Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Recipe for my Love

"Let's split up gang!"
"Scooby Doo, Where Are You!"

Three notes: 1) Post 400! 2) Yes, I should post more often. And 3) I switched computers, with a slightly different keyboard, and I keep mistyping stuff because every key is slightly further away / gives slightly less feedback then my fingers are used to. So there is a chance this post has more typos than usual (and 3.5) yes, still too lazy to proofread).

I can't exactly remember what the first mystery series was I've seen/read, but seeing as it has to be either Columbo, Poirot or Scooby Doo, Where Are You! and the latter is a cartoon, so I'm guessing it's the latter. For Scooby Doo, Where Are You! is really an awesome mystery series! And I don't even mean that sarcastic. Sure, it might be formulaic, but that is not a bad thing per se. For example, I love the way every episode features someone basically reenacting (urban) legends to scare off people; I am pretty sure that's where my love for the mitate trope in mystery fiction comes from.

In fact, my strange love for Ayatsuji Yukito's Yakata series with its creepy mansions with secret hallways? My love for Edogawa Rampo, his Shounen Tantei Dan series with kid detectives and criminals dressed in silly suits and outlandish plans? I suspect that's Scooby Doo  there working somewhere in my subconciousness.

Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated has the same basic premise as the original series: a group of four teenagers and their dog solve mysteries. Fred, with a bizarre love obsession for traps, rich Daphne who has a crush on Fred, smart Velma, who is having a secret relationship with Shaggy, who in turn has troubles choosing between Velma and his dog Scooby. Their town, Crystal Cove, always seems to be under attack by some kind of monster or other supernatural phenomena, which always turns out to be the doing of some person with the most ridiculous motives and gadgets. The town actually thrives on the tourism lured by the supernatural however, so people aren't really grateful when the Scooby Gang once again prove the New Monster of the Week is actually just human. During their adventures, the Scooby Gang discovers there was once another detective group of four teenagers and an animal mascot, who disappeared from Crystal Cove twenty years ago. Taking the name of their predecessors, the new Mystery Incorporated sets out to discover what happened to the original group.

Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated is basically a Scooby show for the Buffy-generation. An episodic structure, but with character development and a story arc to connect everything. It's also a very meta-concious series, making references to, and parodying many horror movies, pop culture and of course the long (and sometimes) troubled history of the Scooby Doo franchise. And it works. Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated does everything right and does it amazingly.

The Scooby Gang might still unmask a villain dressed in silly clothing every episode, but the story arc really changes everything for the Scooby Doo franchise. Each episode brings the Scooby Gang a bit closer to the truth behind the mystery of Crystal Cove and the disappearance of the original Mystery Incorporated, so it's very easy to fall in the okay, I've been watching over an hour now, but just one more episode... trap. Crystal Cove as the main setting, and an extended cast of secondary characters (including the parents of the Scooby Gang!) all add something new to the franchise and I am almost surprised the series could have lived without those elements for so long.

Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated is a great series on its own, but it really shines as a parody / tribute to all of Scooby Doo. The series starts out as a sort of sequel to the original Scooby Doo, Where Are You! series, with clear references to the monsters that appeared in that series (there is even a museum starring all the unmasked monsters!). But it goes further than that. In the original series of Scooby Doo, Where Are You!, people went through ridiculous troubles (dressed in just as outlandish clothes) to scare off people from the treasure of the week. Mystery Incorporated! takes it up a notch, with some criminals making use of military-class technology and wrecking half of town for the most trivial of reasons. Scooby Doo was of course never a realistic series, but taking this to the extreme does not hurt the series at all. The tongue-in-cheek way to make fun of the franchise is simply hilarious, with a simple example being every episode ending on a variation on the famous I'd have gotten away with it if it wasn't for you meddling kids.

And occasionally they throw a curveball. There were episodes that actually surprised me, something I'd never expected from a Scooby show. From an episode that is drawn in the old style and serves as a tribute to a number of old Hanna-Barbera series to an episode that actually subverts the standard formula in the most surprising way; the whole series is great, but there are some moments where they decided that 'just awesome' wasn't enough and they had to go one step further.

Of course, even if you don't catch all the references, Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated is still a solid series. Children who watch it now, will probably see it like when the first generation of viewers first watched the original series, while the older generation will see what a loving remake/reconstruction/parody Mystery Incorporated is.

And to bring it back to Japanese detective fiction and what I wrote in the introduction, isn't Scooby Doo really the closest thing we have to Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan / Akechi Kogorou series? A highly formulaic series starring children solving mysteries, with 'monsters' turning out to be mere humans / the Fiend with Twenty Faces (spoiler: it's always Twenty Faces) using trickery / stage magic / unlikely technoogy. Houses with hidden hallways and other secrets? The many monsters seem closer to the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series, but names like The Black Lizard, the Clown from Hell, the Vampire were first featured in Rampo's novels.

Anyway, I definitely recommend any fan of the original series to try Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated. It's an excellent series and sometimes, a mystery series can sometimes work just as well without bloody murder, locked room mysteries and supercomplex deductions.

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