十二宮でつかまえて (Juunikyuu de Tsukamaete)
Shoujo – Comedy, fantasy, magical girl, mystery, romance
4 Volumes (complete)
Lili comes from a family of astrologers, and she intends to continue the family business. But reading the future isn’t the only thing passed on to her: Lili possesses a special ring that can be used to contact the spirits of the zodiac. With the help of the ring, Lili solves cases as the legendary detective Spica. But Spica may find out she has a rival or two!
Zodiac P.I. is a cute* concept but suffers from nonsensical mysteries**.
*Except for the violent crimes.
**Which often involve people dying.
In the first volume alone, Lili tackles two murder cases. Several other people die over the course of the series. So while this series is one aimed at younger readers thanks to the magazine it’s serialized in, Zodiac P.I. is not truly what I’d call a light or fluffy series. Fortunately, Zodiac. P.I. moves into less violent crimes, but the death count is still on the high side. (Lili is also only 14 years old, waaaaay young to be investigating people’s deaths.)
Anyways, the manga stars Lili, an energetic tomboy who is good at telling fortunes. Her father is a detective, but Lili also investigates cases on her own under the name Spica. Her Star Ring (given to her by her mother) allows Lili to contact astrological spirits, and she is later reunited with childhood friend and criminal psychology expert Hiromi. Together, they end up solving several crimes while also dealing with the mysterious Sirius.
The series has a lot of elements that could have propelled it to much greater success: a magical ring, fortunetelling, a secret identity, and cute chibi characters. Zodiac P.I. is basically what you would get if you tossed in Shugo Chara! (chibi support characters), Ace Attorney (detective with a item that gives them a special ability) and St. Tail / Phantom Thief Jeanne (cheerful, energetic girl with secret identity who reveals the truth) in a blender and hit the puree button. I’ve also heard Zodiac P.I. called the shoujo version of Case Closed, but this series can be compared to any “kid or private citizen who solves crimes” story.
However, the biggest issue is the crimes themselves. Not only do people in Lili’s world not know how to handle problems, but they are also sophisticated enough to try to pull off some crazy schemes. I mentioned Ace Attorney earlier, but a lot of the revelations are Professor Layton-levels of stretching reality. Each time I reread Zodiac P.I., I am left scratching my head. They’re just so… out there. These plots are much more sophisticated than putting on a Halloween costume and running around scaring kids and their talking dog. I wish Ando had been paired up with a writer for the series, something she would do later in her career. I can understand the need to resolve cases in two chapters (Nakayoshi is a monthly magazine after all), but I think someone who was well-versed in mystery or crime stories could have done a better job of showing:
- why all the suspects have a motive;
- plausible crimes;
- building up suspense;
- providing enough hints for (at least some) readers to make a reasonable deduction.
It’s too bad, as I think this series could have had a longer run or even been adopted into an anime. (With more kid-friendly cases I imagine.) I know this is a fantasy series, but the crimes themselves should have been more grounded in reality. I mean, the first case involves shoes and a tree. Not exactly Colonel Mustard in the library with the revolver…
So let’s cover the other major aspects of the story: the magical girl portions and the romance. First, using astrology is on the unique side — particularly Western astrology and mythology. Lili herself does fortune telling, but her Star Ring allows her to summon the spirits of the Zodiac. Many readers will recognize names like Caster and Pollux, Aries, and Leo. But while the astral spirits can give Lili hints, the actual solving of the case is left up to her and/or Hiromi. Think of the Star Ring as a Professor Layton Hint Coin. The spirits each have their own personality, and the volumes end with a funny mini-story about the spirits hanging out in the Star Ring. Unfortunately, outside of the bonus story, we never see them really return. Each spirit pretty much appears once.
Anyway, Lili herself puts on a costume to “transform” into Spica, and she even has her own catchphrase and incantation. Classic magical girl stuff, even if she has to put on a costume the old-fashioned way and not through a special brooch.
Meanwhile, the male lead, Hiromi, has kind of an unusual role in the story. He finds out Lili is Spica right away, so there’s no cat-and-mouse storyline like in St. Tail or Cat’s Eye. Despite this, Lili keeps the truth about the Star Ring secret, so he ends up having to draw his own conclusions about the case. He often figures out the culprit before Lili does, but there are a few instances where he’s the DID — the Dude in Distress. Lili herself is pretty much a typical energetic girl who is terrible at school but good at sports, but at least the manga doesn’t make a big deal out of her being an idiot. She’s also good at funny faces.
Ando’s art is, as you would expect, a bit rougher than her later works. It’s mostly due to the darker use of shading and screentones. By the end, though, the two leads look strikingly similar to her later protagonists. Hiromi in particular could pass as Daichi’s twin even more than Sora! (I’m referring to Kitchen Princess.) The astral spirits are cute and each have their own appearance, but we see each of them for such a short amount of time that it doesn’t matter much. Ando does include blood and corpses. Heck, the series opens with a girl being strangled! Of course, it’s done in a dark profile because of the target demographic, but it’s still not all-ages friendly like, say, Let’s Dance a Waltz.
I must add, I cannot look at Sirius (Spica’s rival) without calling her MEIKO now. They have the same outfit.
It’s Tokyopop, so expect some complete mistranslations, swapped speech bubbles, and typos.
If you look closely at the first volume’s cover, you’ll notice “Riri” written all over. Yes, it’s the direct romanization of りり, the heroine’s name. Since it’s not written as リリ, I can understand why they didn’t go with “Lily” in this case. I’m guessing they went with “Lili” since it’s easier for English speakers to pronounce. In case you’re wondering, her professional name is “Mademoiselle Lili” even in the original Japanese. As for her partner, his nickname was “Hirorin”. It’s on the cutesy side, so that’s why Hiromi doesn’t want Lili to call him that. Tokyopop has Lili calling him “Hiro”, which makes Hiromi’s anger a little strange. It’s just a shortened form of his name, not really childish. Meanwhile, it seems odd that people keep calling Lili (in disguise) as “Koji Ayano”. Well, it makes more sense if she called herself “Ayanokoji”, a family name. On the bright side, I believe all the astral spirits’ names are correct.
The official English title is good at capturing what the series is about, but I also wish they could have used the Japanese English translation of Catcher in the Horoscope as a subtitle. I just think it’s clever.
Zodiac P.I. isn’t bad, but with all the competition, it’s just not worthy of trying to track down at this point. The only reason you might want to is if you’re an Ando fan and want to see where some of her darker aspects of her manga (like Arisa) originated. The concept is pretty good, and it’s too bad someone (or Ando herself) couldn’t take it further.
Several Ando manga are available in English: Arisa, Kitchen Princess, and Let’s Dance a Waltz from Kodansha Comics and Wild @ Heart from Del Rey.