The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Beautiful Bones -Sakurako's Investigation-
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation ?
First Rampo Kitan, and now Beautiful Bones -Sakurako's Investigation-. Doesn't anybody know how to structure a real mystery these days?
Several reviews below have beaten me to the punch on discussing the weird story choices and tonal issues with this first episode, so I won't go into too much detail there. From its bland style of exposition to its not-so-plausible plot points to its weird-but-not-interesting characters, something might just bother you about this serendipitous anime twist on FOX's Bones (no really, it's the exact same premise with an anime coat of paint), and your own sticking point will probably be completely different from whatever bothered the last viewer. There's lots of disparate issues at play in this premiere, and they all add up to an experience that just doesn't feel polished enough on too many levels, ending before you can really form many concrete feelings about it. I wanted to like this show, but it just didn't have enough confidence in itself to convince me what the heck it wants to be yet.
For me, the biggest sticking point with Sakurako's Investigation is right in the title: Sakurako investigates, using her extraordinary anatomical knowledge to flabbergast other baffled detectives, but the audience isn't really invited into that process. Crime procedurals work best when the audience is given the opportunity to put the puzzle together alongside the show's cast. We don't get that "in" with Sakurako, who looks at two separate incidents and solves them both inside of five minutes before we're given any reason to be invested. However, just like with Rampo Kitan's first episode, I'm willing to put that expectation aside for the very first episode. After all, the show has to establish its recurring characters inside of 20 minutes, which is half the length that live-action dramas of this stripe get to build their case.
Unfortunately, this leads me right into the next big problem: these are pretty bland characters. Beautiful Bones adopts a stereotypical Sherlock-Watson dynamic right out of the gate without much variation on formula. Our Watson is a high school boy whose internal monologue consists entirely of "this little town is boring, but Sakurako is exciting!" and that is absolutely it. Sakurako herself has Sherlock's veneer of friendliness masking misanthropic tendencies down to a T, with her only distinguishing features being her female gender and almost perverse obsession with osteology. (These features are less distinctive when the obvious comparison to FOX's long-running Bones procedural inevitably come up.)
Fortunately, the strongest thing Beautiful Bones has going for it is also right in the title. It's an attractive production with a lovely aesthetic for drawing the viewer into its potentially gruesome world of homicide investigations. It's an easy show to watch, at least. I would even venture to say that it's one of the nicest-looking forensic mystery anime I've ever seen. Unfortunately, it needs more than those beautiful bones to hold my attention. Rampo Kitan lost me in the second episode when it refused to let me try and solve any mysteries, so I'll give Beautiful Bones the same benefit of the doubt. After another episode or two, if my brain can't get any exercise out of solving the case, and my heart can't get any exercise out of exploring complex characters with interesting lives, no amount of saturated colors or fluid animation can really salvage what remains. This is the biggest "maybe" of the season for me. Keep your expectations measured.
Beautiful Bones –Sakurako's Investigation- is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Sakurako is a somewhat childish, bone-obsessed twenty-something Sherlock who, for yet unknown reasons, cavorts around with a high school kid to dig up remains. Detective stories regularly employ the genius elder and strapping young sidekick dynamic, whether it's Ranpo Edogawa's stories or DC's Batman and Robin. These duos are usually male-male, and while that doesn't stop underlying homoerotic themes, I'm not sure I'm ready to sit through a season of a beautiful adult woman playfully seducing a teen boy. The boy, named Shotaro, explains in his monologue that his relationship with Sakurako is “obviously” not romantic, but the tension is obvious to anyone paying attention, even if the behavior is played off as one of Sakurako's quirks.
Much of the episode is made-up of Shotaro's unnecessary monologue explaining how weird the female detective is because she doesn't like people and loves dead things. We also get two explanations about how idyllic the town in Hokkaido is, where they both live, since time has evidently stopped there. This exposition is completely unnecessary as viewers learn everything they need to know about how bad Sakurako is at interpersonal relationships by her conversations with the detectives and her refusal to call Shotaro anything but “boy”.
The detective's personality is very obviously pulling from Arthur Conan Doyle's famous sleuther. Western media is rife with Sherlocks right now, on television (Sherlock, Elementary) and on the big screen (RDJ's Sherlock Holmes, and recently, Ian McKellen's Mr. Holmes) with Benedict Cumberbatch's incarnation crossing over to get a manga adaptation. Besides the genderswap, Sakurako's character will already feel familiar to fans of any of these works, down to the evidence processing scene when the camera zooms in on each clue quickly and she's able to adeptly figure out what it means to the shock of bumbling law enforcement.
Sakurako's Investigation seems to be repeating the same mystery writing mistakes that turned me off of Ranpo Kitan. Mysteries aren't fun for the audience if there's no opportunity to play along. Having a detective that gazes over two dead bodies and knows it's a murder from staring at their mouths, wristwatch, necktie, and a knot and then blurts out the answer isn't fun. In fact it comes off as a brag by the writer who has all the information immediately.
I'm a huge fan of crime procedural television and mysteries. I could stomach the show's uncomfortable relationship set-up if it was possible to tune it out in favor of a good crime-solving session, but there's nothing more boring than watching the main character know everything and explain it to you. I would give the show another episode or two to see if it can spin a more compelling mystery now that the “Sakurako's so weird!” dialogue is out of the way, otherwise this is another disappointment for me.
Shoutarou Tatewaki lives in, as he puts it “a city where time has ceased to exist.” Nothing happens in his bland home, and so to find his own kind of fulfillment, he hangs out with the strange woman Kujou Sakurako. Sakurako makes her living as an osteologist - she takes old animal bones and reconstructs their full skeletons. Sakurako loves this work because she loves bones - like, really, really loves bones. She loves holding them, loves kissing them, loves listening to the secrets they apparently hold. But when her and Shoutarou get together, they somehow always find themselves running into bones of the human variety. And so, when digging up old relics on the shore, Sakurako and Shoutarou end up stumbling across an old human skull - along with an apparent double suicide that might hold secrets of its own.
Sakurako's Investigation is definitely working very hard to make a strong impression. It's clear in the execution of this first episode, from the sound to the visuals to the overwrought script. This episode opens with Shoutarou waxing poetically about the doldrums of his daily life, and an unfortunate tendency to over-narrate follows this episode to around the halfway point. On top of that running monologue, Sakurako layers some overbearing visual filters and almost oppressively urgent orchestral music, with essentially every aesthetic nob getting turned up to eleven for the first meeting of Sakurako and Shoutarou.
Fortunately, once the show has fully introduced itself, it calms down enough to demonstrate some strong character chemistry and solid structural hooks. The relationship between Sakurako and Shoutarou initially comes off as heavily weighted in Sakurako's favor, but as the episode continues, we see that Shoutarou is almost her babysitter on their bone-finding expeditions. Like in many classic detective stories, Sakurako is the brilliant but impersonal eccentric, gifted in reading truth from bones but requiring an interpreter to interact with other human beings. And Sakurako's Investigation definitely is a mystery, at least in this first episode - there's the initial setup of the double suicide, the confrontation with a bumbling detective currently on the case, the dip into “detective vision” for Sakurako's titular investigation (here represented by a very silly-looking “bone dimension” Sakurako apparently visits while thinking particularly hard), and a final reveal complete with explanations for how Sakurako arrived at her findings.
Overall, this episode felt like it was trying a bit too hard to sell something that really doesn't need to be embellished. A classic series of tiny mysteries starring leads with solid chemistry is a fine thing to be, and stylistic flourishes like the overwrought internal monologues and oversaturated color filters only obscure that. Hopefully those issues will fade as the series continues, because there's certainly plenty here worth sticking around for.
Review: Most great detectives in literature are eccentrics to one degree or another, and boy, Sakurako Kujo is certainly one of them. Although we later learn that she is the niece of a retired forensics expert, we learn up front that she has a fascination – really, an obsession, even – with bones, to the point that her hobby/profession is assembling animal skeletons for display. She particularly treasures human bones, which she finds beautiful, but she laments that, unlike human bones, you cannot normally just find them laying around. That's why she goes all squiggly when her assistant Shoutarou digs up a human skull during a trip to a beach to look for animal bones, and why she is almost childishly insistent on keeping it, especially since, as she explains in detail to both Shoutarou and a policeman he calls, the crime suggested by the damage on the skull would have happened over a century ago. She later horns her way into an investigation of an apparent double-suicide nearby and is able to explain why it was more likely a murder designed to look like a double-suicide instead.
Whether this kind of stuff is a sidelight to the main thrust of the story or the actual main story is unclear at this point. What is certain, though, is that this is a new variation on the “straight-laced young person paired with eccentric older person” pattern which pops up from time to time in anime. In this case Sakurako, who based on appearances is probably in her early-to-mid-20s, is the immature adult who occasionally has to be reeled by in the more mature and sensible teenager Shoutarou. In fact, he's the kind of guy who will see to it that a dead cat along the side of the road is properly buried, though the camera also makes it obvious, from the way he looks over Sakurako and one female classmate, that he is certainly not above checking out pretty girls, either. Somehow he has been hooked up with Sakurako, the daughter of a prominent local family, for a few months now. How this could have happened is not even hinted at in the first episode but hopefully will be detailed in a future flashback, as the pairing seems unlikely enough that there are sure to be some curious circumstances involved. (Well, that and Shoutarou's off-hand comment that excursions with Sakurako always result in human remains turning up.) In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that is what the next few episodes are about, as this episode has all of the feel of a “get the audience's attention with the meat of the story/relationship” kind of attitude.
So far the set-up works. The story is told squarely from Shoutarou's perspective, so his frustration about not exactly being either a romantic partner or a friend to Sakurako is evident, as is his attraction to her – and his interactions with her give the sense that he isn't just fascinated with her looks, though that is clearly part of it. Conversely, we don't get much sense yet of what Sakurako thinks of him, though she seems to regard him as a child. (Perhaps she subconsciously does that because there is no risk of a romantic entanglement that way?) Whatever the case, a comfortable dynamic is already evident between them, the kind that doesn't feel forced and can drive an entire series. Her interest in bones in particular and forensics in general also opens up all kinds of storytelling possibilities on mystery and dramatic fronts. The production effort by studio TROYCA (Aldnoah.Zero) also contributes to a positive impression, as it is high-grade to the point of even being beautiful in places. (But was anyone else struck by how Sakurako, except for bust size, is practically a dead ringer for Paif from The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye?)
While this is not edge-of-your-seat material, the first episode shows plenty enough potential to be well worth checking out more. Too bad a decision was made not to keep the much cooler original name: A Corpse Is Buried under Sakurako's Feet.
Welcome, viewers, to Bones the anime. Based on a series of light novels Beautiful Bones – Sakurako's Investigation follows hapless high schooler Tatewaki Shoutarou as he goes along with the gorgeous but ghoulish Sakurako, an osteologist who has a very unhealthy fascination with bones. It would be one thing if she simply enjoyed putting animal skeletons together or if that was what she explicitly did for a living (it's more implied that she doesn't actually have to work), but she loves bones like a child with her favorite toys, and treats them like her own personal Lego sets. A large part of this introductory episode is focused on the fact that she can't understand why a human skull, of a murder victim, no less, isn't hers for the taking and must be given to the authorities. To call her annoying would be putting it mildly.
The premise of the series seems simple: Shoutarou met Sakurako because of Reasons and now he goes with her on bone-collecting trips, where apparently he digs and she stands around and comments on his finds. While it is clear that there is much more backstory here than we currently know, the show seems oddly unwilling to go into it while merrily telling us that Sakurako has a policeman fiancé, something which really ought to have come up in more than just passing in this episode as Sakurako ends up at a police station for at least half of it. There's a definite feeling that this will be a “mystery of the week” format, with Sakurako and Shoutarou stumbling across human remains and Sakurako unraveling the mysteries of their deaths. She does that twice this week, once for the aforementioned skull and more pertinently for a couple who apparently committed “shinju,” a particular form of double-suicide where lovers bind themselves together. (Shinju can refer to any group suicide; it's just with lovers that it adds the tying aspect.) While the crime itself is not solved (clearly not Sakurako's interest), she does point the detectives in the proper direction, pointing out inconsistencies that point to murder.
As a mystery fan, this isn't all that satisfying. I want to know whodunit not just how they dun it. Ending the episode without revealing who killed either Skull Woman or Shinju Pair was not a pleasant surprise, and Sakurako's bratty character did not help my dissatisfaction. I can see that there is potential here, and I do appreciate the beautiful sakura imagery and the realistically drawn skeletons (although the CG pastel skeletons ambling around Sakurako was a bit much), but in the end for me it doesn't matter how pretty this is if it doesn't actually solve any of the mysteries fully.
Granted, this is only the first episode. It may be that things change from here on out, that the mystery fiancé comes in and Sakurako really does become more of an anime version of Dr. Brennan from Bones, using her knowledge to help solve cases more fully. But as a single episode, this was not enough to make me want to come back for more, and I wasn't enamored of the info-dump style of narration that provided those seemingly useless details like the fiancé of the sleepy nature of the town the characters live in, which must have been mentioned three times in the first seven minutes. Simply put, this is a clumsy debut for a story that has potential, and while I'd be interested in reading the books, I'm not sure that this anime is going to fulfill my mystery needs.
Rating: 2.5? I guess?
Shoutarou is an average high school kid living in a sleepy seaside town where not much happens, so it's a good thing he's become friends with Sakurako, a beautiful and highly intelligent osteologist who just loves bones. Much moreso than she loves people, in fact – Sakurako connects deeply with the skeletons of the past, to the point where she has an automatic CSI-type ability to determine all sorts of things about a person based just on the condition of their bones. You may have heard of an American TV show with basically this same premise.
Beautiful Bones –Sakurako's Investigation- lost me pretty early on, when she and Shoutarou go to the beach to dig up bones (is this a thing people do? Do bones naturally collect on the beach?) and Sakurako finds a human skull. Shoutarou calls the cops, who decide they have to take them both down to the station because they found human remains. On the way the patrol officer casually tells them that his comrades are working on another investigation, a double suicide – two people washed up on the shore (do cops routinely share the details of other investigations with people they picked up like this?). They drive past the crime scene and Sakurako says “stop the car!” which the policeman does (???) and she gets out, storms up to the coroner and says “SHOW ME THOSE BODIES!” and he does (????!!!!!????) and then she goes about using her magic CSI ability to determine that of course this isn't a suicide, it's a homicide disguised as a suicide. There's a crusty old local detective who wants to know just where this young'un gets off solving his cases for him, but by all accounts the police take this random stranger wandering up to their crime scene completely seriously and take her deductions under advisement, which I'm pretty sure has not and will never happen, in spite of the fantasies of people who watch too many crime procedurals.
Beautiful Bones –Sakurako's Investigation- is a pretty good-looking show with really gorgeous background art, some careful character animation and a whole lot of fuzzy bloom lighting, but there are dozens of “quirky untraditional detective” shows out there and most of them don't ask you to swallow the premise that the cops would let a total stranger suddenly start tampering with an active crime scene. Sakurako lets us know that her fiancee is a policeman, but he doesn't appear to be involved in any of this, and as far as I know, the cops won't let another cop's girlfriend show up and start solvin' crimes. If they'd have established that Sakurako had worked with the cops before, or they knew her as a local investigative genius who helped out from time to time, or knew her credentials ahead of time and had worked with her, or something, anything to make that crime scene encounter more believable, maybe I'd have been cool with this. Normally I'd have just handwaved it, but the entire episode centered around this stuff, so it's impossible to ignore. Procedural crime shows are already not my thing, and this one went into the “nope!” pile immediately when they asked me to suspend my disbelief about something as simple as that. This is based on a series of light novels so maybe there's a ton of backstory or some missing information from the source that helps this make sense, but for now it just seems like a badly-written, morbid detective drama that has chosen to completely ignore the way real police go about their business. For me, it's a skip.
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