Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
With his one red eye, Yakumo Saito can see the spirits of the dead, so when her friends appear to be suffering from ghostly troubles after a visit to a haunted building college student Haruka Ozawa seeks the reclusive young man out to ask for his help. Yakumo grudgingly agrees, and before long, he and Haruka find themselves helping not just students on campus, but also police detective Goto as they investigate other instances of the unhappy dead while searching for answers about Yakumo's elusive parents.
Psychic Detective Yakumo is a member of the now-ubiquitous “based on a light novel” club, and it shows...but not in a bad way. While it does suffer from some of the issues of its breed, such as not enough time to give us all of the needed information and character development and an inconclusive ending, Psychic Detective Yakumo also manages to carry subplots through connecting episodes with an impressive smoothness and to maintain an even pace throughout, giving us a real sense of what the novels might be like rather than feeling like a rushed adaptation.
Given the organization of the episode titles, one can assume that the anime covers three of Manabu Kaminaga's original novels – the first three episodes have stand-alone titles, while the next six are all “Connecting” and the final four all involve “Despair.” As might be supposed, all similarly titled episodes follow arcs that are relatively self-contained, although there is an overarching plot about Yakumo's parents that flows through all thirteen episodes. Even if this is not the case with the adaptation, it gives the overall show a coherency that it might otherwise like, damning it to the realm of the overly episodic. That it is not a mystery of the week show is perhaps its greatest achievement.
The story revolves around a small group of crime-solving characters helmed by the eponymous Yakumo and Haruka Ozawa, a fellow student at Meisei University. Haruka first seeks Yakumo out when a night of sneaking into the inevitable haunted old school building has dire consequences, and despite the fact that Yakumo has the social skills of a radish and continually calls her stupid, Haruka sticks around long after her initial case is solved. Although she never says it, we are given to believe that she sees Yakumo as someone needing her help and compassion, a belief shored up by Yakumo's uncle Isshin as the story goes on. Yakumo is emotionally crippled by some mother issues combined with the fact that he has one red, slit-pupiled eye, which he normally hides with a colored contact lens. While it is easy to see where his emotional baggage comes from, his constant put-downs of Haruka are hard to take, particularly since as the show goes on it is evident that she is not, in fact, stupid; she is simply in over her head with the supernatural events she finds herself caught up in.
For all that it does right in terms of carrying plot threads through to the end, Psychic Detective Yakumo does stumble in some other areas. For every moment of real, heart-string-tugging emotion there are two of an almost unbearable sappiness, mostly when Uncle Isshin is talking. (Episode six is a particularly bad offender on this front.) Background music only becomes remarkable when it is off the mark, which happens too often for it not to be mentioned – there are moments when the music is so discordant with the events on the screen that it is almost impossible not to check to see if someone is playing something in the other room. That said, however, the show certainly does know when to make use of silence instead of song – one just wishes that they did that more often. Animation is uniformly stiff when characters are walking, although one, whom we will refer to as Psycho 80s Woman so as not to spoil an important plot point, moves with a nice fluidity when she is jumping and whirling. Director Tomoyuki Kurokawa seems particularly taken with sideways shots, especially as the series nears its end, which is more bizarre than disorienting.
Since this is a murder mystery with supernatural elements, it is worth mentioning that all of the basic forms of anime death (in a non historical or fantasy context) are present: getting hit by a truck, mysterious wasting illnesses, and murder both gruesome and fetishized. There are a few surprises along the way to keep things interesting, and not having the ghosts speak aloud to anyone helps to give the show an edge over others in its genre, if only because it's unusual. There's some confusion about why some ghosts are visible to everyone or to Haruka as well as Yakumo, but some of the other details – using a child's drawings to show a murder and a haunting English-language rendition of “London Bridge” are both very effective at creating an atmosphere that might otherwise have been absent.
Psychic Detective Yakumo isn't in the top tier of murder mystery shows, but neither is it in the bottom. Stiff animation and women stuck in the 1980s in terms of clothing aside, it looks decent and a few standout voices – Ryoka Yuzuki is fascinating as Psycho 80s Woman and Ami Koshimizu gets impressive range out of her mostly mute character – help to bring this up in the rankings, as does the way plot threads are carried over the episodes, culminating in some real answers for episode thirteen. Of course there are still plenty of loose ends, but overall the show is an enjoyable, if not electrifying, experience.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B
Animation : C-
Art : B-
Music : C-
+ Carries plot threads through all the episodes, keeping it from being a murder-of-the-week show. Ami Koshimizu and Ryoka Yuzuki do great work with their characters (particularly at the end), doesn't feel too inconclusive.
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