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May 6, 2015 5:02 PM
Anime Relations: Detective Conan (TV)
Truth and Lies

Shinichi is a strong believer in revealing the truth; this aspect of his character is crucial to the entire show’s narrative and thematic continuity. It is stressed throughout the series that a detective’s job is to reveal the truth and expose the lies that conceal it. The culprits in the series often fall back on lies to avoid being caught and punished. Truths and lies abound in every corner. There is an interesting duality established by the show’s narrative in regards to truth and lies. They are polar opposites of each other, opposing forces which can’t be reconciled. And yet, sometimes lies are forces of good that save others, while the truth is painful and destructive. Thus, the duality between the two also becomes a bit of a paradox, as the line between which is good and which is bad is blurred repeatedly.

This duality is personified in the person of Conan, fitting as he is the protagonist of the series. One of the most ironic aspects of Conan’s character is that he is an impulsive liar who dedicates his life to revealing the truth. He exposes culprits left and right, and yet is reliant on deception to achieve what he wants and hide his identity from others, often for their own safety. This hypocrisy weights on Conan, heavily, and he acknowledges it throughout the series. His reasons for lying to Ran about his identity involve protecting her, even if it pains him. Likewise, Haibara, for example, withholds information about the Black Organization and is not totally truthful with Conan for his own sake, in her mind. Truth and lies can both be positive and negative, and sometimes both at the same time. This irony is prevalent in the show, and is fittingly encapsulated in the character of Conan Edogawa.

Masks, both literal and figurative, are a recurring motif throughout the series, one that serves to accentuate the duality of truth versus lies. A mask serves to conceal the identity or true intentions of a person under a deceptive front, and when removed the truth is revealed, making it an apt symbolism for truth and lies. Conan throughout the series constantly puts up a childish act, in an attempt to fool the adults around him into thinking he is a normal child. He only lets his true face show in front of others on rare occasions, often involving life and death situations. Haibara, in shrunken state similar to Conan, always puts up a mask of frosty, cold emotion, often coming cross as apathetic despite housing intense psychological problems and emotional imbalances. Symbolically, she has only showed her true face to Conan once, an act acknowledged by Conan himself, in her introduction case, episode 129, when she first met him. At that time, Haibara was exceedingly cold and mocking of Conan, and told him to give up when he experienced difficulty solving a case. Conan proved her wrong however, and she is genuinely shocked and impressed by the level of his genius as he deduces how the crime was committed. Afterwards she totally breaks down, grabbing Conan’s shirt and crying into it, admonishing him for failing to save her sister despite his intellectual capacity. She sobs and screams while holding on to him, and it remains the only time in the entire series that Haibara ever revealed her raw emotions in such a matter to anyone.

Conan wears a “disguise” of sorts to hide his true face from Ran, and this motif is echoed throughout the entire series, by many varied characters. The Night Baron, a character in a book written by Shinichi’s father Yuusaku, always wears a mask to hide his face. Kaitou Kid, an international criminal thief, utilizes disguises repeatedly in his heists to conceal himself from the police. Conan’s mother Yukiko is a disguise specialist, and often assists Conan with his exploits against the Organization using this ability. Vermouth from the Black Organization also uses disguises heavily, and helps Bourbon do so as well. Characters like Jodie, Akai, Camel, Sato, and the like often put up figurative masks to conceal their emotions. Thus, as a series, DC prominently shows the audience a world where people are always hiding secrets, where the truth is as abundant as the lies, much like our own world. Whether or not the characters are right to be so secretive is left up to the audience to decide, but there are moments in the story where the narrative seems to clearly imply an answer to certain particular cases.

The idea of the ‘one truth’, or the only genuine truth, is prominent throughout DC. In fact, it is repeated at the beginning of every single movie. To cap it all off, the name Shinichi, Conan’s true one, roughly translates to ‘one truth.’ It is an idea that is integral to the entire series. The meaning of the concept relates to the nature of the truth itself, and how the narrative views it. The theme is first explored in depth during Heiji’s first appearance. In it, Heiji is obsessed with challenging Shinichi to a duel, in order to prove that he is the superior detective, mostly as means to inflate his ego in order to compensate for his insecurity and inferiority complex to his father. In his zeal to solve a murder case first, he concocts an entire, elaborate explanation for how the murder method was done by incorrectly interpreting the evidence. When tested, Heiji’s deduction falls apart. Shinichi then arrives and reveals how the events actually played out. Humbled, Heiji acknowledged Shinichi’s skill, saying that his deduction had been superior.

Shinichi corrects Heiji on this account, and reveals his philosophy on the matter: there is only one truth. There are not multiple ones, just one. It isn’t better, or worse. It just is, without any more explanation needed. In short, Shinichi is saying that the truth is an objective thing. To him, there is no such thing as a painful truth or a wonderful truth, as such classifications are entirely subjective. The actual, unadulterated, ‘one’ true truth is completely free of human perception. That explains why, before undergoing his character arc, Shinichi was so totally detached in his cases. He never considered the human component partially because he espoused a personal philosophy that declared it irrelevant. It extends to why competitions of the sort that Heiji was proposing were meaningless: in the end, the conclusion would be the same no matter who reached it.
It is interesting to note, however, that the overall stance of the series on this issue is not as blunt or uncompromising as Shinichi’s at this time. Rather, the narrative agrees that the truth is an objective thing, but takes the more nuanced position that states that despite that, human sentiment and emotion needs to be factored into the equation, as they are the ones perceiving the truth. This is supported repeatedly throughout the series through Conan’s evolving character as well as several murder cases.

Naturally, the whole theme of truth and lies applies to DC on a metatextual level. The very structure of the series has it as one of its foundations. After all, it is a mystery show. The objective is to uncover the lies to reveal the truth. The series makes use of lies to obscure the solutions to the cases, using misdirection, red herrings, etc. Deception and trickery is an integral part of tricking the audience, misleading them from uncovering the truth. This is repeated both in the individual cases and in the larger story.

Logic vs. Emotion

Logic plays a big role in Detective Conan’s overall philosophy. From a meta perspective as well as in-universe one, the series is stepped in it. The cases, while sometimes implausible, always employ a logical structure and operate on strictly logical, empirical reasoning. The story arc of the entire series is laid down systematically and carefully, with all the necessary clues spread without and an orderly unfolding of events. Naturally, this core aspect of the series is manifested in its lead character Conan, who is the epitome of a logical, reason-based person, always regarding matters, no matter how small, with an objective, discerning eye. Many characters are often reprimanded for their illogical beliefs in ghosts and beasts. One of the most integral aspects of Detective Conan’s world is the firm assertion that the supernatural, regardless of whether or not it exists, has no actual effect on the physical world. As Heiji puts it at one point, detectives would be out of business if murder cases had supernatural causes.

It is ironic, then, that the overall narrative of the series, and indeed the characters, abandon pretensions of logic when confronted with serious, life-or-death situations. In those cases, the show and its lead characters often advocate seemingly illogical perspectives and even scorn colder, calculated opinions. This apparent contradiction is accentuated by the constant paralleling and contrasting of reason and emotion, communicating very effectively one of the most important messages of the series.
In this portion, we refer back to an earlier part in this analysis, namely that concerning saving killers despite their actions. Ran saved Vermouth in New York despite the knowledge that she was a serial killer. She did a similar thing again when she saved the life of a suicide bomber who had her at gunpoint. Conan goes out of his way to prevent murderers from killing themselves, as does Heiji. Time and time again, the narrative endorses the characters’ actions, despite their apparent absurdity. This seeming contradiction is fundamental to the message and overall themes of the series.

Why cause yourself potential harm to save a killer, especially one who’s trying to murder you? Is it reasonable to endanger other innocent people by sparing the life of a person who would not hesitate to end another’s? Does it not contradict all forms of logic and reason to persistently do such a thing? Those are the questions that are implied by the actions of the characters. The narrative summarizes its stance on the issue through Shinichi’s few words to Vermouth in New York, in response to her question, one that the audience is likely to ask as well: “Why did you save me?”

“I don’t know why you would take a life, but as for saving one…is a reason necessary?”

“Is a reason necessary? I don’t know why you would kill someone but as for saving someone…a logical mind isn’t needed, right?”

(Note: I have put two different translations of the line. Taken together, they make the meaning of the quote very clear.)

The irony here is extensive, and quite intentionally so. Shinichi and Conan, the personification of the themes of the narrative, are characters defined by their logical approach. Deductive reasoning is a fundamental pillar to their worldview. It is the philosophy they abide by in their approach to nearly everything. Likewise, the narrative of the entire shows does the same. As with truth and lies, logical reasoning applies to the series especially well on a metatextual level. It is the key ingredient in solving the mysteries presented throughout, the one rule that the show never stops following, the aspect that chains everything to reality and gives the series an internal consistency, the unshakeable belief held by virtually all the detectives ever introduced.

And yet here, in this crucial moment, such cold logic is utterly abandoned. Yes, it would make more sense to arrest the serial killer, or just to leave the murderous individual to die. Knowingly saving the life of the person trying to kill you smacks of idiocy, especially as said person could go on to kill even more people. Yet, despite that, the narrative always acknowledges Shinichi’s and Ran’s actions here as legitimate and right.
It goes even deeper than that. Shinichi’s character is built on two things: logic and love of life. Shinichi explicitly rejects reason and rationality in his statement, precisely because of how much he values life. In short, his two primary principles clash to create his fundamental philosophy in regards to the lives of the people around him. That he rejects logic specifically because he respects life is significant, as it ties the two ideas together while simultaneously contrasting them sharply. This is one of the most important moments in the entire show as well as for Shinichi’s character, for how it brings together several different themes as well as cementing who Shinichi is in one graceful, deft motion.

The narrative also tackles this theme from a different angle, and it is deliberately contrasted with this moment. Note how Shinichi mentions that he doesn’t know why someone would take a life- this is a callback to Desperate Revival, specifically episode 191. In that episode, Shinichi speaks of the one puzzle that he can never solve:

“..a trick is nothing but a puzzle mankind came up with. If you use your head, you can uncover the logical answer. It’s disappointing…no matter the explanation I think of, I cannot why one person would kill another. Even if I can see why, I can’t understand why.”

This draws an interesting parallel with Shinichi’s statement in NY. Here, Shinichi laments the lack of a truly logical explanation for murder; it is something that his rational, reasoning-based mind cannot truly comprehend or understand. Shinichi’s later statement to the serial killer also speaks of a lack of logical reasoning when it comes to saving a life. In short, there is no logical reason to either kill or save a life. The reasoning behind each statement differs, however, it ties once again into the larger theme about the sacredness of life. There is no logical reason or justification to robbing someone of the gift of life; this is so self-evident, according to DC, that it requires no further explanation. Likewise, there need be no in-depth contemplation to decide whether or not to save a life; the fact that acting would help someone preserve their gift of life is all the reason necessary, no justification required. Any outside factors are not considered in either case; all that matters, in the end, is keeping the person alive.

Shinichi’s inability to understand why people kill another is one of the most important demonstrations in the series of the conflict between emotion and reason. Shinichi could hear and comprehend the motivations of the murderers he meets, but he could never truly understand them. To a person who is so drenched in logic in every aspect of his existence, willingly ruining both your life and someone else’s through murder doesn’t make any semblance of sense. The reality that Shinichi failed to realize at that moment was that acts as extreme as murder are not usually driven by cold logic; rather, they are the result of turbulent emotions, of the feelings that make us human. The murderers that Shinichi and Conan meet throughout DC may use highly pragmatic and systematic methods of killing, but they are rarely motivated by logical reasons. They let their hate, jealousy, guilt, and the like push them forward. To attempt to explain their behavior in strictly logical terms is a failed endeavor.

In the end, ironically, for all of DC’s intense focus on logic and rationality, it values emotions and feelings more. A big part of Shinichi and Conan’s character arc is coming to understand that people are fragile, highly emotional people who are often severely affected by the trails they endure; they are not math problems to be solves, or just bundles of met. The biggest and most prominent theme of the entire show is built on an abandon of cold logic and on a glorification of decisions based on the heart and based on human decency. Interestingly, it is usually the people who advocate pragmatism and the like who are admonished by the narrative.

It does this repeatedly in many incidents. We return to an earlier example- the suicide bomber hostage case (eps 648-650) when Ran and Sera clashed on the best way to resolve the issue. Sera attempted to lure the bomber to his death, before Ran deliberately foiled her plan. Sera could not understand Ran’s actions; considering the situation they were in, killing the man who was holding them hostage was the best way to guarantee the survival of everyone present. It would make sense for a show so heavily stepped in logical reasoning to side with Sera here, and yet Ran is the one presented as being in the right, even though her actions were dangerous and made everything more difficult for everyone.

The show’s heavy focus on romance is one of the more significant demonstrations of the type of series it actually is. Characters frequently act irrationally for the sake of loved ones, including Shinichi, and yet this is treated as natural and right. People, whether recurring characters, murderers, or victims, are caused heartbreak and emotional devastation as a result of their romantic feelings. This pain could have been avoided had they not entangled themselves in relationships in the first place, and yet the show never takes such a stance and in fact encourages such intense bonds despite the pain that often comes with them (in fact Miwako Sato’s character arc deals with this theme head-on, and will be discussed later in this analysis).

Minerva Glass alludes to all of this in her conversation with Ran in episode 617, when they stood before a statue of Sherlock Holmes. She quotes the great detective:

“Love is an emotional thing. I will say nothing in praise of it…it is antagonistic to clear reasoning.”

Minerva uses Sherlock’s words as justification for avoiding romantic trouble all together, to spare herself any more heartbreak and pain. However, the content of the case itself soundly rejects this, as the tone is overly romantic and at its conclusion it is revealed that Shinichi confessed his true feelings to Ran. He even offers Ran a scathing rebuttal of Minerva’s “Love is 0” right after, implying that she’s got everything backwards. The case finishes with Minerva herself accepting that she was wrong and beginning to rebuild her relationship with Ares. The entire thing works well as a rebuttal of the idea that love could somehow be a bad thing.

This is ironic, of course, because it stands in direct opposition to Sherlock Holmes’s philosophy, as espoused above. The Sherlock Holmes canon has a heavy influence on DC, in more ways than one. Shinichi, the protagonist, looks up to Sherlock Holmes and idolizes him as a model. Detective Conan itself structures its stories based on the Sherlockian concept of mystery and utilizes many similar tropes. That it should be so directly contrary to it thematically is startling, and Gosho knows it. However, that only goes to further emphasize how important this element is to the series, and how it ties in to the overall themes. It is not the only time that DC deliberately and bluntly contradicts the philosophy of its greatest inspiration; Sherlock and Shinichi’s differing views on life and death are another example, but that is a discussion for another time.

This theme is also explored from a different angle, as can be seen when it comes to characters who allow their emotions to blind them to the truth. Yes, the series values emotions over cold logic, but that does not mean that it is acceptable to distort the truth to spare one’s feelings. The incident that represents this best is the 3 K’s case in Osaka, one of the best cases in the entire series solely on the basis of its fascinating exploration of Conan’s character. In that case, one of Conan’s favorite soccer players and idols, Ray Curtis, is the one who commits the murder. Conan, in his investigation of the case, was all too eager to prove all three suspects innocent, interpreting the evidence found in the most positive light and actively suggesting explanations to the law enforcement officers that declared the three suspects, including Ray, innocent. Heiji becomes acutely aware of Conan’s actions and grows frustrated with him when he sees that he is being deliberately obtuse. When Heiji aggressively challenges Conan, he loses his cool, stating that he would find the evidence that would prove Ray innocent.

What makes all of this so interesting is that it is one of the exceedingly rare occasions, if not the only one, where Conan so blatantly betrays his own principles. A detective, in his investigation, should be neutral; leaning one way or another means that he or she is biased on some level, which in turn could make the understanding of the evidence unreliable, since there is already a predisposition to support one specific conclusion. Conan wasn’t investigating to find the murder; he was investigating to prove Ray innocent. The reason was obvious: he couldn’t accept that his role model could possibly be a criminal, and yet seemed to be aware on the subconscious level that it was a very real possibility. As such, he actively fought against it, even at the cost of removing all semblance of open-mindedness from his deductions. Heiji could only look on with a mixture of pity and disappointment, as Conan ignored his oft-repeated quotation of Holmes, one that he himself had told Heiji before:

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

What made Conan’s actions even more startling was that they contradicted what he had told Ran ages ago. Ran herself had faced a similar dilemma during the Night Baron case, when it dawned on her that her karate idol might be the murderer. She recalled Shinichi’s response to her when she had asked him what he would do if he discovered that Professor Agasa had possibly killed someone. Shinichi’s answer had been simple: he would try his hardest to find the evidence that Agasa wasn’t the killer, but if it soon became clear that he was, he would turn him in, despite all the pain it would cause him. Fortunately for Ran, her idol was soon proven innocent, partially by evidence that she found herself.

Unfortunately, Conan didn’t have that luxury, because his idol was indeed the killer. He threatened to become a hypocrite, a traitor to his ideals, a liar. In the end, however, Conan came to terms with the fact and confronted Ray himself, condemning him for his actions and eventually convincing him to hold himself in. The entire affair tore Conan apart from the inside, and his cold, bitter, and ultimately sad demeanor as he talked down Ray was a testament to the agony from which he was suffering. Despite that, he narrative’s portrayal of Conan’s actions is unabashedly positive, indicating that he had ultimately done the right thing. Yes, it had made him suffer, but individual emotional pain, in this case, was not an excuse for obstructing both justice and the truth.

There’s yet another case that tackles this from yet another angle: the Tottori Spider Mansion case. It’s one of the saddest cases in the show, namely because the murderer’s lover committed suicide due to a miscommunication between her and him. The killer, Robert, was an American who had struggled to learn Japanese. He once told the twin sisters who lived in his lover’s household that he thought that his lover was beautiful, that she ‘shined’ like a light. Tragically, the twins misunderstood the word ‘shine,’ thinking that it mean ‘die,’ which is how that word is pronounced in Japanese. The girl, who already had her own issues, sunk into depression when the twins told her that her alleged lover wished that she would die. She committed suicide shortly after, which started a chain reaction of events that led Robert to murder several people. Conan and Heiji figured out the sad truth behind the case, but they both agreed together to not let anyone know what had actually happened. The reasoning was simple: it would inflict a huge amount of mental trauma on both Robert and the twin sisters.

Unfortunately, Heiji lost his cool after Robert confessed to the crime and launched on an impassioned rant about how he didn’t care about the consequences of his actions, only that he wanted to lash out however he could (even if that meant hurting a total stranger, like Kazuha). Even as Conan shouted mentally for Heiji to not share the truth, he did so anyways. The result was predictable: Robert completely broke mentally. As he was taken away he kept muttering the same words to himself over and over; Conan compared him to a damaged puppet. Fortunately, the twin sisters were spared a similar fate: their grandmother distorted the facts and hid the truth from them. The narrative declares this the right course of action, he smiles in relief at the grandmother’s actions.

The message in this case was very clear: sometimes it’s better to hide the truth and provide comforting lies, because the alternative is too horrible to accept. In the Ray Curtis case, hiding the truth would have been an obstruction of justice, and so it was only right that Ray be arrested, regardless of the pain it caused Conan. However, in this case, there would be no violation of justice if the truth behind Robert’s lover’s suicide remained secret. As such, concealing the reality was totally acceptable, especially because announcing it to the world would have resulted in utter emotional devastation, especially because there were two innocent children involved. They didn’t mean to indirectly cause the death of a person, and so did not deserve to have their young spirits crushed by the truth. In this situation, the narrative prioritized emotional well-being over the truth, because in the end, DC as a series places more value on that. This is reaffirmed over and over via other incidents in the show, such as the one involving Araide’s family (in which the police deliberately distorted the facts to protect the maid Hikaru who had accidently caused the death). DC thus tackles the issue from several opposing viewpoints, handling it with greater nuance than it would have had it not done so.
Posted by MrAM | May 6, 2015 5:02 PM | 1 comments