#07 – Meitantei Conan by Aoyama Gosho

Meitantei Conan / Case Closed
by Aoyama Gosho
Serialized in Shounen Sunday
Published by Shogakukan

I’m trying my best to start this review without fangirling. However, as I type the sentences, I can’t help but squee over which I should tackle first and how I should tackle this mammoth of yet another cultural icon in the world of not only manga, but of Japan, Detective Conan. In the end, I have resolved to solving this in the same manner that Aoyama Gosho starts a case with Conan: surprise.

I have been aware of Detective Conan for some while. Like most of you, I approached Detective Conan with much skepticism. For one, it was LONG and a shounen story at that (so you know that it won’t be one of those ‘in-depth’ mangas). Back then, I knew I had to struggle reading through 30 volumes and infinity to read this manga. It would require my dedication follow this manga if it reaches zeta. Nonetheless, I gave it a shot a few years back and borrowed a friend’s tankoubon to get started. And in an instant, I found myself suddenly involved in a baffling mystery that I’m just itching to solve.

Searching for evidence
Yes, I did say that I met Conan with great skepticism. For one, back then with my stupid clampified eyes, I used to think that the drawing for Conan was too simple. Too stale. Unmanga-ish. Too kiddy. It is definitely a hurdle for many who are used with popular manga styles to get over the fact that Conan is closer to a cartoon than he is to the more popular manga. His art is far too simple and too childish to even get involved in it. But you will understand later that the art will work hand in hand with the story that Conan is trying to present. Despite the art, the story can be mature and challenging, without compromising the audience that this story was intended for: young boys. It does run in a shounen manga after all.

One has got to read Conan before you can even judge whether if this is merely just a manga that people are reading out of a forced habit or really a serious manga that knows its stuff. The first few pages will already put down your biases aside and show you that Conan is much larger than that small boy with a coat and a red bowtie. The moment you start reading you are immediately hooked into Conan’s mystery. You have, to begin with, Shinichi Kudou, a famous high school detective who accidentally crossed a bunch of criminals wearing black. Caught by the suspects, they poisoned him with a drug that shrunk his size to a little boy. Nowhere to run for help, he asks his neighbor to create a cover for him, at the same time seeking refuge in the arms of his ‘girlfriend’ of sorts, Ran. Under the guise of Conan Edogawa, Shinichi searches for these ‘men in black’ at the same time protecting, as much as he can, the people dear to him.

Detective Conan’s strengths involve its simplicity and its ability to set up a situation where the author can fully utilize it depending on the demands of the editor. To look at this strength, we have to go through things in finer detail. First, the main mystery which involves Shinichi/Conan and the Black Organization. Aoyama-sensei made the Black Organization something that is bigger than Kudo himself. It is quite common for detective stories such as Kindaichi and Tantei Gakuen Q that they are dealing with cases involving a mastermind organization, but the difference with Conan is that it allowed Gosho to let Conan take time in his investigation. The Black Organization was something that Conan didn’t know where to find or contact. All he had were two names, Vodka and Gin, and a distinctive uniform, black. He had to grow as a detective in order to find himself closer and closer to his goal. Hence, the more cases he solves, the more chances he has of encountering these people, especially if these people are truly criminal. I felt that this was a genius on Aoyama’s side so that Conan has more of a purpose in terms of tagging along with Kogoro. It’s not just a random encounter with the criminal. It is as though Conan is making the organization know that “I am here. And I’m out to get you.”

But the extra cases outside the Black Organization story line is a strength in itself. It is here that we can see more of Conan’s personality, his growth not only as a detective but as a man. Sometimes, the longer we look at Conan, the more that we forget that Conan is actually a teen trapped in a boy’s body. But the moment he starts thinking, we see an evolving Shinichi who is working harder to finally get the Black Organization. And this is where the main plot and the extras come in together. Aoyama can use the extras to build the personalities of his characters, so that when the big action comes (the Black Organization encounters), they can skip the dramatic chitchat and head on for the action. Action, mystery, and suspense, sans the uncalled for drama, makes those Black Organization moments worthwhile. But what about Ran? Well, Conan often makes Ran uninvolved in these dramas, so we know that the cheesy chit chat won’t be here. More so, Ran can kick ass. Rather than Conan protecting Ran, more often than not, Ran protects him! The extra cases also allow Aoyama to plant his plot devices that can be used later for the Black Organization story line. I’m still in shock with the Jodie-sensei’s twist and loved Gosho for that. GOD! Who knew. I didn’t.

Playing with the witnesses
Great detective stories has the ability to surprise the witnesses to the crime (that’s us readers) on the twist of the mystery. If we look at Conan’s art, we can’t help but surmise that this is merely a shounen story and that we won’t get something deep and meaningful from it. However, the art works hand in hand with the story in creating the trick for the readers.

The readers are no different to Ran, Inspector Takagi, or even Vodka and Gin when it comes to unfolding on who the killers are or who Conan really is. It’s all about deception. Aoyama’s art, simple and cartoony as they can be, can deceive us on who could be the killer. I think it’s his attempt on trying to create a population of people wherein you’ll never know who can really be the killer. By making the art general and indistinguishable, he manages to create anonymity on who the killer could and who Conan can be. Anybody could be a murderer, even the person with the kindest face on the earth.

There are of course funny moments when it comes to how Aoyama-sensei tries to draw his cases together. For one, does no one ever really stand behind Kogoro? Aoyama has presented a couple of situations wherein they get Conan and almost caught him talking like Kogoro, but I swear, it’s the stuff that come to be great parodies. Another is the representation of the suspect as that black no face thing. I find it funny because it’s such a ‘shady character.’ Another shounen series, Gintama, has pulled a parody of this ‘shady’ suspect. More so, the last of all, are the people around Conan really… THAT DUMB!?! Can’t they just notice Conan? Or if Kogoro is really modulating his vocal cords to talk while he’s sleeping. lol. There are various loopholes in Conan that are such a laugh, but these usually come out as an afterthought after having been engrossed with the mysteries presented every week.

That’s the thing. The very reason why 50 volumes later and you are hooked line and sinker to this manga. The fact that you are deceived every case and you can’t figure out why you didn’t get it before a high/elementary school kid did. Conan has a great way in capturing your attention, almost involving you in the case as if you were there. You are always caught off guard even if you knew that the person next to you could possibly be the killer. I think for kids, the reason why they keep on reading is because it’s fun to solve mysteries with Conan. It is not a manga of great philosophical depth and spiritual meaning, however, it is a leisure read that lets you trick your mind once in a while and prove to you that you may not have all the answers for everything.

Is it worth to get tricked through 50 volumes? I heard that the English version was totally difficult to get used to because of the name changes, however, if you’re the type that doesn’t mind it, then yes, reading through Conan is worth the trip. If you do mind, then learn Japanese to catch up on the manga… or…

Just at the time when you think you can take a rest and let 3 or four volumes pass before you start reading again, Aoyama sets up something new for you to look forward to something interesting again. More so, it’s fun to read the characters and you look forward to seeing them again in hopes that they will serve as a trick for you someday. I enjoy reading chapters with Heiji and Kaitou Kid in it.

Will the Black Organization case ever be solved? Honestly, at this point, I don’t care because its a fun and interesting trip while you’re trying to find out on who this Black Organization is.

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