Forbes on Fiction: Lesson from Japan

I passed out for a few hours on the kitchen floor to be gently awoken by my cat licking my face and the gentle sounds of Detective Conan (AKA Cased Closed) playing on the living room television. I stumbled out to the living room cursing, slumped onto the couch and stared at the large screen television, slack-jawed and bleary eyed and intoxicated still, and realized Jesus Christ, what a program my wife likes to watch. This is some original shit. I don’t know if its good buts its original.

For those of not in the know, Detective Conan is a Japanese anime series that’s been running for the last twenty years to great success in Japan and is about a genius teenage detective who is poisoned by a crime syndicate who have code names based on types of alcohol (Vodka and Gin are two main adversaries in his life he can’t get rid of, something I can relate to). This results not in his death but being reduced to being ten years old all over again. He lives with this Detective guy with a moustache and a heavy drinking problem who regularly gains credit for Conan’s detective work because Conan puts him to sleep and uses his body as a puppet show to explain certain crimes and this girl who’s the detective’s daughter I think who liked Conan before when he was a just a regular famous teenage detective (?) He has a scientist friend that looks like Albert Einstein who does jack shit except equip Conan with rocket shoes and a Dick Tracy style radio watch that shoots tranquilizers. He mostly crosses his arms and agrees with Detective Conan’s conclusions. He also may be head of the syndicate. I’m very confused. It’s in Japanese.

I could be wrong about all these things, but I think this is a generally correct summary of the show. Conan also has another love interest in a woman assassin who used to work for the alcohol people who was also poisoned with what turns you into a ten-year-old poison thing.

Despite being on the surface to simple westerners as myself looking like a show for kids, it’s really not. Its pretty fucking adult. Case in point, one of the TV movie specials features a genius boy who jumps off the roof of his high rise, killing himself, but not before setting up a game in Virtual Reality that kills other children of the rich. Or there was another episode where Conan finds out about a next door neighbor who decided to thrill kill his pensioner neighbor in her eighties just for fun. Or the episode with the guy who strangled a woman in the woods outside Mt. Fuji and who used a hang glider to get away.

This is, needless to say, jarring, especially as the whole thing is a cartoon. It’d be like watching a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode where Splinter and the Ninja Turtles have to defeat Kevin Spacey from “Seven”. I’m pretty sure there was even a sex crime episode complete with DNA evidence.

That being said, it’s a show that, whatever you can think about it, does not give a fuck about convention. Oh, you think it should just kept to kiddie topics like defeating robot thieves because it has a 10-year-old boy, Detective? Nope, fuck off, its got real killers. Think it should kept serious at all times? Nope, there’s a guy with giant springs in his shoes who dresses up like the Phantom of the Opera.He’s a jewel thief. And a Detective.

Detective Conan is generally regarded as a classic anime in Japan and while I can’t say I can get behind that (first I would need to know some Japanese, sorry wife, and the English versions I’ve seen have the worst goddamn theme song in the history of mankind-it literally starts with the words “It was the first new century, in a hundred yeaaaaaars…” and feature lines such as “Wimbledon! It’s something about Tennis!” (NO SHIT), I can get behind the entire unrestrained fuck it all attitude of the writing that I can generally see. I mean there’s no real boundaries. There’s no limit on imagination here, no lines that can’t be crossed because of some arbitrary rules of genre that must be followed. A lot of Japanese anime operates the same way in this sort of Thunderdome-style no rules of fiction.

And that’s goddamn refreshing especially in this sort of postmodern age where really everything has been done under the sun.

Example, Star Trek: The Next Generation never could stray outside its own pre-set arbitrary boundaries. With one random and disturbing line about rape gangs by Tasha Yar in one episode (that was never ever repeated or discussed further because it made Picard uncomfortable I suppose), sexual assault, harassment and abuse of women has disappeared in the future, which I’m gonna go out on a limb here, I doubt will ever happen. Alcoholism and addiction apparently never existed except for that episode where Wesley gets everyone hooked on some sort of alien video game thing that was a plot against the Federation or something. No Federation officer ever straight up starts selling Phasers to some terrorists in the Bumblefuck sector, Riker doesn’t get called in for a poor performance review because he didn’t remember some idiotic bureaucratic procedure, Troi isn’t menaced by other women for dressing the way she does, there’s no unexpected transfers of personnel that costs the Enterprise, no giant space spider putting the ship in a web made out of the lost souls of children from late-term abortions…, etc, etc. You know it as an audience that Star Track was gonna stay a certain way, and the writers knew that there were certain lines that couldn’t be crossed, and that’s just a general shame for creativity.

I’m not saying Picard should have an episode where he went time traveling and fought crime with a talking dog while fighting off an addiction to painkillers, but, you know, having a show or novel or short story where literally anything was possible makes it much more of a fun ride for both the audience and the writers.

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