Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Haunted Monastery

"Our readers are children! Millions of bloodthirsty little kids, and we give them what they want!"
"Ellery Queen: The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader"

This might the first time since I started doing reviews of both the Detective Conan manga and films that I managed to get the film review out before the corresponding manga volume...

Detective Conan volume 105 was released in April 2024, timed together with the release of the 2024 film Detective Conan: The Million-Dollar Pentagram and it also serves as the very first volume released as part of this anniversary year, as the manga of Detective Conan started its serialization 30 years ago, back in 1994. While the stories included in the volume themselves don't have any special "anniversary" themes, the physical volume itself does come in two variations: a normal one and a special edition one, which features an alternate cover that mirrors the cover of volume 1, as well as extra booklet with character sketches from when the series was still in the planning phase. Small note for collectors: the detective character introduced in the encyclopedia at the end of the volume is actually different in the special edition from the normal edition. Anyway, the contents of volume 105 itself are your standard fare for the series, so no big anniversary story. The volume opens with the remainder of Why He Became Her Butler, which started in the previous volume. Conan and Ran are travelling with Hattori and Kazuha in the express train, and it happens Hattori's self-proclaimed fiance Momiji is there too, accompanied by her butler Iori. During the trip, Iori is approached by a man, who forces the butler to cooperate, or else Momiji will be hurt. Via his phone, Iori is told to go to a certain seat in the train, where he finds a dead man, and he is ordered to find a USB memory stick this dead man has hidden somewhere. While Iori tries to deduce where the stick is, he also tries to remember where he knows the voice of the man threatening them from, which brings up memories of his time when he was a police officer with Public Security. Meanwhile, Conan and Hattori also notice Iori's acting strange...

A very, very mediocre story. The "where could the USB memory stick be hidden" mystery is just a device to tell the flashback story of Iori and Momiji meeting for the first time, fleshing out the perfect butler's background, but as a mystery, it's incredibly minimalistic and most of it is resolved before the reader gets any chance to even think about it. So a very character-focused story, which might entertain people who have become fans of Momiji and Iori ever since they were introduced around 2016, but not if you're just hoping to read a cool mystery once every five months...

So when I write my reviews of the Conan manga, I get the story titles from the official Shonen Sunday website for the series: the titles of the stories often will be used as the titles for the episodes when they are later adapted for the television anime, but sometimes they are changed, with the manga story titles retroactively changed to the anime story titles. Usually, this site is updated when the new volume releases, but for some reason, the site has not added volume 105 yet, meaning I don't really know the "official" titles for the following two stories.

Anyway, the second story is clearly one meant to tie in with the 2024 film The Million-Dollar Pentagram and set before the film, as Hattori is still planning to confess his love to Kazuha at a spot with a great scenery, and Ran, having learned Hattori's plans, has found the perfect spot: Mt. Washio, which offers a great sunset view. So Ran, her father, Conan, Hattori and Kazua go mountain hiking, but a sudden rain forces them to find shelter at a Buddhist temple on the mountain. Luckily for Hattori, Ran learns there's a great view from the temple too, so they stay here until the rain stops. During their stay, they learn about a monk who disappears some time ago, and that there are rumors of will-o'-wisp sightings here. The gang takes a look at the room where the monk had disappeared from, which is accessed via a small staircase. Later however, the gang witnesses the will-o'-wisp themselves as the fire moves up the staircase, and it is then they realize Mouri himself has also disappeared. What is happening at this temple? Not much interesting here, I'm afraid. What appears to be a potential interesting locked room mystery, provides you with the most unsatisfying solution ever, and while there are other mysterious events at the temple which are connected in the end, the events unfolding at the temple just don't really interest me, while at the same time, you know the Hattori plotline is going to be carried over to The Million-Dollar Pentagram, so none of this story feels even remotely engaging.

The final complete story in this volume features phantom thief KID, who is also a major character in The Million-Dollar Pentagram, so no surprises about him being featured here. Suzuki Jiroukichi has once again set-up another trap using a big jewel as bait to catch the thief. This time, he has rigged a special small exhibition room on the Bell Tree Tower, like a small box attached to the side of the tower. Because of its size and it being suspended mid-air, it's seen as the perfect trap, especially as the only entrance to the room (from the tower) has security cameras aimed at it, as well as other security measures, with the idea that if KID does manage to get inside the room, it'll lock from the outside, making escape impossible. A special team specializing in security has been hired to set-up this system, and they finish up just before KID's announced time of the theft. Conan is of course here to stop KID, and when the time arrives, things start to happen that prompt Conan to run to the security room to confront the thief. When he gets inside the room however, he finds not only KID, but the dead head of security too. Has KID finally stooped to murder? Well, of course not, and Conan too believes the thief didn't kill the man, but the situation doesn't look good for KID, as he was the only other person in the room besides the corpse and cameras had been aimed at the exhibition room entrance all the time, meaning the corpse appeared out of nowhere, and KID is known to be able to conjure up things out of nowhere.... To win some time, KID decides to "disguise" himself as high school student detective Kudou Shinichi (it's not really a disguise, as the two look remarkably similar), pretending to be here at the scene to catch KID too. Together with Conan, he tries to figure out who committed the murder and tried to pin the crime on him, but the duo run into a little, big problem: KID's rival, Hakuba Saguru, has returned from the United Kingdom, and this detective soon starts to have suspicions about "Shinichi's" actions at the scene...

By far the best story of the volume, as it's both funny and has a more robust mystery compared to the previous two stories, though because of the very, very specialized set-up of the room, and the manner in which Conan and KID discovered the body, I have a feeling many will find it easy to at least make a general guess about how the murder was committed, even though cameras had been aimed at the door entrance and they didn't register a thing besides the time KID forced entry into the room. Conan reluctantly doing his investigation while "tolerating" KID as Shinichi is funny, and the mystery does get a bit fleshed out due to the inverted mystery-element of the story: KID and Conan are being detectives as they try to solve the murder, but they are also "the culprits", trying to hide the fact KID has disguised himself as Shinichi, with Hakuba Saguru acting as the detective in that storyline. So you have a two-pronged mystery plot that gives this story some depth. There are some story seeds sown here that get reaped in the film too, so as also shown with the Hattori story, you'd better read this volume before you watch the film.

Oh, by the way, I did read this volume too before I went to the theatre, I just postponed writing this review for some time... They had some neat promotional material in the bookshop by the way: they had a newspaper about the exploits of the phantom thief KID (setting up the story of the film), as well as the newspaper featuring Shinichi on the frontpage seen in the very first chapter of the manga, and always shown in the opening scenes of the animated films each year.

Detective Conan 105 is not a really interesting volume mystery-wise, to be honest, and that's continuing a trend that's been going on for some time now, so I do find it harder to become really enthusiastic now for each new release. It wouldn't be so bad if we had the older release schedule of a new volume every three months, but nowadays it's basically one volume every half year... The volume does have ties with the film, so you'd better read 105 before watching the film, as you'll see more clearly how author Aoyama does try to "hype things up" for the film in the manga itself too. Anyway, we'll have to wait months again for the next volume unfortunately, but considering this is the 30th anniversary year, I do hope the next volume features a more substantional mystery tale, one that doesn't need to tie in with ongoing storylines or feels the need to flesh out characters. Just a six chapter story solely dedicated to telling a large mystery story. Please?

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌『名探偵コナン』105巻

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