Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Clue of the Dancing Puppet

ほら ti ta ta ta 
ガラスの針 十二回の刻を打てば
「Marionette Fantasia」(Garnet Crow)

Look ti ta ta ta
When the glass hands strike twelve
On the holy night, the seven-headed shadow
reaches out for the powerless doll
"Marionette Fantasia" (Garnet Crow)

I've never really thought the covers for the Kindaichi Shounen series to be really attractive, but lately, they have been really boring...

It's been a while since my last review of the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files R") series. Logistics is one reason: my orders are usually centered around Detective Conan, which is nowadays usually released almost a month after Kindaichi Shounen. But the other reason is content: most stories in Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R are longer than one volume, meaning I often can't review a complete story if I only do one volume: usually I can only do the end of one, and the beginning of another. So lately, I've opted to do reviews of two volumes in one go, which should result in reviews with slightly more depth than "we'll have to wait until the next volume to see what the result is".

We first start with Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R 8, which was released in January. This volume starts with a rare short story of only three chapters. In Why Was The Fireplace On?, freelance writer Itsuki takes Hajime and Miyuki along to the reading of the last will of a publisher, who used to look out for Itsuki in his early days. He suspects trouble, as there's a nephew with need for money, a niece with the same needs, a mistress and a self-proclaimed daughter of the deceased. And indeed, The reading is done at the holiday villa park run by the mistress near a lake and things soon heat up. The climax follows when Itsuki discovers the self-proclaimed daughter's dead body in her lodge. With all the doors and windows locked and the knife that cut her neck in the girl's hands, it appears to be suicide, but Hajime quickly suspects something sinister lies behind this.

It's a very short story for Kindachi Shounen, and while I generally prefer short stories over longer stories, I do have to say that especially lately, this format has not been the best for this series. In comparison to Detective Conan, there is usually less information per chapter (because of the way dialogue is written and the layout/size of the comic boxes) and it usually results in bland-feeling stories. Add in the fact that this is one of those 'hey, did you know about this neat bit of trivia that allows you to solve this puzzle?' story, and I think you can understand why I am less than enthusiastic.

The Hitogata Island Murder Case on the other hand is a showcase of a Kindaichi Shounen story done (mostly) well. This tale is long even for series' standards, as it occupies not only the rest of volume 8, but almost all of  Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R 9 too (which was released late March). After solving a code left to Hajime's teacher by her grandmother telling her to go to Hitogata Island, Hajime and Miyuki do precisely that. Hitogata Island is famous for its doll memorial services. Like in other places in Japan, you can offer dolls and puppets you don't need anymore to give them one last farewell and appease the souls within. The ceremony on Hitogata Island is also connected to the legend of the village chief, a person who centuries ago cut his body in three to offer to the gods to calm a series of disasters. Other guests on the island include the writer-trio Persona Doll, who all dress like puppets (including masks), freelance writer Itsuki and a collegue, some other guests who wish to offer their dolls and even Inspector Kenmochi, who has a doll to offer too. But things don't stay calm on the island, when the members of Persona Doll are killed one by one, and cut up in pieces like the legend of the village chief. And Hajime being the person he is, naturally vows to find the "Cursed Puppet" who is behind these deaths.

First thing I have to note: I'm pretty sure that lately it's been Hajime who's been randomly giving the murderers funny names. In the beginning of the series, the murderers would adopt names like "Phantom" or "After-school Magician" in a Scooby-Doo-esque way, The last few years though, it's Hajime who names his invisible enemies. Imagine yourself being a murderer, doing your best at completing your task and suddenly being called by a random name like Antlion by some kid. There's that post-modern look at heroes and how they create their villains (Batman is a famous example, but it also works for series detectives), but here it's really Hajime who is painting the murderer as some lunatic.

Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R has felt like a return to the original series since the start, with more stories set on islands and stuff, and this one is no exception. Even the length is reminiscent of the old stories. While the core trick isn't that complex, the available pages are put to good use to paint a very atmospheric story. I often think a lot of Kindaichi Shounen stories feel hasty, despite being quite long. Here there's a good pace, without feeling dragging. Overall, I'd say this story is one of the better efforts until now. Like I said, the basic idea behind the murders isn't that complex, but the overall structure is done quite well, which is a lot more entertaining than an incredible trick, but executed badly. The level of this story reminds me of the better Tantei Gakuen Q stories, which had a lot of series that are not masterpieces that will be mentioned in the Canon of the Genre per se, but are really well-made detective stories.

The story does have an unbelievable chain of coincidences though. Most of it is not needed to actually solve the crime, but it does make the characters and the motive a bit weak, as there's simply no way that could've happened by coincidence. Detective fiction does not need to be realistic, but by the time you have circumstances that in no way can be coincidence, you do want a better explanation than "Meh, it happened".

Overall though, I'd say Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R 8 & 9 were good volumes, because of The Hitogata Island Murder Case. Why Was The Fireplace On? on the other hand is a story I will have forgotten about in a week or so. Volume 9 also features two chapters of the next story, but I'll hold reading those until the next volume is released. Whether I'll do a review of volume 10 on its own, or one of 10 and 11 will depend on the contents of volume 10.

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸(原)、さとうふみや(画) 『金田一少年の事件簿R』第8&9巻


  1. The killer in "Antlion Trench" actually said something like "Welcome to my Antlion" or something so the killer don't really mind that. Besides, it's that certain someone giving the name so for Antlion it's not entirely Hajime's fault despite the lame name.

  2. I really enjoy these Kindaichi reviews - thanks for this one! :) I'm glad to hear that 'The Puppet Doll Mystery' maintains the quality of the R Series. Which is your favourite case from the R Series?

    1. Either this one, or the one with the old school building (in volume 2 (?)).

  3. can you tell me when will moai island be available please ?

    1. Sorry, I don't know the exact date either, but expect it soo! Officially, it's scheduled for June, but it might (or might not) be a bit sooner than that.

    2. To answer Anon's question, Moai Island Puzzle is available now! Eeeee, so excited! Amazon sent me an updated delivery estimate since I initially ordered it back on March 15th. :D

  4. Glad I'm not the only one who noticed the paneling problem in Kindaichi. The big boxes can be used to make a point out of shocking and important moments but when they're overused it loses its impact.. Not only that alot of the times there are spread pages wasted on absolutely nothing. It's just Kindaichi saying he will catch the culprit in the name of his grandfather or saying that he knows who the culprit. That is the one thing that pisses me off when I in comparison go read Conan and see 7 panels in one page with 3 things happening at the same time in each of them like investigation, dialogue and you can see the characters testing out tricks and methods in the backgrounds. I just read the Red Woman case in Masumi Sera was investigating on- and off-panel making the cases alot more plausible and easier to immerse into when you know what the culprit couldn't possibly have done almost immediately.

    Anyway aside from the large paneling, there are alot of other weird types of paneling methods used constantly which can be a pro if they would bother drawing something well for once. Which sadly almost never happens since the detail is just overall lacking. Those first few chapters of te return series were good, but the side stories look like they were drawn in 15 minutes.

    1. I can tolerate the fixed spread pages, because it works in the context of serialization, which means a chapter would need some kind of climax every week. But yeah, short stories don't really work because of the low information density per page. You make a good point about Conan: there is indeed almost always something happening in the background in every story, conveying relevant non-dialogue information.