Friday, April 6, 2018

The House of the Nightmare Witch

「Holy Ground」(Garnet Crow)

A future without you
Only looks like a looming darkness to me
I might as well die so I wouldn't have to live on anymore
"Holy Ground" (Garnet Crow)

Okay, when I said it might take a while for my next Detective Conan review, I meant a review of the manga of course, as it'll take while for volume 95 to be even officially announced. But there's nothing stopping me from doing more reviews on the animated series.

After enjoying the Detective Conan special episode Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau, I decided to check out some more episodes which were not based on the Detective Conan comic source material, but original stories created especially for the anime series. I decided to focus on episodes with a screenplay by Ochi Hirohito, as he wrote the story for Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau. Ochi's a busy bee for Conan by the way, because he's not only a screenplay writer for Detective Conan, but also episode director and storyboarder. Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau was in fact one of the rare occassions where he's responsible for all three tasks for the same episode. When I checked which episodes he had written the screenplay for, my eyes were immediately drawn to episodes 603-605, which formed a three-part story titled Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken ("The Case of the Séance's Double Locked Room"). While three-episode long stories aren't a rarity in Detective Conan in general, Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken was actually the very first anime original three-parter, even though the series had been running for nearly 15 years by then, with many, many anime original episodes. These three episodes originally aired on January 29th, February 5th and 12th in 2010, which in hindsight means I was actually living in Japan at the time and that I could've seen these episodes in real-time. But I didn't. 

Kogorou, Ran and Conan find themselves lost after taking a wrong turn and seek refuge in a creepy mansion in the forest. The three are met by a suspicious crowd wearing robes, but are surprised when they recognize the face of Nichiuri TV assistant-director Yatsukawa, whom they first met a few adventures earlier. The lot, Yatsukawa explains, are members of the fanclub of Miyahara Kira, a cosplay idol-model and aspiring actress who died one year earlier in a car accident, even though her body was never retrieved. Other people here include Utakura Shouko, an upcoming idol herself, Mifune Ryuuichi, a photographer who helped Kira become an idol and Kani Yutaka, a figure sculptor who's a very big fan of Kira. The house is the home of Hirasaka Reiki, who is not only a fan of Kira too, but also a popular horror manga author who created the hit series The Blackmagic Girl, which was scheduled for a live-action theatrical film release starring Kira until her death put a halt to the project. This night, these Kira fans plan to hold a séance, as lately rumors are making the round that Kira has come back as a witch from the underworld to take revenge on those who wronged her in life, just like the protagonist of The Blackmagic Girl. The rumors vary from harassment of other idols to even murder, as two weeks ago, Hirasaka Reiki's editor was murdered in his own apartment, leaving the dying message "Kira".

Kogorou, Ran and Conan participate in the séance session held in the Chamber of Meditation in the Hirasaka manor, but this séance ends in a dud. The members eventually all retreat for the night, but then everyone is awakened by a text message sent from Shouko's phone, where Kira declares she has come back from the underworld. The search for Shouko ends in the Chamber of Meditation, which they find in disarray, with the dead body of Shouko lying dead on the table in the center. However, they had to break open the door as it was padlocked from the inside, and as the only other exit out of the room is a closed window high up the wall, it seems Shouko was murdered inside a perfectly sealed room. This isn't the only tragedy to happen that night in Hirasaka's home however, as right after this first shocking discovery, they discover that Hirasaka Reiki himself also seems to have died in his own room, which was also locked from the inside!

As mentioned, this was the series very first anime original three-parter, but this story is a gem that certainly needed the space the three episodes provide! It's obvious from his work that screenplay writer Ochi loves his locked room mysteries, and this time he presents the viewer two servings. What makes Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken an exceptional story is synergy. In January, I reviewed Mitsuda Shinzou's Kubinashi no Gotoki Tataru Mono as one of the best mystery novels I've read these last few years, and synergy was an important reason for my praise. The story didn't consist of various, independent mystery modules set one after another, but every part was interconnected, each mystery, puzzle and solution strengthening the other elements of the plot. I'd argue Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken is an good example of synergy in mystery fiction too. The second locked room murder for example is, taken on its own, quite simple. In fact, I have to admit I was even a bit disappointed by it, as it appeared even unambitious for someone who created a masterpiece like Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau. But then its connection to the murder inside the Chamber of Meditation is revealed, and every thing changes! Mind you, the way the locked room mystery within the Chamber of Meditation is created is actually very satisfying on its own: it is  highly original and hard to spot, even though the hints are in your face all the time, and it also makes use of some other minor elements to make an ingenious trick on its own stand out even more. Still, I can't even remember having seen a similar trick used in this way, and the fundamental element needed for this trick is integrated exceptionally well in the narrative too.

But you really see the genius behind this story once realize how this locked room and the other locked room are connected. Everything is connected in a meaningful manner: there are convincing reasons for both locked rooms to exist in the first place and while the two locked rooms are constructed in completely different manners, they actually rely on the same core idea, only utilized in another way. Yet the two locked rooms aren't just very oblique variations on the same trick, as there is also a meaningful reason to why there's a connection to them in the first place and why there are two of them, which again goes back to the starting point as to why the murderer needed to create a locked room in the first place. The more I think about it, the more I see how brilliantly structured this whole tale is, and while the story is quite lengthy at over an hour runtime spread across three episodes, I have to say there's basically no unnecessary part: everything is on the screen for a reason, and everything strengthens the core mystery plot.

If I had to voice a complaint, it'd be the same as the one I had for Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau: the culprit is far too obvious. The core focus is obviously on the howdunnit part of the two locked rooms, and that is done so expertly it becomes painfully obvious how... uninspired the whodunnit part of the story is. The hints to the identity of the murderer are crude at best and almost seem like an afterthought, especially as both of them are introduced relatively late in the story. I wonder whether Ochi has written a semi-inverted story for Detective Conan, as I think that might suit his style better: reveal the identity of the murderer right from the start to the viewer, but don't show the exact manner in which the inevitable locked room murder was done. Sure, Ochi'd still need to come up with a convincing way to give the game away, but at any rate, hiding the murderer isn't his forte, so at least it can't feel less uninspiring.

So Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken proved itself to be another excellent Detective Conan anime original penned by Ochi. While the stories are nothing like each other, it's actually very similar to Ochi's other great episode, Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau: both stories may feature a somewhat uninspired whodunnit plot, but the howdunnit behind the impossible crime is brilliant. The locked rooms of Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken are admittedly not as impressive as that of Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau, but in return you get a locked room mystery that is still memorable on its own, but that is turned into something that is way more than the sum of its parts, providing an impressive showcase of how important proper plotting and synergy for a mystery story.

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン』603-605話「降霊会W密室事件」


  1. Thanks for the review. It's nice to hear about Conan, while I'm awaiting the release of 37-year-old Kindaichi in manga format.

    Anyway, are the Conan animated movies available on CrunchyRoll? Or only in DVD?

    I've just started reading a manga called 'Erased', with the final two volumes in English translation awaiting release early next week. If there's a delay, I might recourse to finishing up the final two volumes in Chinese... Have you read it? It's original title is 僕だけがいない街. It's meant to be mystery with some fantasy/ supernatural elements worked into its premise - and I'm hoping that the mystery will turn out to be a proper puzzle.

    1. As Kindaichi's running in a monthly now, it might take a while before the first volume is released. I hope the first volume'll come out this year, but I have absolutely no idea how much pages they release each time.

      I think CR has a deal with FUNImation to stream the Detective Conan TV series for US viewers (and some other regions perhaps, but at least not European viewers), a service which FUNImation itself also offers, but I am not aware whether the movies are included in that deal. I expect they're a home-video only deal though.

      I have heard about Erased, not read or seen it though. There was an anime adaptation (and a live-action adaptation I think) some seasons ago and I picked up some voices that said the premise was more satisfying than the ending, but that was about the anime, and of course, your mileage may vary.

    2. Speaking of Kindaichi, I went and read one of the author (Yōzaburō Kanari)'s older manga works: Mystery Minzokugakusha Yakumo Itsuki. Gosh! I think I read through all the volumes in one idea how I missed such a gem all these years! It's really one of a kind, I don't think there ever was a detective manga series that solely concentrated on crimes committed under the guise of supernatural folklore and youkai themes like that one does. The tricks and setup (in regards to how the culprit tried to tie the crimes to supernatural origins) were original and exciting in each chapter. It's just like how you mentioned the carefully planned synergy between a trick and the motivation behind setting it up in a certain manner. Yōzaburō Kanari did an amazing job here and some of the tricks on display there easily rivals the best of his other more famously known series.

      On a side note, I saw comments from readers that criticized on the manga's rather crude and rough, amateur-ish drawings. But I'd go ahead and claim the opposite: that style of art just conveyed the creepiness and horror that the author was going for. It's like comparing the old Kindaichi anime series with the new ones in terms of presentation. There's just something about the darker lighting and color tone of the old kindaichi anime series that made the closed circle settings and brutal crimes a lot more scarier.

    3. I heard pretty good things about the live-action drama adaptation of Yakumo Itsuki too.I just checked, but it seems the manga's only available digitally in Japan now :/

      I have to admit I agree that the cover art at least doesn't seem that appealing in terms of design, as it's *really* rough. I have read another manga by the same artist though based on Rampo's work (came out about ten years ago? Probably less) and that was okay.

    4. Hulu seems to provide Movies 1-20 (not the recent one and the current) now.

    5. I think I saw the official Japanese Conan twitter account mention the movies were on Hulu now, but I didn't realize that meant they were also available outside of Hulu Japan. Hulu is basically only US + Hulu Japan though, so no luck for those outside those areas.

  2. it would be cool to see your top ten conan episodes ranked.

    1. I wouldn't be comfortable making a list, as these last two Conan posts showed me that there are also great anime original episodes around that deserve consideration for such a list, and I've seen only a very small amount of them. I'll probably check out some other anime originals in the future, but don't expect lists.

  3. I read Erased. I was not favorably impressed by it, particularly the ending. I thought the puzzle aspect was subpar.

  4. Astoundingly, this three-episode structure does NOT make it the longest anime original in Conan ever.
    This title goes to Conan and Ebizo's Kanbuki Juuhachiban Mystery in two double-length specials, that is, equivalent to four episodes.
    Incidentally, the first volume of 37th Kindaichi is out 15 June in retro covers, but only after the 9 June release of the second young Kindaichi novel, Dokurozakura no Noroi.

    1. Yeah, I remember there was much ado about those specials when they aired one? two? years ago, with Ebizou playing himself. Haven't seen them yet though.

      Orders for both young and old Kindaichi have already been made, so now it's just the wait until they're released and delivered here :D