Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 17th 2011
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
The students at St. Marguerite's Academy in the tiny European nation of Sauville love scary stories and urban legends. So much so that it's a little unhealthy. Kazuya Kujo learns this the hard way when the entire student body takes to calling him the "Dark Reaper" and enthusiastically spreading rumors about his evil supernatural influence because of his black hair and eyes (Sauvillians have apparently never seen an Asian). In an attempt to understand their horror-mania, he visits the library to read up on local legends. Weirdly there is a greenhouse at the very top of the library, itself fashioned from a medieval tower. In the greenhouse is a golden-haired girl named Victorique. Victorique takes an interest in the good-natured Japanese exchange student, and before too long they're using her uncanny deductive prowess to crack all manner of heinous crimes. Which naturally does nothing to improve Kazuya's reputation.
Anime is rife with outré mash-ups of divergent genres and plot elements, but seriously, Sherlock Holmes and Gothic Lolita? In what fever-dream was that idea born? Actually the idea works better than you might think, if only because the series knows what any good Holmes fan knows: the heart of the story isn't its crime or even its mystery; it's Holmes and Watson. That holds true even if your Holmes is a little girl and your Watson a long-suffering Japanese teen.
Unlike a good many detective/sidekick combinations, Victorique and Kazuya genuinely work well together. There's the obvious utility of their relationship—Kazuya provides a convenient dupe to whom everything must be explained, as well as the muscle to match Victorique's brains—but it also has less obvious benefits. Kazuya's naturally tolerant nature allows Victorique to act out as much as she wants, revealing the proud and occasionally insecure girl beneath her formidable intellect. Victorique's investigations test Kazuya's mettle, uncovering his indomitable courage and almost indestructible loyalty. Together they don't just make a formidable detective unit, they make a tight and sympathetic duo. A duo thankfully free of any ungainly romantic baggage...for now. If the show did nothing else right, it would still be worth watching just to see their personalities mesh and their friendship strengthen (and maybe to see them bicker in that cuddly cute way of theirs).
This is good, because the series doesn't bring its A-game to much of anything else. Gosick is nominally a mystery series, but you wouldn't know it from the mysteries. They tend to be pretty transparent, and even if they weren't Victorique solves most of them so quickly that it leaves you very little time to appreciate them, much less work through them yourself. Those that do get their due tend to be spoiled by creaky sleuthing tropes anyway, dusting off musty mystery oldies like the locked-room murder, phantom thieves, and the Ten Little Indians dinner party o' death. As for the plotting itself, the first arc plays out smoothly if predictably enough, but the second is a hodgepodge of three mysteries, a lumpy and graceless thing that hardly bothers to connect its disparate crimes and even has the gall to leave one of them, the best one no less, only partly resolved. One can hope that the dangling loose ends are intentional—something to be woven into a larger plot at a later date. And there is precedent for that in the first arc, which uses a murderer's unexplained motive as a springboard to a nasty bit of business aboard a doomed ocean liner. For now, though, it simply comes across as sloppy.
Suspect plotting and a lack of criminological creativity don't stop the series from getting pretty intense once it gets a head of steam going. At its best, mainly during the business on the ocean liner but also at the denouement of the phantom thief mystery, the show wields a credibly dangerous mixture of gothic superstition, queasy-making criminal unpleasantness, and very real violence. That it wields it against as likeable a duo as Kazuya and Victorique makes it all the more potent. Unfortunately the series is only rarely at its best.
Whatever else it is, Gosick is an unfailing treat for the eyes. Gorgeous alpine vistas and bright forests frame St. Marguerite's elaborate Victorian architecture. Dark atmosphere shrouds the series' uglier turns, just as humorous cuteness marks its playful ones. The library where Victorique spends most of her time is a maze of spiral stairs and crisscrossing walkways stretching through the empty space of a medieval tower topped by a luminous botanical garden lush with tropical plants. Ill-structured story arcs are a lot easier to ignore when your eyes are busy feasting on the art.
And it isn't just the show's weaknesses that benefit; pretty much anything that works in Gosick works in part because of its visuals. Victorique's charm is very much tied up in her adorable habits: rolling on the floor in boredom, laughing her sarcastic monotone laugh, chomping down on her adorable little ceramic pipe as she spins her improbable webs of logic—all of it animated with amusing care. Our impression of Kazuya's inner strength comes as much from his perfect form when throwing a life-or-death punch as from anything the script tells us. And the danger the two are put in is made real by the believable nastiness of the violence and the even nastier things that register on their opponents' faces.
Kotaro Nakagawa's typically excellent score helps too. It handles action, creeping horror, incremental tension, and even light humor with pretty much equal skill. It knows how to go over-the-top, and frequently does, with occasionally beautiful results, but also knows how to fade into the background for invisible support. Just as importantly, it shuts up when it needs to, letting dialogue or birds or restless ship's noises take over when appropriate.
Gosick isn't a great mystery series, or for that matter a great series period. If you like to flex your sleuthing muscles, Case Closed or even Spiral are better options. Gosick is better enjoyed for its pretty pictures and twin leads. The series would do well to realize that itself, and move away from classical mystery homages to focus more on its central duo. Which is exactly what it seems poised to do in the last of these episodes. If Kazuya and Victorique's visit to the village of the Gray Wolves successfully combines the series' periodic potency and established aptitude for winning character byplay with a genuinely meaty story, and perhaps even an original mystery or two, the result could be estimable indeed.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Complementary leads; amusing character dynamics; can hit hard when it winds up right; feeds your eyes enough candy to make them diabetic.
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