6 Unique Takes on Edogawa Ranpo
by Lynzee Loveridge,
The first week of prime spook month is over and as we edge closer to Halloween, I'm going to attempt to make every List column focus on the macabre. This week we'll take a look at mystery and horror novelist Edogawa Ranpo, a household name in Japan but a less familiar figure for Western audiences. Readers, you've likely watched at least one anime based on his works, whether you knew it or not. Just like his namesake Edgar Allen Poe is known for The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart and fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin, so too is Ranpo known for Detective Kogoro Akechi and his nemesis "The Fiend with Twenty Faces", The Human Chair, and The Caterpillar. These tales have appeared again and again as short anime for kids, a candy-colored version by CLAMP, or updated with a futuristic, sci-fi setting.
Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief This story takes Rampo's "The Fiend with Twenty Faces" and recasts him as an antihero father figure. Originally, the Moriarity to Ranpo's Detective Akechi, The Fiend is a gentleman thief who first appeared in print in 1936, in the same tradition as Leblanc's Arsène Lupin. The Fiend is nefarious, when he isn't dealing with the meddling kids in the Boys Detective Club. Shinji Ohara rewrites the character in Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief as a mentor to the cunning Chizuko who in turn launches into a game of wits against Detective Akechi to find The Fiend first after he was previously presumed dead.
Trickster A futuristic retelling of Ranpo's The Boys Detective Club that starred Akechi's wonder boy sidekick and his friends as they solved mysteries under the aforementioned detective's leadership. The Boys Detective Club is comparable to The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. Trickster takes those same boys, fast-forwards the clock to 203X (which sounds so futuristic until I realize my youngest kid graduates high school in 2034). Plenty of Ranpo's work feature both supernatural (and erotic) overtones. Trickster picks up the latter in spades by casting boy detective Kobayashi as an immortal whose ability to survive deadly circumstances is proportional to how much he loathes living.
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace An amalgam of all of Ranpo's most famous works although without the style or subtlety needed to stick the landing. Ranpo Kitan is another take on the Boys Detective Club, recasting Kobayashi as an effeminate genius who wiggles his way into Akechi's detective work. The anime's first case takes on The Human Chair, a tale that originally cashed in on the same terror as "the phone call is coming from inside the house," which wasn't nearly as tired when the story was published in the 1930s. Ranpo Kitan's modus operandi is taking the original stories to their most extreme. Why stop at a disfigured man getting off by hiding inside his victim's furniture when he can instead be a pedophile teacher that murders the objects of his affection and turns them into chairs?
Man of Many Faces CLAMP launched its "Clamp School" universe with the Man of Many Faces, a cotton-candy colored take on the The Fiend. This version recasts the thief as a nine-year-old named Akira, said to be the son of the original. His two moms, apparently a sister-wife situation to his deceased dad, send him on quests to steal things. Kobayashi and Akechi also appear in manga where the high school aged sidekick dreams of catching 20 Faces and becoming a detective like his uncle. The story is very cute, and it's more focused on the love-story between Akira and five-year-old Utako. Both characters appear again in Clamp School Detectives and Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders.
Imo-mushi Suehiro Maruo's works are hard to swallow for even the most jaded manga consumer. Often subversive for shock value, Maruo's work blurs the lines of grotesqueness and eroticism to the absolute limit. There are no boundaries Maruo hasn't crossed. He also regularly returns to Ranpo's popular works to create adaptations like The Caterpillar. The original story was the subject of government censorship during the author's lifetime in response to the outbreak of the second Japanese-Sino war effort. It centers on a war hero returning from the Russo-Japanese war as a quadriplegic amputee that is eventually neglected by his community and resented by his wife. The story's subject is a perfect fit for Maruo's distinctive art style, which has always felt to me like commercial ad campaign art that got twisted in a capitalist machine. His manga evokes an anti-war horror that's difficult to look at straight on, but he still couldn't help putting in his own very disturbing sex scenes, one involving a banana.
Detective Conan How could I leave off anime's most recognizable boy detective, named partially after the creator himself and the head of his own "Detective Boys" agency of kid sleuths? Manga creator Gosho Aoyama has hidden plenty or references to Ranpo throughout the series, some through word play and others in plain sight. Ran Mouri's detective father Kogoro shares his given name with Akechi while Conan's mom Yukiko has used "Fumiyo Edogawa," as an alias. Fumiyo is the name of Akechi's wife. Ran's would-be boyfriend Tomoaki Araide's name is a kanji word play on Akechi, just with the kanji swapped. Conan's rival Kaitō Kid is another gentleman thief example with similar motivations as The Fiend; where he steals for notoriety, not wealth.
The new poll: It's your turn to pick anime's top detective!
The old poll: Which three choices top your grotesque anime must watch list?
- Attack on Titan
- Madoka Magica
- When They Cry - Higurashi
- Elfen Lied
- Hellsing: Ultimate
- The End of Evangelion
- Black Lagoon
- Death Note
- Tokyo Ghoul
- Death Parade
- The Garden of Sinners
- Deadman Wonderland
- Akame ga KILL!
When she isn't compiling lists of tropes, topics, and characters, Lynzee works as the Managing Interest Editor for Anime News Network and posts pictures of her sons on Twitter @ANN_Lynzee.
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