Kindaichi Case Files Vol. 1: The Opera House Murders

Story by Yozaburo Kanari
Art by Fumiya Sato
240 pages, black and white
Published by TokyoPop

The mystery genre is alive and well in most forms of entertainment. Television, movies, books, just about all of them have a good-sized percentage of mysteries… except, of course, comics. Aside from CrossGen’s Ruse, there aren’t many high profile comics that tackle mysteries, unless you live in Japan. TokyoPop’s brought one of those series into English in the form of The Kindaichi Case Files, and based on their first volume The Opera House Murders it’s clearly something that should’ve made it over here years ago.

Most people think Hajime Kindaichi is a witless slacker who makes it through school by the skin of his teeth. Only his friend Miyuki really knows that Kindaichi’s intelligence is off the charts… but not only in books, but in solving mysteries. Miyuki brings Kindaichi with her to the Drama Club’s island getaway where they’ll be rehearsing “Phantom of the Opera”, but a series of murders traps the club on the island, as well as laying suspicion on everyone there. Can Kindaichi solve the mystery of the opera house murders before the Phantom strikes again?

The Opera House Murders is a really nice introduction to The Kindaichi Case Files series; we’re introduced to the two main characters (Kindaichi and Miyuki) and quickly learn their relationship and personalities, then plunge into the story itself. So much of a mystery depends on if it is, indeed, mysterious. It was a relief, then, to discover that Yozaburo Kanari’s story is at just the right level of mystery; it’s logically constructed, and possible to solve because you are given all the information along with Kindaichi, but at the same time it’s not so blindingly obvious that it makes all the characters look like morons for not figuring it out. It’s a tough balance, and one that so often fails because going too much in either direction results in a deeply unsatisfying read for your audience.

Fumiya Sato’s art in The Opera House Murders has just the right mixture of cheerfulness and horror, here; this is in many ways a light-hearted book until the murders kick in, and it makes sense to have an art style that straddles the lines between the two moods. In many ways it reminds me of Rumiko Takahashi’s art, with eager and energetic faces on display here. With a large cast of a dozen or so characters, it’s important that you can tell everyone apart, and Sato makes sure to give each character their own individual look without resorting to caricatures. Most importantly, though, Sato’s able to handle the darker aspects of The Opera House Murders. The appearance of the corpses in the book are handled perfectly with just the right amount of horror to amp up the mood that Kanari is writing into his story. Even better, Sato’s able to take little moments and make them scary. I was reading The Opera House Murders late at night while a hurricane swept through the area, and when one of the characters looks out the window and sees the masked Phantom staring back, well… let’s just say that I had to catch my breath and remind myself that it’s just a book!

If there’s any justice, The Kindaichi Case Files books will be best-sellers. The Opera House Murders was a really fun book, and like other series of mysteries novels, Kanari and Sato are sure to make The Opera House Murders stand on its own as a thoroughly enjoyable book while making you want to read more about these characters. With ten more volumes to follow, I think we’ll all be enjoying these clever mysteries for some time to come. The Opera House Murders is on sale now at better comic stores everywhere.

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