Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Dear Detective: Mitsuko's Case Files
Mimi and Saku continue to solve the cases that come their way in early 1930s Ginza, helping to free a young orphan from the clutches of criminals, giving voice to a voiceless retail worker, and working out issues with the police. But when a case involves Saku's older brother, will they be able to keep their investigation on neutral ground?
My Dear Detective: Mitsuko's Case Files is translated by Samuel R. Messner and lettered by Barru Shrager.
For our review of the first volume, go here.
The lady detective as a character is generally dated to the early 1860s, when two novels - Revelations of a Lady Detective and The Female Detective - were published in England, but when the Stratemeyer Syndicate started publishing its Nancy Drew novels in the 1930s, things really took off. That's highly simplified, obviously, but My Dear Detective: Mitsuko's Case Files' heroine Mitsuko “Mimi” Hoshino draws a lot more from Nancy than Miss Marple, Miss G., or Susan Hopley feels self-evident. Mimi may not be a plucky high school girl, but she's got the same level of determination as Stratemeyer's immortal girl detective, and her adventures tend to be safer than some of her literary counterparts. Mimi's work runs more towards “amnesia victims” and “bullied employees” than “murder.”
That makes these two volumes a very cozy read. The books are a nice combination of cases, with their durations well-varied; the shortest cases are only one chapter long, while the longest takes up most of a book. There's also a good variety of material. Volume two opens with the continuation of the case of a missing orphan that formed the cliffhanger of volume one, and it involves a criminal gang taking advantage of the lonely child in question. Mimi and Saku have to find Aran and figure out what made him vulnerable to the gang's predation in the first place. That's much more interesting than the resolution of the mystery because the story delves into the sort of hurt that the young orphan has dealt with in his life, his dashed hopes, and a little bit about what it was like to be an orphan in 1930s Japan. It's got a warm resolution, as do all of the cases thus far, but the middle chapters make it worth reading.
That's the best way to describe all of Mimi's and Saku's work: it's the “why,” not the “how” that makes them good. This is most evident in the story about Saku's older brother Hitoya; following a rail accident in England, where Hitoya was on business for the family's department store, he appears to have lost all of his memories. Mimi quickly realizes that Saku's family situation is much more complex than she assumed and that he is, in fact, the stepson of his father. With this reveal and some additional information about Hitoya, the case becomes less about Hitoya's purported memory loss and more a conflict between the old and new ways of doing things. The early Showa era was a time of significant change, and both Saku and Hitoya aren't entirely comfortable with the idea that maybe those social changes apply to them too. Interestingly enough, their father is much more modern in that he cares more about his sons' happiness than traditional inheritance norms, which makes the story hit harder because it feels like it shows a more nuanced image of intergenerational relationships in times of change. The parents aren't always the ones with the problems.
This broad view of history is a major strength of the series. Little details, like the fact that Mimi has matchboxes printed with her agency's information in the same way modern stories would use tissues, do a great job of establishing time and place, and the translation notes for volume three show examples of real 1930s ads and products that Ito includes in the story. The notes are excellent in general, providing slang translations for terms like “handbag boy” (not a compliment) and a link to the exact dressmaking manual that appears in one chapter. Because the series is only available on Azuki's site/app, the notes come after each chapter, which frankly feels more useful than all grouped at the end of the volume. At other times, Ito gives us enough context to understand how things are different. In a case in the third volume, a criminal is described as having “bloody fingertips;” Saku figures out that they may have painted nails, something that was coming into fashion in Japan at the time. Mimi isn't familiar with manicures, but Saku has them when he needs to look put together, another interesting detail that is naturally incorporated into the plot. (And if you're wondering, red nail polish became popular in the 1920s; before that, neutral colors were in style.)
The art for the story is also solid. Ito does an excellent job of showing how the world was changing through a combination of vehicle styles and fashions. Mimi almost exclusively wears Western clothes and has bobbed hair, a marker of her status as a modern woman; when one case involves a young woman who is about to embark on an arranged marriage, she's shown with long hair and wearing traditional Japanese clothes. There's also a sense of the bustle of Ginza, with crowds, cars, carriages, and others filling the streets, while restaurant scenes give a grounded feel of the time and place. It's a well-put-together piece of historical fiction in every regard.
Mimi doesn't get much character development across these two books. It feels as if Saku is taking the Watson role to her Holmes, and he gets much more growth. That's a little disappointing, but the rest of the story is engaging enough that it matters less than it might. My Dear Detective: Mitsuko's Case Files is a frothy historical cozy series, and if you're a fan of the genre, it's more than worth the price of admission.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Solidly grounded in history, nice cozy mysteries. Great notes.
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