The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Holmes of Kyoto
by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Holmes of Kyoto ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
I'm usually the kind of person who has all the time in the world for leisurely paced anime, so when I say that the first episode of Holmes of Kyoto makes for slow viewing, what I really mean it that it's downright glacial. I think there's supposed to be some dramatic tension here, but it's presented in such a calm and collected manner that my level of emotional involvement never rose above mild curiosity. The good news is that the show's mellow tone gives it a chance to be very thoughtful in its storytelling, and this episode does a plausible job of capitalizing on that opportunity.
Of the two main antique appraisal scenes, Holmes' interaction with a would-be counterfeiter is easily the weaker effort. The deductions that Holmes makes do at least sound like they're grounded in actual facts, though to be fair I have next to zero relevant knowledge on the subject and wouldn't be able to tell the difference between painstaking research and convincing fiction. Either way, the problem is that this doesn't make for particularly engaging television unless you regularly watch Antiques Roadshow of your own free will. Most shows that specialize in an obscure subject or hobby tend to pick something that involves a bit of physical action, but this is just a smart guy talking to a morally bankrupt idiot. If you're not mentally equipped to follow along, there's not much to see.
Then we have the flashback to Aoi's first visit to the shop, which makes for a much better story. The difference here is that there are personal, emotional conflicts involved in this appraisal; between Aoi's reason for trying to sell the paintings and the anecdote about the artist's life, there's much more for the average viewer to engage with. Aoi's story is simple yet relatable, and Holmes' powers of observation provide a useful mechanism for the show to slowly reveal what's going on. At the same time, the artist's story is both interesting in its own right and nicely comparable to Aoi's own struggle. This is a good example of a storyline that draws out a character's motivations and then brings them naturally to a personal epiphany, and it's an encouraging sign for the show's ability to make its subject material interesting.
If future episodes are going to lean more towards the style of the second appraisal, then Holmes of Kyoto has some legitimate potential as a character drama. There's room for a compelling relationship between Aoi and Holmes, and using antiques as a conduit for character development is a novel concept. Of course, it's also possible that the plot will focus on the process of Holmes foiling evil counterfeiters with his quick wit, in which case I wouldn't be nearly as eager to see more. It's worth keeping an eye on this one to see where it goes, and one can only hope that there's a permanent place for that good character writing amongst all the antique trivia.
I'm always keen to see what kind of unexpected, niche stories come popping out of the woodworks every season, and Holmes of Kyoto ended up being a pleasant surprise. While I have little personal interest in the wonders of antique appraisal, Holmes in Kyoto succeeds in making potentially dry material engaging with a lush, colorful aesthetic and the undeniable chemistry shared between its two leads. The titular Holmes of the series, a young appraiser whose real name is Yagashira, possesses all of the real Sherlock Holmes' gift for deductive reasoning but retains much more social acumen. While it's clear this young man looks at the world from a very unique perspective, he isn't above gently teasing his new employee and cracking a joke every now and then. He's the kind of anime protagonist that manages to be preternaturally gifted while still having a personality, and that's always appreciated.
Aoi serves as the Watson to Yagashira's Holmes; she's relatively new in town, and she's eager to learn the finer details of how to go about appraising truly valuable antiques. The first “mystery” of the episode isn't all that great, since it just involves a scummy walk-in trying to pawn of a forgery that Yagashira immediately spots, but the second half of the episode picks up when we see how Aoi and Yagashira met. I especially liked how Aoi's reasons for trying to sell her late grandfather's collected artwork was, for a person her age, realistically petty and short-sighted. She wasn't trying to pay for a parent's lifesaving operation or anything; she just wanted to buy a train ticket to go tell of her ex-boyfriend and former best friend for breaking her heart.
Not only does this make Aoi a relatable perspective character for the audience to follow, but the way that Yagashira relates Aoi's story back to the artwork she tried to sell is genuinely touching. I'm not sure how much of the real-life Hakuen Ekaku was represented in Yagashira's explanation of the unique painting Aoi discovered, but it's the kind of myth that makes perfect sense within the context of this particular story.
Holmes of Kyoto is colorfully drawn and animated well-enough to remain visually engaging, even when the action of the entire episode consists of people just having conversations. The ending of the episode suggests that Aoi and Yagashira will go on to solve more mysteries, and my biggest hope is that future episodes will be a bit more involved, narratively speaking. A slice-of-life show about antique dealing would be well and good enough on its own, but if a show is going to promise Holmesian mysteries, I expect it to at least try to follow through with some engaging yarns.
Holmes of Kyoto is not a series that I'm going to end up watching, but I can definitely see where it could hold some appeal. After all, it features a whip-smart bishonen who can alternate between friendly and intense and dazzle with his knowledge about antiques and provides both dramatic and potential romantic underpinnings.
The key to making the first episode work is unquestionably Yagashira, who has earned the nickname Holmes partly because of his observational and deductive skills but also partly because of some Japanese-specific wordplay. I could also see him earning that nickname for another reason: Sherlock Holmes was also not known for being the most socially-aware of fellows, and there are a handful of scenes in this one where his nice act falls away to reveal such a dour and fierce intensity that he intimidates Aoi without perhaps intending to; that his joking comments about being a nasty boy late in the episode may not at all be a joke. That provides an angle of potential intrigue to the budding (and perhaps one-sided?) relationship between him and Aoi that I wasn't expecting. I also was impressed by how he worked the story about the painting into Aoi's situation. As a history buff by nature, the stories behind objects on display is fascinating to me, and it looks like we will see a healthy amount of exploration into that as the series progresses. That the business about the counterfeit item may be part of a bigger plot rather than a one-shot story also shows some potential.
That being said, the content is also a bit on the dry side. I'm sure the measured pacing is part of the feel that the series is going for, but it is going to have to be careful to avoid falling into doldrums. The warm, homey, dusty feel that the depiction of the antique shop is aiming for contributes to this, but it also has the potential to limit visual variety. While Yagashira cuts a handsome figure as the bishonen, Aoi has more of an ordinary appearance – perhaps deliberately so, since I suspect that the source novels were originally aimed at female audiences. It's also unclear from the first episode where the romantic aspect will actually develop or be just a tease, as Yagashira gives no sign yet that he might be interested in Aoi that way.
Still, I think this one will find an audience. Its first episode does just enough to encourage watching more.
I'm glad that this episode explained the whole “Holmes” thing, because previous to that I kept thinking of different detectives who were a better fit for Kiyotaka's personality – I ended up settling on Sir Peter Whimsey, which admittedly would make for a much clunkier title. Regardless, I can't help thinking that the title is perhaps designed to make this sound like a more interesting series than it will turn out to be, but that may be because I'm not really an antique hound, unless we're talking print materials or cars.
The plot of this episode is mostly concerned with introducing us to the characters and the presumptive overarching story about Holmes and Aoi going up against an antique counterfeiter. The two meet when Aoi is essentially trying to pawn off stolen goods so she can go back to Saitama to yell at her ex-boyfriend who almost immediately started dating her ex-best friend; Holmes calms her down, refuses to buy the antique wall hangings, and offers her a job at his family's antique shop. This could have been the moment when Aoi fell madly in love, but instead she seems to simply find Holmes to be a nice and interesting person, which is a good change from the norm. That's not to say that by the time the story hops ahead two weeks she isn't crushing on him, but it's clear that the relationship is going to take its time building in between working on tricky appraisals of potentially fake antiques. Right now they both seem mutually interested in a kind of vague way, so if you're looking for the romance plot, it looks like it will grow relatively organically.
The real question is how fascinating you find the set-up of the show itself. Obviously if you have an interest in Japanese antiquities, this is going to be a lot more fascinating than if you don't care about old tea bowls. There is definitely a bit of a thrill to seeing Holmes do his deductions, with his take down of the counterfeit peddler being a very good example, but I don't get the impression that this series will have much focus on action beyond his mental exercises. That could make this grow stale quickly if it's not your cup of tea.
I don't know enough about Japanese antiques to say this with any authority, but it does look as though a lot of effort has gone into rendering the antiques in the show with as much accuracy as possible, and even if that's not the case, they are quite beautiful. In comparison, the people are just okay, and the animation somewhat limited, with most scenes involving either stills of the antiques or people standing around talking. The character designs are fairly basic as well, barring Aoi's apparently perpetual blush – either she's wearing too much blusher or she needs to get to a doctor.
I'll likely give this one more episode to see where it's going, because this truly feels more like a preface than anything. The pace may prove too slow for my attention span, but if you're a fan of slice of life, it may be worth checking out.
In retrospect, some sort of combination of antiques and a Sherlock Holmes-esque character actually seems pretty inevitable. Holmes' style of deducing your life story through the most incidental of details aligns naturally with the subtle drama of antique appraisal, where small alterations in quality and materials can make for vast fortunes of value difference. Add in some sussed-up counterfeit drama and a dash of potential romance, and you end up with Holmes of Kyoto, a show that is already mining solid entertainment out of its natural premise.
This first episode mostly just builds up the relationship between the titular Holmes, whose real name is Yagashira Kiyotaka, and his new assistant Aoi Mashiro. Aoi takes the classic Watson role here, offering some small prompts for Yagashira and marveling at his deductions, but the two develop a rapport that actually feels pretty natural on both sides over the course of this episode. Additionally, while Yagashira's breakdown of Aoi's motives felt a little strained, both the mid-episode conflict regarding a counterfeit vase and the finale revealing Yagashira and Aoi's first meeting were neatly executed. It's clear that there's going to be some relatively high-stakes drama regarding some sort of Kyoto counterfeiting ring, but I was even more impressed by how Yagashira's story about the paintings of zen master Hakuen both reflected naturally on Aoi's situation and also succeeded as an engaging little vignette in its own right. If the show can continue to balance relationship building, mystery solving, and antique-related vignettes like this, it could turn out to be a satisfying production.
Holmes of Kyoto's visual execution is also relatively strong. There isn't all that much fluid animation, but a show like this frankly doesn't demand that - the drama comes from Yagashira's stories and deductions, not the beauty with which he flails his arms. Instead, Holmes of Kyoto mostly impresses through dynamic color work and generally pretty backgrounds, using a mix of altered photography and drawings to create a consistently soothing atmosphere within the antique store.
On the whole, Holmes of Kyoto offers a surprisingly natural mix of mystery, pawn shop drama, character drama, and slice of life atmosphere. Making natural use of its Sherlock Holmes gimmick and offering a satisfying narrative even within this first episode, it's a low-key but confident and engaging production. Holmes gets a thumbs up from me.
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