I noted last February in my review of Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 21 and 22 that the plan going forward is to get as close as possible to vol. 50, which marks the end of the series, before 2024 rolls around in order to clear the way to begin exploring its sister series, C.M.B. – which I might like even more than Q.E.D. Some comments on previous reviews pointed out Q.E.D. vol. 41 and C.M.B. vol. 19 form a crossover meant to be reader together as a set. So before reaching vol. 41, I'll review C.M.B. vol. 1 and 2 as an introduction to the series before tackling Q.E.D. vol. 41 and C.M.B. vol. 19 together as a sort of crossover special. After that, I'll stretch out the last nine volumes by doing double-reviews comprising of one volume from each series. So, barring World War III or some other disaster, C.M.B. is coming to this blog in 2024. Now, onto the series at hand!
The first story from Q.E.D. vol. 25, "Outer Space Battle," centers around the three members of the Sakisaka Private High School Detective Club, Enari "Queen" Himeko, Nagaie "Holmes" Koroku and Morita "Mulder" Orisato. Those three bumbling, wannabee detectives have been plaguing Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara since vol. 18, but they're usually good for a fun, lighthearted story and "Outer Space Battle" is no exception. This time, the already troubled high school club sorely needs additional members to be officially recognized as a school club. Suddenly, as if by magic, a group of four students come knocking eager to become club members and bringing the number up seven. Enough to be recognized.
However, they never participated in club activities and began to bring their own stuff into the club room, but then they played a dirty trick on them when they let them signed a request letter for the club's promotion. Suspiciously, they insist the three sign it with a marker instead of a ballpoint pen. Not long thereafter, the three discover they signed their names to three resignation letters and, to add injury to insult, they got kicked out of their own club room and Enari's mystery novel got deleted from the club computer – she vows to make the usurpers bend the knee. But how did they turn the request letters into resignation? So they turned Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara to help them get even ("...and of course, those two will help us out"). Touma makes short work of the signature trick, but ousting the four and getting the club room back is going to be a lot trickier. What they concoct is basically an alien invasion to exploit the believe of one of them in UFOs and government cover-ups. Touma naturally has more practical reason to go along with this harebrained scheme and finds a way to get the club room back, but not for any friendly, altruistic motivations. Touma explains to Mizuhara "those three need to be kept in that room."
So, yeah, "Outer Space Battle" is pretty much high school students conning each other to get possession of a club room, which is as preposterous and fun as it sounds. Interestingly, the scenes with the one-eyed alien demonstrating its advanced weaponry (technically) belongs to that ultra rare subcategory of the locked room and impossible crime genre, "Impossible Technology." It recalls the impossibilities involving ray guns and flying saucers from Mack Reynolds' The Case of the Little Green Men (1951).
The second story from vol. 25, "Parallel," is another demonstration how perfectly Q.E.D. can tiptoe across that impossibly slippery tightrope between the traditional and outright experimental. The body of an elderly man, "shot in the back," is discovered inside an irrigation pipe and circumstances indicate the bullet came from the direction of a holiday villa. Since the holiday season is over, there are only three people staying there at the moment, but these men are not your common, garden variety suspects. They are (ex) cabinet (vice) ministers and not the type of people you can just interrogate without evidence. The police identify the victim as a university chancellor, Norizuku Ochi, who, fifteen years previously, headed the Synchrotron Project ("...a kind of particle accelerator") and three politicians were deeply involved or attached to the project – before it got unceremoniously canceled due to budget constraints. Touma eventually enters the case when someone he knows from his MIT days, Shigeyuki Sudou, is interviewed as he used to be Ochi's lab assistant. So begins digging up everything he can find on the Synchrotron Project.
"Parallel" is a weirder detective story than it sounds. The first murder has a clever angle with a hidden alibi and the second-half has two of the politicians poisoned in a cafeteria, but it's neither the who nor how that matters here. It's the murderer's motivation, mindset and personal convictions, which is strangely perched on supersymmetric string theory and parallel worlds. A multiverse where "there is a world where humanity does not exist" and "a world where there is no war" as well as a world where a certain person never died ("I'm certain it does... somewhere..."). Fittingly, the tragic conclusion is a little bleak with the final two panels unsuccessfully trying to end the story on a somewhat brighter note. I've remarked before parallel universes and alternate timelines are an untapped reservoir of storytelling and plotting potential. "Parallel" merely touched upon its possible existence to elevate an otherwise average, typical Japanese detective story. Q.E.D. simply is the detective series for 21st century.The first story from vol. 26, "Summer Time Capsule," appears to be a fairly minor character-arc focusing this time on Kana Mizuhara, but it really is a great story playing on the theme of faulty memories and time passing by. During construction work near the train station, construction workers a time capsule with an inscription on the lid, "the TREASURE of Kana Mizuhara CLASS 3-2." Mizuhara recollection of her primary school days have become hazy ("is it really mine?") and hardly recognizes the childhood mementos inside. It's her friends who need to remind her about the marble and a picture of pop star, but there are two other items that pose an even bigger mystery. Firstly, there's an old, sun-faded baseball, but Mizuhara only began playing baseball in high school without even liking it. Secondly, there's a group photograph taken during a summer holiday and includes a kid nobody recognizes or remembers. Something about Summer that has been forgotten and Mizuhara gets the feeling she might have done something bad ("...maybe you took it from someone by force..."). Or did she? Touma helps his friends get to the bottom of what happened that summer and uncover a cleverly hidden, fairly minor crime along the way, but what really matters in this story is how destructive time can be to a person as you can't possibly recall every single second of your life ("I wonder if there will come a time when I forget about this moment as well"). Great stuff!
The second and last story from vol. 26, "Accomplice," is an inversion of both the locked room mystery and inverted detective story. The story begins with Inspector Mizuhara taking his wife and daughter to a French restaurant, Chemin, to celebrate winning some money in the lottery. So, as to be expected, the restaurant becomes the scene of a murder before the Mizuharas can reach dessert. The victim is the director of Ohara Finance, Hidetsugu Ohara, who has a stake in the restaurant and chef, Yosuke Murase, confesses to have stabbed Ohara, but refuses to tell how he did it. Ohara was discovered inside the locked, windowless storage room with a door fitting so tightly in its frame there's no gap beneath the door "even for a piece of string to go through." The facts point out that "until the body was found, nobody had the key." So how did Murase open the door without the key? Inspector Mizuhara suspects he might have had an accomplice, but the clock is ticking. Since there's a confession, the police has to file a report, but, as the report is incomplete, the time limit for arrest might expire.
Touma agrees with Inspector Mizuhara and demonstrates how, in this case, " the identity of the accomplice will be the key to solve the mystery." A pretty good solution considering the locked room-trick and inverted mystery format can both be considered basic in nature, but Motohiro Katou pulled them inside out and stitched them together to create something a little different. And it worked!
So these were two excellent, absolutely rock solid volumes comprising of four wildly varied stories covering everything from locked room murders and high school shenanigans to flirting with parallel realities and memory archaeology. These experiments so often work in this series, because it uses the detective story's long and storied history as the foundation to erect a new kind of detective story for a new century. You can find four of its success stories in these two volumes!