Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace ?
“Human beings are never satisfied with themselves just as they are.” Edogawa Rampo wrote that in his 1954 essay “A Desire for Transformation,” which is the basis for this week's episode of Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace and one of a handful of his nonfiction thankfully translated in Kurodahan Press' The Edogawa Rampo Reader. The essay seems at first an odd choice to base an episode on, especially since it is mostly musings about why people read and some of his unused story ideas. But then he closes the piece with the line “In a sense, the desire for transformation is also linked to the desire to conceal oneself.” To hide or conceal the true self is essentially what all of those who have taken the name of Twenty Faces have done throughout the series, keeping their deeds hidden from the outside world and their darker selves separate from their everyday realities. In this episode, which is the backstory of Namikoshi, the first Twenty Faces, “concealment” is a major theme, and if it isn't one of the absolute best episodes of Ranpo Kitan, it is one of those most steeped in Edogawa's favorite themes.
Although it opens with Hashiba and Akechi dealing with the aftermath of last week's murder and appearance of the not-so-dead-as-we-thought Namikoshi, another favorite Edogawa trick, the bulk of the story is Namikoshi narrating his past (via flashback) to Kobayashi, whom he has kidnapped. It's another one of those surreal stage-play episodes, and as is common with them, the symbolism is a bit much, making use of literal cages to show how trapped the abused Namikoshi feels both at home and at school and spider lilies, generally symbolic of death, to show the moment when Namikoshi's trust and hope in Akechi perishes. That aside, we quickly learn that like Akechi and Kobayashi, Namikoshi sees people he's got no emotional investment in as something Other – in his case, they are walking, clothed skeletons. This is particularly interesting given that the standard Twenty Faces disguise is a skull mask – in Namikoshi's eyes, when he dons the mask, he is making himself look just like everybody else. This element of disguise is one present in many of Edogawa's stories, most notably “The Stalker in the Attic,” an early Akechi tale that has a lot thematically in common with this series in general. Not only does the villain-protagonist enjoy putting on disguises and walking around town, he also has trouble seeing people as people in much the same way that Kobayashi, Namikoshi, and Akechi do in the show. Though it isn't explicitly stated in the story, this certainly makes it easier for him to commit crimes, and I have to wonder if we're not seeing some of that in Namikoshi's career as Twenty Faces. Yes, he has very clear emotional foundations for his “work,” and the perceived betrayal by Akechi three years ago certainly drove him over the proverbial edge. But we'll also notice that he hasn't struck out at Akechi directly, instead allowing those around him to be transformed.
It's very clear that this is, if not the penultimate episode, very close to it. Namikoshi sees death as the ultimate transformation, one that he faked before but is ready to embrace now. What effect he thinks this will have on himself and Akechi isn't fully clear, but it is clearly one that he desperately wants. He says to Akechi in the past that he shouldn't be alive, essentially that he isn't worth it. Now he seems to have found a way to validate his life, both as Namikoshi and as Twenty Faces, through death. Does he think it will reveal or conceal his true self? Perhaps we will find out next week.
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace is currently streaming on Funimation.
Rebecca Silverman is ANN's senior manga critic.
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