The first episode of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo Neo (金田一少年の事件簿N), the newest iteration of the dramas about young detective Kindaichi Hajime, matches the length of the two specials that first introduced Yamada Ryosuke-kun in this role. Yamada-kun is following in the footsteps of his agency seniors Domoto Tsuyoshi-san, Matsumoto Jun-kun, and Kamenashi Kazuya-kun in playing this part, and I will try my very best not to compare him to any of them. That shouldn’t be a problem, since with mysteries I’m mostly interested in the structure of the mystery (the plot!) and how it compares to classic stories in this genre.

Particular to Kindaichi as a character is the way he is always introduced as a bit goofy and immature until something serious happens, at which point he snaps into detective mode. Before we get to that, there’s an intro from Miyuki (Kawaguchi Haruna), one of Kindaichi’s sidekicks, but sure enough the standard silliness soon ensures. Kindaichi’s biology teacher catches him looking at photos of girls and rating them. When I say rating them . . . well, you’ll have to see for yourself.

Miyuki gets angry with Kindaichi because she saw her photo drew a rating of “disappointing” from him, and just as she’s busy burning all of his photos (because no one trusts him to do it), she is met by a student who waxes poetic and calls her beautiful.

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We don’t know the name of that student yet, but the actor is Yamada-kun’s fellow Tantei Gakuen Q pal Kamiki Ryunosuke-kun. Kindaichi’s other sidekick Ryuji (Arioka Daiki) informs him that Kamiki-kun is playing Kurasawa Hikaru, the president of the Film Studies Club. Kurasawa . . . Film Studies Club . . . a bit too obvious, isn’t it? Actually, Ryuji tells us that Hikaru is the grandson of the great Kurasawa Akira, so they make it even more blatant. The actual famous director’s name was, of course, Kurosawa Akira, and they’re dodging a lawsuit from his estate by changing the ‘o’ to an ‘a’. Still a bit dodgy and lacking in imagination.

Anyway, Kurasawa decides that Miyuki will be the heroine in his new film.

Hmm, you know what, I think I’d better call him Hikaru instead of Kurasawa because right after that another student approaches him, angry that he’s dropped someone named Kurokawa from the lead role in the film, and on the off chance that this Kurokawa becomes important, I’m going to have a heck of a time not mangling the two names.

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Anyway, angry student (Izumiya Shigeki played by Okayama Amane, who also appeared in the first episode of Kinkyori Renai) is the screenplay writer for the film, and he wrote it with Kurokawa in mind, but director Hikaru wants to cast Miyuki. Izumiya says he quits, but what leverage does he have now that he’s written the script? Well, he whispers something in Hikaru’s ear about confessing to the police so . . . yeah, that kind of leverage.

The very next thing that happens was impossible – Kindaichi asks Ryuji who Kurokawa is, and Ryuji tells him that Kurokawa is the super-beautiful start of the Film Studies Club. Now, wait a minute – how is it that Kindaichi, who spends all his time rating the girls at school and ogling them, doesn’t know who such a beautiful girl on campus is but his kouhai (who hasn’t been at the school as long) does? Doesn’t make any sense. The writers are using Ryuji to deliver exposition in a ham-handed way.

Kindaichi intervenes to tell Hikaru that Miyuki could not possibly be an actress because she has no charm, and I’m surprised Miyuki resisted punching him – she only gave his a slap on the cheek.

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Miyuki also immediately accepts the part in the film, which I’m sure will lead to some mayhem or they wouldn’t spend so much time on it.

That means she also switched clubs, leaving Kindaichi’s detective club with only three people. The club president is actually Makabe Makoto (Asari Yosuke – most familiar from Code Blue), and he congratulates Kindaichi for infiltrating the Film Studies Club. There’s a definite sense that he’s a bit unhinged.

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Makoto handles some essential exposition, telling about the curse of Scorpion – the movie Hikaru won an award for last year. Turns out that the people involved in the making of the movie are all doomed to die . . . according to rumor. No indication of any actual deaths yet.

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Here’s a rule: if you get called to a Japanese school in the middle of the night, DON’T GO! Bad things tend to happen, as Izumiya is finds out.

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Now, the prime suspect is pretty obvious after we saw Izumiya threaten Hikaru about going to the police. So, under no circumstances can Hikaru be the culprit in Izumiya’s murder or I’m going to be very unhappy.

The murderer did a good job disposing of the body, since we see the Film club meeting according to plan the next day, with Miyuki confronted by a jealous Kurokawa (Okamoto Azusa fromBeginners! ).

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I don’t think Kindaichi’s club know much about infiltration – it usually doesn’t involve walking right into the meeting of the other group, trying to decide what breast size the most popular female member has, and then walking right up to the group members. Kindaichi is clearly still in silly mood, but hopefully that’s only because he hasn’t found out someone has died.

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Just as Miyuki was about to deliver her first lines . . .

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. . . the curtains on the stage are raised and they discover the body suspended in mid-air by a whole lot of film. Really, it’s a horrible waste of film. All the prospective actresses deliver the requisite screams, like the pros that they are.

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Cue the opening credits while the police arrive on the scene! Right after the credits, they did something very irritating – they showed a panel with eight potential suspects and flipped Izumiya’s card over to “dead”. I don’t like being told who the suspects are in this way – it’s like the writers think I’m stupid and can’t follow along otherwise. Besides, we’ve only met three of the eight, and it’s not fair listing the other five as suspects before we’ve seen anything from them.

The lead copper for this series is Kenmochi Isamu (Yamaguchi Tomomitsu) – Kindaichi’s traditional police liaison in all the seasons who was, however, not present in the two recent specials. This is a pretty critical role and, unlike the rest of the regular cast, we haven’t seen Yamaguchi-san in this part yet.

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On the bright side, Kenmochi walks in and gets right down to business, updating Kindaichi without any fuss. His partner doesn’t know Kindaichi, though, so there’s the necessary introduction. From the surprised look that he gave, it seems like Hikaru didn’t know about Kindaichi, either. Rule number one for a high school murderer: make sure no one at your high school is a famous detective or the grandson of a famous detective. Son is fine – it skips a generation.

We get introduced to some of those other suspects as Kenmochi asks them for their alibis. I’m liking this Kenmochi so far. Sanada Koji (Nakagawa Taishi – from GTO 2012) was memorizing lines at a park, Kadowaki Yasuhiro was jogging . . .

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. . . Kurokawa went to sleep early but her family is overseas and can’t verify it, Yusa Chiemi was reading the script at home but she lives alone, Tsuji Hayato (Hagiwara Riku from Kasuka na Kanojo) took his dog out for a walk . . .

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. . . Hoshino Kanae (Kojima Ayame) was watching a movie at home but her family came back late, and Hikaru went for a walk alone.

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Well, this is clearly a conspiracy! I mean, how could none of them have encountered a single other person who could vouch for them? More to the point, unless the murderer already knew that no one else would have an alibi, surely he or she would have made a point to develop one in order to escape suspicion. The only other possibility is that Hikaru is the murderer and, after hearing everyone else deliver no alibi, decided to scrap his own cover story on the logic that Kindaichi would figure out a fault in it. The way the writers keep on heaping suspicion on Hikaru, though, it’s less and less likely that he’s the murderer.

Hikaru wants to continue production of the film despite the death of Izumiya. I’m not sure why Kindaichi et. al. are present in the club room, though maybe there’s just no way to separate them from Miyuki. Predictably, the issue of the rumored curse comes up. Kurokawa is the one who brings it up, and she’s not one of the people who would be subject to the curse – only four members of the club made it. It was Hikaru, Izumiya, Sanada, and Kadowaki.

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Kindaichi requests to see Scorpion . . .

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Kindaichi seems to be in a solidly thoughtful mode when watching the film, and makes a special point about the scene where the bad guy leaps from one building to another.

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Hikaru asks Kindaichi to be an extra in a scene, which is a good way to put Kindaichi back into silly mode again . . .

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. . . though not for long, as he sees a blade attached to the water tap that Miyuki is supposed to drink out of as part of the scene. Now, that blade wouldn’t have killed her, but it would have possibly taken her out of the lead role, so I suspect Kurokawa for that. Nothing to do with the murder, of course.

In what could be a very bad move for them, Sanada and Kadowaki both approach Hikaru about the thing Izumiya was going to tell the police about (except we still don’t know what that is).

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Kurokawa dislikes Miyuki, but she seems to primarily blame Hikaru for the fact that she doesn’t have the lead role. Are we supposed to believe that this would be a motive for murdering the person who was trying to get her the role back? Doesn’t seem right.

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Don’t get me started on the incongruity of Hoshino telling them that the location of the key to the club door is a secret only Film Studies club members know when showing them all. Please, if the people involved are going to act this ridiculous, it’s not even worth solving the crime.

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Have I mentioned that you shouldn’t go to a Japanese school at night?

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I wish Kindaichi would occasionally solve the mystery after only one person was killed.

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So, two down, six to go. At least we have a lot of suspects, but we have absolutely no details on three of them. All of them should have gotten some serious questions about their relationship to the deceased after the first murder, but were only asked their location at the time of the crime. This is an unacceptable omission.

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And it’s probably because the writers wanted to continue to cast blame on Hikaru.

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We watch more of Scorpion.

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Hikaru doesn’t do himself any favors when he says that he’s taking a gamble on the new film and he can’t allow anyone to stand in his way. That’s not something you say to a police officer investigating the murder of two members of your club, and certainly not in the angry, murderous tone he used.

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Kindaichi chases after him to find out what happened during the filming of Scorpion.

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In the next scene we got some more silly Kindaichi, and after two murders I really think it was inappropriate to have a scene where they show him sneakily taking photos of girl’s breasts. It really breaks the mood. In the context of the series, if Kindaichi isn’t going to take these murders seriously, why should we? Why should we keep watching?

Makoto points out that Hikaru is the main suspect, which should be obvious to everyone by now. Miyuki decides to try to ask Hikaru about it, but doesn’t really get to the point.

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After this, Kindaichi concocts a little scheme to get at some answers, and I think I should omit the rest of the summary as spoilers. We’re a little short of halfway through the episode at this point.

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So, will more people have to die before Kindaichi discovers the answer?

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Will the murderer turn out to be Hikaru after all, in defiance of all mystery logic?

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Or will it be one of the three suspects that we know nothing about except their names, roles in the club, and that they don’t have any alibis?

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I will mention that they managed to contrive a locked room mystery (as if they could resist).

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The real question is whether this was a good mystery, and my first comment is that the misdirection – the way the writers tried their best to make Hikaru seem like the culprit – was too obvious. Through the first half of the long episode, there was no credible reason to suspect anyone else, and that’s a long time to spend if you already know the writers are trying to fool you, waiting to get pieces of information that will point to the actual perpetrator.

They took pains to point out that there were eight possible suspects – something that I hated right from the start – and they continued to show the same graphic throughout. All that served to do was point to the fact that the three we were totally ignoring through the first hour of the show were more likely to be the murderers than the others.

Beyond that, while it was difficult to figure out the locked room technique before Kindaichi did, it was fairly simple to beat him to the question of who did it.

The most disappointing aspect to the case was the fact that none of the investigators attempted to probe motive. There was little direct questioning of the possible suspects. Besides that, there were a lot of other points of convenience along the way, like Kindaichi being told where the keys were so he could set up his trick in the club room.

The locked room method was clever, though also a bit familiar. It’s sort of hard to find original ways to set up a locked room mystery.

The motive was reasonable, though, and there was also a satisfying resolution and denouement. Altogether, I would say the second half went at a much better pace than the first, and kept up a better tone.

Acting also held up well all around, though I’ll give a more thorough assessment after more episodes. For now, it was mostly in-line with what we saw in the most recent special. Characterization . . . well, I really hope we’re not going to get a whole series with Kindaichi obsessed with breasts – there’s a point where that will become tedious. Immaturity is one thing, but acting like an anime character with inadequate social restraint brought into real life is another.

I think it’s about where I expected it to be after the last special, and I hope that it will get better as they are forced to tighten up their storylines to fit the regular one hour block. I look forward to seeing them handle cases outside of a school setting, too.