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Q.E.D., vol. 1, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B
Mineruva no Fukurou (Minerva's Owl, Great Magazine, 1997). Being the first story in the series, obviously this is where most of the introductions take place. Sou Touma first shows up in a game center, where he makes enemies by defeating everyone in the shop at a specific game mainly because he can predict their moves by reading their faces. Tomboy Kana Mizuhara steps in to protect him from being attacked by an angry game opponent, but her friend, Noriko, tells her to keep away from the boy because he's a weirdo that's transferred to their school to adapt to life in Japan. Touma has lived in the U.S. for years, and apparently graduated from MIT, the school that churns out Nobel Prize winners. Since the trains have stopped running, Noriko begs to stay at Kana's house for the night. Then she gets a phonecall telling her to rush to the AKS Game Development company. There, she learns that her father, the AKS president, has been murdered. Kana sees her father, a Tokyo police detective, coming into the building, and she tries to follow him, but is stymied by the electronic key lock. Touma reinforces his image as a weirdo by shaving a pencil with his pocket knife as Kana fumes. However, when he blows the graphite dust on the keypad, it sticks to the oils on three of the keys and the two of them hack the lock very quickly. From here, we get to see that Det. Mizuhara is a hardnosed cop who can follow the easy clues, but is desperate for Touma's help to connect the dots on the harder cases.
(Touma acts as Nero Wolfe, while Kana plays Archie and does all the footwork. Touma doesn't wear glasses in later chapters.)
This first story is a straightforward locked-room mystery, and Touma relies heavily on high-tech gear to gather information, including the wire that Kana wears while interviewing people, and a modified cellphone circuit for plugging into AKS' network for hacking into the servers. We also get to see his den in an expensive highrise, which is a library packed floor to ceiling with books. As for Kana, she is portrayed as being loyal to her friends and insanely strong (stomping on some tiles of the school roof and pulverizing them). Her father is something of a buffoon, and we actually get to see her mother here a little bit. The artwork is erratic, with Touma looking really young in one panel, and almost adult-like in another. There are a lot of throwaway gags, but some emotional scenes as well. Finally, there's not that much in the way of science or background exposition this time. We're given one hint - Minerva's Owl, but that just turns out to be a reference to The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. This is one of the few, if not the only, stories that incorporates a "dying message" cliche.
Gin no Hitomi (Gold Pupil, Great Magazine, 1998). Kana starts out narrating this chapter, further emphasizing that Touma is a weirdo who likes to hide up on the roof of the school. She states specifically here that he'd graduated from MIT at age 14. She's rounding up classmates to visit an art museum where her childhood friend, Suzu, is running the sign-in at the door. The exhibit consists of lifelike dolls crafted by Suzu's mother. An unscrupulous collector attempts to steal one of the dolls by framing a classmate, but Touma quickly catches him. The collector leaves but vows to get all of the dolls one day. Some time passes, and Suzu's mother succumbs to heart failure. Suzu, her boyfriend and the collection's caretaker then receive some unwanted news - the hated collector had used a shell company to donate money to the museum and he now owns close to 50% of the property. The guy shows up to gloat. He's soon found dead in the middle of a room next to a lifesized doll, and Suzu, her boyfriend (whose company was owned by the collector) and the caretaker are the only suspects.
(Kana, all-round acrobat.)
Kana's house is next door to the the museum, so she drags Touma over to spy on the police, and unsuccesfully tries to avoid getting caught by her father - they get locked in the room next to the one used for interrogations. Touma figures things out pretty fast, and is eventually allowed to help Det. Mizuhara solve the case. There's a little bit of science and exposition this time, mostly revolving around the history of the 9-tailed fox (a pattern embroidered on the doll's kimono) , the effects of static electricity on pacemakers, and the theory behind the Leyden Jar. We also get to see Kana in action as an acrobat. She is established as an excellent athlete and kendo artist pretty early on in the series.
Comments: The character designs are rather unpolished, and Kana and Touma look pretty young in this book as compared to later on in the series. The first two stories are essentially locked room murders, and everything revolves around very contrived tricks. The backgrounds are often quite detailed, but the characters look static and frozen in various poses. The artist never does figure out how to draw fluid motion ala Akihiro Ito (Geobreeders). But, all of the main pieces for his stories are in place, including the two principle characters, the two-chapter per book format, and the use of the Q.E.D. gimmick to show that the reader has all of the clues for solving the mystery on their own. Not great stuff, but still entertaining. Recommended.