Episodes 1-3

by Anne Lauenroth,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Trickster ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Trickster ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Trickster ?

After 2015's Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace, Trickster marks the second anime series to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Edogawa Ranpo's death. Very loosely based on the late mystery writer's novels and short stories The Boy Detectives Club and The Fiend With Twenty Faces, Trickster doesn't seem to share more than a few names and the general idea of boy detectives with its literary source of inspiration.

Where Game of Laplace touched upon some of the darker, grotesque, and erotic aspects of Edogawa's work, Trickster (dead puppy aside) is shaping up not to venture as far into gruesome territory as its predecessor. Transferring the adventures of Kogorō Akechi and his detectives to the not-so-distant future, we are thrown into a world full of over-saturated skies and vividly beautiful backgrounds that reduce characters to silhouettes pushed to the edge of the screen. Fish tanks hanging from the ceiling like square columns bathe the vast boy detectives' headquarters in a turquoise light, contrasting sharply with the bright orange emitted by the equally pillar-like shelves of booze stocked behind Akechi's desk. The geometrical shapes and little technological gadgets establish a futuristic feel without having to resort to outlandish gimmicks like flying cars. Whenever Kobayashi is alone, the color palette changes for the dramatic and dreamlike, and episode one's unfortunate puppy doesn't find its end in any dark alley, but in front of what looks like the broken statue of an angel, the obvious place for Kobayashi to choose as a mope-out-spot. On the audio side, the soundtrack is an eclectic mix of electro jazz and moody piano and string pieces, adding to the great sense of place established by the art design.

Sadly, Trickster's writing and direction aren't quite able to keep up with the beautiful framework their story is set in, creating an unfortunate gap between the nice production values and the actual content. While director Masahiro Mukai (with the exception of Hyperdimension Neptunia) has mostly worked as an episode director, series composer Erika Yoshida has merely written a handful of episodes before. Her lack of experience shows in the complete lack of subtlety with which the first episode introduces us to Kobayashi's death wish. The show's lack of trust in its own ability to convey its ideas with grace sees the visually gorgeous cold open (cleverly intercutting Kobayashi's beautifully animated suicide attempt with Hanasaki's rescue of an assaulted woman) ruined by an atrociously clichéd monologue about death being a gift, followed by the shocking revelation that pain is a sign of being alive. To make absolutely sure everyone got the memo, Kobayashi is forced to attempt to kill himself some more, both before and after he confesses his desire to die out loud. It's a good thing Hanasaki was around to remind us all that pain is just proof you're alive once again before the end of the first episode! The saddest part about all this over-explanation is how much more impact these scenes could have had if they were allowed to stand with less emo verbosity.

This problem, while still present to a lesser extent in subsequent episodes (and not solved by Hanasaki making fun of his own corny lines), takes the backseat when an even bigger issue comes to light. Even after three episodes, very little has happened that would endear any of the main characters to the viewer. Some nice moments, like Hanasaki being affected by the dead dog's replacement or Kobayashi commenting on the "tingling" sensation of being injured (because, in case you missed it, feeling pain is a sign of being alive), are like tears in rain when the rest of the main duo's characterization consists of Hanasaki jumping around laughing maniacally in search of the next thrill or Kobayashi constantly repeating how he wants to die, how things are not his fault, and how he couldn't care less if anyone cared about him. The supporting cast hasn't been developed beyond what their character designs tell us at first sight, and none of them seem to care much for each other, making it hard to imagine investing in them in the future.

After three episodes with cases ranging from stolen robots and violent conspiratorial protest to Soylent Green-ish solutions to permanently cure the fear of responsibility, Kobayashi is now a full-fledged member of the Boys' Detectives. Successful or not, the time for introductions is over, and since the mystery aspect of these weekly cases didn't make me feel like playing the whodunit game, I'm ready to move on to the main course. From next week on (and for better or worse), we're going to see a lot more of The Fiend With Twenty Faces. Since he had the questionable honor of reciting that "death is a gift" monologue, this prospect sees me both worried for more "profound" musings and excited at the possibility of Hanasaki's personal bid for Kobayashi's future being extended to more players. Will Twenty Faces be the one to "gift" Kobayashi with death, or will chasing Akechi's nemesis among would-be friends spark the immortal teen's desire to try living?

Needless to say, this race could be a lot more exciting if the series made it easier to care about its protagonists. But there's still hope the writing will become more confident, so it can catch up with the beautiful package and promising setting in time.

For now, I'm just hoping that someone will have the decency to gift Kobayashi with a pair of shoes.

Rating: C

The English dub of Trickster's first episode is now available on Funimation's streaming site. Christopher Bevins' Twenty Faces brings a calmness to the character that's both soothing and threatening, keeping the hammy-ness of his lines to a bearable minimum. Justin Briner is less genki than Ryota Ohsaka, which keeps pre-backstory Hanasaki from getting overly annoying. I was surprised to hear Daiki Yamashita imbuing Kobayashi with a whole range of emotions, from despair and fear to self-loathing and anger, which I didn't remember after all those "I don't care" lines in later episodes, whereas Austin Tindle focused mostly on the character's suffering and self-pity. Eric Vale's Akechi is almost more lecherous than Daisuke Ono's, but as the first episode painted Daddy Detective in a particularly sleazy light, judgment on that front wouldn't be fair at this point.

Trickster is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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