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.

Holmes of Kyoto, Vol. 1

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

Sometimes you read a light novel because you want adventure, action, and isekai teens slowly amassing a harem. But there are times (most times, I will admit) when that is not what you want. Sometimes you want a book that is the equivalent of curling up in an overstuffed armchair on a sunny winter afternoon, tea and biscuits at your side (British variety or Southern variety, your choice). This new series is absolutely that kind of book. The author admits in the afterword that she wanted to write a series of “light mystery” stories with no murders, and that’s what we get here, with some perplexing (and not so perplexing) challenges for our leads. More that that, though, this book is a love letter to Kyoto, taking the time to walk us around its most famous spots. It was written 6 months after the author moved there so as to keep that “newcomer” feel, and it succeeds admirably, as its lead, Aoi, is also a newcomer to the area.

Aoi has been in Kyoto for about six months, enough so that she’s not entirely new, but not enough that she isn’t dazzled by the sights. She’s dealing with heartbreak, as her boyfriend broke up with her remotely and is now seeing her best friend. She wants to earn train money to go back where she used to live to confront them, so tries to sell some of her family antiques. At the shop, though, she meets Holmes, aka Kiyotaka, the son of the owner and possessed with an amazing talent for observation… as well as an ability to tell real antiques from fakes. Aoi, as it turns out, has similar unpolished talent, and so, after talking her out of her train ride, she ends up working at the shop. Together they solve antique-related mysteries and grow closer – she’s clearly falling for him. But what about her past relationships – and his own?

I was reminded, oddly enough, of In/Spectre while reading this, which has a similar feel of “we solve mysteries while also having a romance that’s mostly one-sided” to it. There’s no supernatural content here, though, and Holmes of Kyoto is far more relaxed about it. As for the romance, given that Aoi is still in high school, I’m content with it being on the back burner – indeed, the series is 15+ volumes in Japan, so I think the mystery is definitely the more important part. That said, Aoi and Holmes bond as good friends almost immediately, even as she blushes and notes his handsomeness to us. The mysteries themselves are not all that hard to solve – I guessed one solution almost immediately – but they’re entertaining to read and the characters are fun. And there is a lot of discussion of both antiques and Kyoto – at times this feels more like a travelogue than a mystery series, and you know what? I’m fine with that as well.

Basically, if I had one word to sum up this series it would be nice. It’s a comforting read, worth saving for when you’re feeling down.