"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.
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?