The Kindaichi Case Files: The Antlion Trench Murder Case

The Antlion Trench Murder Case was originally serialized in Weekly Shônen Magazine and collected in volumes 5-6 of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo R (The File of Young Kindaichi Returns), which Ho-Ling Wong described as having one of "the most ridiculous designed building" in the entire series – a research facility in the middle of a desert-like field of quicksand. This case is not considered to be a high-note in the series, but wanted to know how this bizarre and ridiculous architectural marvel was put to use in service of the plot. It certainly was odd, I'll tell you that much.

An old acquaintance and freelance journalist, Yosuke Itsuki, invited Hajime Kindaichi and Miyuki Nanase to participate in a three-day psychological experiment as a way to make a little bit of pocket money.

The experiment is conducted by Professor Maeda Junki, of Saitou University, who has a former military base at his disposal. A facility commonly known as Antlion Trench, situated on the outskirts of a small desert, where captured soldiers were imprisoned during the war and escaping is next to impossible, because the base is surrounded by dangerous patches of quicksand – which can only be navigated by following a roped pathway. Antlion Trench is a cluster of pod-like buildings linked together by long, snaking corridors and (locked) doors.

All of the participants are locked inside this facility for three days and have to wear differently colored kimonos, which represent their inner trauma or desire. A wristband with a body sensor-and radio device will record all of their vital signs, which are send to the professor's laptop. So they're under constant observation during those three days. And cell phones aren't allowed!

As to be expected, two of the participants are murdered and here the outlandish, maze-like layout of the structure begins to work against both Kindaichi and the reader. First of all, getting to the first victim proved to be an obstacle course, because they're constantly confronted by locked doors and dead-ends in a place where every room and corridor looks practically the same – making it very confusing to follow everyone's movement. Something that's not entirely unimportant to the solution.

However, this is not a locked room mystery in the traditional sense. The murders appear to be baffling and incredibly hard to have carried out, but they're not, strictly speaking, impossible crimes.

Unfortunately, the explanation to the murders reworked on of my favorite Kindaichi stories by pumping it full of steroids, because The Antlion Trench Murder Case is pumped-up version of that particular story. Just not as good or particularly well executed. Another thing I have began to notice is that The File of Young Kindaichi Return series uses "The Puppeteer of Hell," Yoichi Takato, as a convenient plot-device to justify the more fantastic aspects of the plot by simply pointing at him and saying, "it was all his idea." And if you lean on that too much, you run the danger of creating something completely incomprehensible. Something this story was (at times) dangerously close to becoming. Hell's Puppeteer is a great character and a perfect foil to Kindaichi, but this is not the best way to use him.

Antlion Trench
So the mechanics of the crimes were less than perfect and the movement of the various characters through the maze-like building was confusing at times, but it made for an oddly interesting detective story – especially when you add the psychological angle and wristbands to the overall picture. There were one or two good clues hidden in them that pointed to the murderer. One clue particular gives immediately identifies the murderer, if you're able to spot it. As usually, the age-old revenge motive is dragged out, which is used in nearly every volume of this series, but this back-story was an interesting one. And it's baffling that culprits of this crime saw their action as a prank gone wrong. It was as close to (unintended) murder (manslaughter?) as you can possibly get.

Just like my previous read in this series, The Antlion Trench Murder Case had an intriguing premise and bizarre backdrop, but everything else was par of the course for the series. And part of the plot reworked a previous and much better story. So this was not one of Kindaichi's all-time greatest cases, but neither was it his worst. Just a very middling title in the series.

Well, I guess I'll return to Case Closed or Q.E.D. for my next mystery manga.


  1. Thanks for the review, TomCat, and I'm always encouraged to see more reviews of Kindaichi. :)

    I recall thinking, when I first read 'Antlion Trench Murders', that the solution borrowed quite heavily from a previous case. But I think I didn't feel too harshly towards 'Antlion Trench', as I wasn't especially favourably inclined towards the previous case in question. I know it is one of the most popular cases for the early Kindaichi, but I've always preferred 'Headless Samurai' instead.

    Back to 'Antlion Trench', I agree that it's 'an oddly interesting detective story', and I like the clues pertaining to the wristband. Much as I feel more kindly towards 'Antlion Trench', I'd concede that it wasn't one of the strongest entries in the Kindaichi 'R' series.

    P.S. Interestingly enough, of the two volumes that featured 'Antlion Trench', you picked the volume cover showcasing 'Vampire Cherry Blossom Murders'.

    1. There's a special Kindaichi review scheduled for the second week of January, 2019. So you have that to look forward to.

      Yes, this case obviously borrowed from that previous case, which was one of the best titles from the series, but I can see why you prefer The Headless Samurai. As you'll probably remember, I reviewed The Headless Samurai earlier this year and went in with the intention of hating it. It was going to be a good, old-fashioned Kanari bashing! Well, that didn't turned out as planned, did it?

      I liked the cover of volume 6 more than the previous one, but yes, volume 5 would have been more fitting, because Kindaichi wears his color-coded kimono on it.

    2. Looking forward to your next Kindaichi review - will you be sticking to the R series, or moving backwards?

      I definitely thought 'Headless Samurai' was the strongest of the first series - I thought it had a simple but clever locked-room resolution, and a genuinely claustrophobic and eerie atmosphere. I was expecting to like 'Wax Doll Murders' more, but I wonder if reading it in English made it rather artificial for me>

      Admittedly, my memories of the entries are somewhat vague... But I recall also liking 'Burial Franc Murders', 'Snow Demon TV Murders' and 'Foreigners' Hotel Murders'.

    3. I'm afraid my reading of the Kindaichi series is going to be all over the place. Just wait until you see what I found for that upcoming review, which is scheduled for next Tuesday.

      If you thought House of Wax felt artificial, especially in comparison with The Headless Samurai, it probably wasn't the English translation. House of Wax has a brilliant plot and is still one of my favorites, but the setting and characters are contrived: an ancient castle transplanted from Europe with a number of Western characters, including the nephew of Lt. Columbo, wandering around in it. This gives the story a notably different atmosphere and made it stand out in the series, but can understand if this doesn't work for everyone.

      I have not read Burial Francs or Playing the Fool (Foreigners Hotel Murders), but Death TV was not too bad with a pretty good alibi-trick and false solutions.