The Spring 2020 Anime Preview Guide
Woodpecker Detective's Office
How would you rate episode 1 of
Woodpecker Detective's Office ?
What is this?
In the late Meiji period, poet Ishikawa Takuboku and his friend Kyōsuke Kindaichi struggle to make ends meet as young men pursuing their dreams in Tokyo. Kyousuke yearns for a literary career but worries that he has no skill; Ishikawa, on the other hand, is an established poet who's just really bad with money. One night while out walking off their dinner, the two wander into the red light district, where Ishikawa realizes that a murder has just been committed. Using his observational skills (honed by his poetry), Ishikawa solves the crime and realizes that maybe there's a way out of his lack of financial skills to be found in opening up a detective agency.
How was the first episode?
I frankly wish I had enjoyed Woodpecker Detective's Office's premiere more than I actually did. It certainly had plenty of qualities I tend to like! Beautifully colored backgrounds reminiscent of The Eccentric Family's art design, a slow-burning narrative and tranquil atmosphere, and even a great detective whose defining feature is his passion for classic literature. So what prevents me from giving this show a full-throated endorsement?
Well, to be frank, it was just plain boring. The central relationship between the brilliant Ishikawa and our viewpoint character Kyousuke never really develops into a compelling back-and-forth, and what's worse, this episode's central mystery isn't distinctive or exciting in the slightest. In terms of its narrative, Woodpecker Detective Agency stretches beyond “low-key” and straight on into “tedious,” and no element of this show's mysteries or characters really offered anything novel or interesting.
That said, the show's production design is still excellent. Woodpecker Detective's Office's layouts and background designs are its greatest strength; the show is able to draw a distinct sense of atmosphere out of its intricate designs and color work, making great use of the story's period setting. The music is also quite fitting, with a piano-led score completing the show's all-encompassing tonal experience.
Ultimately, though, while I greatly enjoyed looking at every single scene of this premiere, I was never particularly engaged by the events actually happening in those scenes. Woodpecker Detective's Office creates a marvelous sense of place, but its mysteries are dull, and its characters are so far too basic to really carry the anime alone. So far, this looks to be a terrific production in search of an actual plot.
Woodpecker Detective's Office is that rare thing in these times, an anime series adapting a regular old mystery novel rather than a series of light novels. It goes further by adhering to history with its characters as much as it can – sure, there's the usual gang of famous Japanese authors wandering around solving crimes, but (and hold on to your hats, folks) they're actually in the right time period AND the ages they would have really been.
It's a lot to take in, I know.
Sarcasm aside, this does mean that we're in for an ending that's less than happy in some ways, because the poet Ishikawa Takuboku died of tuberculosis at age 26 in 1912, and Kyousuke's frame narrative makes it very clear that this is going to be kept – the episode opens with him walking into the old apartment building where he used to live and commenting that it's been ten years since his friend Ishikawa died. Since his clothing is in line with the early 1920s, that pretty much establishes that, and we should probably hope that the story doesn't bleed over into 1923 and the Great Kanto Earthquake.
This frame narrative does mean that there's a bittersweet quality to the actual story itself, if only in that we're all too aware that Ishikawa is going to die (and yes, I shrieked every time he puffed on his cigarette), and he's such a vibrant character that it's hard to stomach. That juxtaposes pretty well with the mystery parts of the story – there probably should be something a little sad about people being murdered, right? That largely lurks in the background, though, and the detective piece of the episode is fairly typical of the genre. It's not a fair play mystery (meaning we can't solve along with the detective for the most part), but watching Ishikawa bring people into his reasoning is fascinating, especially when he re-enacts a scene in the murderer's house. In part this is due to the excellent use of sound effects even when he's not actually holding, burning, or ripping something, but it's Ishikawa himself who really brings us into the moment. He's captivating, and could easily carry the show by himself.
So obviously I'm hooked, even if the lack of black outlines for the mostly pastel artwork does make my eyes hurt a little. Add in that we've got Mori Rintarou(Ougai) and are going to get Hiro Tarai (Edogawa Ranpo) later on, and this is looking like the show for the mystery buffs this season.
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