Something you should know about me: I like shiny new things. Given the choice between having something I know behind door number one and knowing what’s behind door number two? Curiosity wins. When my wife and I get ice cream, I’m the guy who has to taste like, 10 different flavors before I settle on something. And, if you regularly read our weekly picks, you’ll see I am always drawn to the new manga, even when it means overlooking incredible, established series.
When it comes to manga series, I’m not a distance runner. The longest I’ve kept with a series? 15 volumes, and even that was because I got a great deal on buying them all at once. Now, it’s not always a matter of choice—the incredible Dragonhead has wrapped up, but I haven’t read more than half of the books because bookstore and comics retailers in town don’t carry it except in spotty numbers(I know I could special order them or get them online from a place like Powell’s, but that—for some inexplicable reason—sticks in my craw. And I work in a bookstore!).
So recently I decided to attack this head on—I came across several volumes of different series, well into their runs. I knew very little about any of them, but jumped in headfirst to see if these volumes hold up on their own. With money as tight as it is, I’m guessing many of you are in a similar position as myself: my manga budget has been seriously cut, and I find myself reading catch-as-catch can. I read what I can find at the library, trading with friends, and yes, even reading in bookstores (That’s a whole different column, but—and I say this as someone heavily invested in the bookstore business—readers are a good thing. If I have couches in my bookstore, then you are welcome to come in and read, even if you don’t buy something this trip. And the sale that’s not happening now? Well, if you like coming to bookstores, eventually it will happen. In the long run, reading can only be good for the industry).
At any rate, that’s how I came to pick up volume 26 of Case Closed. This is a series I’ve been peripherally aware of, but I’ve never read it before, never seen the anime, and never looked at any of the range of ancillary Case Closed stuff (card game, etc.). I knew it’s a mystery series, but that’s about it.
So, how does it hold up? Well, from the very beginning, it had lots going for it: an attractively packaged book (something Viz is well-known for); a sure and generous arrangement of everything from the translation to extras (something to be expected when the great Shaenon Garrity is at the editing helm); and a tight, comprehensive summary on the back and inside that hits the basics (Jimmy Kudo, a teen detective—think Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew—is poisoned by mysterious criminal types with a substance that physically transforms him into a first grader. He takes on the pseudonym “Conan Edogawa” to continue solving mysteries) without losing you in convoluted details. Despite knowing nothing about the series, I found it great fun! Discreet, intriguing and enjoyable mysteries (about three over the entire volume), are linked by the larger plot, which involves Jimmy/Conan regaining his normal body. But will it last? And if it doesn’t, will he explain everything to the girl he loves in time?
The art’s fun, and services what is, ultimately, not a book that depends on its visuals: mysteries tend to be word heavy, and considering that this is more “British cozy” than “hard-boiled detective” (sorry, a bit of mystery novel speak here), there’s not much call for speed lines, or other hallmarks of action sequences. The characters are well-drawn, both visually (they are easily distinguishable one from another) and otherwise. In fact, there was really only one character that jumped out at me as an annoying manga stereotype.
Overall, this structure and the characters are durable enough to be very forgiving to the new reader. The questions I don’t have answers for? Does the fact that I was able to jump in so readily belie a static overall story that would get tedious if read from volume 1 all the way to volume 26 and beyond? The larger storyline had some intriguing developments this go round—would it be as interesting if the larger story weren’t so foregrounded? Can the mysteries themselves sustain the series? I liked the mysteries here, but given 50-75 mysteries over the course of the series (I’m guessing), are they more Sherlock Holmes or Encyclopedia Brown? In the end, I have no idea. Maybe the true test of the series’ quality: I’m curious enough to check out future volumes should I have the opportunity, but I don’t feel driven to seek out earlier ones.
In the end, Case Closed doesn’t end up on my must read list, but, as I said, it is great fun. Also, despite some discreet nods to mystery/suspense violence, the “older teen” rating is completely absurd. This volume, at least, is perfectly acceptable to the preteen crowd. This go round at least, my random manga pick left me quite pleased!