Wednesday , May 22 2024
Checking out the first volume of Gosho Aoyama's comic mystery manga series. . .

Case Closed

Looking at the cover to Gosho Aoyamo’s Case Closed (Viz) – round-headed hero Conan Edogawa standing in a Sherlockian pose – and you might assume that the book is a young kid’s action/mystery series. The character looks cute and cartoonish enough, and there are, after all, mystery manga aimed at younger readers (Zodiac P.I. is one of ’em). But a glance at the ever-helpful rating box at the back of the book sets me straight: Case Closed is rated “Teen +,” a rating that publisher Viz uses to alert buyers that the series is aimed toward older teens (at least they’re hitting my general maturity level) and that artist Aoyama isn’t going to stint on the bloody murders.
Turns out the big-eyed boy that we see on the cover is really high school junior Jimmy Kudo, a mystery solving whiz who’s a minor celebrity at Teitan High. Jimmy has so established himself as a detective that the police look to him for help on difficult cases. The first volume of Case Closed opens on our slightly cocky teen as he unravels two different cases. In the opening chapter, we arrive at the end of the mystery, but then we follow Jimmy and his frustrated girlfriend Rachel Moore to an amusement park – where a grisly beheading takes place on a roller coaster. (In one large panel, Aoyama gives us the headless body as it sprays blood into the air – yup, this isn’t some wimpy li’l Scooby Doo adventure!) Our hero solves and explicates the murder, but not before getting his curiosity aroused by two suspicious figures. He follows them in time to see one of the duo engaging in a blackmail money drop, but the second gets the drop on Jimmy, dosing him with an new untraceable poison that’s “never been used on humans.”
Said mysterious potion doesn’t kill Jimmy, however; it instead turns him back into a six or seven-year-old boy, and we realize that in addition to being a mystery series, Case Closed is one of those works about a preposterous physical transformation. Someone smarter than me needs to do a piece about the popularity of manga revolving around (frequently humiliating) transmogrification. (Does it key into adolescent anxiety about body change?) Because of his new size, Jimmy now finds many of the things he once took for granted to be difficult: he’s significantly weaker, and his rep as Boy Wonder Detective is no longer any good to him. Turning to a neighboring scientist friend, Dr. Agasa, Jimmy sets up a fake identity, using the first names of two of his favorite mystery writers and borrowing his absent father’s eyeglasses, so he can track down the miscreants responsible for his change without letting them know that he’s still alive.
Fortunately for our hero, Rachel’s father is a struggling private investigator, so he wheedles his way into Richard Moore’s office where he’ll theoretically have “access to information” that might help him find the two thugs responsible for his change. Soon as Rachel and “Conan” arrive, the p.i. is dashing off to a big case, so, of course, the two tag along. Once on the scene, our hero can’t resist sticking his nose in the case, but his new size – not to mention Rachel’s blowhard father – make it difficult for Conan to be heard. Part of the challenge facing the shrunken detective lies in the fact that, though he still thinks and feels like the teenaged Jimmy, he no longer has carte blanche permission to wander through crime scenes. He has to sleuth on the sly and redirect the doltish adults around him without drawing too much undue attention to himself. Case Closed is as much about the obstacles getting in the way of our ‘tec hero as it is the mysteries themselves.
Unlike Kindaichi Case Files, which presents one long and elaborate murder mystery packed with plenty of suspects in a single volume, the puzzles facing Conan/Jimmy are more compact. In Volume One, there are three full mysteries: the aforementioned roller coaster beheading, a kidnapping case and a knifing that takes place in the apartment of a well-known pop diva. The clues and problems aren’t as tight as the ones devised by Yozaburo Kanari for Kindaichi – in one case, for instance, our hero deduces that a droplet of water that’s struck him on the face came from the killer’s tears when it’s far from the only explanation for that tiny bit of moisture – but Aoyama does generally play fair with the reader. The fact remains, though, it’s Conan’s personal plight that provides the truest character interest. As a small child, for instance, he learns that Rachel, the girl he’d taken for granted when he was a teenager, seriously cares about his high school self. Yet now that he knows this, he’s unable to do anything about it.
Some of the gimmicks that Aoyama utilizes to help his hero are a bit much: he establishes early that Rachel is captain of the school karate team so that later she’ll be able to drop kick a bad guy threatening Conan, and at one point in the first volume, Professor Agasa gives Conan a “voice modulating bow tie” so he can impersonate adult voices. Too, some of the strip’s slapstick moments (a lotta ostrich egg head bumps in this strip) don’t quite mesh with the sight of blood-drenched corpses, but I bet that Jack (“Plastic Man”) Cole would recognize what Aoyama is up to.
Aoyama’s art has plenty of elastic energy, even during the obligatory windy explanation scenes. (He utilizes the fact that Conan is forced to communicate his solutions through unknowing surrogates to vary his panel layouts in interesting ways.) His comic poses are expressive and just plain fun to follow, while his ink work is appealingly fluid. On the basis of its first volume, I’d recommend Case Closed to a manga newcomer; its storytelling is so clear-cut that even a reader coming to the right-to-left reading layout for the first time should have little difficulty following Jimmy/Conan’s adventures.
For some reason, Viz’s site – which has pages devoted to most of its other series – has nothing that I can find about Case Closed, though the series has already spawned at least one more English-language volume and a series of animé DVDs. (I try to include a copy of the book cover with these blog reviews, but in this case I was forced to post just part of the cover image as it appeared on the Animé News Network since even the Amazon listing doesn’t show the cover.) Don’t know how many graphic novel episodes there are to Conan’s story – or if our hero ever manages to uncover the syndicate responsible for his awkward change – but for now our hero’s present plight has the potential to fuel this series for quite a few volumes to come, so I don’t see myself abandoning it any time soon. In the back of the first volume, the series creator introduces the first entry of his recommended Mystery Library with a short blurb on Sherlock Holmes – clearly, the writer/artist is almost as much a Holmesian fanatic as his hero. Me, I can’t help but be struck by the fact that one of the most well known fictional characters in the English language is currently receiving his most heart-felt tribute in a Japanese comic. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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