Friday, February 9, 2018

The Undying Butterflies


I'll become a happy butterfly, riding on the sparkling wind 
I'll be coming to meet you now
"Butter-Fly" (Wada Kouji)

The first impression of most people who first meet Kindaichi Hajime (and that includes the reader), is that of a lazy, underachieving high school student, who usually only shows his brilliant mind as the grandson of the famous detective Kindaichi Kousuke when faced with an intellectual puzzle that challenges him, which usually means a series of gruesome impossible murders. While most of his adventures we know were set during his high school student days, there have been also mysteries for him to solve in other periods in his life: in some of the short stories, we've seen Hajime solving minor problems in junior high, while last month, a new Kindaichi Shounen series started its serialization, which is titled Kindaichi 37-sai no Jikenbo (The 37-old Kindaichi Case Files) and obviously about his later years.

Last month however not only brought us the introduction of this middle-aged Hajime, but also a younger one: Kindaichi-kun no Bouken 1: Karasujima no Kaijiken ("The Kid Kindaichi Adventures 1: The Strange Incident on Crow Island") is the first entry in a brand new series of children's novels in the Kodansha Aoi Tori Bunko label. There have been originals novels in the Kindaichi Shounen series in the past already (I also reviewed a couple of them), but those featured the exact same setting as the original comics (high school student Hajime), and were obviously also written for the same audience. This new series is aimed at a younger audience and tells us about the adventures Hajime and Miyuki had as sixth graders. So while Hajime's still up for some crime solving, you don't have to expect mutilated corpses or decapitations here or what'd usually expect from Kindaichi Shounen. In fact, the obi for this book has testimonials from several "junior editors" of the Kodansha Aoi Tori Bunko label with the youngest being in fifth grade of elementary school, so that should give you an idea what the intended audience is. This novel is written by Amagi Seimaru, who is the series supervisor and the current writer of the comics series (and of the other novels), and the couple of illustrations included are also done by Satou Fumiya, which means it's the exact same duo working on this novel as on the main series, so at least 'feeling-wise', everything is exactly like you'd expect it to be from a spin-off of the Kindaichi Shounen series, even if aimed a younger audience.

(For those wondering: yes, Amagi is a very prolific writer. Not only does he writes the Kindaichi Shounen novels and the story for the comics, he's usually working on a lot of other series too at the same time. Amagi Seimaru is just one of the many pen names of Kibayashi Shin, and sometimes he's working as the writer of six or seven weekly serialized series under various names, and also stories for novels and games. He used to be an influential comics editor, which might explain how he's able to juggle so many series)

The set-up of Karasujima no Kaijiken is also quite familiar to fans of the series, sans the killings. Hajime, Miyuki and long-time classmate Souta are heading out for Crow Island as part of their club activities for the Fudou Elementary Adventure Club. Their teacher and supervisor of the club, Houjou, has brought the small group of children there to 'find a treasure', as an old riddle discovered on the island long ago seems to hint at the existence of a hidden treasure somewhere there. Due to its shape, the island's been named after not a crow, but after the Karasu-Ageha, a type of swallowtail butterfly of which the Japanese name translates to Crow Swallowtail Butterfly. The boat arriving at Crow Island is not only dropping the kids and their teacher off though, but also two groups of two men each, who are all apparently in the tourist industry, hoping to develop the island as a resort. One of these duos quickly leave the rest to explore the island, but later in the day, the kids witness one of those men being dragged inside one of the caves, and there they run into a giant, masked figure who seems to fit the description of the legendary Island-Dweller rather well, and they flee. Later, the kids witness a human skeleton on the beach, but it disappears in the few minutes it took them to get down, even though they took the only path there. Has a ghost taken those men, or is something else going on on Crow Island?

Karasujima no Kaijiken really can't be better described than as a Kindaichi Shounen story for a younger audience. The writing style is of course kept fairly simple to accomodate for the younger reading audience, and the mysteries are also much more simpler and less gorey: no locked room murders with victims of whom the limbs were torn off or anything bloody like that. Yet, the story set-up and characters are undeniably Kindaichi Shounen, from the 'treasure hunt' hook we know so well from other stories to the little moments that show how serious Hajime can be and even smaller elements like featuring semi-regular classmate Souta in the story too (Souta usually appears in the short stories as a good friend of both Hajime and Miyuki and we know they've been classmates for a long time, but apparently the three have been friends since elementary school).

As a mystery novel, it's a bit too simple though, even if you keep in mind it's for kids. There is basically one "impossibility", that of a skeleton disappearing from a beach in the time it took for the group to get down there along the only path there, but the solution to this conundrum is not only simple, Hajime basically solves it the moment he commences his preliminary investigation. Even for kids, this is way too simple, as the solution is pretty much given as-is. The whodunnit element of the book is better though, as that actually requires the reader to do a bit more thinking themselves (in the a=b, b=c, therefore a=c type of reasoning) and the identity of the culprit is reasonably clewed.The various story elements of the Island-Dweller, the treasure hunt and the folklore surrounding the practice of ubasute (senicide by leaving the elderly in the mountains to die) however don't really work well together, with especially the treasure hunt not integrated very well: it's basically just a reason for the Adventure Club to go the island, and then it's mostly forgotten until a few pages before the end of the tale, when Hajime (once again) happens to come across the one vital clue needed to solve the riddle.

The two children's novels based on the Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney games, released in 2016 and 2017 and written by Takase Mie, have set a certain high standard within my mind to which I compare other children's mystery novels, as they were really good mystery novels, that still worked perfectly for the intended, younger audience. They featured impossible situations that required some lateral thinking to solve, but they were also fantastically clewed, making these more complex situations also accessible for a younger audience: a more experienced reader might've been able to recognize the clues and their implications fairly easily, but heck, few "serious" mystery novels could do clewing as good as these novels. As the first entry in this Kindaichi-kun no Bouken series is similarly published within an existing established children's novels line like the Gyakuten Saiban children's novels, comparisons are quickly made, but while Karasujima no Kaijiken isn't bad, it's certainly not as good a mystery novel as the Gyakuten Saiban children's novels.

Kindaichi-kun no Bouken 1: Karasujima no Kaijiken thus ends up as an okay-ish, but never outstanding children's mystery novel. For children who don't know the Kindaichi Shounen series yet, it's an accessible entry-point that foregoes with the gore and bloody murders of the main series,  while still keeping the tone of the characters and story set-up intact. While not formally announced as a series, the numeral 1 in the title suggests we'll see more adventures of Hajime and Miyuki as sixth graders, so it'll be interesting to see how this series will develop in terms of mystery plotting.

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸(文)、さとうふみや(画) 『金田一くんの冒険1 からす島の怪事件』


  1. Thanks for the review. :) I'm excited to see the emergence of the new Kindaichi manga series, with him as a 37-year-old. Which happens to be the age of the actor who first performed him, and which happens to be my age as well this year. So I'm looking forward to a greater connection! But I confess from the screenshots of the character designs - Kindaichi still looks like he's 17...

    1. I have only seen the splash pages of the 37-year old series, so I'll be waiting for the single volume to see what the story's about. Pretty interesting to see if they're going to make a ne drama with Domoto or not :D

      The release of the book for this review kinda slipped beneath the radar because of the new manga series though, so I was kinda surprised to learn about its existence in the first place.