So, this year I’m trying to participate in this 12 days of anime thingie : each day until Christmas, I will be rambling about a particular moment of watching anime this year that I found memorable. Let’s kick this off with…
Well, I’ve always liked The Casefiles of Young Kindaichi. It’s not a particularly great show, but it’s got a fun gimmick, and I’ve always had a soft spot for fair-play whodunnits. But while I’ve been enjoying the recent “Returns” revivals, I had always been miffed at the unavailability of most of the original TV series beyond the first 40 episodes (out of 148). So I was delighted to recently find some very rough translations of the middle third of that series. Even though the translators were in dire need of an editor with better mastery of the English language, at least I could now watch it !
And for the most part, it’s been rewarding ; seeing the first appearances of supporting characters such as young idol Reika Hayami (who’s a big deal in Returns) or Kindaichi’s bratty kid cousin Fumi, who’s amazingly not a terrible character. And there were some good mysteries along the way, even when a bit contrived or gimmicky.
And then I reached episodes #70-73, aka The English Hotel Murder Case. And boy, what a mess this was. (Warning : some unavoidable plot spoilers about this case below.)
For one thing, it’s a mess on a thematic level. Supposedly it’s about a theatre troupe playing at the titular hotel ; and a lot of atmosphere is coming from some of the weirdos belonging to it. But that’s a red herring, as the focus nearly immediately switches to a mysterious room, where a drug dealer committed “suicide” a few weeks ago after having booked it continuously for the last decade. The aftermath of this is the true focus of the case, what with the local police commissioner taking control of the place before Kindaichi & co even get there.
The investigation quickly railroads towards the main two members of the theatre troupe : the leader and the playwright, two very unpleasant people whose only redeeming value is the former’s habit of adopting orphans and taking them under her wing (such as Karen, a pretty young thing on the verge of becoming a breakout star). Of course they were in cahoots with the drug ring (and even trying to take it over by offing the dealer) ; which is quickly moot, as they’re the first actual victims of the case.
Everything accuses Karen : she served the drinks that poisoned her adoptive mother, and it’s obvious the playwright could have been led into a trap by her invitation. Oh, and Kindaichi’s camera-buddy Saki gets nearly killed (after he found a crucial clue) in the room adjacent to hers, complete with secret passage known only to the drug ring. Also, her DNA was found on his body. And finally, she’s found “having committed suicide”, with a letter detailing her alleged murder spree. Kindaichi isn’t buying it, of course.
Now, the obvious suspect is… the police commissioner. She had been investigating the drug ring, hence a probable link. She was the one who assigned everyone’s rooms, for “security reasons”. And she’s just way too vindictive about everything, opposing Kindaichi at every occasion. It’s hard to see HOW she’d fake the DNA evidence, or WHY she would make Karen take the fall, though.
The key moment that made me lose respect for the show’s writers is when it became clear that they were cheating against its own rules. Namely, the show has a specific gimmick that all of the suspects (and impeding victims) of the whodunnit get mugshots in a frame at the beginning and ending of each episode. The cheat here is that the police commissioner is absent from it. She IS, on the other hand, properly identified during the recaps, making it clear this is not a mere oversight or late change of plans.
The cheating continues with the explanation of HOW she faked the DNA evidence. The short answer is that she didn’t. It’s just that she’s Karen’s long-lost twin sister. Despite looking nothing alike, and at least a good ten years older. “Plastic surgery”, my ass. Especially as her backstory involves that happening as she was taking over the identity of a suicide victim about 10 years ago. Because sure, you can become a police commissioner at age 28 despite being a highschool dropout druggie, with just a tremendous will to reinvent herself.
The WTF pile on as it’s revealed WHY she would kill her sister and make her take the fall. No, not because Karen accidentally outed her (and her shady past) to the drug-dealing assholes she was finally getting a bead on. No, it’s because the two twins had made a childhood promise (before they were separated at age 7), of her becoming an actress, and Karen becoming a fashion designer who’d make her clothes. So our culprit was insanely jealous of her sister “stealing her life”.
Except Karen didn’t ! She was secretly leading a double life, famous actress on evenings, and somehow also a fashion designer by day. This way, whenever her twin sister came back, she could slide right back into the dream life Karen had prepared for her ! This is framed as tragic irony, but the steps to get there are so ludicrous it just becomes laughable.
The less said about the fake peril surrounding Saki, the better. I already know he’ll be fine, as I’ve seen him in Returns. This isn’t a show that kills off its recurring supporting cast. (Although I understand that in the original manga story, he did die here, and all further appearances are by his younger brother. That’s awkward indeed.)
Now, this won’t make me swear off the show. All the cases are self-contained, so I have good hope this was a one-off drop in quality. The Computer Cottage case that follows it may have its own problems (including an under-motivated secret past crime, and an identity-theft trick so convoluted even the fan translator got lost), but at least it was back to being a fair-play whodunnit. But as one moment where an anime I was watching this year made me angry, it is worth featuring in this series of articles.