Originally published in 1995
English translation published in 2005
Preceded by Explosives on a Train
Followed by The Last Loan
A vicious murderer whose face is covered in bandages is on the lose. Will Conan be able to catch him before he strikes again?
And later, Conan’s friends Rachel and Serena want to blow off some steam but they get more than they bargain for when they discover murder at the karaoke box.
Can you figure out whodunnit before Conan does?
This past week has been a rather crazy one for me that found me with relatively little time on my hands to do any reading. Fortunately I found the perfect solution to this problem in the Case Closed manga series which are the sorts of book you can read in a single sitting and have become my go-to reads in that sort of situation.
The Bandaged Beheader is the fifth volume in the series in the manga series about a brilliant teen detective who has been transformed into the body of a grade schooler. As I have noted in previous reviews, I would encourage readers to work through these in order as there is some light continuity between the various adventures and to fully appreciate some of the elements that get used and the relationship between Jimmy and Rachel. Fortunately each of these volumes so far have been really entertaining making that an easy recommendation to make.
This volume is comprised of two and a half cases for our young detective to solve. Yes, that does unfortunately mean that one of these cases is incomplete and you will need to get the sixth volume to discover how it all concludes. I don’t exactly love that as an approach, particularly as it makes it that much harder to write this review, but I guess that makes sense as a sales strategy and given that I prefer to have two of the three parts than just one, I probably shouldn’t complain too much.
The first case, The Mysterious Bandaged Man, finds Rachel and Conan staying at an isolated villa where a group of college friends who had all been part of a Film Club are meeting for the first time in two years. On their way across the a rope bridge they spot a strange figure in robes with a bandaged face crossing the bridge ahead of them. Feeling a little creeped out, the pair get settled and meet the other guests. Rachel is persuaded to take a walk in the woods where she is unexpectedly attacked by that bandaged man, having a very narrow escape. Soon the group realize that someone has severed the supports on the rope bridge and disconnected the phone, stranding the group and leaving them with no way of sending for help.
This makes for a pretty engaging backdrop to a story that feels quite action-driven but has a pretty solid detective story core. That story manages to sustain a pretty strong sense of tension, helped by the gruesomeness of a crime and the sense that Rachel’s life might really be in danger. There are some really striking panels such as the discovery of a body or an unexpected attack in the third part that keep the energy levels of this story high.
I don’t expect many readers will be surprised by the revelation of the guilty party’s identity though I think that is handled pretty well. My only complaint with Jimmy’s explanation is that there is a visual clue that is very clear when presented from the angle shown at the end of the case but that is far less clear when it is originally presented to the reader. This struck me as a little unfair, though I will accept that there are some other indications to support that same point and I will note that it didn’t really harm my enjoyment overall.
The second case, the Lex Vocalist Murder Case, involves our young heroes going to a karaoke session where they meet the members of a musical band. The group is led by the dashing Tatsuya Kimura who seems to needle his bandmates at every opportunity, creating tensions that inevitably lead to murder.
The circumstances of that murder are strange however as he is poisoned moments after he has finished a performance and has eaten a rice ball randomly off a shared tray. Based on everything we and our sleuths observe, it seems impossible that anyone could have administered a poison, meaning that we not only have to ask who did the crime but how they could have pulled it off in the first place.
It’s an enjoyable tale and I appreciated its audacity though I do wonder about the feasability of the plan the killer utilizes. My issue is not that I doubt the method might well kill Tatsuya but I think the killer puts themselves at considerable risk in carrying it out. There is so much potential for this to go badly, it makes it hard to see the plan as particularly clever. Fortunately this story offers some other points to recommend it.
For one thing I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional depth that is introduced towards the end. I hadn’t expected the story to strike those sorts of notes at all which made that development feel all the more striking and powerful. Rather than feeling sudden, I appreciated when I read back over the story that I could easily see the evidence for it, making me appreciate that plot and the subsequent tone struck all the more.
The other thing I enjoyed was the way that Jimmy manages to get involved and solve this case. This problem of how a pre-teen might get the authorities to listen to them has been really effective and I appreciate that this sees him using another clever mechanism to achieve that goal. That decision has some unintended consequences that have to be tied up towards the end of this story and I think it mostly does a good job of handling that, though I once again question Rachel’s thoughts and actions as she really should notice something is quite clearly off here.
The final story is the Conan Kidnapping Case, a story in which our young detective is surprised when a woman turns up at the Moore household claiming to be his mother. He is taken away only to be kidnapped and taken to an abandoned house. With no one aware of that fact, he must work to rescue himself from his captors after he figures out why they have taken him and what exactly they have planned for him.
More adventure than deductive test, these first two installments are fine enough and there are some entertaining elements though it does all feel rather slight. I did appreciate that this seems to link back to that broader on-going plot running through this series and I think there are some clever tricks and ideas here, even if there isn’t much opportunity for armchair detection.
The volume gives us a proper cliffhanger ending with our sleuth in serious danger of being spotted and recaptured, setting up an interesting problem for him to solve in the story’s final installment. Readers will no doubt want to jump straight to the next volume to find out how it all resolves and I will, of course, do the same shortly. While I do not love this splitting of a story across two volumes, I understand why it was necessary here and I am glad that neither of the previous stories was shortened to make space for this – particularly The Mysterious Bandaged Man which was easily my favorite of the stories here.
The Verdict: Offers one excellent case, one middling one and an incomplete one (at least until Volume Six). Still, it’s entertaining and there are some wonderful moments to be found here.
4 thoughts on “Case Closed, Volume 5: The Bandaged Be-header by Gosho Aoyama, translated by Joe Yamazaki”
Volume 100 was just released yesterday in Japan, so you’re almost there… 😉 I refered to the two complete stories in this volume in the post on my blog to celebrate the 100th release, because I think those two stories kinda show off the diversity of Conan. One story is as “classic” as you can get with a closed circle situation in the mountains (and a rather grotesque death), while the karaoke story is just so… deliciously contemporary urban (contemporary as in around 1995). After the first 10 volumes or so, Conan will feature much more stories that are set in modern, city settings and it’s a great shift as it allows the series to do so much, and also embrace modern consumer fads/technology etc, an important reason why it managed to reach volume 100 in the first place.
And I also happen to mention this in my post, but the reason why this volume (and most volumes in this series in general) appears to have cliffhanger endings is that this is a serialized series in the magazine Shonen Sunday. It’s usually released at a pace of one chapter a week. The volumes just collect these chapters, and the volumes have an uniform size/page count (about 180 pages or 11 chapters currently). Because of the set, arbitrary size of the collected volumes of an ongoing series with stories of varying length (usually between 3 ~ 6 chapters), it’s very rare for a volume after volume 5 to consist only of complete stories, usually it either starts with the last chapters of the previous stories, or the story continues in the next. This practice is true for most manga that see a collected volume release during an on-going serialization.
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Ha! I don’t think catching up is on the cards any time soon but I look forward to encountering a lot of entertaining cases as I try to do so.
I do appreciate that these stories take such different approaches. Grotesque is definitely the word I would use for that murder and I do enjoy the theatricality of the bandaged man (and later the masked kidnapper). These stories have a lively, pulpy feeling that made them very entertaining reads in spite of my issues with some aspects of the solution to the karaoke story.
I was clearly spoiled with those first four volumes! My previous (very limited) experience of manga-reading has been stuff like Assassination Classroom and My Love Story which seem to have been structured with the five issue arc in mind for later collection. This volume seemed to be that little bit longer, removing the extra material at the end in order to make space for an additional chapter – it did occur to me that had the karaoke story been an issue longer then they could have reproduced that format and saved the Conan kidnapping story in its entirety for the next volume. Still, I probably shouldn’t complain about getting more core material here than in the previous ones!
While it will make writing about these volumes a little less neat and tidy, I do appreciate writing stories at a length that suited them rather than fitting the story to suit the collection length.
“…there is a visual clue that is very clear when presented from the angle shown at the end of the case but that is far less clear when it is originally presented to the reader.”
This is really the only problem with these earlier volumes. The stories often are great fun and clever, but lacked the polish and ingenuity of the later volumes. But rest assured, you’re nearing the point where you can begin to see rapid rise in overall quality.
I’m glad your both enjoying and sticking with the series. I’ve been trying for years to get people to read Case Closed, but almost everyone persists on missing out on the greatest detective series of the modern age. On that note, Ho-Ling has posted a great (non-spoiler) look back on the series to mark the release of vol. 100 in Japan.
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Thanks for giving me the heads up about the new entry on Ho-Ling’s blog – I will be sure to check it out!
While I had a few more issues with the plots of these stories than I did in the previous volumes, I did appreciate how ambitious both were and I enjoyed the balance between the different approaches taken.
The biggest problem here is going to be waiting a few weeks to read and post about the next volume (these are easily my least-read posts on the blog)!