Back in March, I reviewed the first volume from the once long-running Q.E.D. series, a detective manga written and drawn by Motohiro Katou, originally serialized between 1997 and 2014 in Magazine GREAT, Magazine E-no and Magazine Plus – selling over 3 million copies of the 50 volumes that make up the entire series. The main-character of Q.E.D. is Sou Touma, a teenage genius, who's an MIT graduate and moved back to Japan to be a normal high-school student. Once he's back in school, Touma becomes friends with a classmate, Kana Mizuhara, who's a social and athletic sixteen year old. She plays the Archie Goodwin to his Nero Wolfe.
The second volume, as every volume in this series, is divided into two separate, longish stories. So the cases are usually longer than those found in Detective Conan, but shorter than the novel-length detective stories from the Kindaichi series.
The first of these two stories, "Rokubu's Treasure," checks all of the boxes of a conventional, shopworn detective story regularly found in anime-and manga mysteries: a small, secluded village with a dark back-story and a curse laid upon it. A murderer who walks around dressed like a Scooby Doo villain, long buried family secrets and bizarre murders, which usually links the family skeletons with the village history – which could be a rough outline of the recently reviewed The Headless Samurai. Touma even observes that "these kind of myths are often found" throughout Japan However, I did very much appreciated what Katou ended up doing with the plot. Something that was slightly different.
Touma and Mizuhara are sitting at the edge of his swimming pool when the former receives a package from the United States.
Diane Butler is the archaeology speaker whose lectures Touma attended in America and she send him sheaves of old, crumbling and bug-eaten documents written in Japanese. The package also includes a small bottle with a shiban mushi (death bug) in it and a letter with a request to translate the ancient documents. Butler contacted him on behalf of a friend, Shizuna Kotohira, who comes from a rich family with "a wide expanse of land with hotsprings" and accepting the request comes with a holiday trip to the Kotohira family estate. This was enough of an argument for Mizuhara to pressure Touma into accepting.
When they arrive in the village, Touma and Mizuhara wanted to ask directions at the police station, but they find the place deserted and learn from one of the locals that the village policeman has been called away on a case – a university student had been attacked by someone dressed as the Rokubu Demon.
The victim was part of a group of university students who were looking for the treasure from the legend Rokubu goroshi (Rokubu murder). As they resume their foot-trip to the estate, Touma and Mizuhara recall the legend of the pilgrim visiting all of the holy grounds throughout Japan, but the pilgrim was ambushed and murdered when he passed through this village. They took the treasure he was carrying, a golden Buddha, but, with his last breath, "the pilgrim condemned the villagers with a terrible curse." An old and familiar tale. The difference here is that the locals are convinced that the ancestors of the Kotohira family murdered the pilgrim and had drawn their wealth from stolen treasure.
|Touma working on his social skills|
When they finally arrive at the estate, they are (eventually) let in by the family caretaker, Hyoe Kariya, who brings them inside where they meet the group of university students. Toshio Hiraki (post-graduate student), Kiyoko Mejiro (third year university student) and Jin Takano (fourth year university student) – who has a bruised cheek and a black eye from the attack. This group is accompanied by the history lecturer of University Y, Akihiko Nezu. One more student, Yamashiro, has gone missing since the attack happened and the village policeman, Ryosuke Kizaki, is organizing a search.
A search that ends when the group arrives at a shrine, where they find Yamashiro's body, "stabbed with a staff" and "positioned like a sitting Buddha." A mocking message had been scrawled on the wall, "a fitting punishment for a treasure hunter." Another student is murdered not long thereafter with a screwdriver. So we have violent attacks, murders, hidden treasure and a cryptic map showing where the treasure is hidden, which is why Shizuna Kotohira needed help. This is also the point where I began to have my doubts about the story.
There's more than enough plot here, but the whole structure seemed to very loosely put together. Nothing seemed to hang together or fitted like it should. We have a murderer, who plays dress up, attacking some and killing others. The murders also widely differ in modus operandi: one of the victims was impaled with incomprehensible strength and the body was put on public display, while the second victim was stabbed in the back of the neck with a screwdriver. Why evoke a legend for one murder and resort to a common stabbing for the other? And why did the murderer not go after the person who was cursed, Kotohira? Obviously, the plot-strands were tied together, somehow, but the knots that held these strands together didn't appear to be tightly fixed.
Luckily, Mizuhara relighted my hope with by asking the key question: "don't you think his actions are too inconsistent?" Touma's answer: Yes. Yes, it is. The solution already shows an improvement in Touma's plotting.
Touma gives the reader a perfectly logical, completely acceptable answer for the inconsistencies in the crimes and they're heavily influenced by previous events, circumstances and simply what's possible at that moment – which is an unusual, but pleasant, way to tell a detective story. The murders are a good example of this plotting technique. Why did the murderer impale the first victim? The answer is a practical one and, when you read Touma's reconstruction of this murder, you'll immediately get a tell-tale clue to the murderer's identity. Because only one person could have committed the murder that way. Why, then, did the murderer stabbed the second victim with a screwdriver? An event from earlier on in the story is the reason why this murder happened the way it did.
It all forms a nice, coherent picture and the crimes fit the character of the tragic murderer. On top of that, the first murder has a nifty alibi-trick and Touma performs his duty as detective by logically eliminating all of the innocent suspects until only the murderer remains.
So, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this story had been playing possum the whole time, only to spring back to life to deliver a solid ending, but have a minor gripe about the second murder. In the murderer's situation, it was a far too risky murder and, as this person should have learned by now, not everyone acts as a willing lamb to the slaughter. Otherwise, this story is a notable improvement over the stories from the first volume.
I hope this means that this series is, quality-wise, will follow a similar evolution as Detective Conan. A splendid series that had began weakly, but improved with each passing volume.
The second story in this volume is "Lost Royale" and is much shorter than "Rokubu's Treasure," which begins in a kendo dojo, where Mizuhara is practicing. A fellow kendo student, Iwasaki, is going to visit her grandfather in the hospital after the lesson and Mizahara decides to go along with her – grabbing Touma with them who happened to be loitering outside. However, when they arrive at the hospital, they find a man in the hospital room who's screaming at Iwasaki's grandfather, Oji.
According to the man, Oji claimed to have found "the legendary seventh royale car," a Bugatti Royale Type 41, which was designed by Ettore Bugatti as the biggest, most luxurious and expensive automobiles money could buy in the 1930s. Bugatti intended to sell these luxurious cars to the royalty of Europe, but only six cars were produced and three sold before production stopped. So the Royale became a legendary car and collectors, as well as museums, "try their hardest to obtain them" and a persistent rumor tells of a seventh, unaccounted Royale – a rumor rooted in the many shenanigans of Adolf Hitler. Oji apparently found the fabled Royale, but now refuses to talk about it. After the angry man takes his leave, Oji confides in the three that the car was stolen from him by an old friend, Yasuhiko Tomizawa.
Tomizawa is an incredibly rich man and owns a number of buildings in town, which is where this story takes an interesting turn. Touma, Mizuhara and Iwasaki try to find the car by studying the floor plans of the buildings owned by Tomizawa and sneaking into these places to inspect the possible hiding places. Mizuhara is becoming a regular Carmen Sandiego!
The hiding place of the car turned out to better than expected, because assumed the 6.7 meter long car would be found inside a large trailer van. I had not expected a piece of old-fashioned stage magic to mislead everyone. Unfortunately, the story does not play particular fair with the reader. There's not a single clue to the hiding place and this is a missed opportunity, because in Detective Conan this trick would have come with a strong visual clue in the background of the panels. The reader should have gotten the whole back-story of the car or that last, important part a whole lot sooner.
All in all, this was a passable story with a good premise and great use for our beloved floor plans, but the plot is marred by a lack of fair play. So this volume ends on a slightly weak note. However, I'm still very hopeful about this series. The stories are not stellar, but this second volume already shows improvement and hope this will continue in the third volume. I'll try to get to that third volume sooner rather than later.