Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Gosick: The Complete Series
BD+DVD - Part One
In the early twentieth century, the third son of a Japanese Imperial Soldier, Kazuya Kujo, transfers to a boarding school in the fictional francophone nation of Saubure, hoping to get out from under his brothers' shadows. In a world still recovering from the Great War, he's met with suspicion by some of his new classmates, and he finds himself in the tower that houses the school library. In the conservatory at the top, he meets Victorique de Blois, a girl his own age who has a troubled relationship with her own family and seems to thrive on mysteries. Kazuya and Victorique become friends, and together they not only help her police detective brother Grévile solve crimes, but they also find solace in each other.
The year was 1924. Waistlines were low and hemlines were high, Koshien Stadium was built, the Prince of Wales visited Japan, and Calvin Coolidge made the first-ever presidential radio address. The world was recovering from what we now call World War I, even as its sequel began to lurk in the future. It's an interesting year to set a story in, with enough international events that only showed their true significance in hindsight simmering in the background of a small fictional European nation and the two schoolchildren who find themselves caught up in its mysteries.
Presumably, that's why original author Kazuki Sakuraba chose this time and place for the setting of Gosick, a series that's had a rocky history in its English releases. Tokyopop released the first two light novels before closing its doors, and the anime, although originally streamed on Crunchyroll and slated for physical release by Bandai, is only now seeing the light of day after several years in limbo, thanks to Funimation. The story is a vaguely-Holmesian mystery series, with heroine Victorique in the Sherlock role and Kazuya Kujo as her Watson. However, as the title suggests – assuming “gosick” is a corruption of “gothic” – the series owes as much to ghost stories as anything else.
The plot of these first twelve episodes introduces us to Kazuya, the underwhelming third son of a prominent military officer. Kazuya can't seem to measure up to his brothers or please his father in any way, so he makes the decision to attend Sainte Marguerite Academy in the fictional country of Saubure. Once there, he finds that fitting in as a foreigner is not easy, despite his clearly fluent French, so he seeks solace in the library, housed in a tower on campus. At the top of that tower, he meets Victorique de Blois, a doll-like girl his own age (equivalent to modern high school age) who suffers from extreme boredom. At the behest of her older brother Grévile de Blois, a police detective, Victorique helps solve crimes; upon his entry into her life, Kazuya begins to do the same, functioning as her window to the world outside the school, since Victorique is forbidden by her father, the Marquis de Blois, from leaving without his permission.
If this sounds sketchy, that's because it most certainly is – Victorique's past and heritage are troubled. This is explored in episodes 6-8, which draw heavily on legends of the fair folk, sometimes referred to as “the little people,” and this semi-mystical heritage gives Victorique what she calls her “wellspring of wisdom,” her prodigious intellect. But it also marks her as Other, so her own father does not treat her as a daughter, but rather as a creature he can keep around to do his bidding. This attitude transfers over to Grévile, who masks his disgust with an (eventually explained) outrageous hairstyle and flamboyant attitude when he's in the presence of others. Once he grows used to Kazuya, he drops the act, consistently calling Victorique a “thing” or a “creature.” It's clear that he has no love for his sister, apparently blaming her for her own emotional underdevelopment, which is a direct result of the isolation imposed upon her by the de Blois family. Kazuya is the only person who treats her as a person, while Victorique is one of the few people who sees Kazuya's hidden merits. Although other people come to enter their circle, it's still clear that they see each other as the only kindred spirits who can see one another's true selves.
This arc forms the backbone of the story, which is otherwise episodic. Their relationship is handled better than the actual mysteries, which suffer from feeling rushed; for example, the initial case about the ghost ship could have been drawn out to be more intense and scary, but with only two episodes, it doesn't have the desired impact, especially since it relates back to WWI, which informs most of the story's world. Other mysteries, such as the truth about Victorique's vanished mother and the events at the department store “Jeantan” are handled a little better, but there's still a lingering sense that any one of the mysteries could have been much better with just a little more care or time. Fortunately, Victorique and Kazuya's relationship doesn't suffer from the same feeling of being condensed, and scenes in episode eight are particularly powerful because of satisfying development.
The glaring issue that history buffs are likely to have with this series is that the costumes are off by ten to twenty years – there's a grand total of one woman in anything approximating the styles of 1924, and Victorique's Goth Loli look definitely dates to the late twentieth century, although they do make an effort to be period accurate with her undergarments. Likewise, the art employs art nouveau style instead of the more period-appropriate art deco, although it's so beautiful, especially in the opening theme, that it's hard to complain. Both dub and sub tracks are well-acted, with the notable hiccup being the total inability of anybody to properly pronounce Victorique's last name in the dub.
As a mystery series, Gosick doesn't work as well as it could, but as an exploration of Victorique and Kazuya's relationship, it manages to infuse a bittersweetness to the story that really works. Although Victorique can be too much of a classic tsundere at times, the solace they find in each other comes across clearly, and ultimately, that may be the most important piece of the overall puzzle.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Engaging character relationships, beautiful art nouveau imagery, some nice period details give moments a sense of time and place
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