Friday, April 13, 2012

No $#!+ Sherlock , Part 5 - "The Case That Was Always Open"

"The subject is hot on the trail of a pair of suspicious men in black when he is attacked from behind and administered a strange substance which physically transforms him into a first grader. When the subject confides  in the eccentric inventor Dr. Agasa, they decide to keep the subject's true identity a secret for the safety of everyone around him. Assuming the new identity of first-grader Conan Edogawa, the subject continues to assist the police force on their most baffling cases. The only problem is that most crime-solving professionals won't take a little kid's advice!"

This introduction appears at the start of any volume of Case Closed (Japanese title: Detective Conan). I suppose Robert E. Howard or Robert Jordan have a manuscript for Conan the Investigator squirreled away somewhere, so Viz Media had to make the change. The manga debuted in 1994, but the reprint in the U.S. debuted around 2004, when the Funimation-dubbed TV series debuted on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Due to the fact that the show regularly features children encountering gory crime scenes, it aired late into the early morning and the ratings stank. The show did gain a following in that time, as Funimation continued to release DVD's of the series (the first five seasons so far) and six of the twelve original feature-length movies. It's not clear if they plan to continue - the series is past the 300-episode mark and only the first 140 episodes have been released. The English dub is controversial in that so many of the stories feature mysteries with clues grounded in Japanese culture, particularly any stories involving coded messages. As a compromise, Funimation left the English subtitles alone, but that's a downer for me, because I tend to use captions and subtitles when I can't understand certain things that were said or if the quality of the audio is terrible. The subtitles in Case Closed do explain bits involving Japanese numbering or kanji, but they are not in-sync with the English dub, so it's like dueling translations!

Let's talk about the characters. Teenager Jimmy Kudo is like a young Ellery Queen - a brilliant amateur who encounters a mystery and manages to always find a police detective (Inspector Joseph Meguire) willing to bow down to his expertise. When he is transformed into Conan Edogawa, he becomes Encyclopedia Brown's kid brother - the smartest person in the room, but no one listens to him, so he uses a tranquilizer dart fired from his wristwatch to drug Private Eye Richard Moore and proceed to lip sync the solution using a vocorder concealed within his bow tie. This bit results in an uncharacteristically chatty Moore becoming known as "The Sleeping Sleuth" in part because he really is asleep!

Why is Jimmy/Conan tagging along with a rude,crude, abusive (Richard tends to slam his fist on Conan's head often and, notably, box his ears) alcoholic Private "Dick"? He believes that Richard's improved caseload will bring him closer to the dealings of The Black Organization , the mob syndicate/cartel/spy network (this is kept vague) whose members are all dressed in black and work under code names. the Men are named after liquors (Gin, Vodka, Rye, Bourbon) and the women are named after cocktails (Vermouth, Sherry). They all work for a mysterious boss who is yet to be identified/revealed. Their work as paid assassins involves the extensive use of poisons, one of which appears to have a rare side effect.

 Of the six agents I mentioned, Gin and Vodka are considered the main antagonists in the series - they were the ones who force-fed what they believed was a poison (compound APTX-469) to Jimmy, transforming him into Conan. Vermouth is actress Sharon Venture, a friend of Vivian Kudo (Jimmy's mother) who used a perfected variant form of the same reverse-aging serum to fake her death and pose as her "daughter" Chris Venture (that reminds me of when Lex Luthor cloned himself and posed as Alexander Luthor the 2nd in the Superman comics). Sharon knows that Conan Edogawa is Jimmy Kudo, but Conan blackmailed her into a pact where the two promise to keep each other's secret and protect each other from harm (this was in vol. 42 - on sale now!). Rye turned out to be an undercover FBI agent (Shuichi Akai) who became a friend and ally of Conan, but his cover got blown and he was seemingly killed off in a hit (it is widely believed that he is still alive, has adopted a new identity - Subaru Okiya - and, with Conan's permission, sublet Jimmy Kudo's now-vacant house).

Agent Bourbon's identity has not been revealed yet, but he has become the coolest character we-have-yet-to-see and launched a firestorm of speculation on the web.  What we know is this: he is supposedly a master sleuth and is convinced that Shuichi Akai is not dead (because only he can kill him) and has made a secret promise with Vermouth, who he is closest with in that organization. Gin calls him "Sherlock Holmes" and finds Bourbon's secretive nature annoying. Bourbon's assignment is to find the missing agent Sherry (Shiho Miyano), but his real assignment may be to find out if Akai is really dead. This appears to involve disguising as a scarred and bandaged Akai and testing the reaction of Akai's FBI cronies, who may have helped him fake his death if he is still alive. Right now, all the smart money wagering "Who is Bourbon?"  is on Tooru AmuroTooru is paying Richard to let him tag along as an apprentice. The bandaged "Scar Akai" makes his appearance whenever Tooru is nowhere in sight. Hmm...Hmm...

As for the "missing" agent Sherry...actually, she became a regular in the cast and, arguably, my favorite in the series. After Gin murdered her sister Akemi Miyano (a Black Organization agent who brainstormed a bank heist in a failed attempt to buy herself and her sister out), her younger sister Shiho Miyamo - a scientist who developed the anti-aging drug, thought she was committing suicide by taking a dose. Instead, as with Jimmy Kudo, Shiho transformed in a kid and fled. Having realized that this was what happened to the missing and presumed dead Jimmy Kudo, she arrived at his house and was welcomed by Dr. Agasa. He adopted her as a cover - with the name Ai Haibara (in the English manga, she is Anita Hailey - in the Funimation anime, she is Vi Graythorn - I suppose "Vi" stands for "Violet" ). In her dealings with others, she can be aloof and cynical - a very Wednesday Addams-type character - but she is not petty or petulant and is very personable. Most stories involving her give the series a snap, especially since Conan/Jimmy seems a bit too settled and not unnerved enough by his transformation. In fact, I usually enjoy any of the episodes/manga stories that have Conan/Jimmy teaming with other characters besides boorish Richard Moore and his drippy daughter (and Jimmy's almost-girlfriend) Rachel - Harley Hartwell (Jimmy's lookalike and friendly rival teen detective), The Junior Detective League (Conan's kid friends - George, Mitch, Amy and later, Anita/Vi) and Booker and Vivian Kudo (Jimmy's parents, who are pretty cool) or the Phantom Thief Kid (an Arsene Lupin-esque master thief and another doppelganger of Jimmy Kudo - he had his own series before creator Gosho Aoyama chose to focus on Detective Conan) .

And therein lies the weakness of the series. When you have a concept built around a false premise, there is no satisfactory payoff until the end and we would prefer it happen in the middle or right after volume 1! If Jimmy is restored, there is no Conan. If Anita/Vi is restored, Conan/Jimmy has nobody to play off. If Rachel becomes smart enough to figure out FOR SURE, or if Conan admits it face-to-face that he, Conan, IS Jimmy...well, I guess Richard would stop bashing this six-year-old on the head (seriously, it looks like that horrible act of child abuse is a beloved gag over there).If Samurai Jack finds a way back into the past, then his show is over. If LOST actually explains the island - well, it managed to choke anyway without offering a valid explanation. If Tony hooked up with Angela, then he'd really be the boss. There's no hint of the series spinning off into "Shinichi Kudo Casebook" or "The Jimmy Kudo Mysteries", though I have yet to see why not. We get endless twists and turns and new characters and questions and distractions and suffer from fatigue before coming back when it looks like some progress has been made.

 I'll opt to leave it open. I'll also let you give the series a try if you haven't read it - get Vol. 42 right now! That's a good one! I notice it's the only manga series that doesn't collect dust on the shelves for long...

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