Woodpecker Detective's Office
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Woodpecker Detective's Office ?
I wish this case had taken more than one episode, although I can see how it would have been a bit of a stretch. That's not to say that this isn't a decent mystery in the fair play genre; it's more that while it would have been too much to do it in two episodes, it feels a little rushed doing it in one. Can't win for losing, I guess. Length issues aside, this episode does do a good job of giving us the clues needed to solve the case without requiring the viewer to have all manner of esoteric cultural knowledge, which isn't something that can be said about all mystery stories, and it's definitely a point in Woodpecker Detective's Office's favor. This is most clearly seen in the issue of the red-painted fingernail both the first murder victim and the former reporter have; we don't need to know the exact flower used to make the color nor the particular superstition that they're following by painting them in the first place – it's enough to simply note that they each have one red fingernail. That it's the pinky finger in both cases, where the red string of fate is often tied today, lets us know that the reason is more than likely romantic, but again, the exact reason isn't nearly as important as the fact of the two red nails existing. Likewise it's helpful to be aware that slide projection technology existed during the Meiji era, but we don't need to know the exact form that technology took to be able to make an educated guess about the “ghost” that appears nightly; the fact that the show hasn't dabbled in anything supernatural is enough to point us in the right direction.
That doesn't stop this from being one of the most historically interesting episodes thus far, however. The magic lantern that Ishikawa borrows is beautifully accurate, and the whole fact that the supposed haunting takes place in a famous building lost in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 is also really neat. The Ryōunkaku only stood from 1890 until 1923, but it was the first Western building in Tokyo (and I believe Japan) and it functioned as a major attraction in Asakusa until its destruction – as well as a marker of change, not only because it was a western-style piece, but also because it housed shops and other similar venues, moving away from the market street or outdoor stores more common at the time. Add in magic lantern shows and other imported forms of entertainment, and Ryōunkaku becomes a symbol of how Japan is changing, something not everyone is going to be eager to get behind.
It's also worth mentioning that Ishikawa did in fact write about the building, as we can guess from the tanka he speaks at the episode's end. Like Ishikawa, it could be said that Ryōunkaku ended before its time should have been up, and the episode could therefore be interpreted to be drawing a parallel between the man and the skyscraper, like something out of Carl Sandburg's 1922 children's book Rootabaga Stories. Since the opening theme doesn't let us forget that Ishikawa isn't going to live much past the series' end, it seems like a likely connection.
Speaking of Ishikawa, it's something of a surprise to see how selfish he is. That may not be quite the right word, but he certainly does seem more inclined to act in his own self-interest when push comes to shove, whether that's his throwing Kindaichi under the bus last week or the way he acts towards his friend(s) this time around. Asking Kindaichi to make tea and put his flowers in a vase when he comes to visit is just this side of rotten, and the way he just reached into the other man's coat or pocket to grab his watch felt…let's go with “inconsiderate,” although I suppose it could just be an easy way to show that he has few physical boundaries, since he pulls Kindaichi by the hand several times this week as well. So perhaps it's better to say that Ishikawa isn't so much selfish as he has zero impulse control – he borrows money to do something nice for Kindaichi, but ends up spending the cash on himself, and has zero problems borrowing Kindaichi's money in the first place. He does seem to try to pay others back – he appears to be working on the Ryōunkaku case in part as a favor to someone who once helped him – but in the end it always goes back to what Ishikawa wants in the moment. Given the fond feelings Kindaichi clearly has for him, it's surprising to see that he's not being painted in glowing terms, especially since his death opens the series. But maybe I just read too many Victorian novels to have that idea in my head in the first place.
All of that aside, after four episodes this series seems to have established itself as a solid mystery title with a very catchy opening theme. Even if it sticks to a case-of-the-week format for the most part, I'm excited to see what will happen next.
Woodpecker Detective's Office is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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