November 8, 2022
By Shelley Pallis.
In Natsumi Ito’s My Dear Detective, Mitsuko Hoshino is a go-getting, no-nonsense detective, a woman in a man’s world, repeatedly clearing cases faster than anyone else, even as her superiors and colleagues mutter that women in the workplace is just a passing fad. She cuts a dash through 1930s Tokyo, moving among its newfangled café culture and urban growth, solving cases that include “The Glass Slipper”, “The Perplexing Picture” and “The Lady on Stage.” As the linked stories roll along, she acquires (at first reluctantly) the assistance and advice of Saku, a handsome man who works in a nearby café, who brightly mansplains his way into her life, and certainly believes that he is helping her out.
Saku is a textbook manga pretty-boy, a fiercely rich millionaire’s son who is slumming it as a waiter because he thinks it will bring him “life experience”, essentially playing at detective like some Agatha Christie dilettante. Mitsuko, however, takes her job much more seriously, determined to hang onto her record as the detective who has cleared the most cases every month. It’s not a game to her, as it plainly is to Saku, and this dynamic between them creates an odd-couple resonance throughout the story. Before long, Saku’s connections are opening doors that help Mitsuko’s investigations, much to her mild annoyance.
Translator Samuel R. Messner ends each chapter with a little info page about some of the topics and locations that appear in each chapter. This can offer a nice little cornflake-packet introduction to Japan after the end of the “Taisho” era, when the country briefly flirted with democracy and progressiveness before descending into the “dark valley” of militarism. But it’s difficult, in fact, to really see a whole lot of Taisho (or even Showa, the actual era) going on in Ito’s manga. There might not be any mobile phones or online dating, but nevertheless her 1930s Tokyo isn’t all that different from the placeless, timeless modernity of so many girls’ manga – all dance halls and cake shops, handsome butlers and occasional cats. The only thing that seems to separate it from a manga set, say, yesterday, is that the heroine seems ready to fume more openly about the patronising way that men treat her. Mitsuko is a something of a tomboy, and something of a women’s lib icon, and if anything adds a slightly doleful note to My Dear Detective, it’s how little is fated to change in the 90 years that follow it.
My Dear Detective by Natsumi Ito is available from Azuki.