Case Closed: A Response to Patrick_O and Pharmmajor

Note of warning: time didn't permit me to write this response at my leisure or properly proof read before posting – so please judge it on its content and not the style.

This is a slovenly response to a blot-post on TGWTG website by Patrick and Pharmmajor discussing, back and forth, one of my all-time favorite detective series, Case Closed a.k.a. Detective Conan, but I'm afraid the only thing the article did for me was irking me the wrong way and the parroting on Patrick's part genuinely annoyed the heck out of me.

However, someone has already told me I was too harsh on him, but, as he said himself, a little harsh criticism has never hurt anyone. So here we go (I'm not going over every single little thing that riles me, but just adress the major points):

Jim: "Detective manga is a small, but highly popular genre in Japan that has gradually grown in popularity here in America over the past few decades."

Jim is correct in stating that detective stories in manga form are highly popular in Japan, but they haven't gradually grown in popularity over here – on the contrary, they've been selling rather poorly. Last year, the releases for Case Closed were cut back from six to four volumes a year, The Kindaichi Case Files was only sporadically released (about once a year) before ending up on the chopping block and there has yet to be a publisher who gives series such as Q.E.D., Detective Academy Q, The Accidents, Chief Detective Kenichi and Master Keaton as much as a glance.

Why this woeful lack of interest of both readers and publishers? I don't have a definite answer to that question, but I can offer a theory. Contrary to Japan, the traditional mystery isn't an active part of our pop-culture, that is to say, writers such as Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie still enjoy a large readership, but there's barely a place on the market for neo-orthodox mystery writers.

Case in point: John Pugmire faced the daunting task of getting one of Paul Halter's locked room novels published into English, but, as the years crept by, it started to look more and more like an impossibility that would even baffle Dr. Alan Twist and Owen Burns – and was only solved by the advent of self-publishing services.

This is not the case in Japan, where there's an entire neo-orthodox movement whose books are even eligible (and won) literary prices – which is why Conan and Kindaichi are such a success over there, with both younger and older readers, but fail to really catch on here in the West. The problem is that the traditional detective story, which include locked room mysteries and other impossible crimes, has become a specialized genre over here and publishers mistakenly targeted these books at the type of manga fans who gobble up series like Naruto and Bleach, instead of actual mystery fans – and, unfortunately for Conan and Kindaichi, there's only a small overlap of manga and classic mystery readers.  

Patrick: "Surprisingly, I find that Case Closed hasn’t got a huge following among mystery fans. I suspect the first few volumes have something to do with it. The stories in these volumes are extremely weak, with easily-spotted murderers, obvious clues, and so on (...) The stories, however, gradually improve, and the series really takes off when it gets into the double digits."

Thanks for reiterating my point, right down to the double-digit comment, but it's slightly more than weak plotting at the start of the series, that might turn away mystery fans not familiar with the medium. The character design and style may, at first, appear as too kiddy-ish (especially to older readers) and combine that with the weak plotting of the first few volumes and some of the fantastical plot elements involved in the set-up (e.g. the shrinking and gadgets), and what your left with is a series that looks very unappealing to a serious minded devotee looking for a good detective story.  

That's why I always urge my fellow addicts not to judge the series by the first 6-7 volumes, but allow it to develop from there into one of the best modern detective series they'll ever read.

Patrick: "There is a great charm to the characters, and surprisingly, for a series about a teenage detective prodigy who shrinks into first-grader form, it’s handled with a lot of realism. Jimmy, now living as Conan Edogawa, has to live with his love-interest, Rachel Moore, who remains oblivious about his true identity. But you can’t complain along the lines of Why doesn’t she figure it out? It’s so obvious!” because, well, this is addressed several times throughout the series. Rachel seems to almost figure it out on several occasions. Ironically, Volume 3 shows this the best in the early volumes, as her reactions are just the right mix between logical deduction and a refusal to believe her own “silliness.”"

The short excerpt above comes from a long introduction of the main characters, in which Patrick and Jim touched on all their obvious characteristics, but completely failed to notice the most interesting and telling aspect of their relationship – which is the only serious flaw in the series, but a defensible one, IMO, because it demonstrates that a run of nearly 20 years wasn't in the initial plans.

Where to begin, where to begin. OK, let's start with Conan's unremitting refusal to fess up his secret identity to Rachel, when well-nigh everyone else who's close to him knows the truth – including a former member of the BO! Yes, I'm well aware of the stock answers to this situation, and they either make no sense or allow for a great inconsistency in character development.

The first argument is that it's to keep their relationship interesting (i.e. admitting that it's plot-device), when really all it does is stagnating it. Take, for example, volume 23, in which the characters themselves note that a year has passed since the events in the first volume (and I know that by the time of volume 58 more than two years have gone by in their world), but they still dance around each other like in the first couple of stories – with nothing really new added to the mix (except for that one time, when a handsome young doctor was introduced as a possible rival). And after all this time, Rachel's attitude towards him has barely changed – as if he's just away to study abroad for a semester or something like that.

Plot-wise, it would make more sense, especially at this point in the series, if she knew his secret identity and show how they deal with this new situation – and I believe, taking the first few volumes, in which she pretty much had it all figured out, into consideration it was actually part of the plan, but with the continuing success, Aoyama simply just kept putting it off. There's so much you could do what that relation in terms of character development, but it's just piling the same old, same old upon each other.

Another shaky line of reasoning is that he wants to protect her. Seriously? She's constantly with him on cases and by merely associating with her he puts her in mortal danger (if the BO ever finds out) – and if her safety is his main reason for not telling her, than why operate from her fathers detective agency?

The unexpected longevity of the series probably is to blame for this slightly annoying hiccup in the ongoing relationship between two of the main characters, but I'm surprised neither of you brought this up – especially Patrick, who read all the available volumes back-to-back last month. It should almost insist upon itself! I sincerely hope it has nothing to do with the fact that I purposely didn't elaborate on it (hoping someone else would notice it too), but looking at stuff like the Kaitou KID/Arsene Lupin comparison, that neglected to mention an interesting similarity between KID and Lupin's first appearances (both snatching a jewel aboard a ship) and KID's nod to Chesterton's Flambeau, somehow makes me doubt that. Oh, well...

And to the people who haunt this blog with a certain degree of regularity, please don't consider this post as a dismantling of Case Closed/Detective Conan, but as an honest look at its only serious flaw – and not even one that intrudes upon the brilliant and clever plots. I mean, being turned off by this post is akin to saying that you won't read any of John Dickson Carr's books, because you've heard that the characters in The Problem of the Green Capsule were rather flat. 

The loss is yours, not mine! ;)


  1. I am not intimately familiar myself with the detective manga and its popularity in Japan. As I said before, I historically have disliked manga, and Case Closed was the first one that I got into in any way. I plead ignorance there.

    The purpose of the blog post, really, was to discuss favourite characters, stories, and so on. Thus, I neglected to mention smaller, more subtle things such as the nod to Chesterton (with the quote about detectives being mere critics- I think it was actually Aristide Valentin who ruminated along those lines...) considering the bulk of the audience reading would be unfamiliar with classic detective fiction. (There would be a few exceptions, of course, but most of the readers at the site would not fall under this heading.) It would be akin to discussing advanced theoretical physics with someone who can't understand the point about gravity making everything fall at the same rate. In addition, this was a discussion that we agreed to make as spoiler-free as possible, and so, discussions such as the problem with the first Harley Hartwell locked-room murder were avoided or vaguely worded.

    I'm rather surprised to discover, now that I read and compare, how similarly I worded my comment about the double digits to yours. Do not think I was merely stealing your words- that's genuinely how it struck me., and the way I consequently phrased it. "The Moonlight Sonata Murder Case" was the first sign of a creative, atmospheric story, but it was with the 11th volume, with the inverted murder at the TV studio and the story about the goblin-murder where the stories got really good. I barely glanced at your comments on the series until I got somewhere around the 15th volume or so.

    When it comes to the time discrepancy, I honestly did not care at all. I found it a nice move, like Rex Stout deciding to ignore that silly little thing called time in his Nero Wolfe novels, but nothing that necessarily had to be brought up. The Conan/Rachel relationship doesn't really change that much, true, but the strong writing makes it seem very fresh every time, to me at least. Well, except in that recent Valentine murder case, which was just dull routine. Still, I love the dynamic between the duo and there are plenty of other great character relationships to look at: Conan/Anita, for instance, who are in a similar boat with two entirely different attitudes about the situation.

    To be perfectly honest, I'm glad you chose to be harsh and critical. I may be only 17, but that doesn't mean I respond to critcism with a pout and angrily stomping around. Instead, I welcome it as an opportunity to improve. It makes me glad you're actually reading my posts instead of simply nodding in agreement with anything I write.

  2. Quick response:

    Well, I'm not intimately familiar with manga, either, but there are certain things you cotton on when you follow a series or a certain genre, however, when I read the "over the past few decades" comment I just knew the article would be a downhill slide from there on – and when I saw some very familiar comments regurgitated, without being build upon, I was more than just a little bit annoyed. I understand that you have to dumb things down for a general audience, but this was just going into the deep end. Maybe I'm too harsh. I don’t know. It just annoyed the heck out of me... still does.

    The time discrepancy is more important to Case Closed than to Rex Stout, because it hasn't a direct bearing on the relationship between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin – unless you put any stock in the theory that they are lovers (which I don't think is the case, since Archie doesn't seem to be the type that's attracted to sagging breasts – male or female).

    Anyhow, I'm glad you're not taking my little rant as a personal attack, which wasn't meant that way at all, and hope to learn what your writing partner thinks of it. Will he be responding to this? I first wanted to post a link as a comment, but I didn't want to register an account just for that.

  3. Darn it, forgot to mention that you're correct on the Chesterton comment, but it was made in reference to Flambeau and that was what I meant.

  4. I think you're perfectly justified in being annoyed. I'm a bit surprised at myself, really, for the way I wrote my bits. I can't really say much about how my partner phrased his portions, since the final edit and so on were up to him. I'll be sure to let you know if I hear back from him about this post.

    I suppose you have a point about figuring stuff out about a series as you read it or whatnot, but I really did not look up anything of the sort. I didn't spot anything wrong with that introductory phrase- I take the blame for not looking up anything on the subject, but not knowing anything about it, the sentence didn't particularly jump out at me.

    Still, great to have you point this unfortunate incident out, and I'll be sure to use the stuff I've learned here in the future. After all, there's always more crime to talk about...

    On a lighter (and somewhat related) note, I can say with 95% certainty that I will be able to order a few Paul Halters for my birthday. John's comment about serial-killer stories in the Yahoo group has got me instantly intrigued. And here I was thinking they were merely impossible crime novels... Ah, the advantages of knowing French... ;)

  5. Hey, Pharmmajor here. Just read your blog and thought about what you said. I suppose I should have put more research into evaluating just how successful detective manga was here in America compared to the other genres. It is a shame that so many great manga haven't come over here (Spiral is the most recent release I've found that could be considered close to a mystery manga).

    You raise some great points about the static nature of the relationship between Jimmy-as-Conan and Rachel. I didn't touch on this because I haven't read past the English translated volumes (which I believe only go up to 36), so I wasn't aware the situation between them hadn't changed much. If it's still the same near volume 60, then I'd agree with you that Aoyama definitely needs to change things up regarding their dynamic. Truth be told, the longevity of the series never bothered me because I enjoy a good long-running detective series (Hercule Poirot, Gideon Fell) as long as it doesn't remain static.

    Finally, you do raise a valid point regarding how the stylized art and more fantastic elements might throw off more serious-minded mystery fans, which is a shame because that would prevent them from enjoying a great series. What would you recommend as a means of convincing them to look past the sci-fi themes of body-changing chemicals and super advanced gadgetry?

    Thanks again for your feedback. I will be sure to take your advice into consideration in order to improve my reviews. Take care.