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December 27, 2021
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By Jeannette Ng.

Now also an anime, as the title aptly implies, Holmes of Kyoto by Mai Mochizuki began a light novel series about a pair of amateur sleuths set in the city of Kyoto.

The titular Holmes though, is keen to remind every acquaintance who cares to listen that his nickname is not a reference to the famous deerstalker-wearing pipe-chewing sleuth of deductive reasoning fame, but just a play on his surname, Yagashira, written with the characters for “house” and “head”. His protests, however, are not particularly convincing as he effortlessly observes and deduces his way into secrets and schemes, as people with very particular problems repeatedly show up at his antique store to ask his help.

Aoi serves as this incarnation’s Watson, with an eye for beauty that Holmes wants to nurture in his capacity as an appraiser of antiques. She is new to Kyoto and they meet when she attempts to sell off some heirloom paintings and tells her a story of their origin that causes her to change her mind about being rid of them. From there their relationship deepens as they work and investigate together through a series of almost-sort-of-not-quite dates.

Holmes of Kyoto reminds me most of the Book Girl series by Mizuki Nomura, with each antique and its slice of history, each acquaintance and their various mysteries, each misadventure, all intimately intertwined with the lives of the two investigators and revealing just a little bit more of them. There is something cozy and kind about these mysteries, the human heart they uncover is not one of seething, tortured darkness and barely concealed villainy, but something hopeful, even if often misunderstood.

From heart-shaped “happiness straps” on Eizan railway’s train cars to the Aoi festival, Kyoto shines as not just the setting, but the heart of each story, as scraps of folklore and history are threaded throughout. Holmes’ encyclopaedic knowledge often comes into play as he meticulously explains it all to the keen Aoi. The scenes and chapters are brisk in pace, but it frequently pauses for at least a glance at history. The effect is like being dragged through a museum or a temple by an exuberant enthusiast and that affection is deeply infectious. The series reads as a love letter to one of the most storied cities of Japan.

Jeannette Ng is the author of Under the Pendulum Sun. Holmes of Kyoto is published by J-Novel Club.

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