Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.
Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly,
with my little eye,
I saw him die.
So there has been a major detective drama on TV every day now since New Year... I hope that means this year is filled with great detective shows!
Last year, a new Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo TV drama special was broadcast just after New Year, starring Yamada Ryousuke as the fourth actor playing the young detective. It was a grand, international production, shot in Hong Kong and it was actually the most fun live action adaptation since the original TV drama starring Doumoto Tsuyoshi (1995-1997). In fact, this 'fourth generation' Kindaichi seemed like a continuation of the original series, with a similar, silly Hajime (as opposed to the somewhat moody third/fourth Hajime), some of the more memorable background music being reused and the same school costumes. Too bad the story itself was quite boring, which is why I never bothered to write a review about it.
But the team itself had potential, so I was quite pleased when I heard that they were going to make another special drama this year based on Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo: Gokumonjuku Satsujin Jiken ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: The Prison Gate Cram School Murder Case"). It's revealed that a mysterious person called the Hell Puppeteer had been responsible for planning (not executing) the murders that occured last year in Hong Kong. Kindaichi Hajime was the first person to ever solve one of his crimes, so vowing a rematch, he sents a challenge to the young detective. Something is going to happen on the study camp in Malaysia of the prestigious Prison Gate Cram School. Hajime, Miyuki and Saki all join the study trip in order to stop the Puppeteer's plans, but it doesn't take long before one student after another falls victim to a murderer. Meanwhile, the Puppeteer takes joy in teasing the young detective with the nursery rhyme Cock Robin. It was the Sparrow who killed Cock Robin, but is Hajime more than just a fly who can only watch Cock Robin die?
Gokumonjuku Satsujin Jiken is based on my favorite case in the second season of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo series, which ran from 2004 till 2011. I also consider it one of the best Kindaichi Shounen cases, because it has so many things that you'd expect from the series, all done in a good way. The school setting, nemesis Hell's Puppeteer, a grand trick... We've all seen the elements, but they really work in this story. So how did the adaptation turn out?
Well, it works for the most part. It is a fairly faithful adaptation and the production team did a good job at mimicking the atmosphere of the original series. One problem I had with this production was that the main trick seemed more obvious because the way the show was edited, though that is probably also because I already knew the story. The relative location of everything plays a pretty big part in this story (it's mostly an alibi cracking mystery), but I feel that the production team should have done more to convey that information to the viewer (c.f. Kagi no Kakatta Heya, with their dioramas). I have to say that the major hints were show quite good in the show (though that was also the case in the original manga) and it's definitely a great fair mystery.
The main trick itself might not be very original in theory (you'll find variations of it in the works of some of the authors I discuss here often), and Amagi Seimaru himself had actually also used a variation of it in another of his manga, but even if the trick isn't original, the execution is good, because he builds on it and makes every new, extra element work with each other. Yesterday's Kagi no Kakatta Heya special was just as long as Gokumonjuku Satsujin Jiken, but this was so much better as a two hour production, because it was planned and written as one single story, instead of being two stories glued together. This special will definitely appeal to all fans of the genre.
Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo is one of those series where the school setting works best. Fudou High School by now has been the home for a great number of murder victims and murderers (and one great detective) and it's become a bit silly, but school settings are still fairly rare in detective fiction, even though school exams, school buildings, activity clubs and complex human relations offer so much potential for a great mystery!
The drama adaptation has some minor changes compared to the original story. Most obvious is the more international setting, with foreign students at Prison Gate Cram School and the camp being held in Malaysia. I guess it was done because this special was produced internationally and it doesn't really add nor detract, so I don't have any objections against it. There are some character changes (recurring buddy Souta appears in the original instead of Saki, and Inspector Akechi Kengo is replaced by Inspector Lee from last year's special), but again, it works in the context of the series. And finally, the appearance of the Hell Puppeteer. This is his first appearance in this continuity (he also appeared in the self-contained third generation) and he is handled quite good! He's a pretty important character in the series, so I hope they'll do more with him in future productions.
I hope they'll make a TV series with this team though, because it really has much potential. Yamada plays a great Hajime, the Hell Puppeteer shows potential for a good overarching storyline and the lighter atmosphere of these specials work quite well. Seriously, moody Kindaichi was the worst thing ever to happen to the live action series. I am glad they went back on the right track with this series!
July 2014 edit: these specials indeed led to the production of a TV series called Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo NEO. Reviews of each episode start here.
Original Japanese title(s): 『金田一少年の事件簿： 獄門塾殺人事件』