Aoi, a new resident of Kyoto, has just received some unpleasant news: her ex-boyfriend has started dating her best friend and neither of them told her. High school aged Aoi is reeling from this news and desperately wants to go back to her old town and school to confirm the situation but doesn’t have the money for a train ticket and she doesn’t want to ask her parents for the money.
So she pokes around the house she is now living in, her deceased grandfather’s, and takes two likely-looking paintings to an antique store in Kyoto’s Teramachi-Sanjo shopping arcade to be appraised, only for the employees to immediately guess what is going on and tell her that they don’t buy from minors anyway. Aoi is crushed, but the employees, a father and son taking care of the shop for another family member, are quite nice about the whole thing and offer instead to hire her as a part-time worker and that way she can earn money for her train ticket. Aoi likes the idea and she’s intrigued by the younger employee, graduate student named Kiyotaka, who swears that his nickname “Holmes” has to do with the spelling of his actual last name but, he did manage to figure out nearly every detail of Aoi’s story before he even talked to her…
I can’t recall if I watched the entire anime adaptation of Holmes of Kyoto or not but I watched at least all of the episodes that adapted this first volume and, from what I recall, it must have been a fairly faithful adaptation. Each chapter in this volume focuses on a different “mystery” and each of them made it into the show, although calling them “mysteries” is a bit grand in some cases. It seems as if half of the time the story is “solved” simply through Holmes, I mean Kiyotaka’s, antique appraisal knowledge and even for the more mystery-like stories, like the one concerning the “Saio-dai” of an upcoming festival; it’s pretty easy to guess the culprit, motivation, or both simply through awareness of tropes.
Ironically, in that sense it’s rather like the original Sherlock Holmes stories — I remember reading “The Red-Headed League” and being miffed that of course I couldn’t solve the mystery before Holmes because I didn’t know the layout of the area people were digging in, otherwise it would have been completely obvious that people were attempting a bank robbery! In theory someone could be familiar with the antiques that show up in the stories, or at least reproductions of famous paintings or the history of certain artisans, and solve the mysteries before Kiyotaka; in practice however I doubt many readers will have that entire breadth of knowledge and, like Watson and Aoi, will have to wait around until Holmes explains everything at the end.
While I found these mysteries a tad too quiet for my taste, and while I’m sure some mystery fans will enjoy them since they are a break from more sordid stories of scandal and murder, if I was to recommend these stories to anyone it would be specifically to people who are huge fans of the city of Kyoto. I’m interested in visiting Kyoto myself someday but my eyes were glazing over at some of the overly detailed descriptions of street directions and locations as Aoi cycles around her new city. Hearing about major, tourist-attracting events in the city was fun, such as the aforementioned festivals, but I’m not sure anyone can really enjoy Aoi’s bicycling thoughts without either intimate knowledge of the area or a map in front of them.
The one thing that surprised me about this original story is that, while watching the anime, I certainly got the impression that Aoi and Kiyotaka’s relationship was headed in a romantic direction but I didn’t get the same feeling here. High schooler Aoi certainly has a crush on graduate student Kiyotaka but while in the anime I got the sense he reciprocated her feelings, here I didn’t. Perhaps he does in later novels too but not in this first volume. He certainly cares Aoi as a person, inviting her along on business trips in the area and he’s able to help bail her out of a sour situation with former friends, but he’s not doing anything overtly romantic at this point. I wouldn’t be thrilled if the story did turn into a romance, they’re just at such different stages in their lives that it’s a romance that simply couldn’t be on equal footing.
But I won’t be continuing with Holmes of Kyoto to find out either way. This series was just a bit too quiet and boring to really hold my attention; the mysteries could hardly be called that and while parts of the descriptions of Kyoto were charming, some were just too overwrought for someone with no connection at all to the city like myself to really appreciate. There aren’t a ton of mystery light novels licensed in English but even then, I’d rather spend my time reading something else and waiting for a mystery series more suited to my tastes to come around than to keep on going with a series that just bored me.