I don't write much about manga:although I know it's a useful supplement for learning the kanji, I don't read it very much; and since there are a lot of blogs out there on the subject, I don't think I have much to add. I did write about one of the 金田一少年 (Young Kindaichi) manga last year. That one, The Vampire Legend Murder Case, like all those I had read, was from the more recent series, by AMAGI Seimaru (天樹征丸). In the early years the main series was written by KANARI Youzaburou (金成陽三郎). Some people are not big fans of Kanari (here for instance are the blogger TomCat's reviews of several of the translations); but the main reason I had read nothing by him is that in the original, the stories are published so that most start in one volume and end in another. That means that if you want to read every story you pay for, you have to buy a set of three or more volumes between the points where the break between stories and the break between volumes coincide. I didn't care to spend that much money on a writer I might not enjoy, but in Japan recently I picked up a short stretch of three volumes second hand, Volumes 16 to 18 of the series, containing File 12, 蠟人形城殺人事件 (Rouningyoujou satsujinjiken, The Waxworks Castle Murder Case, 1996) and 13, 怪盗紳士の殺人 (Kaitou shinshi no satsujin, Mysterious Thief The Gentleman's Murder, 1996). Both of these have an English translation (with one story per volume, unlike the Japanese), the first as The House of Wax (2006), the second as The Gentleman Thief (2006), both translated by Matt Varovsky. The publishers have changed the file numbers, so that they now number 13 to 14 rather than 12 to 13.
In The Waxworks Castle Murder Case, Kindaichi and his rival Superintendent AKECHI are invited to a mystery solving competition along with other leading crime experts at a lonely castle. The whole castle had been transferred from Germany, intended as the centre of a tourist attraction. That had failed and now the castle stands alone in the mountains. The castle has the nickname "wax figure castle", because it is peopled by life sized waxworks. Among those, they find a line of figures perfectly reproducing all the guests at the mystery solving competition, including Kindaichi, Miyuki and Akechi. The setup of the story is very nicely done. We have a play murder puzzle in which the competitors find one of their number apparently stabbed in the back, but then realise that it is only the wax model that has been stabbed and this 'murder' is their first mystery. Then, when this is solved, they wonder where the real person whose waxwork had been killed is. This is the start of a series of murders in which the murder is announced by the 'murder' of the victim's waxwork figure. Trapped in the castle and unable to contact the outside world, the detectives must solve the case before they become the victims.
The trick in this one is not new, but it's a neat variation, very well prepared. In general Kanazari makes very good use in various ways of the atmospheric, window dressing elements, both to deceive us and to keep us interested as the story is unfolding.
Mysterious Thief The Gentleman's Murder is a much weaker work. Inspector KENMOCHI has called in Kindaichi to help him catch a master thief, who goes by the name "The Gentleman" and always sends a calling card announcing the coming theft of a work of art. The Gentleman also always "steals" the subject of the painting, by changing it in some way. Japan really likes mysterious thieves; and this sounds like a promising opening, with the prospect of a double mystery, theft and murder, connected in some way, or unconnected. Somehow it doesn't come out as interesting as one might hope. The solution to the murder mystery involves a variation on a very standard trick (with perhaps one small interesting innovation, which I'd have liked to see used in a better story).
There are certain elements common to almost all Young Kindaichi mysteries: a closed circle of suspects in an isolated setting; a chapter at the end which explains the motive of the murderer. This can be a little tedious. I remember as a child feeling a bit impatient when I read the ends of the Sherlock Holmes books with the same structure (A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear?). We know who did it now, who cares about the backstory? The Waxworks Castle Murder Case at least provided a new plot idea.
I've read five of the mysteries written by Amagi, and only once (that I noticed) was there a clue which was only in the artwork, not in the text. By contrast, both the mysteries here had clues which were in the pictures and not in the text, although in each case there was something in the text to draw your attention to the fact that there was a clue to be found. The art is by さとう ふみや (SATOU Fumiya), as in the later series. The characters are much the same, but there seem to be subtle changes. Kindaichi's face often looks plumper than in the revived series, and the area of Miyuki's chin and lower jaw is larger. The latter change seems to be part of some more general change in taste in what kind of female faces are judged attractive, even though the volumes here were published only eight years before the start of the new series.