Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Middle Temple Murder

What goes up must come down
(English proverb)

With a noticable draught in new Detective Conan releases last year, I resorted to checking out some of the anime episodes which were not based on the Detective Conan comic source material, but original stories created especially for the anime series. I picked out a few episodoes which are often praised as good mystery stories. Stories like Dracula-Sou Satsujin Jiken and Meikyuu he no Iriguchi - Kyodai Shinzou no Ikari were indeed better than the usual anime original episode, but the special Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau and the three-parter Koureikai W Misshitsu Jiken were far more than that and easily made it into my list of favorite mystery fiction of the year, being excellently locked room mysteries and more importantly, master classes in how to properly plot a mystery plot with synergy between the story and the core mechanics of the mystery.

I still occassionally watch an anime original episode of Detective Conan, but often, I just don't feel the urge to write something on a particular episode. Not all anime original episodes are bad, but they are often kinda nondescript and not particularly memorable, and while the twenty minutes it took to watch the episode were perhaps not wasted, I seldom feel the need to also spend extra time writing down my thoughts on them. With an introduction like this you might be temped to think that the episodes 159-160, Kaiki Gojuutou Densetsu (The Legend of the Mysterious Five-Storied Pagoda) form a real masterpiece for me to be writing about it, but that's not exactly the case. This two-parter originally broadcast in September 1999 however, is a good example of a reasonably entertaining anime original, which similar to Meikyuu he no Iriguchi - Kyodai Shinzou no Ikari, has an interesting core mystery plot, even if the execution might be a bit sloppy at times.

Ran has won a sightseeing tour to Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture by solving a puzzle in a magazine (actually, Conan was the one to solve it), so now she, her father Kogorou and Conan are enjoying the nature there. In the mountains near their ODA Hotel stands the 400-year old Genkaiji Temple and the three learn of several legends involving the temple. For example, there's a dried-up well in the back that supposedly dried up suddenly when in the Edo period, a woman with love grief cried her eyes out in front of it for three whole days and nights. Another legend involves the five-storied pagoda on the temple grounds. In the past, an abbot-in-training tried to elope with someone in the village, but he was swept away by an eagle and he was found hanging from his neck from the pagoda. Another abbot sold valuables from the temple, but he too was found hanging from the top floor of the pagoda after several days of disappearance. It is thus thought people who defy the temple are subject to divine punishment, which the current abbot of the temple, Tankai, believes will also occur to Oda Hideaki, head of ODA Tourism. According to the abbot, Oda swindled him out of the property rights of the land of the temple, and now Oda plans to  use the extra ground to build a theme park. Back at the hotel, Kogorou is invited to join Oda Hideaki for dinner, as having the famous Sleeping Detective stay at the hotel means great marketing, but the following day, Kogorou is shocked to learn that Oda was found hanging from a rope from the highest floor of the five-storied pagoda. With quite a few enemies in his life, it is first suspected this is murder, but both Kogorou and the police soon stumble upon a major obstacle. Oda was quite a portly man, and nobody could've carried his body, alive or dead, five stories up without messing up his clothes or leaving any distinctive marks on either the man himself or the pagoda. It thus seems Oda must've hung himself out of his own will, but that too seems unlikely psychologically, so the only explanation left is... divine punishment?

Nah, Conan has a far more rational solution ready, of course. The suicide theory is also soon proven to be unlikely, as the rope hanging from the eaves of the pagoda wasn't long enough to allow Oda to stand on the balustrade to hang himself, but the problem still remains that it's equally impossible to get Oda up to the highest floor of the pagoda alive to hang him there, especially not without leaving any tracks. The theme of this story is likely to remind of the story in volume 11, which also featured an impossible crime in a Buddhist temple. I reckon that the core idea of how Oda's body was brought up to the top of the pagoda can be guessed pretty easily, even if some of the details might be a bit trickier (there's an interesting part with that involves the rope with which Oda was hanged, but it leaves less of an impression compared to the main trick). It's an impossible crime trick that works quite well in this particular format, even if it's also a bit silly, but it's also so straightforward, it doesn't really needs two episodes. And that is definitely one of the problems of this story: had this story been featured in the manga, it would've taken three chapters and been turned into a single episode. Now it's spread really thinly across two episodes which feel slower than they should be. The mise-en-place of the clues and suspects is functionable, but it's certainly not a classic like Noroi no Kamen wa Tsumetaku Warau.

And the whodunit aspect of this story... well, it's there. But the clues to their identity are far too obviously inserted in the story and almost feel like an afterthought, as if the whole impossible crime part came first, and then the scriptwriter realized he should probably also add some clues that point to the culprit too, and not just to how the crime was committed.

Kaiki Gojuutou Densetsu is perhaps not one of the best anime original episodes, but the core impossible crime is kinda amusing to watch and compared to other anime originals, this is still a fairly decent one that is strictly focused on its mystery plot. While I think two episodes is far too generous, there are some minor twists regarding the details of the crime that give the viewer still something to think about even if it's likely they'll (partially) guess what went on. If you have already seen the same anime originals I saw last year, I think these two episodes follow in the same spirit, even if they are also clearly not as phenomenal.

Original Japanese titles: 『名探偵コナン』159-160話「怪奇五重塔伝説」


  1. "The theme of this story is likely remind of the story in volume 11, which also featured an impossible crime in a Buddhist temple"

    I think I know which one you're referring to. I've seen that episode way back when I was a kid, but I still remember the solution to the impossibly-high hanging. That was a classic

    btw, with it being this time of the year, can we expect a service announcement sometime soon?

    1. No, sorry! There's stuff in the pipeline, but I can't comment (or even estimate) on when, or even if I'll be able to say something more concrete. Very early days still. At the very least, I won't be providing for the early summer readings this year.

    2. It's still that early huh? Well, good luck