You were still a boy that day, even though you looked grown up
Hiding behind your umbrella unable to say goodbye
As we passed by each other... What if... sometimes these memories
start blooming again
"Blooming Late" (Garnet Crow)
The twenty-first theatrical release of Detective Conan, The Crimson Love Letter, has been released in Japan already, but like previous years, I won’t be able to see it until the home-video release much later this year (probably somewhere between late October ~ early December). This year’s film is penned by Ookura Takahiro, a mystery author who has also written two episodes for the animated TV series of Conan (one of them being a companion episode to the film). I’m quite interested to see how the film will turn out, especially after the overly action-oriented instalment of last year (which I did enjoy though). But for now, I’ll just have to do with the latest volume of the manga.
the previous volume. Ran, Sonoko and Sera are out shopping for beachwear in the mall when a murder is discovered inside a clothing boutique: one of the customers has been strangled to death inside the fitting room. The only clues are a mysterious sign the victim left with her fingers, and the fact an unknown user of the stall next to the victim (identified by her white sandals) has disappeared from the boutique. This story is by no means a memorable story, and mainly serves as an introduction for the next story. The dying message left by the victim is based on an interesting cultural difference which I think is certainly not an unknown fact, so it avoids the trap of feeling like a story based on obscure trivia. The story also makes use of an object I knew absolutely nothing about, but which is probably common knowledge for those of the opposite sex, as the story itself points out, and I thought it was pretty clever how it was used in several ways. Not only is it a crucial part of how the murder was committed, it also serves as a further justification to set this story in a clothing boutique, instead of any other place with dressing rooms/stalls. But to be honest, The Message In The Fitting Room’s true meaning lies somewhere else. Ever since the introduction of Sera Masumi in volume 73 (2011), our female high school student detective has shown an unusual interest in Conan and has hinted throughout that she knew Conan from somewhere. We were also made aware of her family ties to several other major characters in the Conan-verse, especially her two brothers. Conan never could recall where he might’ve met Sera before, but in The Message In The Fitting Room, Sera intentionally jogs Conan’s memory by trying out a bathing suit with a familiar look and the waves of memories finally reaches the shore of Conan's mind.
Memories of the Waves is set ten years in the past, long before Kudou Shinichi was turned into a child detective, and even before he had honed his deduction skills to the fullest. It’s a day out at the beach for six-year old Shinichi and childhood friend Ran (accompanied by Shinichi’s mother). All the people on the beach are shocked when they become witness of a car crashing off a cliff, diving deep into the sea. The first to move is a young man with a sharp look in his eye, who manages to get the driver out of the car, even if it is already too late for him. Based on the bag filled with new watches in the car, the mysterious young man deduces that the victim had just robbed a watch shop, and judging from the open window of the passenger’s seat, our hero also surmises that an accomplice managed to escape the car before he dove down to it. With the help of his younger sister Masumi and her two new friends Shinichi and Ran, he quickly manages to identify three men and women who might possibly be the accomplice, trying to escape from the beach and the police. But are there enough clues to find out which of the three is the real robber?
Of course there are, or else it wouldn’t be Detective Conan. Memories of the Waves takes the form of the familiar which-of-the-three set-up so often used in this series. I did really like this one though: it is certainly not a complex story (these which-of-the-three ones seldom are), but the main hint is brilliant: not only does it makes very good use of the visual medium, there’s wonderful synergy with the other underlying parts of the mystery. A mystery story often consist out of several elements, which don’t always need to have synergy. To take the previous story: the dying message and the sandal clue in The Message In The Fitting Room are two separate strands of clues, two entities that exist because of different reasons, and point at the murderer from different angles. Memories of the Waves on the other hand has several clues pointing at the robber, but these work even better taken together, because they are interconnected. Clue A exists and is valid, also because of the existence of clue B and vice versa. Both The Message In The Fitting Room and Memories of the Waves are basically which-of-the-three stories, but the synergy is really what sets the latter high above the former.
Well, that and the fact Memories of the Waves gives answers to questions which readers have been asking about ever since Sera’s introduction in volume 73, especially concerning her family (which she hinted about a lot) and her connection to Conan. While it is a short story, it manages to give a wealth of background information about her and the rest of her family, the most important member being her eldest brother Akai Shuuichi, who has been a major character in the series for ages. Family ties that had only been hinted at are now clearly revealed, which have their own set of implications. During these scenes of interaction between a younger Masumi, her two Shuu brothers and her mother, we are not only given a fresh look at some characters in a way we had never seen, we are also given much more insight in what drives the Akai family, and why the individual members are all acting the way they are acting in the present. This story is therefore an important stepping stone in further developing the story.
We are brought back to everyday life in The Whereabouts of the Horse Stubs: a chance winning at the horse races has Kogorou bringing Ran and Conan to a sushi restaurant. There they meet with the new cook Wakita, an elderly man with buck teeth and an eye-patch. The eye-patch puts Conan on guard, as he has been aware for quite some time now that the number two of the Black Organization, code-named RUM, is planning something, and the one clue Conan has to RUM’s identity is that they have a fake eye. Wakita claims to be a fan of mystery fiction and is also very interested in Kogorou’s exploits as a detective, which worries Conan, but those worries are forgotten for a while when a woman barges in the restaurant and retrieves her handbag from the toilet. The woman claims a pickpocket got her bag with a winning horse stub, but she managed to find her bag through the tracking application on her phone. The fact the bag was hidden in the toilet means the thief must have entered it, and none of the customers have left in the meantime, meaning one of the three customers besides Conan’s party must be the thief. Cook Wakita challenges Kogorou in a detective face-off, hoping to see Kogorou’s brains in action. And yes, this is another which-of-the-three story. The main clue is… I’m not sure it’s completely fair. I figured it out, but I truly doubt the knowledge needed to figure that clue out is common knowledge. Perhaps in Japan. That said, the setting of a sushi restaurant is absolutely perfect for this trick and it even includes a nice false solution. So not a bad story, but your enjoyment can vary depending on how ‘fair’ you’d consider it.
The Truth Behind the Fair Hand is the last complete story in the volume, and shows us more of the new assistant teacher Wakasa in Conan’s class (who was introduced in the previous volume). Conan and the other Detective Boys are visiting their teacher in her own apartment room, because she needs their help repainting a stage play background she had accidently covered with paint. Her neighbour is a professional golfer who has recently won his first title. Loud noises bring the Detective Boys and their teacher to his apartment, and they find two figures lying on the ground: the pro golfer has been knocked out, but his girlfriend has been murdered. Two Polaroid pictures are left on the crime scene, showing the unconscious golfer and his dead girlfriend lying on the floor, and a woman’s hand reaching out to write “Love You ♡” on the golfer’s cheek with lipstick. The police conclude that a stalker might’ve killed the girlfriend out of jealousy, but Conan suspects something fishy is going on. The trick behind the Polaroid pictures is ridiculously simple, but I still liked the story for several reasons. Not only does the story flesh out the mysterious teacher Wakasa more between the mystery plot scenes (the reader knows there’s much more behind her than just her clumsy teacher façade), the story is also very contemporary, going into the topic of selfies and ‘fake girlfriend pictures’ (which are, as Haibara explains early in the story, fake selfies taken by men to that make it seem like they’re with a girlfriend). Mystery fiction (in all media) don’t always use these contemporary social and technological developments up to their fullest potential, but Detective Conan usually makes good use of these trends to come up with stories that truly feel like modern stories (of course, they’ll feel outdated in twenty years, but it’s great reading them now). An argument can be made to make detective fiction feel as timeless as possible, but I feel that that mystery stories that make good use of the latest trends deserve a worthy place.
Volume 92 ends with the first chapter of Three Detectives and Hyakunin Isshu, which has Conan, Kansai-bred high school student detective Hattori and the mysterious secret agent/Poirot employee Amuro hanging out at the restaurant Poirot when a murder happens there during a blackout. As this is just the first chapter, there’s little to say about it, except for the fact that I think this is the first story where Hattori and Amuro actually meet. Oh, and Hyakunin Isshu is also a theme in Detective Conan: The Crimsom Love Letter, but like I mentioned at the startof this post, I won't be able to see that until much later this year.
None of the stories included in Detective Conan 92 are really complex as mystery stories (and not all of them are even murders), but nonetheless, I really enjoyed this volume. Most of the stories are constructed very well despite the simple plots behind them, and they really shine in the department of synergy: author Aoyama is not only telling a standalone mystery tale, he also interweaves those separate plots with his own grander story and his characters. Memories of the Waves is not only a well-constructed tale of detection, it also fleshes out several characters, revealing new truths and having implications for future instalments. The Whereabouts of the Horse Stubs is not only a fairly entertaining tale set in a sushi restaurant, it is also heavily connected with the RUM sub-story plot as it introduces a new one-eyed character who will no doubt return in future volumes. Even a simple story like The Truth Behind the Fair Hand serves as a tool to reveal more about assistant teacher Wakasa, whose role in the story is still not clear. There’s not a lot actually happening in Detective Conan 92, but Aoyama is clearly setting things up for future developments and the anticipation, the tension can be felt throughout this volume.
The next volume will be released in July already, a month earlier than the usual schedule. Oh, and July will feature the release of volume 5 of Magic Kaito, the series where the popular character Kaitou KID originates from (most people know him from his numerous guest appearances in Conan, but he's actually an older character). It’s been ten! years since the last volume, so I’m really looking forward to it! I’ll probably review that one too when the time comes.
Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌 『名探偵コナン』第92巻