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Think You’re Smart?

The Kindaichi Case Files coverOne of the things I love about the English language manga explosion from the past couple of years was that as more Japanese comics are translated into English, we get a widening list of genres and styles. Take, for instance, mysteries. Aside from old issues of Detective Comics and Elongated Man, mysteries in comics are pretty much dead. Occasionally someone tries to bring it back with books like The Maze Agency and Ms. Tree but those seem to be the exception rather than the rule, and before too long they’re gone. That’s probably why I’ve been avidly reading TokyoPop’s translations of The Kindaichi Case Files for the past four years; not only is it one of the few mystery series available in comics these days, but it’s also really darn good.

The set-up is pretty simple; Hajime Kindaichi is a high school slacker who doesn’t do his work in class, lusts after anything that’s female, and has a genuine crush on his best friend Miyuki. However, he’s also a brilliant detective and (just like that old bat Jessica Fletcher) seems to perpetually get drawn into mysteries, most of them murders. And of course, once he’s there, he can’t help but try and solve the case before the police can figure it out.

One of the great things about The Kindaichi Case Files is the simple fact that author Kanari Yozaburo clearly intends for the reader to be able to piece together the mysteries along with Kindaichi. There are some notable exceptions (The Mummy’s Curse in particular, with revelations that come out of left field) but it lets you play along and see how smart you are as well. The mysteries themselves are inventive, often but not confined to locked-room situations where there should have been no way for a killer to get in or out of a specific area where the death occurred. Each volume also stands more or less on its own; there are a couple of recurring characters from time to time, but Yozaburo always makes sure to re-introduce them if they do appear. Additionally, with one exception each book is an entire case, so there’s no getting half a story and waiting for the conclusion. (Volumes 10 and 11 split Kindaichi the Killer into two volumes in what appeared to be a brief and unpopular attempt from TokyoPop to play with the format.)

Another cool aspect of The Kindaichi Case Files is that Kindaichi may be brilliant, but he’s also a completely normal kind of guy. He flirts (badly) with the women and gets shot down. He’s got all those feelings for Miyuki which clearly aren’t reciprocated. His teachers, classmates, and most of the authorities really can’t stand him. But he’s kind of cool in his own way, perhaps in spite of his faults and the fact that Yozaburo refuses to glamorize him in any way.

My one warning is that these books are really addicting. I actually save up several volumes at a time because I know as soon as I finish one, I’m going to start another. (When I briefly had to take public transportation to work-a long, arduous process that took three times as long as driving-I think I ended up reading four of these volumes in the space of a week and a half. I was almost sad when I finally got my car back, but I’d caught up to the publication schedule so it was probably just as well.) If you like a good mystery, you absolutely need to check this series out. With 15 volumes published and more on the way, you’ve got a lot of good times (and corpses) ahead of you.

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