A welcome break from isekai.
Aoi Mashiro is a high school girl somewhat recently arrived to Kyoto when she brings a pair of family heirlooms to the antique store Kura. But her plan to sell the heirlooms, a pair of painted scrolls, goes awry when the proprietor’s grandson, Kiyotaka Yagashira, correctly guesses that they don’t belong to her. Luckily for Aoi, Kiyotaka, the titular Holmes, offers her a job in the store so that she can earn the funds she desperately wants in an above-board fashion. Thus truly begins Aoi’s life in Kyoto, as she learns more about her new hometown and also about antiques… and begins to move past the desire that drove her to try to commit a crime in the first place.
Holmes of Kyoto is billed as a mystery series, and it is to an extent, but its of a similar sort to a series like Hyouka in that the mysteries tend to proceed in a lower key than “mystery” as a genre description tends to indicate. This isn’t to say that they’re low-stakes in nature, though; a couple end up concerning family dynamics in ways that could be fairly explosive, even if what we get on the page is a sedate tone. I mentioned Hyouka, but it occurs to me that the more obvious comparison is The Case Files of Jeweler Richard, which got an anime earlier this year and which is itself a LN series (although I doubt this’ll ever rise to the dramatic height that that anime ended on). All of which is to say that someone going in expecting something closer to, say, Agatha Christie is likely to be disappointed.
While I do enjoy Golden Age era detective novels and their imitators, I also happen to have enjoyed both Hyouka and Jeweler Richard, so I was not dismayed with what I got here. Its also a relief to have something that isn’t a fantasy (either isekai or not) to read, and I was thrilled when I saw the license announcement from J-Novel Club on this for that sole reason even as my familiarity with this series was scant. As for the actual reading experience, I liked this opening volume decently, although I’ll admit that much of my enjoyment came from the setting rather than from the plot or characters. In the afterword, author Mai Mochizuki notes that she wrote the series as she wanted to capture her own feeling of being a newcomer to Kyoto, and she hits the nail on the head in that regard. (How dare she! I don’t know when I’ll ever get back there with the COVID-19 travel ban! *shakes fist*) Aoi is a perfectly decent lead, and her own arc in this volume was satisfying in a way I hadn’t expected. I liked the mysteries, too, (although one of the aspects of how the final one resolves is… highly questionable from an ethical standpoint), but… its Kyoto that did it for me.
Now, what I didn’t like! Aoi develops a crush on Holmes, which wasn’t a shock. I didn’t love this, but I can live with it – plenty of teens develop on crushes on older folks, and that by itself isn’t problematic. What I disliked was others assuming high schooler Aoi was grad student Holmes’s girlfriend, especially not as it often happened when Aoi was clearly presented as a teenager! And I did not like the hints that maybe Holmes feels the same way as Aoi. She’s seventeen! He’s twenty-three! No thank you! But I’ll admit that I doubt it’ll go anywhere; there’s fifteen volumes out in Japan, and this smells heavily of a case wherein the author is uninterested in moving it more firmly into romance territory lest it upset the balance.
As for this volume as a release in English, specifically – kudos to translator Minna Lin, as this probably required some research given the amount of antiques rattling around in it and the cultural significance attached to them. Overall, this is, as usual!, a solid release from J-Novel Club.
So, this made for a decent, lighter read for me, and I’m looking forward to picking up the second volume when it makes its appearance; right now the street-date is November 17th (and, hey, turns out Kobo had added it for pre-order since I’d looked last, so now I’ve got it pre-ordered). If you’re sick of fantasy, this is at least worth giving a try; if you’re sick of fantasy and enjoy light mysteries and Kyoto, its absolutely worth giving a go.