End Game

"Just like there's no perfect tactic in Go, there's no perfect trick for a criminal."
- Hajime Kindaichi
In the tail of comments on my previous review, the subject of (Japanese) anime was brought up and Ho-Ling suggested Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R (The File of Young Kindaichi Return), which can be streamed (for free) on Crunchyroll.

Some of you long-time readers might remember my rants about one of the writers, Yozaburo Kanari, who has all the creativity of an echoing well and his copy-paste plots prevented me from fully enjoying the original run of the series, but other parts of the series was written by Seimaru Amagi – who wrote the excellent Tantei Gakuen Kyu (Detective Academy Q). According to Ho-Ling, the plotting of this new Kindaichi series is "generally much closer to one of those longer Detective Academy Q stories." So why not give the series a third shot now that Kanari is out of the picture?

Ho-Ling recommended several episodes with enticing sounding titles, such as The Prison Prep School Murder Case and The Death March of Young Kindaichi, but settled for a short, two-part episode: The Blood Pool Hall Murder. I figured a shorter story would be a nice way to get into the series and the background of the story captured my interest.

First of all, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the series, the protagonist is a high school student, Hajime Kindaichi, who comes across as a lazy goof and an underachiever, but he's a genius with a staggering IQ of 180 – which he probably inherited from his famous grandfather, Kosuke Kindaichi. Some of you might recognize that name as the detective from Seichi Yokomizo's celebrated Inugamike no ichizoku (The Inugami Clan, 1951) and you would be right. Kindaichi used to evoke his name, early on in the series, but this resulted in some copyright issues and now only refers to a famous grandfather (i.e. "I swear it on my grandfather's name").

Kindaichi is also one of the biggest murder magnets in all of detective-fiction, rivaling Jessica Fletcher, Conan Edogawa and the English county of Midsomer for the number one spot, which is perfectly demonstrated in The Blood Pool Hall Murder. After all, who would have thought a competitive game of Go between two rivaling school teams would end with the death of one of the players?

Once a year, the rivaling Go Clubs of Fudou High and Kaiou Academy hold a multi-day tournament with the three best players from each club, but the former has seen its membership dwindling and are short one players – bringing the high school detective into the picture. Kindaichi was taught to play Go by his grandfather and is added to the team consisting of the only two remaining members of the club, Kosumi Yukari and Kaihou Manabu. And their opponents are serious and tense bunch of students.

Mitsuishi Isao is the slightly arrogant, serious-minded captain of Kaiou Go Club, but his hopes to train as a professional player were dashed when he beaten at the Insei exam by the second member of his team. Amamoto Kaori is already well-known as a female player and has the skill-set required to become a professional player. The final member is a shy, withdrawn young man, Hoshi Keima, who was the former junior champion of Reversi.

So, on the surface, the tense atmosphere appears to be nothing more than the byproduct of the usual rivalries dominating the world of Go and the first part of the story is, somewhat, reminiscent of a regular episode from Hikaru no Go. However, that all changes in the final ten minutes when one of the players, Hoshi, briefly disappears. Hoshi is nowhere to be found. Until someone notices a sinister message, spelled out with black and white Go stones, in the garden pond: "Hoshi is dead in the Blood Pool Room." And that's where they found his body, flung over an upturned game board, with marks around his throat.

"Hoshi is dead in the Blood Pool Room"

There is, however, one problem: the murder room was checked several minutes before the message in the pond was found, which means the body was placed there within a five-minute window and that makes the murder a quasi-impossible crime – since everyone had an alibi for that period. I really had some internal arguing with myself whether or not this episode qualified as an impossible crime story.

Back in March, I responded to a blog-post by The Reader is Warned, titled "But is it a Locked Room Mystery? The case of the impossible alibi," in which I said that an alibi story can only be considered an impossibility under one very strenuous condition: the alibi should not merely rely on witnesses (who can be misled) or items (such as theater or movie tickets), but the murderer should appear to have been physically incapable of having carried out the crime. I gave a rather famous Agatha Christie novel as an example and referred to an episode from Monk in which the culprit was in a coma at the time of the crime, but David Renwick also wrote several interesting variations on the impossible alibi for Jonathan Creek – e.g. Time Waits for Norman (1998) and Miracle in Crooked Lane (1999).

I believe the alibi-trick tiptoed the line between a regular alibi-trick and an impossible crime, but tilted a bit too much to the former to be considered an impossibility (as it relies on the item bit). However, the trick is clever piece of misdirection. Sure, the killer played a dangerous game by relying too much on everyone's assumptions and predicting their movements, but, purely as a plot-driven detective, it's pretty clever and satisfying.

One other thing that should be mentioned is the Go-themed dying message: Hoshi's body was found with his hands tied behind his back and he had been stuffed away somewhere before he was murdered. Somehow, he was able to stuff his pocket with a certain amount of black and white Go stones. Usually, Japanese dying messages and codes are hard to translate, but the color-coded dying clue here is pretty much universal and works in every language. I really wanted to kick myself for having missed the obvious message those stones tried to convey.

I had a good idea who the murderer was, but not exactly how the alibi-trick was done or how the victim's dying message confirmed my suspicion.

So, all in all, The Blood Pool Hall Murder was a nice way to get back into this series and looking forward now to the larger, four-part episodes with some proper locked room mysteries. You can expect me to return to this series before too long. 

But, for now, I want to end this review with an important question directly related to the Kindaichi series: when will Ho-Ling finally renounce Kanari and all his hackiness?  


  1. I'm intrigued now by the dying GO message. I have read the first dozen issues of CASE CLOSED, and Detective Conan is often confronted with dying messages. Sooooo frustrating, since they are always untranslatable, but it's kind of fun watching the characters smack their heads and say, "How could I have been so stupid?!"

    I know exactly which Christie novel you're talking about, TomCat, as we were discussing it over at my place just the other day. You pose an excellent question that I have also pondered: whether the impossible alibi counts as an impossible crime story. I see your point, but they feel so very different to me that I tend to categorize them separately. And yet, they are both part of the "howdunit" category, so I think I need to adjust my thinking!

    1. Yes, translating a detective story with a plot that hinges on language can be tricky endeavor, which is more than once demonstrated by the dying message and code cracking stories in Case Closed. Interestingly, there a semi-meta story about this problem in the volume 25. A misunderstanding between an English and Japanese speaking character lead to a tragic (locked room) murder case. So there you have a good reason to start on the second dozen! ;)

      Oh, I know not everyone's going to agree with my definition of the impossible alibi. A good argument against is that there are so few of them that differentiating between a normal and an impossible alibi seems like splitting hairs.

  2. Glad you liked these episodes, though I have to admit I remember very little of this short story! It's been some years since I read it (the story was originally serialized in 2008). The R anime series adapts most of the stories (long and short) that had not been adapted yet in the original anime TV series: most of them are from the 2nd Season series (the post-2004 series), with The Death March of Young Kindaichi being the major expection, as it was originally the grand finale of the 1st original season/run back in 2000.

    Regarding the invoking grandfather's name thingy: They have been using it again for quite some years now (in the comics), so they worked something out. IIRC, it was about halfway in the original comic series when they suddenly avoided explicit name-dropping.

    Fudou High is probably the most dangerous school in existence by the way. Students and teachers alike have been murderers and victims, and there are (of course!) various scandals involved with the school too...

    It's Seimaru by the way, not Seimura. It's hard to tell what his role was in the original comic series by the way. He's credited as the original creator, while Kanari was credited as the writer, so presumably, Amagi came up with the concept, but we are not sure how much a hold he had on Kanari. Amagi and Kanari then got co-credits for a few stories late in the series, and by the time the 1st season ended in 2000, Kanari was out of the picture.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the mistake. It has been fixed.

      What can I say? Japanese names are confusing! Not just the spelling, but also the order in which the names should appear. I always try to use the Western order (first name, last name), but I probably bungled it more than once.

      You didn't renounce Kanari! You only gave an explanation about his role in the series. Why can't you bring yourself to admit that he's a hack? This farce has to stop!

      Anyway, I might try The Death March of Young Kindaichi next. The plot sounds interesting enough.

  3. i just watched like 7 episodes of that season (the go mystery and the rose castle mystery).

    is it just me or do these anime creators go so over the top with the cases that it ends up hyper confusing and not making any sense?

    i confess that i am not that smart but i am capable of following a storyline that's concise and elegant. however it seems to me lately that japanese artists are so famished for unique and creative twists that they lose their audience in the process.

    the most blatant of that is the 999/zero escape series which had a stellar forst entry but was then shattered with each consecutive sequel.


    returning to kindaichi. i think the main problem is picturing the design of the environments themselves. yes we are shown mapsv but they're either too quick or wih an angled view. and most of the problems are tied to the environments. for example, the rose mansion problem with the cross architecture wasn't really clear for me and could have been delivered in a clearer way. moreover, i liked the idea behing a rotating room, but how did he come to the conclusion just by looking at the stake? and how does that even function tbh?

    for the go mystery you talked about, it was weird for me to think that tying all these pebbles together is not really a smart thing to do. if you do it in the water and then need to pick them back up they will surely fall from the gaps made in the lace.

    i donno if my questions have reasonable answers. but my point still stands that i am consistently underwhelmed with the solutions and their presentations in these types of anime/jdramas. being someone who can grasp an agatha christie/paul halter book without a problem, i am left scratching my head most of the time with japan efforts. they just lack elegance and simplicity, which is essential for a well crafted plot.

    1. "is it just me or do these anime creators go so over the top with the cases that it ends up hyper confusing and not making any sense?"

      This is the first anime I watched in a long time. So no idea about that. However, I had no problem in following and understanding the plot of the Go case. As I said in my review, the murderer perhaps assumed too much by predicting everyone's actions to create the alibi-trick, but I would not call it (hyper) confusing.

      But I'll be able to give proper commentary whether the plots are too complex, or not, when I have seen more of the series. So stay tuned!

      By the way, I have not read your spoilers.

  4. I'm very excited, TomCat, that you're giving Kindaichi another go - it's one of my favourite series of all times. :) I confess that I was went 'Noooooooooo' when I discovered you started your tentative foray into Kindaichi R with 'The Blood Pool Hall Murder'. I've read it in manga format, and the fact that I can't remember much, if anything, made me wonder if it would have been a good starting point for you. But I'm glad you didn't find it off-putting. If so, I feel quite confident you would like 'The Prison Prep School Murder Case' and 'The Death March of Young Kindaichi'. Having just looked at the playlist for the Kindaichi R anime series, I also think these are the strongest entries, together with 'The Rosencreuz Mansion Murders'. If I recall correctly - and I only read the manga for all these three titles - 'Prison Prep' in particular boasted of one or two audacious tricks. The sort that would make you flip quickly back to one of the pages at the start and gape at it. :D

    1. "I confess that I was went 'Noooooooooo' when I discovered you started your tentative foray into Kindaichi R with 'The Blood Pool Hall Murder'."

      I probably should have started with one of Ho-Ling's recommendations, but always wanted to read, or watch, a detective story set amongst Go players. It seemed like backdrop with a ton of potential. I was not wrong.

      On the strength of your comment/recommendation, The Prison Prep School Murder Case is going to be next one on my playlist. That will be something for next week or so.