Holmes of Kyoto
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Holmes of Kyoto ?
How many parties can one anime hold? By my count, this week's episode marks the fourth large gala that Kiyotaka and Aoi have attended, in yet another glorious mansion replete with its own ballroom. It's like they're members of the ton in a Regency romance, but with less witty banter. It's definitely possible that all of this is simply to create an atmosphere of Refined Kyoto Life, which would tie in nicely with Kiyotaka's character; as Aoi said last week, he's always perfectly formal with her and most others, only lapsing into casual speech when his emotions are heightened, a state which multiple formal cultures describe as unrefined. It all combines to form a picture of high society, and the sort of wealth that allows for one to become a collector of precious antiquities.
Since this is clearly not something that Aoi would have experienced before, she seems to be getting accustomed to the whole thing a bit too rapidly. That's symptomatic of the awkward pacing that the series seems to have settled into – mysteries float by, solved with Kiyotaka's stunning skill, Aoi and Kiyotaka dance around each other emotionally, and side characters sort of wander in and inject some comic relief with varying degrees of success. Oh, and then there's Ensho, the most sparingly used villain in recent memory. Ensho does pop back up this week in order to test Kiyotaka once again, and interestingly enough he seems to nearly beat him this time…but no. It turns out to be the same old song and dance that they've gone through before, with Kiyotaka seeing through Ensho's forgeries and Ensho vanishing into the night like the counterfeiting ninja monk he is.
It's an interesting approach to telling a story if you step back, because while each episode appears to run in pretty much the same manner as the one before it, the relationship between Kiyotaka and Aoi is slowly building. Previously she never would have had the courage to ask to see his (ridiculously opulent) bedroom, and he wouldn't have quietly let on that he understands what she really means by her wish to be able to drink black coffee. He's become gentler with her, and she's grown more sure of herself around him. That Holmes of Kyoto is able to show this in a subtle, almost cautious way, mirroring their feelings for each other and their own insecurities, does feel like a triumph of understated storytelling.
The issue, then, is that it keeps getting gummed up with the pretense that this is something of a mystery show. It could easily glide by as a light romance with an antiques-appraising theme, because the characters are good together and the art analysis is interesting. The show's own artwork also does a good job of reproducing the artworks in question; I may not be an expert on Japanese art, but my artist sister is a major fan of Alphonse Mucha, and the depiction of his lithographs in this episode is not only faithful but beautiful. This, along with the slow build of the romance plot, indicate that the series really didn't need the Sherlock Holmes conceit to sell its story, and I daresay it might have been a better show without it.
That said, this week is more about Kiyotaka's observation skills than any actual mystery, which feels a bit less contrived. The issue is more that it doesn't really settle on any one plot point and develop it enough to make this particularly interesting. We have yet another party, Aoi and Kiyotaka take a few more tentative steps towards each other, Ensho shows up and is enigmatically malicious, and a few jokes are cracked at Akihito's expense. It feels textbook and frankly a little bit boring, and all of the Agatha Christie-style party puzzles and walking tours of Kyoto can't save it.
Holmes of Kyoto is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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