I can manage a couple of reviews before the 31st. Probably. Yes, I know I skipped one Conan review. Might come back to that one later.

But no way I am going to skip the review for volume 78 (which shouldn't even release until the day after tomorrow, even though it was available in every bookstore today). I had been looking forward to this volume ever since I read volume 77, which worked as a build-up to the main storyline in this volume. Heck, I'm not even going to bother to go into the details of the other stories collected in this volume (one story with The Judas Window-esque premise where Conan awakes in a locked room with a dead body, and the first chapter in a KID story), because they are just not remotely as fun or interesting as the Bell Tree Mystery Train storyline. Seriously, the only thing you need to know is that this volume has the Mystery Train story.

As hinted at in the previous volume, Conan and his entourage of guardians and the other kids board the Bell Tree, a train owned by the Suzuki Zaibatsu with a Mystery Train theme (like this one): it has an unknown destination and a murder game is to be held among the passengers. The train has only just departed the station when Conan (and the other Detective Boys) become witnesses to a crime scene where they see a man shooting down one of the other passengers in his compartment. At first, Conan and the Detective Boys think it's just part of the murder game and follow the 'murderer' all the way to the next wagon, but lose sight of him. When they decide to return to the victim, they discover that not only the victim's compartment, but that the whole wagon seems to have disappeared! When they do finally find the victim, they realize that this wasn't a game, and that the man did really die.

Oh, and did I mention that the Black Organization is aware of Haibara's presence on the train and that they sent Bourbon there to catch/kill her?

Where to start, where to start? The impossible disappearance of the wagon is solved very quickly actually, after which the tone of the story shifts becomes very much like its great inspiration: Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Yes, Conan has been involved with murders on trains before (volume 22), but the Bell Tree story was created with that classic in mind very clearly, with several references (including comments which are actually very spoiler-dangerous) and a Mouri Kogorou who tries his best at a Poirot imitation. What's even more fun is that some of the hints and events in this story feel like 'echoes' to Murder on the Orient Express, even though that the things the hints point to, and the main trick used in this story, aren't alike to Orient at all, which is really a feat on its own.

And there is the parallel storyline of the agents of the Black Organization trying to capture Haibara, which really has some of the greatest moments in Conan-history. Here, the story seems to echo the train-storyline in volume 22 too at times, but Aoyama also plays around with the readers expectations (like how he juxtaposed hints and references in the major storylines in volume 26 and 42). And for those who have been reading the manga the last few years: yes, Aoyama finally revealed the identity of Bourbon (a spy who was first mentioned years ago!). It's not that shocking, but at least we have an answer! And the ending is actually great and I really want to see this animated as a long movie-esque TV special soon!

Though I have to note that this Black Organisation story feels less like... Conan-manga long storyline, and more like a Conan-movie. The great stories of the manga, like the main storylines in volume 42 and 58, also featured parallel storylines, one following a case, one following the Black Organisation (though the line between those two in 58 was very blurry), but the two storylines were always very much connected. There was for example a reason for the parallel storylines in volume 42's main story. In the Bell Tree Mystery Train story, we have a murder on a train and almost completely seperate from that the Black Organisation-trying-to-hunt-down-Haibara storyline. Heck, like in the movies, the solving of the murder case is followed by some big event which has almost nothing to do with the murder (in the movies, this often involves having Conan escaping from explosions / flying airplanes / traveling to space) and it feels weird to have such a gap between the murder case and the Black Organisation storyline, because Aoyama had such a good record with this until now.

But I still want to see this animated. Soon.

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第78巻

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