The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
Pretty Boy Detective Club
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Pretty Boy Detective Club ?
What is this?
Mayumi Dojima, a second-year student at the exclusive Yubiwa Academy middle school, has lost something - a star she glimpsed just once, ten long years ago. But help is on the way, in the form of the unofficial, secretive, and thoroughly mysterious Pretty Boy Detective Club. Rumored to solve problems within the school (most of which they themselves may well have created) for reasons aesthetic rather than financial, these five gorgeous boys sweep Mayumi into their world of excitement, danger, and overwhelming beauty. (from manga)
How was the first episode?
As far as I can tell, Pretty Boy Detective Club was completely under the radar for the run-up to this season. I can't criticize, since I didn't notice it myself, but it has a downright star-studded creative team behind it. NisiOisin wrote the original novels, which is adapted by a group including Akiyuki Simbo and Fuyashi Tou at SHAFT – all names associated with the cultishly popular Monogatari series. Their fingerprints, from the ostentatious visuals to the rapid-fire, quippy character writing, are all over this series.
Not interested yet? Try this: the show appears to be an unholy combination of CLAMP School Detectives, Ouran High School Host Club, and Monogatari. It's like if the beautiful-but-goofy boys of Ouran, complete with their ostentatious wealth and partnership with an unpopular girl voiced by Maaya Sakamoto, devoted themselves to solving mysteries rather than running a host club, and were written and animated with NisiOisin and Simbo's distinctive style.
Mayumi Dojima gets pulled into the Pretty Boy Detective Club when the president finds her at the top of a tower, searching the skies for a star she glimpsed while barbecuing at the beach with her family as a small child. As rumor has it, this club tends to create more problems than they solve, but they insist on assisting her anyway. Each one has something remarkable about them, whether it be a beautiful voice, extreme wealth, or something else; they are also all total airheads, much to the sour-natured Mayumi's chagrin.
This season has had no shortage of visually striking premieres, and Pretty Boy Detective Club is right there, competing for the top spot. Simbo loves to play with color pallets and visual effects, and while it's not always appropriate (I'm looking at you, first episode of March comes in like a lion), it's perfect for something that bathes in the over-the-top like this. I do take some issue with how the camera lovingly caresses the middle school students, including first-years who can't be older than thirteen, and I really hope the series doesn't lean on that in the future.
If you still want to walk away… well, there's not much I can do to convince you there, because this show just might not be for you. But as for me, and the maybe dozen or so other people who will watch it, it's good fun.
The only NisiOisin anime that I've seen all the way through was Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, which I reviewed in 2017. Despite liking what little of Bakemonogatari that I'd seen up to that point, Jūni Taisen ended up falling completely flat for me, and largely because of the writing. Though it sure did gesture in the general direction of plenty of themes and topics regarding modern war, the ills of society, etc., it ended up spending most of its season circling the drain and saying nothing at all, while its cast just talked and talked and talked and talked. It's a badly written show, in other words.
Going into Pretty Boy Detective Club, I thought that NisiOisin's theatrical, overwrought, and honestly fairly masturbatory writing style would be a better fit than it was in Jūni Taisen, because what could possibly better fit the bill of being over-styled and self-obsessed than middle-schoolers? It turns out that I was partially right. PBDC didn't irritate me near as much as I feared it might, but I still found the writing to be the show's weakest point. I'm not bothered so much by the fact that literally nobody in this show speaks in a manner that remotely resembles a real human person; my issue is that still get the impression that the show is expecting me to be incredibly darned impressed with its writing, despite the fact that the story in PBDC's premiere is absolutely nothing special. Our heroine is Mayumi Dojima, who we learn had been beset by overwhelming malaise over having failed to rediscover an especially pretty star she once saw while camping as a kid. Enter the titular detective club of pretty boys: The leader is Manabu, the gruff one is Michiru, the angel-faced kid with the (apparently) perfect legs is Hyota, Nagahiro is the student body president with the voice of a god, and Sosaku is the filthy rich CEO that is also a master artist for some reason.
So, similar to Jūni Taisen, we have a very familiar anime premise (club of would-be sleuths solve problems for people) that is being reshaped by NisiOisin's particular sensibilities. And look, I know that the show's baroque dialogue is intentionally playing up its own loquacious stylings, given that admiring beauty for beauty's sake is basically the club's raison d'être. Perhaps it is something that cannot quite be captured in translation, since the actual poetry of the dialogue is rather pedestrian when laid out in English, which means that the flowery ideas can end up seeming both comically self-serious and yet irritatingly campy, all at once.
Maybe the writing will grow on me. At the very least, the series' fetishism of aesthetics wins out in one key respect: The art and animation come from the longtime NisiOisin collaborators at SHAFT, and holy goddamn does their work pay off in spades with this premiere. From the sparingly gorgeous color palette of the opening scene, to the confidently directed Pretty Boy Roll Call (a genre staple), to Mayumi's impressionistic, painterly flashbacks – Pretty Boy Detective Club is so gorgeous to look at that it almost makes me forget my ambivalence about everything else. At the very least, the show's looks are enough to convince me to give PBDC another chance or three to capture my attention in the coming weeks.
I was hoping that Pretty Boys Detective Club would be a light-hearted take on detective stories starring child sleuths, or that it at least would have done better with a premise that feels like it ought to be winking and nudging other reverse harem parodies. Unfortunately for me it is neither, because while the idea of a secret club of beautiful middle school boys solving mysteries sounds good, in practice it requires more than a lot of style and a pretty cast.
But if you want style, this episode oozes it. It has oodles of style, from the star-shaped lights in Mayumi's eyes to the ultra-luxurious Yubiwa Academy to the various different artistic elements employed to illustrate the different scenes. It's incredibly ambitious, visually, and that does largely pay off, even if it is a lot to take in. The way that each of the pretty boys dresses up his uniform is another nice visual touch, one that leans into parody angles to a degree – Hyota and his obsessive love for his own legs for example – but that also somehow feels perfectly right for this particular show. I'm also very fond of the use of richer colors than we often see, and the juxtaposition of candy-bright colors and the dark of night or the blinding whiteness of the clubroom absolutely ensures that your eyes always have something new to take in. It's a lot, but it works.
Where the episode loses me is in its very self-conscious style of storytelling. It's not quite metafiction, but it is fairly self-aware, making the entire thing feel staged in a way that doesn't devote itself to actual storytelling. Again, part of this could be parodic; the detective club's three rules (be pretty, be a boy, be a detective) certainly point in that direction, but also any show that opens with a quotation from Voltaire immediately makes me wonder what it's up to. Voltaire was one of the great satirists of literature because of his 1759 work "Candide" (other than that he was more of a philosopher and playwright), so that could come into the show. I could see this being a satire or parody of such kiddy crime-solvers as Encyclopedia Brown, The Baker Street Irregulars, or The Boy Detectives Club, and the title does suggest a link to Edogawa Ranpo's group of boys who worked with Akechi Kogoro.
I'm impatient enough, however, to want that made clearer from the start, and as pretty as this looks, it really does feel like style over substance, and that doesn't work for me. There's just not enough mystery or plot to dig my teeth into, and since that's what I want out of a series that has “detective” in the title…well, I guess this isn't going to be the one that wins me over to NisiOisin after all.
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