Friday, October 29, 2021

A Study in Black

百年ぶりの世紀末 泣けといわれて僕は笑った
「胸がドキドキ」(The High-Lows)
It's the first end of a century after a hundred years; I was told to cry, yet I laughed 
"The Pounding In My Chest" (The High-Lows)

It's here! 

I already wrote a post to celebrate the joyous occassion, but volume 100 of Detective Conan was released last week. When the series started in 1994, nobody, not even the author himself, could've guessed it'd become the longest running single detective series that would become an even bigger multimedia franchise, but here we are now. The last few years, the serialization schedule has slowed down significantly though: where in the past Conan would be featured in almost every weekly issue of Shonen Sunday, the pacing is less consistent now (often a few weeks consecutively to serialize one single story, followed by a few issues of absence etc.), so the volumes that collect these chapters are also released much slower. What makes scheduling even more complex is that they usually try to release a new volume in April to coincide with the release of the new annual theatrical release, so they often move things back to ensure there's a new volume in April. Last year for example only one volume was released, because they pushed a volume originally planned for winter 2020 all the way to April 2021. So the last few years, all of us saw that volume 100 was coming closer, but it was also so far away because the releases became less frequent with the year. Sadly enough, there's no "special edition" release of this volume, but I am glad to say that this volume has to be one of the best volumes in terms of consistency in story quality in years, and it features one of the most memorable, and best stories in Conan history too.

Volume 100 opens with the remaining chapters of Kudou Yuusaku's Detection Show, which started in the previous volume. Shinichi's parents are back in Japan again, but as he's bored, Yuusaku, the world famous mystery novelist and amateur detective, has been helping the police solve some difficult cases again. When he's ambushed by the media on his way home from the Metropolitan Police Department, Yuusaku announces he has also solved a series of locked room murders that has occured in the city this last month. While no connection was found between the victims and where they were killed, meaning it wasn't even clear whether these murders are connected, Yuusaku quickly recognized how the locked room murders were committed based simply on the photographs. A live television show will be shot at the Kudou residence, where Yuusaku will explain how the murders are committed, but on the day of the broadcast, he's taken down by food poisoning and isn't even capable to explain to his wife Yukiko how the murders were committed. Yukiko (the world famous actress) decides she'll dress up as her husband again and have Conan do the deducing. Going over the files, Conan manages to solve most of the case too just like his father, but right before the television crew is to arrive, his mother is also taken down by food poisoning. With the live broadcast about to start and Conan knowing exactly who the murderer is, what's he going to do?

An interesting story that shows off Aoyama's story-telling qualities. For looking solely at the locked room murder trick, this story is not remarkable at all, as the trick is very simple. But it's presented in such a well-planned manner. For example, Yuusaku and Conan quickly realize the exact same trick is used in the three murders, despite the fact that at least on the surface, the three victms were killed under different circumstances and in different kind of locations. This leads to a clever, leading hint that is basically asking the reader: Can you recognize what the similarities are between the three crime scenes and figure out how it was done? Sounds like a simple idea, but this allowed Aoyama to make something bigger of what is essentially a simple trick. The hinting that ties the victims together and points towards the culprit is also very clever, making good use of the visual format in a way only Aoyama can. And on top of all this is the storyline of Conan having to figure out what to do with the television crew on their doorstep, and while this results in a very funny denouement scene where we do get the "Kudou Yuusaku Deduction Show" from the title despite the fact Yuusaku is lying sick in bed at the moment, there's actually more playing in the background that is far more serious, setting up the climatic following story.

The FBI Serial Murder Case is one of the most exciting stories to have been featured in this series and an excellent example to show how a mystery story doesn't need to be about solving a murder or anything, but that situations can be presented as a mystery to be solved too, and that with proper clewing and hinting, even an action-packed survival thriller can be a great mystery story. The last few days, unknown foreigners have been killed across town, two every day. The victims have no ID on them, and it appears they were illegals in the country. Conan happens to find the latest victim and spots members of the Black Organization at the scene. Searching the victim's body before Vodka can get to the body, Conan finds FBI identification, which makes him realize that all the foreigners killed lately must have been undercover FBI agents in Japan and that the members of the Black Organization are assasinating them. He hurries home to reach his own contacts at the FBI, but he finds all of them already hiding in the Kudou residence: they too realize that the Organization is somehow killing all of their agents. Revealing a clue he found on the victim, Conan deduces that the Black Organization has managed to decipher the code the FBI agents were using to set-up meetings, ambushing them at their meeting spots. The remaining FBI agents decide to use that knowledge to set-up a trap themselves using the code, but this plan fails horribly, as their own ambush is ambushed by the Black Organization. More casualties follow and soon after, FBI agent Camel finds himself desperately trying to shake off the pursuers of the Black Organization hot on his trail. Conan and the other FBI agents at the home base recall that Camel's path has crossed that of a few BO members in the past and it's imperative that nobody gets a good look at Camel's face, because it'll set them on a trail that might lead them back to them. All Conan and the others can do however is guide Camel on the phone while he's trying to hide from Gin and his gang of assassins, which culminates in a game of hide-and-seek and desperate survival on an island, where Gin, Vodka, Vermouth, Korn, Chianti and Kir under the command of Rum, the number 2 of the Organization, hunt for Camel.

What an amazing story! In a way, the tale's reminiscent of 2016's Detective Conan: The Darkest Nightmare, but "remade" in a way to fit the (less explosive/action-focused) atmosphere of the manga. In The Darkest Nighmare, a NOC list of undercover agents who have infiltrated the Black Organization is leaked, leading to a series of assinations, and all the related parties start to hunt for a certain key person who could turn the tide of this covert battle. The FBI Serial Murder Case follows the same idea, with the movements of undercover FBI agents being exposed to the Black Organization, them being killed and then a thrilling chase to capture and kill Camel, while Conan and the gang try to save him. While this story is one of the most suspenseful stories of this whole series however, it is also a good showcase that Detective Conan is at the core always a puzzler, and the whole story is filled with little mysteries for the reader to solve while they root for Camel to come out of this alive. For example, the first few chapters focus on Conan showing how the code the FBI agents use can be cracked, and when the FBI lays a trap for the Organization, but it explodes in their own face, we are shown exactly how the Black Organization was able to figure out a trap had been laid for them, all properly clewed and hinted at. Even when the story shifts to overdrive literally with Camel racing away in his car while being chased by the Black Organization, the story never forgets this is supposed to be a detective story. Little mistakes of Camel allow Gin to deduce where Camel is hiding, while meanwhile Camel is given instructions on what to do to survive, but usually the meaning of these instructions is only explained later, allowing the reader to deduce what Conan is trying to accomplish with the instructions he's giving Camel. The story has a brilliant climax that shows how even thrilling, suspenseful action scenes can be clewed to be presented as a proper detective story, with both parties starting to read and react to each other's actions. I honestly can't wait for this story to be animated, and I wish they'd actually give this the budget of the annual theatrical releases, because story-wise, it's honestly perhaps the story in this series that feels closest to the atmosphere of the movies, without losing the focus on the mystery plot. Oh, and at the end of the story, it's finally revealed who Rum actually is: we were told like six years ago that the number 2 of the Black Organization had infiltrated the secondary cast of the series under an assumed identity and the mystery revolving Rum's identity had been the main focus of the overarching storyline these last few years.

The Murder Case at the Match-Making Shrine is a rather tame story in comparison, being one of the usual "Which of the three" stories, but it's written competently and fairly amusing. Kazuha has invited Ran to visit the Haido Shrine to get an omamori that will help her get hooked up with her love interest. Which is of course Hattori, who's also secretly visiting the shrine at the same time, though Conan immediately recognizes him. The search for love turns into a search for a murder whenever when a man is found lying dead beneath a staircase, having been hit on the head and falling down the stairs. It turns out the victim was a police officer, specialized in finding people on the wanted lists. Ran and Kazuha had overheard him saying he had spotted three of them here, and the police indeed quickly find three wanted people on the shrine grounds, and it's suspected that one of them killed the officer when he tried to arrest them. The problem however is that the murder weapon, assumed to be a missing flag pole, can't be found and it's difficult to stick the murder to any specific person. While the story is simple, there's a nice chain of reasoning laid you where you must tackle the problem from two different angles if you want to solve this. Not a remarkable story perhaps, but it's presented in a very capable manner.

Volume 100 of Detective Conan was well worth the wait not only because of the milestone, but also because all the stories in this volume manage to reach a very consistent level of quality, with the outliers being the first story, and especially The FBI Serial Murder Case, which was one of the best Conan stories in years. It has the usual thrills of the big FBI vs Black Organization stories, but the manner in which it constantly throws new minor mysteries at you despite also being a real-time suspenseful chase story simultaneously is really good, showing that a) a puzzler doesn't need to be about the usual impossible crime to still be darn good as an intellectual challenge to the reader and that b) Conan's fictional world and stories simply have the range to pull this off in a satisfying and convincing manner, as this story is bookended by two "normal" detective stories and yet The FBI Serial Murder Case doesn't feel out of place. The FBI Serial Murder Case certainly feels like Aoyama wanted to have a big story to be featured in volume 100 and he definitely succeeded with that, and I can safely say that even after 100 volumes, I'm still eager to see what will happen next. Next volume is scheduled for a spring 2022 release, which I assume will be April 2022, but there'll be more Conan material soon as The Scarlet Bullet was finally released on home video...

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第100巻


  1. That volume sounds so amazing. I really like the Darkest Nightmare so that except with a solid focus on mystery plotting sounds like a must-buy. I haven't read the "weekly" releases for these chapters as I can tell it'd be painful to wait for the next chapter with the current release schedule.

    Here's a promotional h'ween pic for next year's movie(spoils the key characters though):

    1. When the FBI story was being serialized, the official Conan social media channels would post each time Sunday was released etc., so I knew there was a story with that title going on, but I honestly hadn't expected it to be such a great story. This is definitely a story you'll want to read in one go.

      Yeah, I saw that illustration posted earlier too! I guess I'm not surprised by the focus characters considering the other Conan anime projects announced, but I'm still pretty indifferent at the moment, perhaps I'll get hyped more once we have a trailer and I have a better idea of what the movie will be about!

    2. The Ron Kamonohashi series also had a "showdown" against the big villain org of the series but I feel like the world and its characters don't feel quite alive yet so it's hard to care about the main conflict.

      It's hard to put it into words but it seems quite bare bones as even when it introduces these new quirky characters that "will surely appear again", the story and the characters are missing some beats that make everything flow and click together.

      I don't remember where I last left with Detective School Q but that Ron Kamonoshi storyline from what I saw was perfected in that series.

      The space observatory case in RK was pretty good and introduced the concept of the villain org and their methods pretty well but that occultism case in TGQ just hit different.

    3. I haven't been reading Kamonashi Ron the last few months actually, as I don't really like following weekly releases, though I guess I could binge some chapters some time soon because I'm pretty sure there's quite a lot to catch up now ^_^'