Review: The Kindaichi Case Files: The Magical Express Volume 16

The Kindaichi Case Files, Vol. 16: The Magical Express
Story: Yozaburo Kanari, Art: Fumiya Sato
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Mystery
Price: $9.99

Rating: ★★★★★

Kindaichi is summoned to examine a mysterious note declaring that a train bound for Hokkaido will be transformed into a “magic train of death.”  When Kindaichi boards the train to investigate the threat, he meets members of a magic troupe who perform on the train.  But as the magicians go missing before they can complete their tricks, it’s up to Kindaichi to uncover the identity of “Hell’s Puppeteer” — who has announced that he has planted a bomb aboard the train.  Is this the end of the line for Kindaichi?

What was supposed to be a trip to police headquarters for a commendation turns into another tantalizing mystery from Kindaichi.  A package has arrived at the police station containing a twisted marionette and note promising magic and death on a train to Hokkaido.  Kindaichi, Miyuki, Kenmochi and videographer Saki get on the train, where the Magic & Illusion Troupe perform on the way to Shikotsu-ga-hara to the hotel and theater at the end of the line.  The first murder happens on the train.  The Troupe’s leader, Gentle Yamagami is found dead, and just as quickly his body magically disappears, only to reappear in the hotel.  Soon after, other Troupe members are murdered.  Who is responsible, and why is he/she doing it?

I love the Kindaichi mysteries.  The stories are always complex, with lots of clues and red herrings to keep you guessing until the end.  This mystery is no different.  From the disappearing body, to a locked room murder, to an accident/murder three years before, everything is connected and the clues are always laid out, even if you don’t see them at first.  Nothing is ever sprung on you.  The mysteries are so well plotted out that there is no need for a surprise suspect or unrevealed clue or motive.  It’s all there for you, you just have to find the pieces and put them together.

The suspects/victims in this mystery are all members of the Magic & Illusion Troupe, and make great suspects.  Several of them share a secret, and with the revelation that police are on the train, their guard goes up, making them appear more suspicious.  But you never feel any animosity between them beyond the secret.  It quickly becomes obvious that the secret is the key to the murders.

In this mystery, Saki, who has been filming Kindaichi on his cases for several volumes now is the linch pin to solving the mystery.  The camera’s lens picked up the things the culprit didn’t want to be seen or noticed.  It’s while Kindaichi is reviewing the tapes that the pieces fall into place and the culprit can be revealed.  This isn’t an easy mystery to figure out.  Because it involves magicians, there is a lot of misdirection and sleight of hand to keep you guessing.  The who and the why were the easiest to figure out, but the how was a puzzler to the end.

Another thing I enjoy about these stories is that they don’t end with the reveal of the murderer.  The stories go on to show what happens to the culprits whether it’s jail or otherwise.  With this mystery, there is one final trick to be performed to tie up all the loose ends.  It’s a true finale that metes out some justice, though it’s mostly in the culprit’s favor.  For all of Kindaichi’s slacker attitdue, it’s during these endings that we see his inner thoughts and growth.  And he does start to mature as he solves these mysteries.  He just doesn’t let Miyuki see it.

The Kindaichi mysteries are a sadly underrated series.  They don’t get nearly enough love as they deserve.  The mysteries are smart and fun, and the characters are great.  I fear for the future of this series, and think it’s initial comparison to Scooby-Doo may have hurt it.  These are not Scooby and the gang, and there is no hint of the supernatural.  Just baffling mysteries that are unraveled and lead to a satisfying conclusion.  I highly recommend this series to everyone.

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