The Summer 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace
How would you rate episode 1 of
Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace ?
Both based on and commemorating the works of influential Japanese mystery author Ranpo Edogawa, Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace's first episode is set up to entice mystery buffs. Not only does it bring us the latest incarnation of Edogawa's famous boy detective Akechi (well voiced by Takahiro Sakurai), but it also presents a mystery plot that has some good twists and turns against a visually interesting background. The episode introduces us to middle school student Kobayashi, who wakes up at school holding a saw and discovers his teacher murdered and sitting in a very deliberate pose. Strangely sanguine about the whole thing, Kobayashi is unruffled by the fact that he's a suspect in the crime, and later we find out that this sweet-faced child is bored with his life and yearns for something different. To this end he hunts down Akechi, a seventeen-year-old super detective, and asks to become his assistant. Akechi says he can...if he can solve the murder for which he is the main suspect. As the cuffs are being snapped on his wrists, Kobayashi agrees with a smile.
So clearly there is something off about Kobayashi, and while I am not certain whether he will be continuing in the series past this first case, I will not be surprised if he turns out to have been the killer all along. His reactions are continually blasé in contrast to how the others around him act, and he sees people as gray shadows until they become important to him or his story. At first this can be written off as an artistic affectation, but the truth of it can be seen when he meets his new homeroom teacher – when she touches him, her hands become “real” while the rest of her remains gray until he looks up, indicating that he can clearly see the gray. This is yet another foreboding sign, especially since his parents remain gray shapes when they come to pick him up at the police station.
There is an interestingly limited color palette used for this episode, with the only bright spots being people's eyes and a yellow butterfly, which looks as if it is made out of stained glass against the darker shades of the rest of the episode. We see the butterfly when looking through Kobayashi's eyes, so it isn't certain that anyone else can see it; it is worth wondering if Akechi can as well. There isn't a lot of action here – the killing is done before the episode starts – but this isn't so much about the murder as the mystery. The only really sour note for me was the background music, which was a little too “Matlock” in its goofiness.
Obviously I am the kind of mystery buff this show is aiming for; if you don't like mysteries, this probably will be less enjoyable. Otherwise this episode set up some interesting problems within its characters while it made use of good, subdued visuals. We barely have any clues so far, but it looks promising.
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
Thirteen year old Kobayashi finds nothing interesting in his life, living out a grayscale existence in a grayscale world. But when he wakes up in his classroom beside his teacher's gruesome corpse, holding the bloody murder weapon in his hand, his life swiftly gains a little bit of excitement. Branded the prime suspect, Kobayashi is temporarily released among grave police suspicions - but his own thoughts seem less fearful than excited, and Kobayashi quickly ends up tracking down the mysterious teen detective Akechi, more interested in participating in the great game of murder and mystery than proving his own innocence. But will Kobayashi's passion for mystery save him from the crime he's been implicated in?
As you can tell by that description, this is a first episode absolutely brimming with narrative hooks. Ranpo Kitan swiftly sets up a Sherlock Holmes-esque figure in the stereotypically tortured Akechi (complete with antisocial tendencies and drug dependencies), but instead of the eternally credulous Watson, our protagonist Kobayashi seems equally possessed by the thirst to solve crimes. The opening crime-scene moments leave nothing to the imagination, and by the end, the show has already arrived at a second strong cliffhanger. The dialogue can alternate between unnaturally flat and dramatically tortured (and there are a few silly anime-ism touches, like Kobayashi's cat ears/gothic lolita replacement teacher), but the actual plot seems very engaging. Mysteries thrive on baiting the unknown, and here I really do want to see what happens next.
On the aesthetic front, Rampo Kitan creates a very deliberate disconnect between Kobayashi's desaturated everyday life and his love of mystery. The show opens with him following a gold and violet butterfly through a faded-out world, and any characters that haven't been formally introduced are represented as gray outlines. The underlying backgrounds aren't particularly evocative, but the show twice jumps into a kind of stage-play “mystery-solving vision” style where the characters stand in spotlight as they attempt to figure out a mystery, and that helps add some visual dynamicism to the production. The music also works well, supplementing the show's slightly camp aesthetic with suitably campy horror tunes. There are a fair number of solid pieces here, and the show is based on works by a classic mystery author, so Ranpo Kitan seems like a show worth keeping an eye on.
Review: The title for this new mystery series comes from Ranpo Edogawa, the pen name for Japan's foremost early mystery writer. (Read his name quickly in the Japanese order and it sounds like Edgar Allen Poe, which is a deliberate homage; he is also part of the source for the name of Conan Edogawa from Detective Conan fame.) It being made in honor of the 50th anniversary of his death, which comes later this July, and will apparently be a modernized adaptation of several of his most famous stories. That's not all that makes this an unexpectedly intriguing opening episode, either.
Based on the first episode, this is less going to be a straight adaptation of Edogawa's works and more a mixture of elements from various works. Some of his mystery stories are analogous to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries in the U.S., and that appears to be the direction this series is going, as it turns Edgoawa's staple detective Kogoro Akechi (here just called Akechi) into a 17-year-old genius who has special license from the Imperial Agency to investigate crimes on a consultation basis. He comes into contact with Kobayashi (who in Edogawa's novels is the leader of a “Boys Detective Club” which is roughly equivalent to Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street Irregulars), a girlish 13-year-old boy who gets into hot water when he wakes up in a classroom with his teacher's dismembered body and the apparent murder weapon in his hand. Strangely, though, Kobayashi seems more excited than bothered by this, and we soon learn why: this is the first thing that has happened in a long time which has truly interested him, and the prospect of trying to figure out who did it and who seems to be framing him seems like fun. That resonates deeply with the jaded Akechi. Even getting arrested after the police discover that the teacher was a mass murderer and that evidence implicates Kobayashi as his assistant in crime doesn't deter Kobayashi's spirit one bit, as the greater the stakes, the greater the challenge.
The story arc, which I'm estimating will be 3-4 episodes long based on the pacing of the first episode, shares a name with the early Edogawa story “The Human Chair,” which in this case is an apparent reference to the teacher-murderer's habit of using human body parts to make chairs. (Edogawa was one of the earliest writers to promote ero guro, so this is not as disparate an element as it may seem.) If it stays true to Edogawa's works then it will be heavily ground on logic and sensible deduction, and the first episode already gives signs of that. Just as interesting, though, is the visual approach, which leaves most characters beyond Kobayashi as uncolored outlines until they directly interact with him. The oddest element is the new homeroom teacher, who is supposedly 32 years old but looks and acts like a bouncy teenager and dresses in headgear which gives her cat ears; not sure yet what to make of that! Also worthy of special note is opener “Speed and Friction” by amazarashi, which impresses on visual, audio, and lyrical fronts. It could be hard to beat as the season's best opener.
Over the last few seasons director Seiji Kishi has struck gold with Yuki Yuna Is a Hero and Assassination Classroom. This looks like it could be his third ace in a row. Just be aware going in that it is much, much darker than the cutesy look of one of its protagonists suggests.
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