Note of warning: time didn't permit me to write this response at my leisure or properly proof read before posting – so please judge it on its content and not the style.
This is a slovenly response to a blot-post on TGWTG website by Patrick and Pharmmajor discussing, back and forth, one of my all-time favorite detective series, Case Closed a.k.a. Detective Conan, but I'm afraid the only thing the article did for me was irking me the wrong way and the parroting on Patrick's part genuinely annoyed the heck out of me.
However, someone has already told me I was too harsh on him, but, as he said himself, a little harsh criticism has never hurt anyone. So here we go (I'm not going over every single little thing that riles me, but just adress the major points):
Jim: "Detective manga is a small, but highly popular genre in Japan that has gradually grown in popularity here in America over the past few decades."
Jim is correct in stating that detective stories in manga form are highly popular in Japan, but they haven't gradually grown in popularity over here – on the contrary, they've been selling rather poorly. Last year, the releases for Case Closed were cut back from six to four volumes a year, The Kindaichi Case Files was only sporadically released (about once a year) before ending up on the chopping block and there has yet to be a publisher who gives series such as Q.E.D., Detective Academy Q, The Accidents, Chief Detective Kenichi and Master Keaton as much as a glance.
Why this woeful lack of interest of both readers and publishers? I don't have a definite answer to that question, but I can offer a theory. Contrary to Japan, the traditional mystery isn't an active part of our pop-culture, that is to say, writers such as Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie still enjoy a large readership, but there's barely a place on the market for neo-orthodox mystery writers.
Case in point: John Pugmire faced the daunting task of getting one of Paul Halter's locked room novels published into English, but, as the years crept by, it started to look more and more like an impossibility that would even baffle Dr. Alan Twist and Owen Burns – and was only solved by the advent of self-publishing services.
This is not the case in Japan, where there's an entire neo-orthodox movement whose books are even eligible (and won) literary prices – which is why Conan and Kindaichi are such a success over there, with both younger and older readers, but fail to really catch on here in the West. The problem is that the traditional detective story, which include locked room mysteries and other impossible crimes, has become a specialized genre over here and publishers mistakenly targeted these books at the type of manga fans who gobble up series like Naruto and Bleach, instead of actual mystery fans – and, unfortunately for Conan and Kindaichi, there's only a small overlap of manga and classic mystery readers.
Patrick: "Surprisingly, I find that Case Closed hasn’t got a huge following among mystery fans. I suspect the first few volumes have something to do with it. The stories in these volumes are extremely weak, with easily-spotted murderers, obvious clues, and so on (...) The stories, however, gradually improve, and the series really takes off when it gets into the double digits."
Thanks for reiterating my point, right down to the double-digit comment, but it's slightly more than weak plotting at the start of the series, that might turn away mystery fans not familiar with the medium. The character design and style may, at first, appear as too kiddy-ish (especially to older readers) and combine that with the weak plotting of the first few volumes and some of the fantastical plot elements involved in the set-up (e.g. the shrinking and gadgets), and what your left with is a series that looks very unappealing to a serious minded devotee looking for a good detective story.
That's why I always urge my fellow addicts not to judge the series by the first 6-7 volumes, but allow it to develop from there into one of the best modern detective series they'll ever read.
Patrick: "There is a great charm to the characters, and surprisingly, for a series about a teenage detective prodigy who shrinks into first-grader form, it’s handled with a lot of realism. Jimmy, now living as Conan Edogawa, has to live with his love-interest, Rachel Moore, who remains oblivious about his true identity. But you can’t complain along the lines of “Why doesn’t she figure it out? It’s so obvious!” because, well, this is addressed several times throughout the series. Rachel seems to almost figure it out on several occasions. Ironically, Volume 3 shows this the best in the early volumes, as her reactions are just the right mix between logical deduction and a refusal to believe her own “silliness.”"
The short excerpt above comes from a long introduction of the main characters, in which Patrick and Jim touched on all their obvious characteristics, but completely failed to notice the most interesting and telling aspect of their relationship – which is the only serious flaw in the series, but a defensible one, IMO, because it demonstrates that a run of nearly 20 years wasn't in the initial plans.
Where to begin, where to begin. OK, let's start with Conan's unremitting refusal to fess up his secret identity to Rachel, when well-nigh everyone else who's close to him knows the truth – including a former member of the BO! Yes, I'm well aware of the stock answers to this situation, and they either make no sense or allow for a great inconsistency in character development.
The first argument is that it's to keep their relationship interesting (i.e. admitting that it's plot-device), when really all it does is stagnating it. Take, for example, volume 23, in which the characters themselves note that a year has passed since the events in the first volume (and I know that by the time of volume 58 more than two years have gone by in their world), but they still dance around each other like in the first couple of stories – with nothing really new added to the mix (except for that one time, when a handsome young doctor was introduced as a possible rival). And after all this time, Rachel's attitude towards him has barely changed – as if he's just away to study abroad for a semester or something like that.
Plot-wise, it would make more sense, especially at this point in the series, if she knew his secret identity and show how they deal with this new situation – and I believe, taking the first few volumes, in which she pretty much had it all figured out, into consideration it was actually part of the plan, but with the continuing success, Aoyama simply just kept putting it off. There's so much you could do what that relation in terms of character development, but it's just piling the same old, same old upon each other.
Another shaky line of reasoning is that he wants to protect her. Seriously? She's constantly with him on cases and by merely associating with her he puts her in mortal danger (if the BO ever finds out) – and if her safety is his main reason for not telling her, than why operate from her fathers detective agency?
The unexpected longevity of the series probably is to blame for this slightly annoying hiccup in the ongoing relationship between two of the main characters, but I'm surprised neither of you brought this up – especially Patrick, who read all the available volumes back-to-back last month. It should almost insist upon itself! I sincerely hope it has nothing to do with the fact that I purposely didn't elaborate on it (hoping someone else would notice it too), but looking at stuff like the Kaitou KID/Arsene Lupin comparison, that neglected to mention an interesting similarity between KID and Lupin's first appearances (both snatching a jewel aboard a ship) and KID's nod to Chesterton's Flambeau, somehow makes me doubt that. Oh, well...
And to the people who haunt this blog with a certain degree of regularity, please don't consider this post as a dismantling of Case Closed/Detective Conan, but as an honest look at its only serious flaw – and not even one that intrudes upon the brilliant and clever plots. I mean, being turned off by this post is akin to saying that you won't read any of John Dickson Carr's books, because you've heard that the characters in The Problem of the Green Capsule were rather flat.
The loss is yours, not mine! ;)