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Mar 21, 2016 7:36 PM
Anime Relations: Detective Conan (TV)
Law vs. Justice

Detective Conan, being a show about various crimes and the culprits who commit them, naturally focuses on justice, and law enforcement agencies and detectives have a major presence in the story. However, the show draws a very clear distinction between law and justice, indicating that they are not one and the same, and that in fact justice always takes priority over the law. This is done through some clever work with the police characters but most importantly through the protagonist of the series, Conan.
As mentioned earlier, the character of Conan Edogawa is a bundle of contradictions and serves as a vessel through which the series communicates and accentuates its many themes and ideas. They are all manifested in Conan in different ways. As is the case in other matters, the series’s narrative and Conan share the same viewpoint on the manner of justice: it is not necessarily lawful. This is portrayed most effectively through Conan’s actions in several cases and throughout the story in general.

That the story does not equate the two is significant, as it allows the narrative to take a more nuanced stance. Conan routinely breaks the law in his various exploits. He hides information from the police, goes into restricted areas, and commits actions unacceptable for a child. Not only that, but as the series goes on Conan becomes more and more willing to collaborate with people who are criminals according to the law. This, along with several intriguing tangential themes, are explored most thoroughly through the character of Kaitou Kid.
Classifying Kid as a criminal is a bit of an oxymoron. He is a thief that keeps nothing that he steals. Instead of trying to get past the police, he sends them letters warning them of his arrival. Instead of wearing black to conceal himself, he announces himself to the world through his blaring white clothing. He carries a gun that is incapable of harming anyone. To top it all off, some of his heists are done for the sake of helping other people or righting an injustice. Kaitou Kid’s entire existence blurs the line between criminal and innocent to an extreme degree. At his core, Kid is just challenging the police to a fun game. Would it truly be all right legally if such a person were to be arrested and imprisoned?

This moral question, and the themes it ties into, are subtly explored through Conan’s interactions with Kid. In the beginning, Conan is firmly convinced of Kid’s guilt and makes it his mission to capture him when he encounters him. They start off as very much typical rivals and enemies, with Conan’s ego particularly wounded after their first encounter, where Kid completely outsmarted him. Conan corners Kid on their second encounter but fails to stop him from escaping. The two continue to encounter each other for several more cases, with Conan earning Kid’s respect more and more with each subsequent meeting. Eventually, Kid begins to perform heists not with the intention of stealing something, but for the purpose of challenging Conan to a fun game. As a result, his exploits become more and more extravagant. This is probably shown best in episode 356, where Kid executes an elaborate trick that deceptively makes him appear as though he is walking in mid-air. This over-the-top, needlessly complicated, and overly flashy heist (even by Kid’s standards), was actually done not so much with the intention of fooling the police as much as it was to challenge Conan to a deduction game. Kid reveals in the end of the case that he had actually never had any interest in stealing the jewel; he really only wanted to challenge the little detective to a fun little match.

By the time of the Bourbon arc, Conan and Kid had become something bordering on friends, with their rivalry ceasing to be serious and becoming something akin to a friendly contest. Conan’s first case of willingly aiding Kid came about shortly after the Teleportation case, when he assisted Kid in freeing Jirochi’s dog. Conan let Kid get away easily, basically giving him a warm farewell as he departed, an action that seemingly had zero impact on Conan’s conscience. In short, Conan did not feel an ounce of guilt for allowing a renowned world criminal to escape. While it may seem odd, a closer examination reveals it to be entirely consistent with Conan’s character at this point in time, where his views had become less black and white than ever before. Conan’s reasoning for allowing Kid to escape was that he had been there for a good cause, doing nothing wrong. Clearly, it actually would have weighed heavily on Conan’s conscience had he attempted to capture Kid in such a situation. It may have been consistent with the law to arrest Kid, but in Conan’s mind, it very well may have been a violation of justice in this particular context.

A few encounters later, Conan once again allowed Kid to all but walk away from an exploit, in which he had exposed the wrongdoing of two criminals, essentially acting in the interests of justice through his crimes. Again, Conan let Kid go as a gesture of thanks. Why would he capture a man who had just dished out justice? Conan’s value system is more complex than a strict moral code, as he places a greater weight on justice than on the law. The two are not synonymous. Though it may be controversial, it becomes clear that Conan feels that it is preferable to take matters into his own if the situation calls for it rather than leave it to the punishing nature of the law, and the narrative of the series largely supports him on this stance.

Things come to a climax when Conan actually employed Kaitou Kid’s help in a confrontation versus the Organization. This had been built up to beforehand through Conan’s friendly behavior towards Kid. The narrative of the show does not portray any of this in a particularly negative light. It does acknowledge it, though, through Conan, who once tells Kaitou Kid that because that they are on opposite sides of the law, they are destined to be enemies. The implication is that the only reason Conan is after Kaitou Kid is because he is classified as a criminal by legal standards, despite the fact that his crimes are harmless and sometimes even helpful. The law is an inflexible thing, and often fails to account for the nuance of a situation.
Different situations calls for different judgment calls, the narrative of Detective Conan argues. Sometimes, the law isn’t the way to go, because it is not the same thing as justice, which takes precedence. More so, the emotional and physical well-being of people is sometimes of greater importance and consideration than the law, and justice must be molded to fit it. This philosophy permeates the entirety of the series, and aside from Kaitou Kid, shows itself most strongly through several major standout cases that each deserve their own analysis.

One of the most decisive cases on the matter is the one involving the Araide family. In that case, a step-mother wished to murder her husband through electrocution. Through a complex series of events, the one who ends up unintentionally committing the actual murder is the housemaid. In order to spare her the guilt and devastation of knowing that she accidently killed someone, the step-mother agrees to cooperate with the police in covering up the true nature of the crime. What makes this shocking is that it is a deliberate cover-up of the truth of a crime, done with the help of law enforcement officers no less! Yet, the narrative treats it as the right thing, for a simple reason: a murder done by accident does not deserve punishment. Under the law, the maid is a murderer, despite having no intention of doing so. True, she would almost certainly be spared, but that wouldn’t undo the psychological damage she would suffer if she knew the truth. What was done here ties not only into this theme but in other major themes as well, such as the importance of emotion, of human feelings, over detached logic and reasoning (as covered in another post). This case represents an important point in Conan’s character arc for that reason.

Another, and far more controversial case, is the one regarding the attempted murder of a wife by her husband. The two had been tense with each other for a while, through a series of misunderstandings. Unbeknownst to the husband, his wife was pregnant, which was the reason for her recent insufferable behavior. However, due to a lack of communication between both, frequent fights erupted between both of them. Finally at his limit, the husband went into a fit of rage and attempted to kill his wife. Fortunately Conan was at the scene and was able to keep the wife from dying before she was transported to the hospital. The detective figured out very quickly that the wife was pregnant, and knew that the husband had stabbed her.

An interesting dilemma now lay before Conan: turn in the husband and break apart a blossoming family, likely forever, or arrange for the truth to be hidden so that the family could remain intact and so that both husband and wife could have a second chance? Conan’s way of solving this problem is fascinating, and ties in brilliantly with the series’ consistent theme of justice over law, and of emotion over reason. For a character as law-adhering and logic-based as Conan, this should be a no-brainer. The husband attempted to murder his pregnant wife. By all means he should be punished for his crime and serve his sentence according to the law.
Here again, though, the law would fail to cover the nuances and complexity of the situation. Even if the husband’s wife forgave him for his actions, the husband would be forced to serve his sentence in prison for an unknown length of time. His child would be born and spend the first few years of its life without a father, while the wife would struggle in that time to both care for her child while simultaneously maintaining a work income. More so, the family as a whole could never be a completely happy one ever again, as the husband would forever be haunted by his time in prison. His reputation would be shattered, and he would forever be gazed at with suspicion from others due to what he’d done. All of this assumes that the husband would be allowed to reunite with his family, but there’s no guarantee that the law would permit that, considering his actions. In short, that small act of desperation by the husband would result in a ruined life for all involved forever.

Despite all of the above, it was undeniable that the husband had planned the murder of a person, a crime through and through. Conan’s method of deciding how to resolve this complex dilemma is telling: watch the husband’s expressions, and use that to determine his true intentions and whether or not he should be forgiven. From Conan’s observations, he discovered that the husband’s first reaction upon learning of his wife’s survival was relief, an indication that he still loved her and hadn’t actually wanted her to die. His following reactions were fear and guilt, an indication of a man who hates what he’d done. In fact, the husband’s guilt and self-blame is so severe that he attempts suicide shortly after, only to be stopped by Conan. Satisfied with what he’d seen, Conan reveals to the husband that his wide was pregnant, thus accounting for her behavior over the past few months. In the end, Conan leaves the decision to the wife. He himself wouldn’t report the man; it came down to whether or not his wide would be willing to forgive him. She did, and so the husband emerged from the case un-arrested, with the intention of making amends and enthusiasm for his coming child.
It’s interesting that in this case, however, the narrative doesn’t completely side with Conan. Haibara serves as the opposing voice, the one that feels that the husband’s crimes, no matter his individual feelings, merit severe punishment. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, the narrative is careful to make it clear that the morality of Conan’s actions can be argued. However, one can infer that it is inclined in Conan’s direction more than Haibara’s. The case itself is one long piece of foreshadowing regarding Haibara and Akai’s potential future meeting, but that’s a topic for another portion of this analysis.

Confronting vs. running away from the past

DC focuses extensively on baggage from the past, the trauma that occurs long ago that still affects the individuals in the present day. This theme is extremely prominent in the series, and is manifested in both the suspects of the murder cases and the recurring characters.
Haibara’s character arc is a multifaceted, multidimensional one, a reflection of the complexity of her characterization. One of the most important aspects of her growth as a person was coming to terms with her harrowing past in the Organization and the horrors that she had experienced throughout her life up to that point. For a long time after her introduction, Haibara’s reflex was to run away from her problems. She was too scared to face her past, and responded by turning away from it even when it stared her in the face. This contributed in large part to her suicidal tendencies. Haibara’s clinical depression and cynical mindset foreclosed any possibility of her tackling her many emotional and psychological head-on. To her, it was easier to just shut down and give up, or else to always be on the run from the organization, living in a state of perpetual fear.

Haibara’s first major attempt to commit suicide came in episode 231, when she realized that Vermouth was on the bus with her and decided that it would be better for her, and for the people around her, if she were to just end her life then and there. As such, she does not evacuate the bus, waiting to be blown up with it. Of course, Conan, as anti-suicide as ever, doesn’t allow her to carry through with her plan, saving her life at the last moment. His words to her, as mentioned before, are significant:

“Don’t run away from fate.”

Conan was reprimanding Haibara for literally “running away” from her past. The Organization, Vermouth, Gin, the drug, they were all essential components of her life as Shiho Miyano, and they still haunted her as Ai Haibara. She understandably wanted to leave them behind. However, Conan makes clear that the way to do that would not be by killing herself. Rather, if she wanted to move on from her past, she would need to face it, and the only way to do that would be to resist the impulse to flee from it. Haibara takes Conan’s words to heart, and she repeats them back to him in episode 280, after Conan thinks that she had literally run away due to her pessimistic remarks throughout the case. Clearly, then, Haibara’s perspective on running had begun to change. However, she still experienced doubts about the life she was now leading.

Episodes 289-290 center on the escaped serial killer Kiichirou Numabuchi, and reveals that he was a former member of the Black Organization. He was meant to be a test case for the APTX4869, but escaped before it could be administered to him. He ran away from the Organization, condemning himself to a life of constant fear and horror. That fear of being caught manifested itself in his numerous murders; he believed that many of the people he killed were Organization operatives sent to capture him. Thus, not only did he lead a life characterized by perpetual fear, he doomed himself by becoming a serial killer. The narrative draws a parallel between him and Haibara; like him, she ran away from the Organization, and like him, she’s been living a life of paranoia ever since. Numabuchi, then, provides a terrifying mirror to Haibara: a powerful example of the sort of life that she will be doomed to lead if she continues to forever run away from the Organization, continues to forever run away from her past.

The episodes show promising hints for Haibara; her failure to sense Numabuchi points to a dulling of her “Black Organization sense.” Haibara initially sees this as a bad thing; from her perspective, her sense was crucial to her continued survival. Losing it could mean the beginning of the end for her. Haibara attributes the loss of her edge to her adaptation to living a normal life with Conan and the Detective Boys. However, Conan refutes her cynical outlook, giving an alternate take on the issue: the fact that her BO sense wasn’t as sharp as before was evidence that she was no longer living a life hyper-aware of every danger and strangled by fear and uncertainty, which was itself evidence that she had the capacity to live a truly normal life, the one that she had never enjoyed as Shiho Miyano. This implicitly suggests that Haibara has already diverged from Numabuchi’s path; she will likely not end up like him, thanks to the influence of Conan and his friends. The narrative, then, parallels Numabuchi and Haibara while simultaneously highlighting the contrast between them.

Haibara’s arc of not running away runs parallel to the plot progression of the Vermouth arc, and so fittingly, it also climaxes with it. After the climactic confrontation against Vermouth, Haibara is left with a tough choice: whether or not to sign up for the Witness Protection Program, which would entail taking on a new identity and cutting off contact from everyone she knows. Jodie encouraged Haibara to do it, emphasizing that Vermouth would not stop chasing her and that her life would constantly be in danger. Haibara is initially uncertain as to what course of action to take, but eventually, thanks to Ayumi’s influence (and to an extent Ran’s) refuses to join the program. This decision is a huge one and is a milestone moment for Haibara’s character, as well as the most crucial one in her arc of not running away. Haibara basically tells Jodie that moving into the program would basically mean running away forever, with no end in sight. She would be condemning herself to a life of fear on the run, because at any moment her newfound security could be shattered. By rejecting the program, Haibara makes clear that she will not continue to run away from her past. She will continue to lead her new, happier life as Ai Haibara, despite the obvious danger. At least if the Organization ever catches up to her, it will be when committed to her friends and to herself, and when she had already accepted the possibility that it could all end someday. Haibara, by rejecting the Program, could devote herself to her happy life as long as it lasts, actually enjoying it instead of insisting on making her present life as miserable as her previous one, by always living in the shadow of fear and insecurity.

It’s a brave decision, and that is another message that the narrative drives homes. Haibara had originally believed that courage was required to willingly sentence your self to a life of hiding. This is an obviously cynical perspective, one that inverts the conventional understanding of hiding as an act of cowardice. Haibara, interestingly, originally saw hiding as an act of courage. While this may be true in some circumstances, the narrative makes clear that such a way of thinking is damaging in the long-term. Haibara essentially justifies her endless fear and paranoia to herself by reframing it as a positive act. Slowly, however, the people she meets tear down her rather self-serving belief that it is brave to hide. The two primary influences on Haibara, and the characters who best manifest the series’ theme of courage, are Ran and Ayumi. Ran actually brings it up directly in episode 247, when she talks down a criminal who uses “courage” to justify his murder:

“Courage is a word of justice. It means the quality of mind that enables one to face apprehension with confidence and resolution. It is not right to use it as an excuse to kill someone.”

This statement, aside from providing some insight into Ran’s idealistic character, also provides a strong rebuke to the sort of cynical thinking that could justify often pejorative actions such as murder, robbery…or running away. Indeed, Ran’s words could be applied to Haibara; it’s not right for her to use courage as an excuse to hide. Haibara actually takes Ran’s words to heart, and at the end of the case summons the courage to actually introduce herself to her, after initially disliking her for numerous reasons outside the scope of this analysis.

Ran’s words about courage directly tied into running away; after all, Haibara was running away from her almost inevitable meeting with Ran. As such, it is only fitting that the theme should reemerge in such a prominent manner when Haibara makes her landmark decision to stop running. Gosho smoothly established a strong association between courage and confronting vs running, and it pays off well here. Jodie regards Haibara’s decision as one that evidenced a person who concealed “great courage,” and indeed that is true. Haibara’s choice was not one she made lightly and was one fraught with danger, but is a testament to the immense bravery that she had acquired during her time as a shrunken child, as well as to the narrative’s message that without courage, one will never be able to confront their fears or their past; they will only be able to run.

Miawko Sato’s character arc also tackles the theme of running from vs confronting the past, albeit from a slightly different angle. Sato is an officer with a troubled past; her father was killed while on duty, and her first love, Matsuda Junpei, was violently blown up during a case. In addition to that, many people even remotely close to her ended up with unfortunate or premature to that. The result was a person who was somewhat closed off, with only a few true friends and an extreme aversion to the pursuit of romance, considering the agony that accompanied her first one. Sato, in other words, is a character constantly haunted by the specter of her past, not unlike Haibara.

The primary theme of Sato’s story with Matsuda is that there exists a nuanced distinction between moving on after a tragedy and forgetting it, arguing that the two are not equivalent: moving on does not mean that one has to forget. Sato spends most of episode 304 operating under the erroneous belief that she can’t move on from Matsuda because she can’t forget him, and she believes that she can’t forget him because she has not gotten closure for his death. Thus, Sato sees the case as an opportunity resolve the issue: by catching Matsuda’s killer, she can put Matsuda and his unfortunate end behind her and get on with her life. In other words, Sato’s plan for moving on from Matsuda was based on forgetting him. Shiratori actually endorses this flawed premise, telling Sato directly that this case was finally her chance to “break free” of the “painful memory” that she “can’t forget;” in short, to forget. Shiratori frames Sato’s situation as if she were trapped in the cage of her memory of Matsuda, and she could only be released by getting closure and forgetting.

It is after this extensive set-up that the narrative begins to deconstruct this prominent notion. Firstly, Matsuda blatantly contradicts Sato’s understanding of the interplay between acknowledging the past and embracing the future. Whereas Sato believes that the two are mutually exclusive, Matsuda approaches such a framework as though it was a false dichotomy. He blurs the strict lines that Sato draws, suggesting to her, when speaking of her painful history with her father, that she can move on into the future without rejecting the baggage of her past. If she were to actually forget her father, he says, then he really would be dead. Indeed, Takagi echoes much of Matsuda’s advice in the conclusion of the case, where he attempts (successfully) to talk Sato out of pursuing revenge against Matsuda’s killer. Her invokes Matsuda’s name as a means of discouraging her (saying he wouldn’t approve), to which Sato’s mental response is that she doesn’t want to remember him; she wants to forget. But Takagai addresses that as well, saying that he couldn’t let her forget, because Matsuda can only live on in her memories. Though slightly cheesy, it is thematically continuous, as it is the counterpart to Matsuda’s statement that Sato forgetting her dad would mean he’s dead for good; the memories keeping him figuratively alive would no longer exist, and so neither would he.

The clear message is that one need not forget their traumatic past to have a bright future; they need only to come to terms with it. Once that is done, the pain the memory inspires no longer cripples, and its special value to can be persevered and perhaps even push one forward. (Though a tangential point, it is interesting to note the ideological difference between Shiratori and Takagi, and what it says about their relationship with Sato. Shiratori shares Sato’s initial incorrect view of her emotional issues and their solution (according to the narrative), and though well-intentioned, he does encourage Sato to pursue the path of forgetting rather than remembering. Takagi, in contrast, is the philosophical successor of Matsuda, espousing his same perspective and actually helping Sato deal with her painful past in a helpful and constructive manner. This difference between the two, namely that Shiratori perpetuates Sato’s flaws while Takagi remedies them, points to why Takagi is a superior partner for Sato compared to Shiratori, and why the narrative was always going to choose him to be Sato’s romantic partner. In many ways the Matsuda Jinpei case was one long argument for Takagi being the best person for Sato, but that’s an analysis for another time).

At the conclusion of the case, Sato deletes the last text she received from Matsuda, the one that she had been hanging on to for the past three years. The text was symbolic of Sato’s inability to move on; her deleting it meant that she was ready to enter a new stage of her life, one which wasn’t dominated by her painful memories of Matsuda. Most significant, though are Sato’s finishing words: “Bye-bye, Matsuda. But, I won’t ever forget you.” She has moved on, but she has also resolved to never let Matsuda vanish from her memory. In the end, Sato takes Matsuda’s and Takagi’s words to heart, using them to finally come to terms with her past and at long last find the peace of mind to pursue a new romantic interest (it goes without saying that this turning point in Sato’s character arc was crucial to enabling a feasible romantic relationship between her and Takagi; indeed, in later episodes Sato is noticeably more comfortable in considering Takagi as a legitimate partner, before they finally become an official couple in the Bourbon arc).

Sato’s whole arc with Matsuda, as mentioned earlier, offers another take on DC’s running theme of confronting vs. running away from the past, though in a manner that is not as direct as Haibara’s story, though similar in essence. The theme manifests itself more directly in Haibara’s case. She tried to flee from her past by literally attempting to run away and escaping from the Organization, whose existence symbolized her traumatic past. Coming to terms with her past meant actually being brave enough to lead a new life without resorting to the life of a fugitive (like Numabuchi) or suicide. Sato’s arc is a little more abstract, as she is struggling with the unyielding grasp of a painful memory. In her case, running away from the past meant forgetting it happened, and confronting it meant getting closure while accepting that she can move on without forgetting what she went through. Either way, the core of these stories are the same. What they do is provide the narrative different angles with which to approach this one essential theme.

To be clear, Sato and Haibara are not the only examples; they are simply more prominent, more deeply developed ones. This is a recurring theme that pervades Gosho’s work, and he seems to be quite fond of it. Examples include Megure and the unfortunate case through which they met, Akai and his past with Akemi, Kansuke and his difficult relationship with Uehara, and so on. This theme is also closely tied to another major one: redemption, which I plan to cover in the next part.
Posted by MrAM | Mar 21, 2016 7:36 PM | Add a comment