KAMEN TANTEI by Matsuri Akino
Tokyopop, 4-volume manga series
As I’ve said before, one of the things that Tokyopop did for me over the course of its existence, despite my occasional griping over product quality, was providing me with several works by Matsuri Akino. Pet Shop of Horrors was the most popular (and certainly my favorite) of her series, but the company also put out Kamen Tantei, which seems to be a somewhat lesser known title for all I’ve seen it mentioned in the manga circles I frequent.
Kamen Tantei revolves around two high school students, Haruka and Masato, who have become published mystery writers under the name Taro Suzuki. They’re also the only two members of their school’s mystery club, something which is difficult to change between Haruka’s fierce temper and their habit of playing out murder mysteries during club time. As the two of them continue working on their mystery stories, and as they become involved in the occasional mystery during their real lives, a strange man appears to help them out of tight spots.
This, of course, is the manifestation of their detective character, who also happens to be named Taro Suzuki (though he’s often referred to as “Sunglasses”). As long as Haruka and Masato continue writing about him, he continues to exist. He can even be seen by others. In fact, he has an office for his detective practice….
There are a lot of things to commend this series. The characters are fun, particularly when their personalities clash. Masato, who can see ghosts, frequently annoys Haruka, who believes that real mysteries don’t involve the supernatural. Yet, as the story progresses, they’re constantly giving Taro Suzuki new skills that involve the supernatural, such as psychic abilities. Very often these additions to his character are the result of some situation that requires just such a skill to be solved, which is why Masato keeps his laptop nearby at all times.
But Taro Suzuki isn’t the only character made real by his author’s work. Along the way, we meet several authors whose characters get involved with their lives. For that matter, all of the mystery characters hang out together in a bar (which seems to be segregated from reality) when they aren’t doing anything in particular. This location was probably one of my favorite settings.
Matsuri Akino uses numerous mystery tropes and incorporates many well-known stories, such as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (or, if you prefer, Ten Little Indians). The interesting part about this is that Haruka is quite familiar with all of these things, and she enjoys running with them or explaining them to other characters (or to Masato, in particular, since he is less familiar with the common tropes).
So there are things to enjoy in this series, but having now finished it, I have one major issue.
For the most part, I was bored.
I liked all of the manga’s elements separately. I liked the characters, the humor, and the way the mangaka developed the larger arc of the story. But, overall, I don’t feel that each volume did much to keep my attention. I often found my mind wandering, and it was easy to put down in favor of other activities. This might be partially due to the short length and the often chaotic structure of the stories in each volume. They created a sort of staccato effect that, even though they tied together in terms of character and story development, sometimes left me feeling as though the volume was too broken up and the stories themselves rushed through too quickly.
And I’ll be honest–I don’t like having to say that. To admit that anything of Matsuri Akino’s left me feeling “Eh…” saddens me, but it’s true. Alas.
That said, I hear there’s a followup called Shin Kamen Tantei, in which Haruka and Masato are older. Would I read it? Most definitely. I’m still a Matsuri Akino fan, and I like the characters enough to read about them again.
I suspect that whether or not you like this series is going to be a matter of taste. In many respects I liked it, but my overall impression of it was mediocre. Others have said that they loved it. You’ll just have to try it and see.