.Mystery Anime article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 4, No. 3, February 2001
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

Since Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue --the first modern detective story-- readers around the world have been captivated with murder mysteries. From Sherlock Holmes to Columbo, there has been a long, fascinating history of fictional detectives. Japan's writers have also been creating ingenious investigators for nearly 100 years. Naturally, with the unending diversity of anime and manga, there are plenty of detectives for fans to choose. Animerica Extra readers should already be familiar with Narutaki, the boy genius of Steam Detectives. His twenty-six-episode TV show isn't the only mystery series to be animated, so let us introduce you to a few more!

Of all the anime detective titles out there, Mei Tantei Conan (Detective Conan) is the biggest. Currently at twenty-nine volumes, this Gosho (both o's long) Aoyama (Yaiba, Magic Kaito) comic has spawned a merchandising machine. Besides the TV series, which is over 200 episodes long and going strong, there are an astounding array of Detective Conan products, from stationary to student desks, tea cups to toilet paper. There's also a spin-off manga series, Mei Tantei Conan Tokubetsuhen (Detective Conan Special Version), where other creators can try their hand at mystery in concert with Aoyama.

The series revolves around the brilliant boy detective Shinichi Kudo (long o) who, when investigating a suspicious duo, is knocked out and given a mysterious drug. The drug is supposed to kill him, but shrinks him to a grade schooler, instead! Taking the mystery-oriented pseudonym Conan Edogawa, Shinichi manages to get his unknowing girlfriend, karate team captain Ran, to take him in. Her father is a P.I., and Shinichi hopes this will give him a better chance to investigate the Men In Black who gave him the drug. Ran's father is not a very good detective, so Conan tries to help. No one will listen to a grade-schooler, so Shinichi's neighbor, inventor Professor Agasa, creates all sorts of clever gadgets to help him deal with the various --often humorous-- dilemmas of being a little kid. Conan's cases range from brain teasers to murder mysteries and range from one chapter or episode long to fairly lengthy investigations. The lead may be pint-sized, but this is definitely not a series for kids, for it often involves grisly death. This is perhaps the reason Fox has still not aired the series, despite their previous announcement of a fall 2000 U.S. release.

Kindaichi Shonen (long o) no Jikenbo (The Case Files of Young Kindaichi) predates Detective Conan by a year, so many Kindaichi fans argue its popularity was the catalyst which set Shonen Sunday execs searching for their own teen mystery series. Regardless of the competition, Kindaichi found it's own healthy share of success. Drawn by Fumiya Sato (long o), and written by Yosaburo (both o's long) Kanari, the comic ran for twenty-seven volumes, with a 148-episode TV series, three movies, three games, seven novels, and a dozen extra manga.

Hajime Kindaichi is the grandson of a great detective, though you wouldn't guess it from his questionable manners and poor performance at school. But if you give Kindaichi a mystery to solve, he practically becomes a different person. Like Shinichi, Kindaichi has a genius for solving murder mysteries and often aids an unappreciative and not-as-clever detective, Officer Kenmochi. Unlike Conan, Kindaichi does not rely on a strong girlfriend, gadgets or other gimmicks to solve crimes. The stories in this series are complex and involved, often spanning multiple books and episodes, so be sure to start at the beginning of a case. Several volumes have been translated for the Kodansha Bilingual Comics line --a great way to work on your Japanese!

Naoki Urasawa (YAWARA!, Pineapple Army) was a seasoned artist by the time he teamed up with writer Hokusei Katsushika to create the Big Comic Spirits series, Master Keaton. As often happens when a writer and artist team up, the result was a solid, multifaceted story. Taichi* Keaton is a divorced, half Japanese/half English, ex SAS (Special Air Service) Staff Sargent, Oxford educated archeologist who lectures and works as a special insurance investigator. His wide variety of experience is intended to explain his abilities rather than set up his genius, for the title is a constant reminder of his limitations: his SAS instructor said of his fighting methods, he will never be good enough to be a Professor, only a Master.

Keaton's cases are complex and full of interesting characters and insights into humanity, history and politics. The stories range from missing persons to terrorism, yet include regular glimpses of Keaton's intricate family life. Often but not always set in Europe, this cosmopolitan mystery series is more plot and dialog intensive than the rest and aimed at an older audience. The popular 18-volume series inspired a 24-episode TV show with a continuing video series.

Karakurizoshi (long o) Ayatsuri Sakon (The Tales of Puppeteer Sakon), is another mystery series penned by a creative duo. The beautiful art of Takeshi Obata (Aladdin Rampoo Rampoo, Rikijin Densetsu*) heightens the drama of Marlow Sherlack's* fanciful murder mysteries. The detective in this series is an androgynous young puppeteer named Sakon Tachibana who uses his magnificent bunraku puppet, Ukon, to express himself. Ukon's mouthy exuberance allows shy, introverted Sakon to remain cool and calm in the midst of even the most gruesome plot. Sakon's remarkable ability to mimic voices and put himself in nearly anyone's shoes makes the investigations deeply psychological, for Sakon often uses his talents to uncover clues and force confessions. In 1999, nearly four years after the end of the 4-volume Shonen Jump manga, a 26-episode series of this unique mystery was finally animated for (satellite) TV.

The creative conglomerate of CLAMP (X/1999, Magic Knight Rayearth) seems to enjoy creating stories covering a wide variety of genres and appealing to many different age groups. The 3-volume CLAMP Gakuen Tantei Dan (CLAMP School (Detectives)) is their mystery series, and despite it's grade-school protagonists, this Asuka Comics title can be enjoyed by older readers as well.

The detectives of the series just happen to be CLAMP Academy's student government: sweet and thoughtful Akira Ijyuin (long u), Treasurer; serious and diligent Suoh Takamura, Secretary; and clever and charismatic Nokoru Imonoyama, President. (X/1999 fans may recognize these three!) This trio of charming boys aid any female they find in distress, for Nokoru can't stand to see a lady in tears. Their cases range from lost pets to kidnaping and are solved with the exceptional wit and talents of these privileged young men. The TV series ran for twenty-six episodes in 1997 and is now available in subtitled English from Anime Village. Although younger audiences find it easier to appreciate this darling, character-driven series, if you're a true CLAMP fan, you really should try it.

No discussion of anime detectives would be complete without mentioning the mid-eighties TV show Mei Tantei Holmes (Great Detective Holmes/Sherlock Hound). This charming 26-episode series was based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels and is set in a fanciful world where Holmes, Watson and the rest of the populace are anthropomorphic dogs. The stories involve a variety of mysteries, many tied closely to the period. There are counterfeit coin mints, trans-channel airmail robberies, hidden gems, secret tunnels, and of course Moriarty. Fourteen episodes were released in English by Celebrity Home Entertainment. The first six episodes were directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service), but Sherlock Hound is well worth seeing even without his involvement.

Brilliant minds unraveling crime and intrigues give us an illicit look into the darkest parts of the human psyche. Like answering a riddle or solving a puzzle, many people enjoy the challenge of a good murder mystery, whether it's a novel, TV show, or comic. There are plenty of detective series which haven't been animated yet, so be sure to investigate manga stores and websites for more super sleuths!

 

NOTES:
I decided to bail on Flint the Time Detective, because I couldn't find any information about the original and he works for the man (isn't a P.I.). No space anyway.

Someone wrote it as Daiichi, too; please check for me.

I'm totally guessing on the Rikijin; the kanji are power and person.

Anita did the writer's katakana over kanji name as Maro (both vowels long) Sharaku, but I'm thinking it's meant to be more mystery-oriented than that. Your call.


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