by Carlo Santos,

Case Closed

GN 45

Case Closed GN 45
Jimmy Kudo was a genius teenage detective ... until a mysterious experimental serum shrank him to the size of a grade-schooler. Now Kudo passes himself off as Conan Edogawa, a little boy with a knack for solving crimes (even though grown-ups won't ever take him seriously). Using his brilliant mind, Conan figures out the truth behind a ghost that supposedly haunts the local high school. Later on, a fishing excursion with friends takes a dark turn when a fisherman nearby is poisoned—and only Conan can figure out who did it. Surely he'll have an easier case on his hands when a famous baseball player is killed and the culprit is blatantly obvious, but how is it that the suspect has a perfect alibi? There's also no escaping death when Conan and others visit a countryside inn—and discover evidence of murder in the nearby woods!

At 45 volumes and counting, the exploits of pint-sized sleuth Conan show no signs of stopping anytime soon. But not all mysteries are created equal, and the stories in this volume are inconsistent at best. They try to tweak the murder-mystery formula in different ways, whether it's revealing the culprit right away, or ending on a benign note—but these variations can backfire, ending up as anticlimactic or too convoluted. There are many ways to commit a crime, but not every way leads to a compelling story.

The high school ghost tale that carries over from Volume 44 is an example of ending up too convoluted. At first it's exciting to see Conan disprove the occult with his sharp reasoning, but then the students step into the conversation, and it becomes this torrent of words where everyone has to explain every single thing that happened (and why they did it). And that still leaves the illogic of why anyone would set up such complex pranks with a high chance of failure.

Thankfully, the fishing incident that follows is more convincing, making use of a murder method that's simple but deadly enough to work in real life. However, the characters involved in the plot are fairly weak—it's one of those hokey rivalries where several men are attracted to the same woman—and the finale, which turns out less dramatic than expected, puts a damper on the whole story.

The one legitimately good mystery in this volume is the case involving a baseball superstar's death: it reverses the usual formula by revealing the killer immediately, then setting up an alibi for him that seems impenetrable. As usual, Conan leads the way in ferreting out clues, some of which lay cleverly hidden at the start of the story—and then comes another slight twist. Rather than revealing the truth through his voice-altering bowtie like he usually does, Conan drops enough hints that Inspector Moore can figure it out for himself, which makes for a more rewarding finish. When the guilty party finally reveals his intentions, the back-story is also pretty convincing, shining a light on the dark side of pro sports where fellow athletes turn on each other.

A still-incomplete whodunit rounds out the last few chapters, but this one suggests good things to come. With an apparent serial killer on the loose, and clues that are fun to puzzle over (despite relying on the "victim's dying words" cliché), the resolution to this story in the next volume should be full of suspense.

Because story content and mystery-solving are Case Closed's top priority, the art is treated as merely functional: it gets the job done, without much flash. A wide variety of character designs is the series' best visual strength, as proven by a supporting cast that ranges anywhere from high school to middle-aged, and features many different faces and body types. The strict, rectangular paneling also keeps the storytelling as straightforward as possible—there are no bizarre angles or layout gimmicks to get in the way of being immersed in the story. However, that's about where the artistic highlights stop: major action scenes are minimal (usually happening about once every two to three chapters), and everything else involves Conan and company standing around, discussing the case and questioning suspects. In some cases, visual details do play a role—like with diagrams that explain Conan's reasoning, or when the characters are trying to solve a written-word puzzle—but often, the mysteries could just as easily be worked out in prose.

The heavy dialogue throughout this volume further proves that artwork isn't nearly as important as writing. The translation does a solid job of getting Conan's points across, especially when he digs deep into logical mazes of what the suspects can or can't have done. Casual conversation works pretty smoothly as well, even if all the small talk in addition to the more serious discussion bogs down the pacing. No matter how smooth the translation, though, it still can't save the series from a language quirk stemming from a rash licensing decision years ago. The main characters are stuck with Western names originally intended to make them more marketable—say hi to Conan's grade-school friends Amy, George and Mitch, for example—while the supporting characters all use their Japanese names. While we'd like to believe the series takes place in a fantastical melting-pot version of Japan, this cultural criss-crossing just sounds strange.

Some days, Conan gets to solve complex, brilliantly constructed mysteries. Some days he gets a little closer to hunting down the agents that shrunk his body. And then there are days he gets stuck with second-rate sleuthing projects, where the answer requires too much explaining, or the final conclusion lacks impact, or the whole thing ends on a cliffhanger and can't really be judged until next volume. That's the unfortunate situation in this volume of Case Closed, where the only truly satisfying case is a murder where figuring out how it happened takes precedence over who did it. Because of the series' rather plain visual style, it doesn't even get to use the excuse of "well, at least it looks pretty." In real life, investigators rarely enjoy the opportunity to work on dramatic, high-profile cases, and it seems Conan faces the same problem here.

Production Info:
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : C

+ Keeps the murder-mystery formula from getting stale by using subtle variations, logical challenges, and a wide range of character types.
These variations just make things worse, leading to too much complexity or not enough drama. Plain artwork and lots of dialogue can make the series a chore.

Story & Art: Gosho Aoyama

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