Two's company, three's a crowd
I usually keep an eye out on Japanese TV for interesting mystery shows (I want to see Maya Yutaka's live mystery show!), but I have to admit that this one caught me by complete surprise. Had I not seen some Twitter trends for it, I would have totally missed it.
Edogawa Rampo's Akechi Kogorou and Yokomizo Seishi's Kindaichi Kousuke appeared together in Fuji TV's crossover TV special Kindaichi Kousuke VS Akechi Kogorou, based on a pastiche by Ashibe Taku. Last monday, the two best known fictional detectives from the Japanese islands reunited in a new TV special with the simple title Kindaichi Kousuke VS Akechi Kogorou Futatabi ("Kindaichi Kousuke VS Akechi Once Again"). Being hired to find out who is behind the attempted poisoning of Baron Ryuujou, Kindaichi Kousuke travels to a small secluded village in Nagano where the baron is revered as its benevolent lord. Meanwhile, Akechi Kogorou also makes his way to Baron Ryuujou's dwellings, because his nemesis the Fiend with Twenty Faces has threatened to whisk away a golden Tathāgata statue in possession of the baron. And thus Kindaichi Kousuke and Akechi Kogorou find themselves working side by side again to expose a silent murderer and a flamboyant thief.
I wasn't too impressed with last year's special actually, so I was quite surprised when I learned they made a sequel. The idea of a crossover between the best known fictional Japanese detectives is fun, of course and while such crossovers often stay within the realm of fanfiction and low-profile pastiches, this was a crossover written by a well known mystery writer, broadcasting in prime time and starring some big names (Yamashita Tomohisa as Kindaichi and Itou Hideaki as Akechi). But with last year's special I had the feeling that the mystery, while decent enough, didn't need the big names of Kindaichi and Akechi and that it didn't really fit either of the two. But a new year and new chances and this time we even have Rampo's the Fiend with Twenty Faces appear, so expectations were raised.
Well, the story and setting of Kindaichi Kousuke VS Akechi Kogorou Futatabi definitely fits both detectives, especially Kindaichi. Twisted family relations, inheritance conflicts, a secluded community with a secret, old nursery rhymes, a cave, everything you expect from a Kindaichi Kousuke story. Heck, the baron even has three daughters (a small trope within Yokomizo's novels, see also The Inugami Clan and Gokumontou) and of course, Kindaichi Kousuke mysteries often involve the aristocracy (or to be exact, the impovered ex-aristocracy, but that is because most Kindaichi Kousuke stories are set after World War II). Even Akechi Kogorou seems natural in this setting and I could definitely imagine the Fiend of Twenty Faces schemng to steal a golden statue, so in the very least, I have no complaints about the setting (there's even a small confession scene that is a straight send-up to the one in The Inugami Clan!)
But you can feel the but coming, right? I think I have three problems with this special. One is that the mystery itself is incredibly easy. Sure, they usually simply mysteries for the TV format, but last year's TV special at least featured a mystery plot that was a bit more challenging. This time, the plot is both boring and simple. It feels as if they tried to fill a two hour show with enough plot for maybe fifty minutes, and even those fifty minutes would have been pretty yawn-inducing too! The moment the mystery is explained, you can't help but shrug and ask 'so?'. This would have been a bad plot in any detective show, let alone one which borrows the name of both Rampo's Akechi Kogorou and Yokomizo's Kindaichi Kousuke. Also, the plot-lines of the attempted poisoning, and the scheme of the Fiend with Twenty Faces (who hardly does anything) aren't really connected, so it feels like you're watching to parallel stories. Which is kinda a waste, because this special doesn't feel like Kindaichi Kousuke VS Akechi Kogorou, but more like Kindaichi Kousuke AND Akechi Kogorou happen to be at the same place but they are actually working on different cases so they have nothing to do with each other (but that would be a rather long title).
A second gripe I have is that though the setting itself was good, this stage is never used to its full potential. A creepy secluded community.... but we only see maybe two minutes of that, tops. Twisted family relations... that never feel twisted enough because most family members have little screen time. A climax in a creepy cave... of which I had forgotten its existence until the very end because it was mentioned like only once throughout the show. The great nemesis of Akechi, the Fiend with Twenty Faces... but he hardly adds anything to the plot and he might as well not have been there. The Big Plot Twist at the end would also have been much better if the background setting of the village had been fleshed out more (it's also a Big Plot Twist I've seen a bit too often now too). I'll be the first to admit that I tend to focus too much on just the mystery plot, with little attention on topics like characterization and fleshing out background settings, but the original Akechi Kogorou and Kindaichi Kousuke stories were always oozing with atmosphere. The Kindaichi Kousuke stories in particular always make me feel uneasy with their human horror-like settings, but the Akechi stories too are filled with Rampo's rather addictive enthusiasm that one can sense in every page, every sentence. Kindaichi Kousuke VS Akechi Kogorou Futatabi has the right elements, but doesn't really make use of them.
I just said I hardly look at characterization, but I really have to mention this, as I apparently forgot to write something about it in the review of last year's special: the Kindaichi Kousuke in this special, is nothing like the real Kindaichi Kousuke. Petty rivalry with Akechi Kogorou? This Kindaichi is kinda childish, which makes no sense whatsoever within the 'official' chronology of the character (compare; this special is set in the same year as Honjin Satsujin Jiken, so Kindaichi should act like the calm, attentive detective he was there. Also, most of his chidish traits should be gone having returned from a short stay in the States and recovered from a little drug addiction). I probably wouldn't have mind Kindaichi's strange characterization so much, if not for the fact that Akechi Kogorou acts mostly like he should do. It's only Kindaichi who has changed considerably and the only reason I can see for that change is to be able to score some cheap laughs. The special is based on a pastiche by Ashibe Taku, but in the case of Kindaichi Kousuke, this story does not even attempt to emulate the style or atmosphere of the original character, it seems.
Overall, my feelings for Kindaichi Kousuke VS Akechi Kogorou Futatabi are the opposite of those I have for last year's special. At least on the surface, the setting this time fits the two characters quite well, but as a mystery, this year's special is kinda forgettable. In fact, while I still remember the big lines of the mystery plot of last year's special, I can guarantee you that I will not be able to recall anything of this special same time next year. I don't know if there's a demand for it (none from my side at any rate), but if they make another special next year, I hope they get all the elements right this time. I think a special with both Kindaichi Kousuke and Akechi Kogorou deserves that (And they should probably get rid of the Fiend; it is a bit too crowdy in this crossover despite the Fiend's minimal contribution)
Original Japanese title(s): 『金田一耕助VS明智小五郎、ふたたび』