Monday, July 31, 2017

The Rules of a Gentleman Thief


"No matter the time or place, never forget to put on a poker face."
"Magic Kaito"

The gentleman-thief KID has been a very popular character in Detective Conan ever since his first appearance in volume 16 of that series and has proven himself to be a flamboyant rival to the pint-sized detective, who uses his gift for disguises and a whole reportoire of fantastical illusion tricks to stage impossible capers. Whether it's walking on air or teleporting to the top of a building in an instant: anything seems possible with this magician-thief, and it usually takes all of Conan's wit to fight back. In recent years, KID has also found a rival in the stinking rich Suzuki Jiroukichi, who has sworn he'll catch the thief, usually by luring KID with some big jewel he purchased into the most crazy security contraptions he can come up with, but the thief always manages to break through these security measures like it's nothing, even if at the end of the day Conan always manages to see through his tricks.

What some people might not realize is that KID is actually not a character from Detective Conan. He actually predates Conan, and starred as the protagonist of Magic Kaito, the very first running series Aoyama Goushou ever worked on. As we mostly see the cool side to KID in Conan, some might be surprised to learn that the KID in Magic Kaito is quite different, as it is more a comedy-adventure series filled with slapstick humor. Magic Kaito started in 1987 and introduces us to Kuroba Kaito, son of the world famous magician Kuroba Touichi and a gifted magician himself. Kaito is shocked to learn his father was also once known to the world as KID, an elusive phantom thief who could commit the most wondrous of crimes. His father died eight years ago during one of his show performances, but it appears he was actually murdered by a mysterious gang who wanted KID to find the Pandora Jewel, a legendary jewel said to hold the secret to immortality. Kaito thus decides to don the costume of KID himself to find the Pandora Jewel first in order to lure out the gang that killed his father.

What makes his capers difficult however is the fact that his childhood friend Aoko is the daughter of Inspector Nakamori, who was once the nemesis of the original KID and now of the second KID. Kaito is also classmates with some strange characters like a genuine witch and Hakuba, a genius teenage detective who is hailed as a modern-day Holmes and who more-or-less knows Kaito is KID, which usually leads into the most crazy of situations as Kaito juggles between his work as the phantom thief and the increasingly difficult effort of keeping his secret identity safe from the outside world. The tone of Magic Kaito is quite different than Detective Conan, as Kaito fights off witches/killer robots/death traps as a thief while pretending he's just a normal student, usually resulting in rather hilarious situations as Kaito's both lives collide (for example: having a date with Aoko as an alibi while pulling off a caper). There is little of the cool-headed, charismatic KID from Conan to be found in the early chapters of Magic Kaito.

While Magic Kaito was a moderate success as Aoyama first series, it was put on a side-track when his comedy-action series Yaiba hit off in 1988. Magic Kaito was not cancelled though, but put on hiatus, and Aoyama did indeed return for a few chapters to Magic Kaito in 1993-1994. But then Detective Conan started in 1994, which put Magic Kaito on hiatus again. KID's appearance in Detective Conan volume 16 was actually a big surprise for longtime readers of Aoyama's works, as it was only revealed the worlds from his two series would crossover at the very end of the chapter, as he had purposely avoided the name "KID" throughout the story until his actual appearance. KID's popularity grew with each appearance in Conan, but this also meant that Magic Kaito could not return to a regular publication schedule. Nowadays, Aoyama creates perhaps one new Magic Kaito story every five years or so, which means that it takes decennia for new (collected) volumes to appear. There was a fourteen year gap between volume 3 and 4 of Magic Kaito for example. There have been two seperate anime adaptations by the way: a limited series titled Magic Kaito, which aired irregularly in Detective Conan's slot between 2010 and 2012, and Magic Kaito 1412, a series seperate of Conan which aired in 2014-2015.

But imagine my surprise when the previews of Detective Conan 92 showed that Magic Kaito 5 would finally be released in July 2017! It has been ten years since the last volume, and while KID's been appearing quite regularly in Conan, it's still great to see him appear in his own series, as that has a very different feel to it. Volume 5 collects three stories originally published irregularly between 2011-2017, as well as a bonus story that has never been published in a magazine before. Some of the stories had already been adapted for television in the Magic Kaito 1412 series by the way. The book starts with The Phantom Lady, a story I actually already reviewed in the past, as I had read the serialization! There's no real caper going in this tale, but it provides some insight into how Kaito's father became the phantom thief KID in the first place. A sinister figure lures Inspector Nakamura (in truth a Kaito in disguise) and his daughter Aoko to Touto Tower, as the fiend's convinced that Nakamura himself is KID. The man reveals he had a run-in with KID eighteen years ago and wants revenge, which makes Kaito realize that this man is actually talking about his father. We are then treated to a flashback that reveals how Kaito's father Touichi first donned the costume and became known to the world as a phantom thief, while also juxtaposing his adventure with his son's own predicament with the same opponent eighteen years later. We see a bit of the more ridiculous action of this series which wouldn't fly in the Conan manga series (it would in the film universe though...), and while this is no caper story, it's still an interesting one for those curious to Magic Kaito's backstory. The story is also a prelude to the Ryouma story in Detective Conan 70 by the way, revealing the true meaning of KID's message in the final pages.

Midnight Crow is the best story of the collection and pits KID against two new enemies. First is Harry Nezu, an infamous exposer of magicians who says he'll not only prevent KID from stealing the black diamond Midnight Crow, but also capture him with the help of the police. Meanwhile, another phantom thief appears and to Kaito's big surprise, this Corbeau is dressed exactly like him, but in black. Corbeau claims to have studied together with Kaito's father Touichi as his fellow disciple, and that he basically has the same goal as KID, to find the gang responsible for his death. Corbeau challenges KID to see who's the more worthy successor, claiming he'll steal the Midnight Crow despite Harry's precautions and dares Kaito to figure out how the caper'll be pulled off.

Now I think about it, there are a lot of masked thiefs appearing in Magic Kaito besides KID... We had Chat Noir and Nightmare in the previous volume, the Phantom Lady and Corbeau in this one... Anyway, this is a great caper story, and quite similar to the ones we usually see in Detective Conan. We are presented with seemingly inpenetrable security measures for the Midnight Crow with credits to Harry Nezumi and the Metrolitan Police Department, but Corbeau manages to get away with the diamond anyway. Usually Conan would solve the crime, but this time it's up to Kaito to expose a fellow magician's tricks, and it's serious business for Kaito as this Corbeau seemingly holds a connection to his father. The way the Midnight Crow is revealed to be stolen is absolutely brilliant, showing how a sizeable diamond can disappear even though it's inside a closed receptable, with a man sitting on top of the case, in a room filled with guards, that is super-cooled to slow the swift fingerwork of any magician-thief. Not only is the method of the theft properly hinted, this story also shows off Kaito as a gifted magician himself, as he excels in piercing right through stage illusions. And while the story feels like a KID-caper like they appear in Detective Conan, the details of this case make it much better suitable for Magic Kaito, as it shows us the miracle from the side of a rival thief to Corbeau, rather than one of the "protectors" of the jewel like Conan would be.

Sun Halo on the other hand feels much more like an early Magic Kaito story. KID's latest target is the Sun Halo, a jewel imbedded inside a Buddhist statue. But things go awry, and Kaito (as KID) and Aoko (daughter of Inspector Nakamura, but also Kaito's childhood friend) get captured by an unknown party. Aoko is reluctant to help her father's archnemesis (not knowing that KID is in fact Kaito), but as KID was stabbed in his stomach protecting Aoko during their capture, the two have to work together to get through a series of Escape-The-Room-esque environments. The big elements like someone-has-captured-KID-forcing-him-to-do-something and Kaito-desperate-to-hide-his-identity-from-Aoko are familiar tropes from the early series, but things you rarely see in KID's appearances in Conan, so it was fun to have that classic feel back again, even if the story itself is rather average.

Volume 5 of Magic Kaito ends with Sarigenaku Lupin ("A Nonchalant Lupin"), an old one-shot manga by Aoyama which served as the prototype of Magic Kaito. It was never actually published in a magazine, though this story was also once printed in a certain version of an Aoyama Goushou stort story collection. I have an older copy of that book, without Sarigenaku Lupin, so I was happy it was included in Magic Kaito 5. The story is rather ridiculous, involving a troublemaking student Rupan who, while stealing school exams, discovers his school has been illegally accepting students, and a school director who is trying to force Houmuzu Aoko, one of his students and daughter of Inspector Houmuzu, to marry the son of a notorious villain in order to get the Inspector on his side and to prevent Rupan from spilling the beans on him illegally accepting students. It's utterly nuts and not particularly good, but fans of Magic Kaito can easily see how Sarigenaku Lupin eventually evolved into Magic Kaito.

So for the fans of Magic Kaito, this fifth volume has some interesting stories to offer. The "new" batch of stories give us a bit more insight in the backstory of Magic Kaito, and while the series has obviously been influenced by Aoyama's work on Detective Conan, one can still feel that Magic Kaito is its own series, distinct from Conan. Fans of KID can thus enjoy a completely different side to the character usually not seen in Conan. I for one though hope that the next volume won't take another ten years, as three, four stories every ten years are just far too few!

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『まじっく快斗』第5巻


  1. Do you know if there are any recent good japanese dramas based on detective novels ?

    1. The most recent series I saw based on a novel was last season's Kizoku Tantei, and I already wrote something about that. I haven't seen anything of the current season yet. I thought I saw positive reactions to the first episodes of Keishichou Ikimonogakari though, which is also based on a novel series.

  2. Hello

    Can you tell me what Lupin III film this is from ?

    1. I'm not sure, but I think it's from one of the original music video clips made for PLAY THE LUPIN “clips×parts collection”. Specifically, the one directed by Toshihiko MASUSA (the uploader comment mentions his name, but not where the clip comes from).

  3. "Aoyama did indeed return for a few chapters to Magic Kaito in 1993-1994": actually, he had already returned to it in 1989-1990, with four chapters published during pauses of Yaiba. In fact, the Christmas chapter "Star Wars" was published in December 1989, and the first three Hakuba chapters were published in 1990.

    "Nowadays, Aoyama creates perhaps one new Magic Kaito story every five years or so": I'd say it's more like one MK story every 3 or 4 years. To my knowledge, the longest gap between any two MK stories are the 4 years and half that passed between "Golden Eye" and "Dark Knight", and the 4 years and half that passed between "Dark Knight" and "Phantom Lady".

    "There was a fourteen year gap between volume 3 and 4 of Magic Kaito for example": actually, the gap was of 13 years, since volume 3 came out in 1994 and volume 4 came out in 2007.