Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row
(English nursery rhyme)

Meanwhile, the upcoming Detective Conan volume is scheduled for a late December release, so it's likely I won't discuss that one until somewhere in January...

At age 17, Kindaichi Hajime was already used to visiting all the corners of Japan, usually because of some part-time job or a school club excursion, and unfortunately for him, these visits to remote islands, abandoned houses in the middle of nowhere or mansions in the mountains usually turned into bloody crime scenes. Travel is still part of his life now he's 37, because nowadays, he's being sent here and there across Japan for his work developing and managing guided tours. While Hajime and the reader, have seen a lot of Japan throughout the course of this series, I believe that The Beautiful Kyoto Flower Arrangement Practioners Murder Case is the first time we have a case set in the ancient capital of Kyoto. This is the third story in Kindaichi 37-sai no Jikenbo ("The Case Files of Kindaichi, Age 37") and spans volume 4 and 5. Hajime and his assistant Marin are sent to Kyoto to develop a new package tour. The idea is that the tourists will also attend an introduction course on ikebana practictioners, the traditional art of Japanese flower arrangement, and who better to learn from than the famous Kyougoku family, head of the ancient Akaike-style of ikebana? Like his firm had feared though, Hajime learns that the current head of the family, Ganryuu, is a very difficult person to work with. Ganryuu is actually not an expert on ikebana: his brother was, until he died. Ganryuu's twin nieces Kaoruko and Sakurako are the talents in the family, though Sakurako left the house to become a modern flower artist rather than a traditional ikebana practitioner Hajime and Marin are invited to stay one night at the manor of the Kyougokus, which includes a splendid traditional rock garden, considered to be a National Treasure. During the night however, Hajime discovers the body of Sakurako lying on a rock in the rock garden. It is assumed she committed suicide: she had a reason to do so because a few weeks earlier, revenge porn pictures of her were posted on social media and the gravel of the rock garden only has Sakurako's own footprints and nothing to indicate the presence of a third party. The carefully raked wave patterns in the gravel take up to six hours to do, so if there had been a murderer, they wouldn't have enough time to redo all of the gravel before Hajime found the body. But soon circumstances change, when the following night Kaoruko's murdered too, and she's even decapitated! The search for her missing head continues as the murderer prepares for more deaths, and Hajime has to work fast to find the murderer before his firm calls him back!

Like I mentioned in my preview of this story, the use of the traditional rock garden as a variant on the familiar footprints-in-the-snow trope is pretty neat. In terms of imagery, it might not be very different from the footprints-in-the-snow pattern or other popular variants like footprints-in-the-mud, but of course, they all have different properties, and tricks that work for one variant do not work for others. The rock garden, or karesanzui is of course strongly connected with Kyoto, with the rock garden in Ryoanji being a very popular tourist destination in particular. The patterns raked in the gravel (representing the waves of the sea) take hours to do, because all the lines are done in one continuous stroke and if you step on even one of the lines, you basically have to do everything (as you have to step in the garden to redo them, ruining even more lines). The trick behind how the murder (yes, it was a murder) was done is neat, but not farfetched, so an attentive reader could definitely think of it. I do have to say that while the trick also has a nice visual flair to it, I do really wonder whether the murderer really needed to pull it off in that exact manner, or whether they couldn't have just done it in a more straightforward manner which perhaps wouldn't have looked so good on the page. I guess in a visual medium, it's also necessary to think of the visual impact...

This story basically revolves around two major problems: if Sakurako's death is a murder, then how did the murderer escape the rock garden without leaving footprints in the gravel and with Kaoruko's death, it's the missing head that poses the second problem, as it can be found nowhere in the house (and obviously, it was determined nobody left the manor). The problem of the missing head too is nicely connected to the theme of traditional Japanese culture, though it's kinda weird nobody thought of searching that place, as yes, it's a blind spot, but I can't imagine not even trying that thing when genuinely searching for a head. I like the idea behind it though.

My 'problem' overall with this story however is that while the two tricks are fairly well thought off the way the story has Hajime solve the murders is rather crude. At two distinct points, Hajime is unbelievably lucky to stumble upon vital hints that help him solve the case. Especially the first time, it's hard to swallow he'd end up in that exact spot of all places he could be in Kyoto. This happens late again, when Hajime visits a restaurant and is offered no less than two (!) vital clues by accident. It's also somewhat unfair that we, as the reader, don't even hear the exact things Hajime learns at that restaurant: the moment Hajime asks for details about the thing that bothers him, the story cuts away to a different scene, and we only hear exactly what he was told when Hajime explains the murders to everyone. But it's quite unfair as a mystery story: Hajime is told something that basically explains the whole footprints-in-the-gravel trick to him, but we don't hear that for ourselves. Sure,  we can make an educated guess due to the set-up, but why should we have to deduce the thing for ourselves if Hajime is basically told the answer? While something similar happens to the trick behind the hidden head, at least that still involves Hajime having to put one and one together himself.

The way the murderer is exposed is also rather... uninspired. We have seen this kind of visual clue far too often with this series now, where some minor visual detail like a sock being pulled up higher in one panel and lower in a different panel shows that person was the murderer. I do like visual clues in general, as it make use of the visual medium and this series has made pretty good use of it in various stories, but sometimes, they feel a bit too nitpicky, where the story requires you to pick the differences between two panels, but without saying which one, so you have to compare thousands of panels with those same thousands of panels. I have the feeling I have seen this kind of clue far too often with Kindaichi the last few years, and often, this makes the whole clue feel like some afterthought, like they suddenly remembered they had to have a clue that points to the murderer too so they quickly changed two panels.

Volume 5 ended with the first chapter of the next story by the way, and it's another return to a familiar place from the classic series! The first story in this series on a 37-old Hajime started with his return to that accursed island Utashima, but this time, he'll be returning to a hotel that err, should've caused some trauma with him, as it was the place where he had to battle the Red-Bearded Santa Claus. Especially readers of the manga will know why this place should hold a special place in our memories, though the event was changed in both the anime and live-action adaptation. Am interested to see how this case will develop though, as we're also introduced to a new rival police detective for Hajime in the set-up. Speaking of the classic stories, I'm still reading the Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo Gaiden - Hannintachi no Jikenbo ("The Young Kindaichi Case Files Side Story: The Case Files of the Culprits") spin-off parody series, which retells the old stories from the POV of the murderer as a gag manga. The series started about two years ago, but probably won't continue for long as it's basically done all of the old stories (until the series hiatus in 2000), but I'm still having fun with them. I don't discuss them here because they're not mystery comics on their own (and they are full of spoilers for each of the stories), but if you're a fan of this series, you really should read them as they're hilarious.

Anyway, Kindaichi 37-sai no Jikenbo's The Beautiful Kyoto Flower Arrangement Practioners Murder Case (volumes 4 & 5) is a pretty classic case in terms of structure, with an impossible crime, decapitations and even the overused 'super minor detail clue' often see in this series. I quite like the basic tricks behind the various murders this time, but the overall story seems rather... uninspired, with luck and coincidence helping Hajime a lot this time and some of the story developments/characters too seem just like they 'were there' rather than truly thought out. It's not a bad story per se, but after the more original angle the previous story took, I have to admit this story felt a bit too by-the-numbers. I'm looking forward to the next story though. Volume 6 is scheduled for a February release, but it's very unlikely the new story will wrap up in that volume, so it is likely I will only review the next case when volume 7 is released (probably somewhere in the summer of 2020).

Original Japanese title(s): 天樹征丸(原)、さとうふみや(画)『金田一37歳の事件簿』第4&5巻


  1. 'The way the murderer is exposed is also rather... uninspired. We have seen this kind of visual clue far too often with this series now, where some minor visual detail like a sock being pulled up higher in one panel and lower in a different panel shows that person was the murderer.'

    I think it's mostly a clue for the readers to guess who the culprit is.
    (Text reversed to avoid spoilers)
    .deiftsuj si eulc lausiv eht taht kniht I oS .dnuow eht pu revoc ot dnab a esu dluow tirpluc eht taht wonk yletinifed dluow sredaer eht ,mra eht no tirpluc eht tib ukoroaK retfa ,esuaceB

    'My 'problem' overall with this story however is that while the two tricks are fairly well thought off the way the story has Hajime solve the murders is rather crude.'
    (Again, reversed)
    .dlohesuoh ukoguoyK eht ni deneppah taht gnihtyreve fo tneicsinmo kool emijaH edam tI .delaever si yrotskcab s'ukoroaK woh htiw melborp a dah I ,oslA

    'The series started about two years ago, but probably won't continue for long as it's basically done all of the old stories (until the series hiatus in 2000)'
    I think it'll continue till most of the Shin Series is done. Since in a recent chapter, it's revealed that there will be only three more volumes (8,9 & 10)

    1. I can accept it's more a clue for 'us' and sure, it's fair, but it's really become the 'standard' clue to identify the killer in this series, so a different type of clue would've been much more interesting, I think. I think that what Hajime revealed about the family backstory could be guessed based on what we saw/knew, but the way he put it with conviction was perhaps a bit too strong, I agree.

      Huh, that'd be a lot more than I expected. I'm still in volume 7 of Gaiden, but the preview for volume 8 revealed they'd do the remaining Case stories there, I figured it would be ending soon.

    2. The serialization for the Shin Series Gaiden started a few weeks back. You can read them on Shonen Magazine Pocket (app/web).

    3. I'll be waiting for the paper releases :3

  2. Rot13:

    Svefg gvzr V frr gur pbire pybfr rabhtu. Jbj, gurl npghnyyl whfg chg gur fbyhgvba gb bar bs gur ceboyrzf ba gur pbire? Gung'f n obyq zbir...

    1. Yeah, I didn't touch upon on purpose, but it's pretty daring...

    2. Gshyy cvpgher UNUNU.
      Vs lbh ybbx ng gur ibyhzr pbire sbe gur cerzvhz irefvba, gur zbgvs ba gur infr(juvpu ba guvf ibyhzr pbire vf gur vairegrq Zbhag Shwv) vf npghnyyl vairegrq gb tvir Zbhag Shwv. Urer'f gur pbzcnevfba sbe obgu pbiref:
      ROT 13

    3. Ha, I hadn't even noticed that! I've been going for the cheaper option after the first one, but always thought it weird they only had different shades...

    4. The Premium Version does come with a Postcard book with the cover artworks for the original (FILE) series, but I have no idea how it explains the 1500¥ price tag. Ah well.

  3. Thanks for the review. :) I was hoping this would turn out to be a good case - but it sounds more like a mixed bag. Ah well. Maybe the Foreigner’s Hotel mystery might turn out to be a good one...

    I feel like I ought to be interested in the “Side Story” volumes, as I feel like I fit the profile of the intended reader and target audience. But I want more mysteries - not spoofs of existing ones.

    1. Just took a peek at Wikipedia, and it appears the next story will also feature two familiar faces, so that might be interesting to see. One of them is of course the person you'd expect to appear considering the setting of the story.

      The Side Stories are truly hilarious if you know all the old stories, but yeah, they can't be read as individual mystery stories, and they're actually hard to follow if your memories of the specific case are vague. I am actually surprised the Kindaichi-kun novel stories has also slowed down, the first two volumes were released very quickly after another... and then it stopped.