Holmes of Kyoto – Episode 1

By: Dee July 11, 20180 Comments
A young man (Holmes) wearing a work uniform and gloves holds up an antique tea bowl, smiling faintly.

What’s it about? High schooler Aoi works part-time at an antiques shop in Kyoto, observing and learning from the young shopkeeper nicknamed “Holmes” who has a keen eye for people and artwork alike.


Holmes of Kyoto is a difficult premiere to pin down. Based on a series of mystery novels, it has the laid-back tone of an iyashikei (soothing) series, the soft-touch aesthetic of a slow-burn romance, and the content of Antiques Roadshow. Full marks for originality, I s’pose?

A wide, canted angle of an antiques shop, lit in soothing sunset hues. A young man (Holmes) sits on a sofa studying a wall scroll. An elderly couple sits across from him. In the background is a teen girl (Aoi) in a school uniform.
10/10 cozy room composition, would take nap on fancy old sofa.

While there are hints that Holmes may feature more high-stakes plotting in future weeks (thanks to a gang of Evil Counterfeiters), this first episode is mostly prologue. It shifts between the story of how Aoi and Holmes met and the story of Holmes rejecting a counterfeit tea bowl, but the narrative does a good job of clarifying when you’re switching from one to the other.

Along the way, we’re treated to lots of pretty shots of Kyoto and the comfy antiques shop. The best point in Holmes’ favor is that it’s visually quite appealing, making up for a relative lack of animation (or action in general) with a clever camera and some nice stylistic shifts when Holmes goes into storytelling mode.

The interactions between the characters are broken up with lessons about pottery and painters. I’m interested in Japanese art history, so I enjoyed the mini-lectures. That said, when it comes to addressing its historical subject matter, the series lacks the sparkly-eyed enthusiasm of a Kabukibu or the masterful weaving of art with character study a la Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, so I suspect it will be a hard sell for folks who don’t already have at least a passing interest in the topic.

An image of an inkbrush painting of what looks like an old man with a beard. Subtitles read: "A zenga painting from Hakuin Ekaku."
If your reaction to this isn’t “Golly, I can’t wait to find out about zenga and Hakuin Ekaku!” go ahead and just close this review now. Holmes is not for you.

The other element of Holmes that makes it a hard sell is the dynamic between its two protagonists. They both start off pleasant enough if not a bit bland, currently serving more as vehicles for the author to geek out over art history than as proper characters. There’s enough here to give them room to grow, though, which is good, because right now Aoi is not cutting it as a satisfying female lead.

While we’re told Holmes is interested in Aoi because she has a “discerning eye” for antiques, suggesting she could become a sleuth in her own right, here her character revolves almost entirely around her (romantic) relationships with men. She and Holmes met because she was trying to sell her grandpa’s priceless paintings so she could buy a train ticket back to her old city and yell at her ex-boyfriend (he broke up with her and then immediately hooked up with her best friend); and in the present day she’s pretty clearly crushing on Holmes himself.

A close-up of a blushing teen girl (Aoi), looking at someone off-screen. Subtitles read "To those who love art, it's blasphemy."
Listen girl, I get it. Talent-lust is how all my crushes develop, too.

It’s not a great start for a female lead, especially when Holmes keeps making comments about how he’s actually “wicked” and “nasty” and sure seems to be flirting with her by episode’s end. The romantic undertones are unlikely to go anywhere serious, but they are very much present.

Which, I mean, wouldn’t be an issue if the power gap between the two weren’t so significant—he’s not only her boss and mentor, but also a grad student in college, while she’s only in her second year of high school. It’s real yikes, and comes out of nowhere at the tail end of the episode, coloring my opinion of this premiere in a much more negative hue than expected.

Also, his grandpa is a total creeper.

The Owner holds Aoi's hands. She looks freaked out. Behind them, Holmes glares and says "Owner, please stop hitting on the part-timer."
RUN, AOI, RUN.

All that said, I’m still on the fence about Holmes of Kyoto because I genuinely can’t tell what kind of a show it wants to be. If Aoi’s crush turns out to be one-sided, that would help things immensely. If the series balances its Antiques Lectures with character development and defines Aoi by more than just her romances, then this could be a relaxing little piece of edutainment. Or it could switch gears and plunge into the Evil Counterfeiting story, turning into a tenser, fast-paced mystery series.

Should you watch Holmes of Kyoto? If “Japanese art history lessons with a touch of age-gap romance” sounds like your jam, then sure, go for it. Otherwise, er, maybe wait and see what we have to say in our three-episode check-in review.

Holmes looks back over his shoulder, setting a finger to his lips and winking. Sparkles and bubbles burst around him. He says "Us Kyoto boys...are awful nasty."
…No but seriously, Aoi. RUN.

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