The main characters seem to be having fun in the beginning of this episode of Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo Neo (金田一少年の事件簿N), as we first see Kindaichi Hajime (Yamada Ryosuke) and his ever-present friends Miyuki (Kawaguchi Haruna) and Ryuji (Arioka Daiki) on a rollercoaster and then in a 3-D zombie movie.

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They were also accompanied by the film club members they met in the previous episode – well, those alive and not incarcerated, anyway.

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Oddly, it’s Ryuji who explains how 3-D works to the film club members rather than the other way around. Ryuji continues to be the fountain of exposition of this series – explaining things that he probably shouldn’t be the one explaining.

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The writers are also quick to give Kindaichi another breast joke – I was hoping that we had gotten through these in the first episode and they were going to come up with more diversified ways to depict Kindaichi’s lecherous tendencies and prurient interests.

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Kindaichi wasn’t supposed to take the 3-D glasses from the theater, so Miyuki decides that he has to return them. I think she just wanted an excuse to pull him by the ear.

This contrived long walk leaves them without a ride home in the middle of the night when they miss the last bus. Luckily, another bus arrives, nearly running Kindaichi over and then opening the door for them.

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Now, getting on a bus without knowing where it’s going is a bit dodgy for someone like Kindaichi, who’s supposed to be observant. Of course, where the bus was supposed to be headed wasn’t the problem – the driver had no intention of taking them to the advertised destination anyway. Instead, he released sleeping gas into the bus while donning a gas mask himself.

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Which led to this:

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The eight passengers on the bus woke up in a strange brightly-lit room wearing very odd helmets.

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Their host is a self-styled Game Master, represented by a cartoon figure and a synthesized voice. And it’s pretty easy to guess what type of game they’ll be playing – the type where they’ll be offered a chance to get out, but will probably face death quite often along the way.

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Now, this isn’t a mystery so far, right? Evil mastermind stories aren’t mysteries – they’re suspense. This can only be a mystery if one of the eight people with the helmets on is a murderer, and since there hasn’t been a murder . . . well, I’m sure we’re going to get one, so let’s keep watching.

For the first stage in the game, they have to answer quiz questions by entering four digit numbers into a controller that opens the door to this room, but they’re not allowed to talk. I won’t go through all the rules of the games since that’s not what this is about. The important thing here is that they all panic and try to force open the door (and, of course, fail):

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Doesn’t seem like they have much quiz show confidence.

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Miyuki knows the answer to the first question, and can just type it in to get her ticket out of this room, but she’s reluctant to leave Kindaichi, so she doesn’t take the opportunity.

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I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Kindaichi and Miyuki survive the first room. Outside of it, there’s a key to unlock the helmets, but that should lead to an automatic question: what were the helmets for in the first place?

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The last person left in the first room, though, fails to come out even though it seemed like she knew the answer (which she should have, since the question was 1000 + 100 + 10 + 1 = ?). There’s a big boom and shake when time runs out, and the other seven are allowed to reenter the room to see the apparent heavily-charred remains of the woman.

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But we don’t get a very good look at the body, and I’ve read enough mysteries to know that the best alibi is to have everyone convinced that you’re already dead. So, I’m going to consider the woman who died a prime suspect – especially since she deliberately contrived to be the last person in the room (Kindaichi had offered to let her go first, but she refused).

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We start to meet some of the others. One of them is the son of the presumed deceased, who is also an apprentice sommelier. There’s a game designer (is that supposed to seem suspicious to us?), a Shinjuku bar manager and two people who work at the bar – a hostess and a waiter. I’ll refer to all of them by their job description rather than names because it’s easier to remember. The presumed deceased woman was an apparel maker president.

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I complained about this “Who done it?” screen in the last episode, but it is clearly a huge flaw in this episode, because up to this point, we haven’t been given any reason to believe the culprit is any one of these people, who all seem trapped in the game.

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Worse, they indicate that the apparel maker president is dead, which negates the scenario in which the death is faked (which was still plausible because they didn’t examine the body). The drama should eliminate possibilities by having Kindaichi do actual detective work (and we certainly didn’t see him check the body to try to figure out why the woman didn’t leave the room before the explosion).

The seven remaining people move on to the next stage. I won’t go through the details of the game, but I have to say that this setup requires a lot of money. I mean, there’s arranging the whole building, getting explosives, flame-throwers, sleeping gas (on the bus), poison gas in this room, and those weird masks Kindaichi didn’t even consider the purpose of (until he’ll suddenly remember them at the end, of course). If they are being honest about their professions, that would seem to eliminate half of the suspects. Big if, though.

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Kindaichi heroically gives his own key to the sommelier guy whose mother just died (and is therefore too shaken to handle this), and has to get the last key within a minute. At this point, Miyuki decides to delay Kindaichi’s attempt and distract him for more than fifteen seconds. This is patently ridiculous. Don’t get me started on what happens in the room after that.

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I’ve been pretty picky about this series so far, but there are so many blasted incongruities. The problem is that, when I sit down to a mystery, I’m actually paying a lot of attention because I try to play along and figure out the answer before the detective does. I guess the writers are aiming this at a more credulous audience.

I’m not sure how far I should keep up the synopsis, since each of these game stages contains suspense and, therefore, spoilers. But we’re only seventeen minutes into the show, so I don’t think we’re seen the really critical stuff yet.

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The anguished sommelier guy is really starting to irritate me. I started to think of him as suspect number two, just for that, but the other characters start suspecting him as well (because he can inherit his mother’s fortune), so that probably means he’s innocent.

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The waiter lodges the accusation most forcefully, but it was the game designer who started it. The hostess defends the sommelier, and the bar manager asks them to stop fighting.

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The next room seems to only offer escape for one person, with death for the rest. Kindaichi and Miyuki obviously can’t take that prescribed route, so they try to find another way out – somewhat plausible, since this is more an entire floor of the building than just one room.

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They only have three minutes, though. Can they make it?

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This sommelier guy . . . .

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Kindaichi tries the traditional ventilation shaft getaway, but no luck.

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Up to this point, Kindaichi hasn’t been led to believe that any of the people with him are the culprit behind this ‘game’. Halfway in, though, he just instinctively doesn’t trust the evil mastermind idea, and it’s only in the second half that we start to get a serious flurry of clues.

We even get the police interviewing the surviving suspects and doing background checks – something that I noted was lacking in the first episode.

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Again, I hope it’s not a surprise, but some people do survive the game (so that they can remain suspects), as do both Kindaichi and Miyuki. We don’t get to see much of Miyuki in the second half, though, as Kindaichi is focused on helping the police with the case.

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And that’s one positive about this episode – Kindaichi certainly had the right attitude once people started dying.

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There was no way for the viewer to play along on this one in terms of figuring out the culprit – key facts were hidden from us until Kindaichi brought them up at the end – unless you were willing to believe what the suspects said about their professions, in which case the answer was immediately obvious because of the sheer cost of the plot. But actually, the way Kindaichi arrived at his conclusion was pure conjecture – the real concrete evidence was delivered by the culprit during confession time. Frankly, I think the culprit could have withheld confession, gone to trial, and would have been acquitted if the only evidence available was what Kindaichi offered. Kindaichi knew the method of the crime (which it was possible to decipher before he revealed the answer, though I didn’t manage it), but very little to connect the culprit to it.

The resolution to the case was very convoluted, and the method of the murder was impossibly expensive considering its purpose. Just the bus at the very beginning of the plot must have been a few hundred thousand dollars, and then you’ve got the sleeping gas, the explosives, the flame pits, possible poison gas, the door control systems, the container in the third room, and at least furnishing the building itself (assuming it was abandoned – otherwise it would have to be rented or purchased, which is even worse). Actually, all the police had to do to figure who was responsible was to trace back the purchases of all these items – there has to be some kind of trail there since people can’t acquire all this stuff easily (the bus?), and that would have been much more concrete than anything Kindaichi had to offer.

Otherwise, the acting was generally on the hammy side (lots of overacting) and it was hard to take anything seriously. Mostly it was the supporting cast – the suspects – but there were also certain moments between Kindaichi and Miyuki (especially that fifteen second delay).

From the preview for the next episode, I have hopes that it’ll be better, so let’s look forward to that.