Detective Academy Q ~ please feel free to investigate
January 3, 2012
Detective Academy Q (Tantei Gakuen Q) is a 45 episode mystery series that ran in 2003-2004. It is based on a manga by the same author as the Case-files of Young Kindaichi, which I briefly reviewed here. The same author, Tadashi Agi, also wrote the story for Knight in the Area, whose anime adaptation is set to broadcast Winter 2012. Unlike Kindaichi, which has strong Horror and Supernatural elements (but is also legitimately in the Mystery genre), Detective Academy Q is straight Mystery. I’ll discuss the genre issue in depth below.
My summary judgement is that it was a fairly enjoyable watch. It certainly isn’t as polished as I would have liked, in terms of Art and Music, and it had some goofy aspects to setting and characters, but the plot was typically satisfying. Again, I go into my reasoning after the jump. This is, however, a spoiler-free review, so feel free to read on, before deciding for sure whether this is a show you want to watch or not.
The background music wasn’t particularly notable. The show had three different OPs, all J-Pop. Mei-Q, the best of the OPs is linked above; it features several puns using “Q”, e.g. “Make You”. Exactly what “Q” is, is somewhat spoilerish, except to say that Kyuu is also the name of the lead character.
The central conceit of the show is that one incredible detective, Dan Morihiko, is so revered by the police that the detective school he set up (DDS, Dan’s Detective School) is called in regularly by the police to assist on difficult crimes, such as unsolved murders. Our main characters are students at DDS, and therefore get to investigate murders regularly.
The tone of the show is often surprisingly light for a show about murder mysteries. There is a bit of a blend with the School Life genre, such as competition between the different classes, and attempts to find the humor in classroom chit chat, but the series is a good example of the Mystery genre. Recent Mystery series have not played the genre straight (Un-Go being one recent example). The core of the Mystery genre is best descried by Orson Scott Card as an “Idea” story:
A problem or question is posed at the beginning of the story, and at the end of the tale the answer is revealed.
— Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint
The most familiar form of Mystery is the “Whodunnit”. The question, obviously, is “Who committed the murder?” An unusual variant, best exemplified by the TV series Columbo, starts by revealing the perpetrator of the crime to the audience. By inverting the Mystery convention, the question becomes “How will the detective catch the criminal?” Detective Academy Q has its own slight variation on the Mystery genre. The essential question is “How?”, thus the show largely revolves around figuring out “tricks”. Sometimes the How is “How was the crime committed?”, but sometimes cracking the case requires figuring out an alibi trick.
The young DDS students solve a variety of cases, and it should be no surprise that the most satisfying are those that are spread over three or more episodes. Often they work together as a team, with different characters taking on specific roles. Sometimes just a couple of characters will go off by themselves, for at least part of the case. This works pretty well, in that the different characters interact with each other very differently. Other shows (such as Kindaichi) have fewer recurring characters, with the detective and his side-kick having similar interactions in every case.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the characterizations were brilliant. Some of the concepts (particularly of the main characters) were pretty weak. Each character had some (slightly absurd) character trait that was used instead of developing believable personalities. But this isn’t a huge problem, because characterization is rarely the strong point of Mysteries. The strong point of Detective Academy Q is in the Mysteries themselves (the tricks) and how they are eventually unravelled, which is as it should be.
In the end, Detective Academy Q is a fun watch for those looking for a real Mystery series. The show is rarely gruesome (a couple of murder cases require detailed depictions of the corpses to depict the clues). A lot of time is spent on reasoning out the nature of the trick that is the critical piece required to solve the cases. The final third of the series builds towards a fairly satisfying “conclusion”, rather than ending arbitrarily after a series of unrelated cases.