"I am the Phantom of the Opera. Am I not unbelievably hideous? But even while this ill-omened monster is being consumed by the inferno of hell, I still long for heaven!"
"The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: The Opera House Murder Case"
Happy birthday, Kindaichi Hajime! It's been 20 years since our young high school detective Hajime and love interest Miyuki first made their debut in the story Operazakan Satsujin Jiken ("The Opera House Murder Case") in 1992, but the duo is still going strong, with a new case waiting for them in March (The Man-Eating Laboratory Murder Case). I do hope they'll celebrate his anniversary with more events later this year! What about a new videogame (a good one please this time)? Or a new TV drama based on the second season stories?
It does seem that few people realize that the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series is pretty much what shaped the whole detective manga genre. Kindaichi Shounen was almost epoch-making as a manga inspired by orthodox detective fiction and series like Detective Conan and Q.E.D. are very much indebted to their grandfather. Kindaichi Shounen popularized the fair-play mystery comic genre and introduced little touches too, like catchphrases that serve as challenges to the reader (the infamous nazo wa subete toketa / all the mysteries have been solved). It also spawned a gigantic media mix franchise: an anime (including movies), several widely popular live action series and movies, audio dramas, a novel series, videogames and probably more stuff I can't think of right now.
And so, to commemorate Kindaichi Shounen's twentieth anniversary, a review of a special set of stories from the Kindaichi Shounen canon. And we begin with the very first Kindaichi Shounen story, Operazakan Satsujin Jiken ("The Opera House Murder Case"). Kindaichi Hajime and childhood friend/love interest Nanase Miyuki, together with members of the theater club of their high school and their supervising teacher, travel to the Opera House Hotel at Utashima island to rehearse their play of Gaston Leroux' The Phantom of the Opera. It does not take long for Kindaichi, who is not actually a member of the club, to notice that there is some underlying tension between his companions, all tied to the suicide of an ex-member of the club. The whole thing explodes however when a murder is commited by dropping down a stage light on top of one of the actresses. More murders happen, including one under impossible circumstances and they seem to have been commited by someone dressed like the play's Phantom. But little did the murderer know that Kindaichi Hajime is the grandson of the famous masterdetective Kindaichi Kousuke...
The Yokomizo Seishi estate later objected to the use of Kindaichi Kousuke's name actually, so in later volumes Hajime usually just refers to 'his grandpa'. But it was indeed fitting for Hajime to be the grandson of Kindaichi Kousuke, and not only because they both represent the first in a wave of orthodox detective fiction. Kousuke's most famous cases, like Akuma no Temariuta, Inugamike no Ichizoku, Gokumontou are all essentialy mitate-satsujin (a 'resembling' murder), an off-spring to the nursery rhyme murder. These are murders to are made to symbolize something else. Nursery rhymes are an example, but mitate-satsujin are usually more diverse as it has none of the 'storybook' annotations the nursery rhyme murder has. In this first case of Hajime, he also encounters mitate-satsujin, with the actual murders resembling the murders of the play, both commited by the Phantom. And yes, there are no (few?) actual murders in the original Phantom of the Opera, but it is later explained that the school club is performing a stage adaptation that features a lot of murders.
The overall story is entertaining for early Kindaichi Shounen standards, but the use of a well-known trick in the last part of the story pretty much points out who the murderer is. Of course, most Kindaichi Shounen stories follow a formula pretty strict, with the most common tropes actually introduced in this first story. The school club on a trip, a closed circle situation, an avenger of the past, persons playing multiple parts, locked room murders, impossible situations and a dramatic ending. Which makes the series predictable at times. When the series is on a roll however, it does these tropes wonderfully though and then these tropes don't feel as a burden at all. In this first story, it's clear what the major influences are, but it does not feel as a bad thing. The complete story is decent and to me it is clear why the story managed to draw in a large audience.
Regarding the production of the series, it has to be noted that this first story was actually written by Kaneda Youzaburou. Amagi Seimaru, the current script-writer, was the one who came up with the idea of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo (, but Kaneda was the one who actually wrote a large part of the first season of the Kindaichi Shounen manga. Amagi took over the series about halfway the first season and he has been the story-runner for everything Kindaichi Shounen since 1998.
At the end of the story, Hajime, Miyuki and the other survivors of the tragedy leave Utashima and the Opera House Hotel, but they retutrned 2 years later, in Operazakan - Aratanaru Satsujin ("The Opera House - Murders Once More"), the second novel (and remade as the first anime movie) (penned by Amagi). The owner of the Opera House Hotel, a former playwright and director, decides to reopen his hotel as a proper theater and has invited several old friends, including Hajime, Miyuki and inspector Kenmochi to the first performance in his theater. And yes, it is The Phantom of the Opera. Hajime naturally feels worried about a new performance of The Phantom in the Opera House Hotel and he is right. The first night a gigantic chandelier falls on top of the actress playing Carlotta. More murders happen and once again Hajime finds out there's a secret in the past of the cast.
This is a really strange story to rate. The murders here are also made to resemble the ones that appear in their version of The Phantom of the Opera and as a result, this story really resembles Operazakan Satsujin Jiken. The light-source falling on top of someone (this time in a locked room), a hanged corpse, someone found in a water-vessel, this story feels more like remake of the original story than a proper sequel. They are just too alike. Overall, the first story feels better constructed, even though the impossible chandelier murder in this novel was actually quite good. The other murders just seem less satisfying.
At one hand, the novel feels a bit different because of the heavier themes compared to the manga. Which isn't all nice to begin with. The other Kindaichi Shounen novels also feature this. On the other hand, the quick switches between points of view, between segments and the short dialogue sections really make this book feel like a glorified storyboard for a manga or anime. It's moving fast, too fast for its own good. This is a story that could have improved from a longer page count. I saw the movie a long time ago and in my memories, the movie is a lot better than the novel in regards of pacing.
The final appearance of the Opera House Hotel is in Operazakan - Daisan no Satsujin ("The Opera House - The Third Murder Case"), the second story of the second season of the manga (post-2004). The old owner of the Opera House Hotel has passed away and the island has been in the possession of a friend of his for some time. She decides to tear the place down and has invited a group of old students of the deceased stage director, and Hajime, Miyuki and Kenmochi for one final performance of The Phantom of the Opera in the Opera House Hotel. By now, you would think that performing this play there could be considered attempted murder, but enfin. Hajime feels uneasy about it all and it doesn't take long for the chandelier to fall on top of a poor actress. Again. It's the start of a new series of murders on Utashima and the main suspect is... once again the Phantom.
This time, the murders don't really follow the ones of the play anymore, so the story avoids feeling too similar to the previous two stories set at the Hotel. Also different from the previous two stories is how the first murder (the falling chandelier) is actually the least satisfying murder of them all. Which is not to say that it is a bad trick, but the overall standard of the tricks in this story is pretty good and certainly the best of all three murder cases at the Opera House Hotel. Ignoring The Phantom of the Opera for the murders themselves (it is used for background settings though) was a wise choice by Amagi this time and really made this an enjoyable story. It also allowed him to explore the island of Utashima a bit more (this is actually the first time we get a full shot of the island and we get a glimpse of the other points of interest at the island), which was pretty interesting, considering that despite Hajime and Miyuki having visited the island several times, we never got to see much of the island.
Thematic, this story also forms a nice evolution / reconstruction of the previous two volumes, with several established tropes being reversed in this story. It really strengthens the story if you read it after the first story, as it does feel like a set then. This story has also been made into a TV anime special in 2007, which my memory tells me was a somewhat shortened version of the original story which did not feel as satisfying as the manga.
For all three stories, it is interesting how the presentation of the Opera House Hotel as a yakata-mono (mansion story) never really succeeds. The creepy Western-style mansion on Utashima island is clearly meant to be presented as such, but The Phantom of the Opera completely overshadows the Hotel's presence. In fact, the only real presence of the Hotel is focused within the chandelier of the hotel's theater that has a tendency to fall on people. Which is pretty creepy yes, but the rest of the building just seems like filler. Which seems like a shame, because the setting really had potentional, especially as it was being re-used several times.
For the moment, it does not seem like Hajime, Miyuki and inspector Kenmochi will return to the island for a fourth time because of how the last story ended, but who knows? Utashima and the Opera House Hotel are so much part of the Kindaichi Shounen mythos that I wouldn't be surprised if one day, our trio will come back to their place of birth.
And remember, never ever stand beneath a light source in a theater. It will crash on top of you.
Original Japanese title(s): 金成陽三郎（原作） & さとうふみや（画） 『金田一少年の事件簿：オペラ座館殺人事件』 / 天樹征丸（原作） & さとうふみや（画） 『金田一少年の事件簿：オペラ座館 新たなる殺人』 『金田一少年の事件簿：オペラ座館 第三の殺人』