Heavy Metal

"Sometimes we have to stand on our heads in order to see things the right-side up."
- Hadji Singh (The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, Episode 12: The Alchemist)
The Alchemy Murder Case is the third, four-part episode from Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R (The File of Young Kindaichi R) I watched and has a by-the-numbers plot, written according to the well-worn formula of the series, but with a completely original locked room trick and a clever method for hiding the murder weapon – a gigantic long-sword. A minor piece of the overall puzzle that can be viewed as a well done, quasi-impossible problem. But first things first.

Hajime Kindaichi takes a shot at winning a 400 million yen prize by participating in a reality game show about a hidden treasure, which consists of a stack of gold bullion secreted somewhere on a lonely island.

Renkin Island is completely isolated from the outside world and used to belong to a physicist, Ezaki Kuroudo, who became an alchemist and constructed a bizarre, intricate building on the cliff-side of the island. Alchemist Mansion was built for "the sake of the ultimate scientific research," alchemy, but disappeared when he had reputedly reached "the peak of that alchemical research." What he left behind was the mystery of what happened to the ton of gold he had brought to the island with him. After all, it had to be somewhere.

A television special is being filmed around the hidden treasure and several people are brought together by the production team to hunt for it, which includes a number of celebrities such as Akashiba Taiki (comedian), Fukamori Hotaru (idol) and Hayami Reika (actress) – who's a recurring character in the series and debuted in Death TV. However, they also netted several regular contestants "who won a puzzle-solving battle" in order to secure their spot on the show. They are Isshiki Rikako (science student), Kamioka Fuuma (dental student) and Hajime Kindaichi.

So the cast, alongside the crew, are left on the island, but, before the day draws to a close, the problems begin.

The only motor-launch is torched and footage from the overnight camera shows a cloaked figure, with an iron mask, dragging "a huge sword" across the hallway! A situation culminating with the discovery that the body of the Assistent Director, Mayumura Takuya, is peering down at them from atop of the rooftop skylight, but the sword-wielding Alchemist has only just began and ramps up the bloodshed in the subsequent episode – proving he has both the look and work ethic of a deranged killer from a 1980s slasher film.

Hell, one of the victims sat on the toilet when the Alchemist removed a panel in the ceiling and struck her down from above! If that doesn't qualify as slasher-type of murder, I don't know what does.

Anyway, the most interesting of the murder is the one the Alchemist committed inside a sealed bedroom. All of the bedrooms in the Alchemy Mansion have impassable, grated windows and doors of solid steel that can be latched on the inside with a heavy bar, but, as the legend goes, "an alchemist can walk through any kind of metal," which is what the viewer is shown. Admittedly, I was annoyed that they showed too much of the murderer's handiwork, because it appeared to give the whole game away.

A fear that seemed to be confirmed when, what I saw, suddenly reminded me that The Alchemy Murder Case had previously been brought up on this blog. Back in 2015, I reviewed a horrendously bad locked room novel and imagined an alternative explanation for the impossible crimes, which earned a comparison in the comment-section with this Kindaichi story.

So my attention began to wane and, once again, feared I had to write a lukewarm review of the story, but the truly original explanation reeled me back in. The solution added a new method to the long list of tricks of how a murderer could enter, and exit, a room that appears to be completely impenetrable and fitted the theme of the plot like a glove. And no. The metallic bar, securing the door from the inside, was not lifted and lowered with the help of a magnet. It's a bit more involved than that.

What's really remarkable about the locked room trick is how the same principle applied to the disappearance of the sword. A sword that had been looked for all over the place, but could not be found. One of the later murders provides a solid clue as to what happened to the weapon and this, in turn, should provide you with a clue to the problem of the latched door.

"He sees when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake..."

So, the impossible aspect of the plot really makes this four-part episode recommendable to other locked room afficianodes and in particular to those who have a special fondness for Paul Halter's Le cercle invisible (The Invisible Circle, 1996) – which shares a couple of similarities with The Alchemy Murder Case. Such as a sword murder inside a sealed room with grated windows and the additional problem of a vanishing sword.

The remaining parts of the episode were decent enough, but also pretty standard fare for this series. Once again, we get one of the myriad of variations on the same motive that (for some reason) this series recycles endlessly. I can only remember one of the earliest volumes in the manga series, namely Smoke and Mirrors, in which the murderer had a novel motive. Otherwise, it's always some kind of reworking of the age-old avenger-motif.

However, that will always be an annoyance with me, but a minor one and to most readers motive is only of secondary importance. It's just weird that nobody in the Kindaichi universe ever commits murder simply for financial gain, love, jealousy, shame or fear.

As a whole, The Alchemy Murder Case was a pretty decent, if formulaic, entry in the series, but one with an outstanding and original locked room mystery. So I suppose this episode can also be used as an introduction to the series for some of my readers. You can watch them (legally, don't worry) on Crunchyroll.

I previously reviewed The Blood Pool Hall Murder and The Prison Prep School Murder Case. No idea which episode will be next on my watch list, but The Death March of Young Kindaichi and The Rosenkreuz Mansion Murders look promising. So stay tuned!


  1. Did they keep the Detective Academy Q crossover part in the anime adaptation? Saburomaru (of A Class) was one of the contestants in the game show, and there was a shot from Q class watching it on TV.

    I remember little about the details of the story (and I never, ever remember one-off characters), but I do remember the trick behin the locked room and how the murder weapon was hidden, and I really liked it, and it was nicely expanded upon to the main theme of the whole story.

    1. No, the crossover part was not in the anime! Well, that's a downer. I love crossovers and just a brief shot of Q Class watching the treasure hunt on TV would have been a fun Easter egg.

      Was the treasure hunt a live broadcast in the manga? Because in the anime it was being taped. So maybe that's the reason for cutting it. Or simply a copyright issue between different license holders.

      Anyhow, the locked room and sword trick were definitely the highlight of the episode.

    2. I guess they changed it a bit in the anime, but the story starts with the final stage of the game show, where the contestants (among which are Hajime and Saburomaru) have to solve the quiz; this part was broadcast on TV. The winner of the quiz was the one who got to go to the island.

    3. Oh, the pre-game show! That makes sense. I can understand that would end up on the cutting room floor.

      By the way, didn't Kindaichi briefly appear in the Detective Academy Q manga? I remember seeing a page with him in the background during the entrance exam.

    4. A caricature of him appeared in the exam, yes.

      By the way, I don't know if they changed that for the anime of the Prison Prep story, but the police inspector who appears at the very start of the story in the manga (he's handling the first murder until Kenmochi suddenly appears), also originates from Detective Academy Q.

    5. Yes, there was such a police inspector, before Kenmochi took over, but no idea if he came from Detective Academy Q.

      You know, they might as well pull the trigger and do an official crossover between Kindaichi and DAQ. After all, they already teamed Kindaichi with Conan. And Kindaichi is probably more compatible with DAQ than with Conan anyway.

  2. I'm glad you are continuing to enjoy your forays into Kindaichi. :D I fear from my recollection there are very few entries into the Kindaichi canon that evolve beyond revenge as the key motivation...? Ho-Ling might be able to think of an exception, perhaps?

    1. Actually, upon further thought, more varied or somewhat mixed motivations could be found in:

      金田一少年の殺人/ Kindaichi the Killer?
      魔神遺跡殺人事件/ The Divine Bird Murders
      露西亜人形殺人事件/ The Russian Doll Murders
      ゲームの館殺人事件/ Nightmare Carnival Mystery

      But they are definitely the minority, and they don't range widely beyond the usual tropes.

    2. I guess you've to accept that the avenger-motif is a cornerstone of the series. It's just that I can't understand why they're so deadset on only using that single motive.

      I remember Amagi used the normal, wide variance of motives in Detective Academy Q. So why not for Kindaichi?

      But again. You've to accept it is part of the series and no doubt it will be a key part of the next episode. So I'll stop complaining about that as well. :)

    3. I'm afraid yes, it would be best that you brace yourself for even more avenger-motifs...

      I would consider myself a big fan of Kindaichi, and what Conan would be to you and Ho-Ling would be Kindaichi to me - it was my very first taste of Japanese drama, anime and then manga. But I would have similar sentiments to you. Given that some of the Kindaichi mysteries offer solid puzzle plots, it would be nice to have some variety in the characterisation and motivation of the suspects and culprits.

      P.S. You mentioned a rip-off of Gaston Leroux's 'Mystery of the Yellow Room' in relation to the Kanari oeuvre for the Kindaichi series. I'm presuming you're referring to the very first Kindaichi entry, 'Mystery of the Opera House'?

    4. Some of the short stories have non-revenge motives. There's that (hilarious!) one in the old series, where the murderer is forced to pretend he's a restaurant owner (as he just killed her), when Hajime and Kenmochi stroll inside for a snack. Or the one where a valuable Holmes collection is stolen from the Fudo High Mystery Club's booth at the school fair.

    5. Those short stories sound like Conan stories!

      Yes, I meant the Opera House volume. And if that's the one that also had a hanging with no footprints around the body... that trick was stolen from one of my favorite Father Brown short stories. ;)

      Hey, try to move away from those earlier stories, but you'll keep bringing them up!

  3. I am surprised you are enjoying Kindaichi this much.
    I always kept an eye out for your and Ho-lings recommendation ever since aniway days, and granted even though you guys are on another level when it comes to familiarity of the genre, even to me with my limited insight this series comes across as half-baked, from its writing, pacing, motivations to MO etc. Cannot look at this as being anything else but a poor man's Detective Academy Q or Conan.

    All all the recommended eps of Kindaichi so far that I have watched the only thing that stood out to me was the abili trick of the Prep School Prison murder case.

    Maybe I am just too spoiled having watched The Kamikakushi Village murders of Detective Academy Q which to me is truly the pinnacle of the mystery genre presented through anime.

    Maybe you guys have exhausted the genre to the point where you have to settle for less? Dunno...maybe I am totally off-base here lol.

    Happy hunting for them classics.


  4. Too many 'maybe"s in my previous post haha.

    1. You're not the only one who's surprised, Origami, but you know why I hated the original manga series. And that element of discontent is no longer present in this series and the plots show it.

      I love clever and ingenious (locked room) plots, which is what this series is giving me so far. Even if the stories are (mostly) told within the same, well worn formula of the original series. The Alchemy Murder Case is a good example of this, but the impossible problems are genuinely clever and original - far from the bottom of the barrel stuff that mystery addicts, like us, have to settle for.

      Oh, damn, I'm actually defending Kindaichi. The world has gone mad. I used to be the one who bluntly barreled into this series and told everyone they were liking garbage. We're truly living in interesting times!

      However, I completely agree with you that The Kamikakushi Village Murders is one of the pinnacles of the detective story in anime/manga. And, yes, Conan and DAQ are far better series.

  5. If I remember correctly you hated it originally because it heavily 'borrowed' ideas from other stories.

    Speaking of the Alchemy Murder Case, I wasn't too impressed with it either. Case in point being the method for passing through the door. From a practical standpoint totally preposterous.

    Anyway, recommend me some other episodes which you enjoyed. Maybe it will click for me then.


  6. wow... finally you do a review of this. i really appreciated what you did there. the trick in this story is unique in locked room, isn't it? and quite hard to solve, even when they just give the hint every where. heheh :D

    1. What makes this trick (IMHO) unique is how the explanation applied to two very different impossible problems (locked room and vanishing sword). I really liked and admired how that idea was worked out.

  7. In the vague defense of Kindachi, Conan indulges itself in "avenger from the past" quite a bit as well, though I'll grant you nowhere near as often (but with a fair bit more moralizing, from what I've gathered.) Need to get this series watched already.

    The Dark One

    1. You can find the "avenger from the past" in practically every long-running detective series. It's a perfectly legite motive, but stands out in Kindaichi because it's the go-to motive.

      By the way, you should watch Death's Shadow from the Midsomer Murders with the Kindaichi formula in mind. It makes for a fun watch!