Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Turnabout from Heaven

"Heaven or Hell!"
"Guilty Gear"

Back in April, I reviewed two multi-part episodes from the Detective Conan animated series, which were not based on the original comics by Aoyama Goushou, but written especially for the anime. An important reason why I decided to watch those older episodes in the first place was a lack of new material: volume 94 had been released in December 2017, but various circumstances led to a short hiatus in the serialization of the comics. Usually, a new volume is released in April (to coincide with the annual theatrical release), but with the delay, I decided to fill the April gap with those episode reviews. For the moment, my real return to Conan appears to be within reach, as both volume 95 and the home-video release of the 2018 theatrical feature, Detective Conan: Zero The Enforcer are scheduled for October.

But as those two releases are still a bit more than a month away, I figured I might as well look at a couple more of the anime original episodes of Detective Conan, and to keep it to a theme: today I'll be reviewing two stories with an impossible crime. First up: episodes 88-89 presented the viewer with a story with a very alluring title: Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken ("The Villa Dracula Murder Case"). The "Sleeping Detective" Kogorou, Ran and Conan are on their way to the villa of renowned horror author Torakura Daisuke, better known as "Mr Dracula". The nickname is not only based on Torakura's own name, but also on the fact the novelist mostly writes about vampires, and he even wears the stereotypical suit and cape as his usual get-up. At arrival at the Villa Dracula, Kogorou, Ran and Conan first meet with several of the other people staying there, like Torakura's assistant, his editor and a folklore researcher consulting Torakura's collection. Torakura meets in private with Kogorou, explaining he wants to hire the Sleeping Detective to investigate his wife's adultery, and invites him to stay in the villa for the night. Torakura himself retreats to his study for the night, as he has a deadline coming up. The study itself is almost completely seperated from the main house: it looks out over a cliff and the only way there is through a single, long corridor that leads right into the living room.

When Torakura doesn't answer the phone at midnight however, the people in the living room start to fear something might've happened to the man who doesn't sleep, so the gang makes their way through the corridor, to the locked door of the study. They go around through the outside balcony, but when they get inside the room, they find Mr. Dracula staked to the wall, like a vampire!  What baffles Kogorou and Conan however is that the study door was locked from the inside, and that the corridor to the study was being watched from the living room all the time. The murder weapon (a prop from a vampire movie) had been taken from the storage room in the main building, which means the murderer must've taken the weapon, passed through the living room to get to the corridor and the study, all unseen! Considering that's utterly impossible it seems the only other way in is through the balcony overlooking a cliff and the sea, but that means the culprit must've flown to the balcony, as if they were a vampire!


Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken was written by Ochi Hirohito, who's also the writer for Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau and Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken. Those stories I praised for being fantastic stories that are excellent examples of synergy in mystery fiction, where various elements like backstory, motive, murder method and clues are all intricately connected, with each factor strengthening, but at the same time also depending on the other factors. Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken is a relatively older story, and while one can easily recognize Ochi's hand here, it's also clear that this episode is not as insanely tightly structured as those later genre masterpieces. In essence however, the main mystery plot of Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken is very similar, revolving around a clearly-defined impossible crime situation, with a special prop object featuring at the crime scene (in this case the stake prop from a vampire film) that serves as a second focal point of the plot. At one hand, Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken is certainly a well-plotted story. Sure, it's awfully easy to guess who the murderer is, but like with Ochi's other stories, it's the how that stars. It's here that Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken shows it's a very capable, but ultimately lesser attempt of what Ochi would perfect in later stories: the various elements of the story feel less strongly connected and dependent on each other and the result is oddly enough a very good impossible crime story that has some good visual clewing going on too, and any other writer would've been absolutely pumped to come up with something like this, but Ochi would go on write stories that I personally feel are some of the best thought-out mystery core plots ever, making these two episodes feel less impressive (luck has it I saw these two episodes last too). Note the attention to character movement (floorplans!) and the exact order of events in these two episodes by the way: these are also staples of Ochi's mystery plotting and also visible in his later masterpieces. Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken is an excellent impossible crime story on its own, with various good ideas strung together to create a really alluring crime, but it's definitely overshadowed by Ochi's later work for the series.

Ochi's episodes are often mentioned when talking about the best of the anime original episodes of Detective Conan, but another one that is often mentioned is episode 208 Meikyuu he no Iriguchi - Kyodai Shinzou no Ikari ("The Entrance to the Maze: The Anger of the Giant Statue of the Heavenly Maiden"), which was a one-hour special originally broadcast on October 19th, 2000. Kogorou, Ran and Conan are this time heading for Mt. Tenbu in the Shizuoka Prefecture. A giant statue of a Heavenly Maiden was erected in the mountains many, many moons ago, but as of late, Doumoto Tourism has been aggressively developing the Mt. Tenbu region as a tourist destination. The colossus is the main attraction of course, so there's a hiking promenade that leads up the mountain right to the statue, and despite the protests of the local people, Doumoto Tourism even built a ropeway to the top of Mt. Tenbu, which goes through a mountain tunnel dug right beneath the Heavenly Maiden statue. Kogorou is invited to attend the the opening ceremony of the ropeway, but also to keep an eye out on Doumoto Eizou, who fears the ceremony might also be the perfect time for someone to get even with him, as some local people say that the wrath of the Heavenly Maiden is sure to get him for making that ropeway. To celebrate the opening of the ropeway, Doumoto Eizou has several other people join the first ride up the mountain, including some local journalists as well as Kogorou, Ran and Conan. As the carriage goes through the mountain tunnel however, the lights suddenly go out, followed by a cry in the dark by Doumoto Eizou. When the ropeway carriage makes it out of the tunnel, right behind the back of the Heavenly Maiden statue, they find that Doumoto Eizou has disappeared from the carriage, and to their great shock, they see his dead body lying in the palm of the colossus!


An impossible disappearance from a locked carriage mid-air this time, and the almost immediate appearance of the body in the hand of a gigantic statue: one can certainly not accuse Meikyuu he no Iriguchi - Kyodai Shinzou no Ikari of having a boring premise! This one-hour special is of perfect length, with enough runtime to build up a proper mystery, though one could say it has very room for fluff or red herring side-plots. To be perfectly honest, I think it's rather easy to guess how most of the magic was done: one character in particular stands rather out with their actions in this story, and from there it's really not that difficult to make an educated guess about how the impossible teleportation was pulled off. In essence, I think this episode features ideas that shouldn't be too surprising to someone who has read some mystery, or even someone who only watches Conan: this episode however does manage to present a very unique setting to pull these ideas off, and the result is a story that might not be completely original in terms of core plot, but which does hit the right notes when it comes to execution.

Anyway, for those who want to try out more of the anime original episodes of Detective Conan, I think these two stories will be good picks. No, they are not as brilliant as Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau and Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken, but those are exceptional episodes, not only just as Detective Conan episodes. Both Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken and Meikyuu he no Iriguchi - Kyodai Shinzou no Ikari however should entertain any fan of the genre as solid mystery stories. For the moment, I think I'll reserve my next Conan review for the two new October releases, but I might return to some other anime original episodes after that.

Original Japanese titles: 『名探偵コナン』88-89話「ドラキュラ荘殺人事件」, 208話「迷宮への入り口 巨大神像の怒り」

10 comments :

  1. Thanks for the suggestions Ho-ling!

    I watched the second one already after I finished work, but I was admittedly too tired/sleepy to work out anything other than the far too obvious culprit.

    It was nice, although as you say it's core ideas are well known in the genre.

    I'll try to see the other one soon.

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    1. The Dracula case is a bit trickier, so you might like that one better. The second is quite straightforward in comparison.

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    2. OK.. just finished it, I agree this one definitely had more meat on it puzzle-wise. Was nice to hear he sad theme once again and the trick was okayish and not too hard to figure out!

      Thanks for the suggestions!

      Since we're in the subject of Cona AO, episode 155 must be the most convoluted one I've ever seen. The fact that I watched it 7 years ago and still remember its episode number speaks volumes of the impression it left on me :P

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    3. I can't take the sad "Ru-ru-ru---ru--" theme seriously anymore ever because of episode 135 (where it _really_ doesn't work with the motive) :D

      Huh, my usual 'gripe' with the AO is that they are too straightforward (not surprising, as they only have about 10~15 minutes for the set-up and then the conclusion's already there), so I don't think I've seen any episodes yet I thought convoluted. Kinda interested now :P

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  2. I did not expect you to post this as fast as you did, but greatly appreciated! I'm following your lead with these originals and will watch them at the first opportunity I get. Beginning with the Dracula case!

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    1. I had seen them a while ago and even made notes, but I needed that nudge to actually start writing about them :P Interested to see your take on the Dracula case!

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  3. Hello, Mr. Ho-Ling. I've been a fan of your blog, which sparks my interest in Japanese mystery novels. I very much enjoyed Moai Island Puzzle. I am also studying Japanese and I'd like to know if you know any mystery novels that are easy to read? I wanted to check out the two Phoenix Wright novels you reviewed (Idol and Airport), but unfortunately I've read the fan-translated versions already. Thank you.

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    1. Hi, thanks for reading the blog and The Moai Island Puzzle.

      Have you tried manga already, like Conan or the Ace Attorney manga by Kuroda/Maekawa? They are great to learn basic vocabulary used in mystery fiction (mostly dialogue based, furigana etc). In general though, I have found HIGASHINO Keigo's novels always very pleasant to read, even in my early days of learning the language (in fact, the first novels I read were written by him).

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    2. Thank you for the answer. I didn't get notifications, so it took me this long to reply. Alright, I'll try some of Higashino Keigo's novels! I'll probably try one of his short story Detective Galileo collections. Thanks.
      Same problem is with manga like Conan and Kindaichi: I've read their translated versions (official and fan-made) already.

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    3. I'm totally ignorant about all the technical aspects that makes this blog work, so sadly enough, I can't help with the notification problem :/ Hope you'll enjoy your reads :)

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