Case Closed, Volume 1: The Sherlock Holmes of Modern Times by Gosho Aoyama, translated by Joe Yamazaki

Originally released in 1994
English translation released in 2004
Case Closed #1
Followed by The Woman of Mystery

Precocious high school student Jimmy Kudo uses his keen powers of observation and astute intuition to solve mysteries that have left law enforcement officials baffled. Hot on the trail of a suspect, Jimmy is accosted from behind and fed a strange chemical which physically transforms him into a grade schooler! Taking on the pseudonym Conan Edogawa, he attempts to track down the people who did this to him. But until he finds a cure for his bizarre condition, Jimmy continues to help the police solve their toughest cases.

Can you crack the case before Conan does?

“I don’t want to write about detectives… I want to be one!!”

The detective manga Case Closed has been on my radar for some time thanks to Tomcat’s enticing reviews of the later volumes in the series. Rather than jump in at the end I thought it best to start at the very beginning with this first volume which Wikipedia tells me is titled The Sherlock Holmes of Modern Times.

The protagonist is Jimmy Kudo, a rich and unsupervised teenaged detective story fan. He has grown up studying his parents’ library of vintage detective novels and fancies himself to be a new Sherlock Holmes, honing his deductive and physical abilities in the hopes of emulating his fictional hero’s feats. Though he is only a junior in high school, Jimmy is already putting his skills to the test and building a reputation for himself by assisting the police in their investigations. For instance, when we first meet him he is on the way to announcing the identity of an unlikely murderer in front of a group of suspects.

There is a further short case (which I will get to in a moment) that follows this introduction before an event happens that changes Jimmy in some quite profound ways. After he solves that case he grows suspicious of a pair of men and follows them, only to get caught. Rather than shoot Jimmy, the men decide to poison him by feeding him an experimental drug and leave him for dead. The drug does not work as expected however and rather than kill Jimmy, instead it deages him by about ten years.

Turning to a family friend, an inventor, for help, Jimmy is told he needs to find the original formula to try and reverse its effects on him. To do this it is suggested that he adopt a false identity so the would-be killers do not know he survived and live with his friend Rachel and her private detective father. The idea is that Jimmy will be able to use the father to help him research the villains who had attacked him. Unfortunately Rachel’s father turns out to be a rather inept detective however Jimmy, who rebrands himself as Conan Edogawa after two favorite detective novelists, finds ways to help him solve his cases.

There are three complete cases contained within this volume though they are not all given equal space. The first is easily the simplest, taking place in just one chapter (which are termed files), and it is really used to provide an origin story for the character. It is quite a colorful case however in spite of its short page count.

Jimmy has taken his friend Rachel to the theme park where they go on a roller coaster ride. Everyone is securely strapped into the cars in pairs. During the ride one of the passengers is suddenly decapitated though it does not appear that the ride itself is at fault. Given the distance between the cars and the use of mechanical restraints it seems that the only possible killer would be the victim’s girlfriend who was sat next to him. Of course appearances can be deceptive…

Because the conditions seem to preclude anyone but the girlfriend from being the killer, I think this can be considered an impossible crime. Certainly I think the question of how the crime was achieved receives the bulk of the focus and while I have some doubts whether the killer could actually pull off their rather daring crime without being seen and suspect most will instinctively guess at at least one element of it, I still think it is a pretty creative murder method. It certainly gets things off to an entertaining and rather macabre start!

The second case involves the kidnapping of a rich businessman’s ten year old daughter by a mysterious figure in black. This case initially seems relatively straightforward with it quickly seeming clear what has happened, only for an end of chapter revelation to spin things off in a somewhat different direction.

The main purpose of this case is to establish the challenges that Jimmy in his Detective Conan guise will face in trying to get adults to listen to him. That makes sense as a choice in developing the series though I think it is unfortunate that it results in a case that it driven more by action than points of deduction. I think it does a good job of establishing the basic structure where Rachel’s father is hired to look into a case and Conan finds a way to tag along and influence the investigation, subtly inserting his own theories, and so it is important to the overall development of the series.

The final case is far cleverer and, offers the reader a locked room murder. A beautiful and popular idol consults Rachel’s father to ask him to investigate a series of home intrusions, strange messages and silent phone calls made to her. He accompanies her to her apartment which she left locked but when they open it they find an unknown man lying dead with a knife in his back.

It seems logical that the idol would not have hired a detective to draw attention to the death if she had committed the murder herself but she was the only person who should have had access to her apartment. Of the three cases, this one was easily my favorite. This case is less twisty than the previous one but I think that the solution is much better clued and rather imaginative.

Having discussed the cases briefly, I think I should end by reflecting a little on our young sleuth.

Jimmy is certainly a rather arrogant kid but I could relate to his detective novel fanboying. There is something rather appealing about the idea that simply reading lots of mystery novels could be the basis for a great career as a detective. The change he undergoes is largely physical but it does mean he must adapt his methods too. For one thing, he is incapable of performing some actions physically while perhaps most significantly, he must figure out ways to be able to influence cases when no one will take him seriously. This leads to many of the book’s most comedic and madcap moments.

One complication that Jimmy has to work with is that he must pretend to not be himself around Rachel, apparently to protect her as if the criminals who transformed him learn his identity then she might be in danger. This is perhaps not the most convincing reasoning but at the same time it does avoid the potentially rather uncomfortable problem of the person she is in love with being in the body of an elementary schooler. While the setup is a little weird, I do like the character and I think she has a few nice character moments late in the volume.

Overall then I enjoyed my first encounter with Detective Conan. I enjoyed the silly premise of the series, loved the references to classic crime writers and appreciated the blend of cases. While none of the solutions are likely to blow the reader’s mind, I like the creativity involved. These stories were great fun to read while I look forward to learning the truth behind the greater mysteries concerning the men who attacked Jimmy.

The Verdict: An entertaining introduction to the series and its young protagonist. This volume is really about setting up the key elements and so the first two cases can feel a little slight but they were great fun nonetheless.

8 thoughts on “Case Closed, Volume 1: The Sherlock Holmes of Modern Times by Gosho Aoyama, translated by Joe Yamazaki

  1. “Rather than jump in at the end I thought it best to start at the very beginning with this first volume…”

    A wise decision as Case Closed is not the kind of series that lends itself easily to haphazard cherry picking. This series needs to be read in order or you’ll eventually lose track of the ongoing storylines/characters running through all the separate cases. I’m glad someone else is finally joining me and Ho-Ling in reading/fanboying all over this series. You’ll get to fanboy part, if you stick with it. 🙂

    Just a warning: Aoyama needed a few volumes to find his groove with a notable uptick in quality taking place in vol. 6 or 7 with “The Moonlight Sonata Case.” The series becomes better, and better, from that point on with new recurring characters being introduced, storyline progression and trickier cases for Conan to investigate. Aoyama’s drawing style also improves and becomes more detailed, which he used more than once to hide clues in plain sight. So you have a lot to look forward to!

    This series is truly is a candy bowl for classic mystery readers with the English translations closing in on vol. 80, but I fear the science-fiction-like premise and slow start has been very uninviting to most Western mystery readers – which is a crying shame. Because it’s one of the best and most consistent detective series of the modern era. And perhaps of all time.

    Anyway, welcome to the club!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! Last year during quarantine, I discovered the anime version of this series on Netflix. They had fifty episodes (which apparently is a drop in the bucket) and after watching them, I’ve become moderately obsessed with the series. I’ve bought a few of the books and even a video game. (Although the game wasn’t translated so I didn’t get too far). Any mystery fan with an open mind will have a lot of fun with this series.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m in the middle of re-reading this series and have reached the 30s now, so I still have some ways to go before coming up to the most recent English language translations. Luckily, the first 63 issues were published in Sweden, so it will be a while until I need to read the stories in English and try not to roll my eyes at the silly English names that the characters have been given. 😉

    I agree with TomCat that the first few issues feature stories where the author hadn’t fully found his feet yet, and that the quality improves as time goes on. I still get annoyed by some of the manga tropes – the way love and affection is handled remains very strange to me, and it still baffles me how various superstitions are so very common – but I’ve come to sort of like the overarching story with the league of black clad evildoers.

    It’ll be interesting to see what you make of future readings of Conan!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll be interested too. I bought the next few volumes today so I will no doubt binge on them soon though I’ll try to spread out the reviews here.
      I am definitely curious to see where the overarching story is headed!


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