Detective Academy Q ~ please feel free to investigate

January 3, 2012

When a murder investigation gets tough, the police let school kids solve it for them.

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.

Legendary detective Dan Morihiko.

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.

Left to right: Kyuu Renjou, Megumi Minami, and Kintarou Tooyama.

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.

If a detective gives up, the case will never be solved.

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.

Genius elementary school computer hacker, Kazuma Narusawa.

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.

Some of the students at Dan's Detective School.

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.

7 Responses to “Detective Academy Q ~ please feel free to investigate”

  1. Sammy Says:

    I used to watch this ages ago when I had Animax. It was a very interesting detective anime and as a girl, Ryu was a bonus for me.

  2. TRazor Says:

    Watched this on Animax as well.

    As you’ve pointed out, this is the only Detective series (apart from Conan and maybe Spiral) that actually sticks to its genre. There were elements of shonen and school life, but every episode felt like a detective show with a crime and a logical explanation for each case.

    My favorite arcs were the Jack the Ripper and the Seance one. Nice to see this anime get some recognition, rather underrated work, this one.

    • Joojoobees Says:

      The mysteries in Detective Academy Q were pretty good, especially the ones that required several episodes to cover. I haven’t seen Spiral. Conan varies in quality and tone; there are many, many episodes, so I suppose that it isn’t surprising. Conan also has some weird pseudo-science built into the premise. Another series that was straight-up Mystery (although it had supernatural overtones) was Puppetmaster Sakon, which I reviewed earlier.

      I don’t know why anime has shied away from the Mystery genre lately. Dantalian no Shoka was a perfect example of a series that seemed like it might be a Mystery, but was actually anything but. I’m not just talking about the prominence of the Fantasy elements. In one episode, for example, the protagonists hear of a mysterious book that some kids have. They go to the school and talk to the teacher. The teacher says the kids are in the building out back. The kids are there and hand over the book. The protagonists get rid of the book. That is not a Mystery. The Mystery genre requires some question whose answer signals the end of the story.

      • David A. Young Says:

        Of course, the other recent “pseudo-mystery” was Gosick. As much as I ended up enjoying that show for the character-driven adventurre series it was, I think the elements were there to have made it into a true mystery series as well. It would have required an extra level of effort and planning, but if they’d been willing to go that far, they could have ended up with a true classic on their hands.

        Mystery novels are a hugely popular and profitable genre here in the US. Is that less so in Japan, I wonder? Or perhaps it’s just that the anime buying demographic in particular finds straight mysteries too “ordinary?”

      • Joojoobees Says:

        I don’t know about the relative popularity of Mystery novels in Japan.

        Regarding Gosick, yeah, that was more of an Adventure story (or Romance-Adventure) that had a lot of Mystery elements, rather than being truly in the Mystery genre. I enjoyed it for what it was, but if they could have made it even better, that would have been great.

  3. […] wrote the mangas for two other series that I have reviewed: The Case files of Young Kindaichi¬†and Detective Academy Q. Both of those shows were Mysteries, not Sports genre. There is something I noticed when watching […]

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