The Fall 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Case File nº221: Kabukicho
How would you rate episode 1 of
Case File nº221: Kabukicho ?
What is this?
In a setting where Shinjuku Ward of Tokyo has been walled and split into East and West parts, the East side is the chaotic affair known as Kabuki-cho. A serial killer known as Jack the Ripper is on the prowl and seems to have claimed another victim, but fear not! One particular tenement boasts a cadre of detectives who compete with each other to solve cases for cash prizes. One young doctor stumbles onto this peculiar scene while seeking out Sherlock Holmes to hire him to investigate some strange incidences at his hospital. But first a killer must be caught.
How was the first episode?
I wasn't at all sure what this series was going to be when I first read the premise for it, and after seeing the first episode, I am not even less sure. I am reasonably certain that this is supposed to be a detective series and maybe also a comedy – perhaps even a send-up of detective series, but if so then the writing has some really weird sensibilities about how to mix the two. This is a series where you can have a clinical description of a victim's organs being cut out in one scene and a detective using badly-performed rakugo to reveal how the crime was committed and who did it in another.
And no, that is not in the slightest an exaggeration. In fact, the series is such a varied and inconsistent mix of bizarre elements that it seems to be aiming to be quirky just for the sake of being quirky. The tastefulness of the content also varies. One prominent character who isn't a detective is a beard, muscular drag queen playing up the stereotype to the hilt, while later on a pimp character appears who couldn't be more stereotypical for that role if he tried. A murder victim is laid out wearing only a bra with angelic wings of blood painted on the floor around her, but the Sherlock characters ambles around the scene with comically languid movements while investigating assorted details. A flashback later shows how the victim died, but the way it happens is almost comically accidental even though she was just defending herself. If this kind of disparate blending of tones doesn't sound like your kind of thing then stay well away.
I'm not much into Sherlock Holmes stories, but based on what little I know from them, the Sherlock here is at least loosely based on the actual literary figure. His keen observation skills are paired with an utter lack of social etiquette or graces, and on top of that, this version has not the slightest bit of sophistication about him. If the series was aiming for portraying him as a man whose brilliant mind works in strange ways then it succeeded, but does that actually make him a better or more interesting character? Apparently other famous literary detectives will make appearances as well, but hopefully they will be more competent than any detective not named Holmes here.
If you've ever wanted an example of a series where you want to laugh at it but feel uncomfortable doing so then this is a title for you. Someone was trying hard to be clever here, but the tone is too much of a mess.
Here's a basic thing the confusingly titled Case File nº221: Kabukicho gets wrong in its premiere, a gap in its narrative's connective tissue that demonstrates just how overstuffed and undercooked this modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes story is. This version of Watson, who has a background in medicine as per usual, encounters Sherlock Holmes not as a matter of chance or professional acquaintance, but because he is specifically looking to hire Holmes for help with…something. The entirety of this first episode is essentially nothing but exposition, but for the life of me I'm certain that Watson doesn't explain his desire to hire Sherlock beyond simply having “weird stuff” happen to him. This version of Sherlock, by the way, it a positively unhinged man who performs terrible rakugo to deduce the mysteries at hand. These investigations just so happen to be funded by the apparently incredibly wealthy crossdressing cabaret singer Mrs. Hudson, whose combination nightclub/apartment complex also functions as a front for Hudson's prize-pool driven competitions between private investigators. When Watson ends the episode by running over and nearly killing Holmes, he moves into the Kabukicho apartments and will presumably become Sherlock's stalwart partner, though we have absolutely no idea why he would need to be doing any of this.
Here's a bigger mistake Case File nº221: Kabukicho makes in its efforts to transform Sherlock Holmes–both the story and its character–into a farce that trades primarily in reductive stereotypes of queer characters and obnoxiously loud banter: It has fallen into the trap of believing that Sherlock Holmes mysteries are made interesting because of the detective's nearly superhuman knack for deductive reasoning. The wackier and more ludicrous Holmes behaves, the more folks will eat the story up, right? Unfortunately, this opener's mystery proves that you can't simply make a solid mystery out of a sociopathic clown that babbles random clues at the audience five minutes before the episode is finished. The bones of a Holmes mystery are there, if you squint hard enough: There's a dead girl whose body has been horribly mutilated, and the crime scene has the hallmarks of a Jack the Ripper murder (Jack the Ripper is up to no good in modern Kabukicho, too, for reasons). We follow Holmes and the other detectives around as they case the crime scene and the victim's residence, and then Sherlock does his rakugo thing while a baffled Watson watches, and the facts of the case are laid out.
Except the facts of the case are clues no audience member could have possibly picked up or pieced together, and they involve characters we've never met until the final minutes of the episode, which makes the central “mystery” not much of a mystery at all. Even in the stories that don't lay out every possible perpetrator and clue in exacting detail for the audience, the whole point of a Holmes procedural is to see how careful observation and deductive reasoning can make even the most impossible cases solvable. Not only is this mystery only “solvable” in the most basic and reductive sense, it's just lame. There are few clichés lazier at this point than “A crime of passion is clumsily disguised as the work of a creepy serial killer”, and to attach it to a man that nobody could ever be bothered to care about reveals the hollowness at the heart of this episode. It's too busy making gay panic jokes and having us watch Sherlock casually sniff the corpse of a mutilated assault victim to bother engaging with any of the qualities that make for a decent Sherlock Holmes mystery. If you have no attachment to the genre or the source material, Case File nº221: Kabukicho might do more for you than it did for me, but it's easily the most disappointing fall premieres I've seen yet.
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