DRAWN & QUARTERED
This manga collection masters multiple genres
"Case Closed’s" teen hero is a Japanese James Bond
There's nothing like a good mystery, and the best mysteries include a little of everything in addition to drama and suspense: romance, joy, heartbreak and especially a bit of humor.
The Japanese manga "Case Closed," by Gosho Aoyama, does just that, and it's that variety of emotions combined with well-written mysteries and character development that make it such fun to read. Because of the subject matter, however, it sometimes has graphic murder scenes that might not be suitable for younger readers.
High-schooler Jimmy Kudo is making a name for himself as a teen detective by helping the police solve their toughest cases. With Jimmy's dad a famous mystery writer and his idol the great Sherlock Holmes, everything from kidnappings to killings are a piece of cake for the young genius, and the police have great respect for him.
Matching wits with murderers is a lot easier than butting heads with Rachel Moore, Jimmy's childhood friend. She's the tough captain of the school judo team, and he's forgotten that he promised her to take her out for her birthday if she won the championship, of which she kindly reminds him -- and attempting to land a kick on his face as he adroitly dodges her blows is indeed "kind" for Rachel.
They spend the day at an amusement park, but even in this merry setting, there's no escape from crime: A man literally loses his head while riding the roller coaster. Jimmy easily solves the killing, but two of the suspects, men clad in black, catch his attention, and he later runs off after them.
He catches one man in a blackmailing deal. Unfortunately, the other man catches Jimmy. To finish the teen off, they feed him an experimental, supposedly untraceable poison and leave him for dead.
But the poison doesn't work as intended. Jimmy survives -- except he's now transformed into a 7-year-old child.
With his mental abilities still intact, Jimmy convinces his scientist friend Dr. Agasa of his true identity. The doctor in turn convinces Rachel to take in the boy, telling Jimmy that he'll have a better chance of tracking down the men in black through Rachel's father, Richard, a drunken and barely competent private investigator. The boy creates the alias Conan Edogawa, and with his surreptitious help, Richard Moore starts solving case after case and gains fame.
The ongoing saga of Conan's hunt for the men in black and the danger of his quest put more focus on his relationships with Rachel and other people. It fleshes out the lives of Conan, Richard and Rachel without sacrificing the tragic emotion of eventual victims and criminals. We even see Richard in a more serious persona and discover there's a lot more to this man than his love for drink and celebrity idols.
ALTHOUGH it's one of those plots that could go on indefinitely, and so has the potential to get tiring, "Case Closed" strikes a good balance between the "men in black" background story and the more immediate "solve crimes with Richard" plot. Considering the Japanese-language manga is at 50 volumes and counting, writer/ artist Aoyama must be doing something right.
Jimmy's sudden return to childhood also proves a great twist. Conan's liability with being "just a kid" means he has to rely on others to make his conclusions known. He uses a mixture of supposedly innocent remarks, his small size to squeeze past adults blocking his way, and Dr. Agasa's handy gadgets to lead investigators to the solution -- though not without constant resistance from those in authority.
His usual modus operandi for pronouncing his stunning deductions is to hide somewhere, knock Richard out with a sedative and then speak in the older man's voice -- feats attained using devices created by Dr. Agasa. All this requires added ingenuity on Conan's part, and the way he goes about that is not only funny, but also becomes the boy's signature: Once this happens, you know the case is about to be solved.
Outside of crime-busting, Conan's return to the first grade is just as amusing, as he must rewind his teenage mind to meet the level of his classmates and the schoolwork. The three kids he eventually befriends have their own charmingly childish personalities: George, the big bumbler who relies on his brawn; Mitch, the rational but timid geek who knows a lot for a first-grader; and cute Amy, the levelheaded mediator who nevertheless shares the enthusiasm of the others for detective work.
It's also a bit humbling for the big-headed Jimmy, who no longer has the height, strength or credibility of his old self and must keep his identity hidden lest he endanger the Moores. His young self still attracts females just as easily as his teen self, though, with his soccer skills charming the socks off the girls in his class.
THE ANIME version of "Case Closed" is up to well more than 400 episodes and more than a dozen movies and original videos in Japan under the original name of "Detective Conan." Stateside, part of the series was broadcast in English-dubbed form on Cartoon Network.
Funimation is bringing out the domestic DVDs with episodes in a haphazard manner that was likely an attempt to not overlap CN's broadcasts and to put complete cases on one disc. The first DVD includes Episodes 1 to 4, then the next disc jumps to Episode 53 and continues from there. Some later DVDs occasionally skip episodes, only to have the missing ones released on subsequent discs.
The dubbing is well done, but those who switch to the Japanese audio might want to note that most names were changed in English -- Jimmy is Shinichi and Rachel is Ran, for example. Also, Funimation's practice of "dubtitling" -- taking the English dub script and using it verbatim as the subtitles without retranslating the original Japanese dialogue -- might put off some anime purists.
Funimation is planning to bring out the first nine episodes on DVD next month, including the four that were previously released. But with the series' long history, here's hoping the company will follow through with the entire run.