#175: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – In Media Res: Case Closed vols. 1-5 (1994) by Gosho Aoyama

tnbs-foreign

For December, those of us who collect once a week under the banner of The Tuesday Night Bloggers (it’s an open thing, by the way, so please do get involved if you’re moved to) are looking at anything which falls under the term ‘foreign mysteries’ — be that mysteries in translation, or anything set outside of the traditional Golden Age habitat of the UK or the USA.  And today I’m looking at Gosho Aoyama’s Case Closed (a.k.a. Detective Conan) manga from Japan.

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Case Closed is an ongoing serialised manga following the genius teenage detective Jimmy Kudo who, after solving a seemingly-impossible beheading on a roller coaster in the first issue, stumbles upon Some Mysterious Types Who Are Up To No Good who knock him out and then feed him an experimental untraceable poison to kill him off.  However, instead of killing him, the poison simply alters his appearance to that of a six year-old, and — to protect the people he cares about, lest the People in Black (they are actually dressed in black) find out he isn’t really dead — he must pretend to be a young boy (christening himself Conan Edogawa, a combination of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edogawa Rampo) while trying to figure out how to get back to normal.

And, inevitably, old habits die hard.  Moving in with his secret crush and her largely-useless private detective father, ‘Conan’ finds himself involved in the solving of all manner of baffling crimes that only he can see the sense to unravel.  But, of course, as everyone else believes him to be six years-old, how can he get them to take him seriously?

My fellow locked-room enthusiast TomCat at Beneath the Stains of Time has been extolling the virtues of Case Closed for a while now, and I’ve finally been able to take the plunge.  TomCat says that the first few volumes don’t showcase the series at its best, but obviously the beginning is a very good place to start, so how does it fare thus far?

case-closed-1Volume 1 has to set up the universe, get Conan housed with his neighbours, and throw in a couple of mystery plots along the way, and Aoyama juggles these various threads very well indeed.  The beheading gives you a great sense of Jimmy before he’s shrunk, and while the other two mysteries — one involving a kidnapped child, the other a murder in a hotel — aren’t hugely complex, the first has a wonderful visual clue that exploits the use of graphics perfectly, and the second throws in a good twist on a classic of logical thinking puzzles.  There’s also a very interesting scene where the six year-old Conan gets absolutely pasted by a villain which raises some interesting questions about how Jimmy will cope in such a young body.

As someone completely new to manga, I have to say that the art is excellent.  Aoyama draws as well as writes, and there’s a great sense of freneticism and dynamism in his lines and actions.  It feels uniquely Japanese, with its slightly over-wrought sense of drama and sound effects (KYYYYAAAA!  and FWAK! are two favourites), but that’s by no means a bad thing.  If anything, the slight reduction of the Japanese element when it occurs is…weirdly dislocating — his neighbour/crush is called Rachel Moore, and her father is Richard Moore, two names Anglicised from the original where others are clearly not…like it would be difficult to cope with Ran Mori.  But, well, that’s hardly Aoyama’s fault.

case-closed-2Volume 2 is…less good.  We have an impossible alibi problem which — and here’s a rare occurrence — the art makes too obvious, a missing persons case that turns out to be more than it seems and bring The People in Black briefly back into things, and then Conan going to school and investigating a spooky old house with some chums.  If anything, this feels like bedding in some of the key ingredients: the James Bond-esque gadgets (voice modifier so he can sound like anyone, special shoes that can kick really hard, glasses with a tracker in them, super-strong stretchy braces) which are obviously going to be crucial in keeping a six year-old involved in the cases he investigates.

case-closed-3The first case in volume 3 is a reasonably involved family-gathering-where-people-are-attacked, and has a good line in some decent visual clues, and a larger cast than before that gives Aoyama a chance to play with motivations and expectations.  It becomes increasingly clear at this stage that a lot of the resolutions are going to be reached by Conan putting someone to sleep with a tranquiliser dart from his watch and then using the voice modifier to make it appear as if they’re explaining things.  I mean, this is unsustainable in a narrative sense, but then the central conceit here is a teenager shrunk down to look like a six year-old, so narrative veracity probably shouldn’t be high on anyone’s agenda.  The second case, in which a man is sent a large amount of money on the same date every year, sounds far more interesting than it turns out to be.

case-closed-4Volume 4 does a very clever thing in taking one media form — in this case, moving pictures — and making them crucial in another — manga — without damaging the fairness or misrepresenting either form.  Y’know what?  That’s just me trying to preserve it.  There’s a key bit which uses this and it’s very clever indeed.  The second case is a ‘ticking bomb on a train’ story, the kind of thing I’m really quite partial to as Conan has to figure out who of five people is carrying the offending weapon before it goes off, and it does that very well indeed.  And the third case is his school chums again, something about a treasure hunt…I find these guys kinda tiring, but I can’t fault the central idea, and there’s a nice line in false solutions, too.

case-closed-5A great ‘teenagers in an isolated mansion’ killer story starts volume 5 and, while the solution is a little technical, I felt quite pleased with myself for getting the essential idea from the information given (again, there’s a key piece of visual clewing — Aoyama is great at his visual clues, they work so, so well).  The second case is a semi-impossible poisoning which I’m pretty sure doesn’t quite make sense, and we’re not given the information needed to deduce the killer anyway.  I’m not convinced it works from a motivation or opportunity standpoint, but there’s a definite air of sadness about it which is hard to deny.  And then in the final case, questions about Conan’s parents are conveniently circumnavigated when a woman claiming to be his mother turns up…but who is she really?  And how does she know who he is?  This one ends on a cliff-hanger, so we’ll have to put that on hold for the time being…

So, as a start, yeah, it’s pretty good.  Clearly Aoyama has a great love of the classical detective stories and, if he doesn’t always play fair, well, frankly it’s not like he’s alone.  The art is very easy to get used to, as is the reading right-to-left and back-to-front, and I’m especially pleased that no attempt was made to remove those aspects.  True, it hasn’t set me on fire with its brilliance yet, but the important thing is that I believe it still could, and that’s good enought for me right now!

~

Next week, if all goes to plan: France, and it’s not Paul Halter.  I know, right?!  How exciting!

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26 thoughts on “#175: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – In Media Res: Case Closed vols. 1-5 (1994) by Gosho Aoyama

  1. “True, it hasn’t set me on fire with its brilliance yet, but the important thing is that I believe it still could, and that’s good enought for me right now!”
    You will be reading in order. Inform me when it becomes brilliant. I will start from that point ! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes these mysteries have always intrigued me when you and TomCat have talked about them. The whole policeman turning into a six year old is definitely a novel plot twist. But I’ve never been a comic reader so I wonder whether this is what has put me off trying them.

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    • Any new medi will take getting used to — I still haven’t listened to an audio book because it seems…weird, and the way I read something seems like such an individual thing (not just me, you understand…we all read things in our own way). If you can find the first few cheap it’ll give you an idea of the format without having to worry too greatly about the content and you’ll get an idea quite quickly from those.

      I’d say it’s worth a shot, even if Aoyama is up to like 60 volumes and building, so you’re potentially signing up for a lot of reading…how terrible!

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  3. You’ll find a perceptible change in tone and quality during (and after) the moonlight sonata murder case, from volume 7, which left somewhat of a mark on Conan’s personality. After this volume, the training wheels come off and Aoyama really begins to find his voice.

    You only have to compare the embarrassing simplistic locked room stabbing from the first volume with the impossible hanging in the monastery from volume 11. It’s a world of difference!

    By the way, Ho-Ling has practically reviewed everything related to Detective Conan on his blog. Not just the manga and animated movies, but also games, live-action TV-series and I think some tie-in novels. The most notable gap in his reviews is the anime series, but it consists mostly of non-canon, filler episodes. Just stay away from the reviews of the later entries in the series as they refer to key elements of the ongoing storyline involving the BO.

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    • I’ve just finished he Moonight Sonata story, so am really excited to see how that starts to feed into things — this may be the long-running mystery author that Bra and I were searching for! Expect periodic updates…don’t know if I’ll do every volume, but clumping them in fives seems like it might work…let’s see how the complexity increases and go from there…

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  4. Detective Conan is definitely one of my favorite series ever (regardless of genre). As a detective series, the first volumes can feel a bit simplistic, but there are two things you’d need to consider: 1) the series is serialized in Weekly Shonen Sunday, a magazine targeted children~young adults and 2) the way manga is serialized is very different from for example American comics. Aoyama had no idea his series would be such a success, and he initially thought he’d be after a year or so with this series. Little did he know that he was working on a series that is still going strong in Japan after _twenty years_ of weekly serialization, annual films that keep on breaking record after record and more. So the early volumes are still kinda ‘tame’.

    But if you realize he’s been working basically non-stop, every week, for twenty years on this series (both writing and drawing), and you’ll see that the level of quality of his stories is actually incredibly high. Not every story is a Classic of Detective Fiction, but he seldom has real duds.

    I think the fact Detective Conan is set in a real, breathing world with a huge cast is also a characteristic of this series not seen as prominently in other detective fiction. There’s The Simpsons-like time progression, yes, but there is also great detail of the ongoing storylines. Two years ago for example, Aoyama ended a particular storyline that he had been expanding upon for seven years, with developments spread across many other minor stories. It’s things like this you can only see in a serialized story.

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    • I’m especially curious to see these over-arching plots kick in — you and TC are good judges of quality, so I trust you, I’m just excited to see them happen.

      And, yeah, as author and artist Aoyama must really have had his work cut out for him over such a long time. The fact that the quality first increased and then has remained high over that time is massively impressive.

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  5. Based on TomCat’s and Ho Ling’s recommendation, I’ve read vols. 7 all the way to 29 – and then the series was taken off my local Kindle store. :_(

    While I find the length of the cases slightly short for my liking – as compared to the longer Kindaichi instalments – there is nevertheless depth and complexity to the mysteries. Some cases also end with unexpected emotional punch. There are, however, quite a few code-cracking puzzles that do not map over easily into English.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, just got a code-breaking one that depended on a Japanese text character…ah, well, the odd difficulty is bound to arise. Would rather have the occasionl disconnect and still get to read the good stuff than miss out on all of it because a few issues like that present themselves…

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  6. Are you buying these, JJ? There’s a whole row of them sitting on my library’s shelf. I’ve picked them up over and over through the years and never read them. I’m a bit worried about persisting past episode 7, falling in love with it, and then finding the rest are not available to me. (I get addicted to serial stuff!) Of course, it could all work out the other way, and I should just grab the first five and see how it goes!

    And JFW – What or who is/are Kindaichi???

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    • The first 15 cropped up at a charity shop round the corner so I took the plunge. I figure that, if it goes well, I’m sorted for birthdays and Christmas for a few years yet…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Brad, Kindaichi Hajime is the lead character of the Kindaichi manga series, and is the (purported) grandson of Kindaichi Kousuke, the lead character of the detective novels of Seishi Yokomizo – one of the pioneers of the ‘orthodox’ Japanese mystery novel. I shan’t say anymore for fear of making mistakes and having to be corrected by Ho Ling.

      Unlike the Conan manga series, only the very early Kindaichi volumes have been translated into English, and are currently out-of-print. Which is a genuine shame as the later cases, written by a different author, are generally much better. The manga series is still ongoing, and while there are some recurring characters and villains, there isn’t really an overarching storyline as in the case of Conan. But the standalone Kindaichi cases tend to be longer than the average Conan mystery, and are therefore more satisfying in that sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Case Closed #60 is the latest published issue, right? I’ve been reading the series in Swedish but then the publishers decided to end it with #63 (which was about five years ago – amazing that for once we’re ahead of the English/Americans!).

    So I guess I’ll soon be picking the English version up. Too bad about the anglicization of names, the Swedish version kept all the original names (at least as far as I know). It’s going to be jarring in the beginning with Rachels and Jimmys and Richards and whatnot.

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    • I’ve got no idea how many have been published so far — if I glance up the mountain from this close to the base it may put me off even attempting to climb it! I know it’s more than a few, and that’s as much as I want to know right now… 🙂

      Interesting that they kept the original names for the Swedish translations, though. It’s very much marjeted as a YA manga here, so I wonder how much of it was trying to give the recurring characters simple names to help it sell; research has proved, after all, that readers are less likely to by a book by an author whose name they’re not sure how to pronounce, so it’s reasonable to assume the same probably extends to charatcers, too. And obviously we English-speaking folk are scared by anything different that might threaten our sovereignty…

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      • The US release has English names, because the animated version was broadcast on TV in the US; they hoped to attract more viewers by localizing it so they could market it as ‘a mystery show’, rather than ‘an anime’. The US version of the comic came later, and used the English names from the dub for the main cast.

        Basically all Western releases of the series use both the original name for the series (Detective Conan), the original character names, and the main European releases are also A LOT further than the US/UK release.Volume 91 is out later this week in Japan (obviously further in serialization), and I think the French and German releases are only about two, three volumes behind on the Japanese releases (and they’re keeping that distance on purpose).

        (Which reminds me, yay, volume 91 will ship this week \O/)

        Liked by 1 person

        • 91! Ninety. One. Damn, I’m not even at the base of the mountain, I’m still looking at it in a tourist brochure and thinking “Well, it might be interesting to take that on some day…”

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        • 91 indeed. 🙂

          Maybe I should brush up on my German instead, it would be nice to be able to read 30 issues in a row.

          In Swedish translations, I think we almost always keep the original names, even though the book may be directed towards younger readers. I think that might be true for most smaller languages?

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  8. Just read book one. My local library has about 29 of them in a row, and then the system has a single copy up to chapter 50 or so which you have to reserve. At some point, I’ll be caught up to you all. The first chapter was cute, but I’m looking forward to it getting more complex.

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  9. Pingback: #178: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – Clewing, and Other Subtle Arts of the Detective Story | The Invisible Event

  10. One day I’ll read these! The closest thing I have to a local book store has issue one…. and then like thirty something with nothing in between. My reading speed also makes me wary of spending money on this, and I’m afriad the wait for the next issue would drive me insane.

    Maybe I should look into scantalations… 😛

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    • My library system is loaded with them, and they are very popular indeed. I grabbed the first seven and have just gotten to the end of Volume 4. (So far, Chapter Three was my favorite.) But when I went back to the library to replenish, Chapter Nine was missing! (Gasp!) So navigating through this in order may take some time and involve some frustration. BUT . . . I just discovered a bunch of translated TV episodes on YouTube! I only watched the first, and it’s a faithful rendering of the first case in the manga, so it might be another way to go.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: #223: A Study in Contrasts – Case Closed (a.k.a. Detective Conan) Volumes 11 and 12 (1996) by Gosho Aoyama | The Invisible Event

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