Holmes of Kyoto, Vol. 4

By Mai Mochizuki and Shizu Yamauchi. Released in Japan by Futabasha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Minna Lin.

Rarely have I had to eat my words quite so much as I have in the gap between my review of the third volume and this one, and I urge readers to absolutely not go back and read it. Still, it does mean we have to confront the elephant in the room, though admittedly the book is doing it as well. This series features a man just out of college in love with a girl still in high school, and Japan sure has no issues with this whatsoever given the sheer number of titles out lately featuring age-gap romances, but Western readers tend to dig in their heels a lot more. Now, let’s not kid ourselves, things are not going anywhere anytime soon. Indeed, I will be very surprised if anything happens before Aoi turns 18. Mostly as Aoi continues to delude herself about Holmes’s feelings towards her, which are not only obvious to the reader but are starting to be obvious to everyone else as well. Fortunately by the end of the book, Aoi has at least come to a different realization.

As with other books in this series, we get a short story and three longer ones. The short story is simply Holmes taking Aoi on a date, though she doesn’t actually realize that’s what it is. We then get to meet Holmes’ grandmother, who has a bisque doll that strangely is the distaff counterpart to one they have in the antique shop… and one which might be haunted! After that, despite the author’s assurances in previous afterwords, we get what amounts to a murder mystery, albeit one where the victim survived, and Holmes is forced to deal with a case whose only artwork is the books of an author. Lastly, we meet the owner’s stepson Rikyu, who idolizes Holmes and who clearly is NOT loving Aoi at all. Will she be able to win him over by being a quasi-appraiser at an event thrown by Rikyu’s grandfather to determine who gets his inheritance?

As noted, the second case, while quite well done, feels a bit different to the other “cases” we’ve read, even though we’ve dealt with death and attempted assault in previous books. Possibly for this reason, it also feels a bit overdone, with Holmes’ talents not feeling as natural as they do when he’s looking at antiques. The third story was the best, as Rikyu is a fun addition to the cast, basically being a sullen teen who’s unhappy that his favorite relative is being taken away from him by another woman. I will admit that Aoi’s preternatural progress in learning about artwork and antiques is almost as unrealistic as Holmes turning into Hercule Poirot, but the moment is set up really well and you feel so happy for her I’ll grant it. And we do get an awful lot about Holmes clear feelings for Aoi and mistrust of other men (he’s right, she is awfully naive) as well as Aoi’s tendency towards self-loathing cropping up, thinking that Holmes is “far beyond her”… but at least, right at the end, she can admit to herself she’s fallen in love with him.

So yes, last time I said this wasn’t one for romance fans, and I will have to take that back, but I do think that mystery fans will get more out of this. We’ll see what happens in the next volume, this is a long-running series.

Holmes of Kyoto, Vol. 3

By Mai Mochizuki and Shizu Yamauchi. Released in Japan by Futabasha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Minna Lin.

One of the better things about this series is the way that it makes you look at art. And by art I don’t just mean paintings and sculptures, but also anything that is crafted with a purpose. In this book we see several times what it means to be a real artist, the sacrifices and mental anguish that sometimes need to be suffered to achieve this, and also the fact that imitations cannot, no matter how hard they try, get completely into the artist’s head. This is not to say that imitations are always invaluable – there’s a lithograph in this story that impresses everyone even though it’s merely a copy – but that it is very hard to keep the emotions of what you are doing while also thinking “hrm, he used to paint his ears like THIS”, etc. Holmes is very good at this sort of thing, and Aoi is starting to get better at it as well. Unfortunately for Holmes, Aoi – and indeed everyone else around him – have trouble seeing HIS heart.

After a brief prologue in which Holmes indirectly helps his father think of a subject to write about, we get three main stories here. In the first, Holmes and Aoi go to a Kabuki show, only to run into theatrical intrigue when the show’s star is threatened, both via letter and later on the stage itself. In the second story Holmes meets up with his ex-girlfriend, now engaged, who worries that her fiancee is lying to her about ending his relationship with his former girlfriend. And in the final story, Holmes and Aoi attend his grandfather’s birthday party, and a treasure hunt arranged by the family ends up being a lot of fun… until a surprise guest shows up. Throughout all these stories, of course, Holmes is making deductions and solving crimes, as well as showing off his well-trained eye for antiques. He’s a terrific guy. Unfortunately, Aoi suffers from a major case of low self-esteem, and so is convinced that he sees her as just a friend – clearly not true, as the reader knows.

Honestly, I am content with Aoi feeling like this, at least until she’s out of high school. The bigger question (OK, not really) is whether they become a triple rather than a couple, as every single time they have an outing they seem to run into Akihito, who ends up accompanying them. This is the funniest part of the book, and it’s amusing to see Holmes’ growing frustration, but the three really do have a great chemistry as a team. The mysteries themselves are also well-done, and the author has promised not to dip into more serious crimes like murder, so the stakes are low enough that the book is a relaxing read. Indeed, I was thrown off by the first story, where I incorrectly guessed the culprit. That said, like a lot of mystery books of this sort, I don’t think the books are written to have the audience guess before the detective, but to show off the detective’s awesomeness.

If you’re looking for a book about romance, I’d look elsewhere, but for a fun series of mysteries, Holmes of Kyoto is hard to beat.

Holmes of Kyoto, Vol. 2

By Mai Mochizuki and Shizu Yamauchi. Released in Japan by Futabasha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Minna Lin.

I think the thing I find most amusing about Holmes of Kyoto is how it can’t seem to settle down in one particular genre. It’s supposed to be in the ‘light mystery’ genre, mostly involving forged antiques, and it definitely is that for a good deal of the book. The SOLUTION to said mysteries, though, is rarely the point and often an afterthought – at one point the book sets up an elaborate locked room mystery, complete with witnesses giving testimony that the reader is supposed to use to deduce the truth… and then solves the mystery immediately. There’s also the “let’s tour Kyoto and talk about how awesome it is” parts of the book, which are just as important as the mystery, and at times this seems like one of those travelogue style books where each chapter has the heroes at a new landmark. And of course it’s also a simmering slow-burn romance, one that actually seems to be on both sides this time, if still not going anywhere. The fact that the book balances all these sides perfectly is what makes it so fun.

These books are less novels and more collections of short stories, as we see Aoi and Holmes attend his grandfather’s birthday party (and deal with a smashed priceless antique); help a former art forger trying to make things right with his former victim; go to a temple where someone has theoretically stolen something precious… but they’re not sure what; tour a seemingly haunted house; and finally attend another party where they judge a series of paintings and antiques to show off their appraisal skills, only to find that the best among them may be our talented young heroine. The latter half of the book also introduces a new character who appears to be an ongoing antagonist to our hero… and while he’s not named Moriarty he’s certainly aware of the connection, and just as crafty as Holmes is.

I spoke last time that Aoi’s crush on Holmes was fairly one-sided, and that’s starting to change, and not just because everything they do together reminds people of a married couple. Aoi’s innocent and strong conviction is something that the usually too cynical Holmes needs in his life, and you get the sense that he might have told her so at the end of this book were it not for the presence of Akihito. I suspect Akihito’s appearances in this book might frustrate some readers. He is there to be comic relief, to be another person to have things explained to by Holmes, and to make sure that Holmes and Aoi don’t actually get closer than they already are – the author is well aware of the fact that Aoi is still in high school, and even has Holmes warn her when she’s forced to attend a mixer with university students. Still… man, they do make a REALLY good couple. It’s also nice to see Aoi’s instinctual brilliance at spotting “real” from “fake” coming to the fore so quickly.

So the main cast is expanding, and now we have a recurring villain. The series remains episodic, though, and I’m sure will continue to mostly concentrate on its light mysteries and the bond between Aoi and Holmes. And that’s a fine enough reason to read it.