Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
Despite being a high school student, Kogoro Akechi is a special detective designated by the Japanese government. He helps police specifically with the grimmest of crimes, especially those committed by a man calling himself “Twenty Faces.” When a middle school teacher is murdered, he meets students Kobayashi and Hashiba, who end up helping him with the case. Kobayashi, bored by everyday life, jumps at the chance to become Akechi's assistant, but as Twenty Faces cases begin to pile up, some unsettlingly parallels begin to arise.
You don't have to have read the works of Edogawa Rampo to watch this series, but it definitely helps. Based heavily on the mystery and ero guro stories of the late Hiro Tarai (his real name), Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace not only uses the titles and plot elements of the author's essays, novels, and short stories, but the entire show is drenched in Rampo's thematic elements, drawing parallels to not only the pieces specifically named, but also to the greater body of his work. If you are unfamiliar with, at the very least, The Black Lizard, The Blind Beast, and The Strange Tale of Panorama Island (all three are available in English), a lot of the show risks making little sense.
Created to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Rampo's death, the story follows three of the author's lead characters from his Boy Detectives mystery series – Kogoro Akechi and his young disciples Kobayashi and Hashiba. The Boy Detectives books paired Rampo's serial detective Akechi, an adult originally, with a gang of scrappy boys who helped him out, with Kobayashi and Hashiba being the first two to appear in the novels. Here they are reimagined for a contemporary audience as a vaguely anti-social genius high school student and two middle schoolers who meet when Kobayashi is accused of killing his homeroom teacher. When Kobayashi proves interested to the point of creepiness in the crime, which he did not commit, Akechi tells him that if he can solve it, he'll take him on as an assistant. (Hashiba, Kobayashi's best/only friend, is sort of a package deal.) From there, the three move through a series of cases based loosely on other Rampo tales, all intertwined with the villain from the original Boy Detectives novel, The Fiend with Twenty Faces, and using imagery from both the short story “Caterpillar” and the novella The Blind Beast.
The show essentially attempts to update classic literature for a contemporary audience, although of course the problem for Western viewers is that Edogawa Rampo's works are not widely read outside of Japan, and in fact only a fraction of his bibliography has been translated into English. In some cases this works better than others, with the major weakness being the character of The Black Lizard. Originally an elegant, sexually free woman similar to Fujiko Mine from the Lupin the Third series, she's transformed into a BDSM stereotype with a peeing fetish for this anime, with only her love for Akechi left intact. While it is easy to see that her transformation is intended to be humorous, it's also a major downgrade for one of Japanese literature's more fascinating femme fatales. It also makes the series' use of one of Rampo's most major themes, the fine line between detective and criminal, more difficult – the characters of Kobayashi, Namikoshi, and Kagami are instead used to play with this idea, with mixed results. Detective Kagami's storyline works best in this respect, and the episode centered on him, “Caterpillar,” is easily the strongest in the entire series. This is not just from its use of the theme and interpretation of the original incredibly disturbing story, but also because it's the most interestingly told, utilizing another of Rampo's major themes, the performative nature of detective fiction, to great effect.
That particular theme is one that the entire series plays with in its format. From the fact that Kobayashi, Namikoshi, and Akechi don't necessarily see people as “human” to the way that crimes are explained as if they are being performed on a literal stage, Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace tries to emphasize the disconnect between detective and human action in a way that returns to the previously mentioned fine line between hero and villain. The murderers, it is implied, are much more a part of the world than the detectives, who are unable to see their surroundings as anything but a performance or a puzzle existing to stave off their boredom. (Viewers of BBC's Sherlock will recognize this theme as well.) This is one aspect of the series that works regardless of whether or not you're familiar with the source material, resulting in a visually interesting production that makes good use of light, dark, and the shadows that occupy the space between them.
Somewhat surprisingly, this niche series does have an English dub. Jill Harris' Kobayashi sounds much less feminine than Rie Takahashi's, and J. Michael Tatum's Kagami seems a little older than Katsuyuki Konishi's, but otherwise the voices feel very close in both versions. The lone episode commentary reveals that the cast wasn't thrilled with the show, and they barely talk about it, instead chatting about college, acting, and their kids, which is actually fairly entertaining on its own, even if they don't touch on how Sonny Strait (who plays the Shadow Man) keeps landing roles with no lip flaps. It is a shame that some of the people who wrote the show (and who I would assume might have read a story or two) didn't participate, as it would have been interesting to hear about how they went about adapting a script that is itself an adaptation.
Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace is a difficult series. It relies on its viewers having a basic knowledge of Edogawa Rampo's oeuvre in its plot, characters, and visuals, and without that, it can feel confusing and nonsensical. It's an anime that requires you to do some homework, and unless you're a mystery buff or a bibliophile, that may put it out of the running for a lot of viewers. With the background knowledge, it remains interesting even if it does have a weak ending that strays from Rampo's themes. Without that background, it's just another mediocre mystery show.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Interesting use of Edogawa Rampo's works and themes, lots of neat visuals
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