This Week in Anime
Is Case File nº221: Kabukicho Worth Watching?

by Nicholas Dupree & Michelle Liu,

Case File nº221: Kabukicho takes a modern spin on Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective, but does this murder mystery live up to its inspiration? This week, Nick and Micchy take a look at a bizarre reimagining of Sherlock Holmes.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Nick
Micchy, we've got a real mystery on our hands this week. I don't know if anyone can crack this case, but we've got to give it our best shot. It'll take all of our cunning and attention to find out: Why do they insist on calling this show Case File nº221: Kabukicho instead of just Kabukichō Sherlock?
Micchy
So as not to be confused with the other critically acclaimed serial inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's character, of course! By which I mean Detective Opera Milky Holmes, which is a good cartoon. I'm the critic. I'm acclaiming it.
Just saying, you're already literally naming all these ostensibly Japanese characters after 20th century pop culture figures. Might as well go all the way. More importantly why the º? Though I suppose the bigger mystery is: what in the heck is this show? Because after five episodes I'm not sure I have an answer.

There's definitely something that seems off about this particular detective show. It's an ensemble detective show about larger-than-life personalities, yes, but it's also weirdly dour. But I think I figured it out: Kabukichō Sherlock is just Double Decker but gray. It has the aesthetics of a ~serious~ cop drama, but it's a very different show at heart
You know, that's a real good comparison. Like Double Decker, it feels like there are the bones of a fun, unique show here, but something in the delivery just lets it all down. Like let's look at the premise: In a vaguely alternate universe version of the Kabukicho district, there's an underground "Detective's Row House" where people can bring their cases to 6 different private eyes who all compete to solve the case first. That's fun enough on its own, but it then gets compounded with most of the characters being vaguely based on Sherlock Holmes characters... seemingly because hey, people recognize those names right?
Hey, let's not forget this important detail: Shinjuku is actually Cold War era Berlin in this show
Ah yes, Berlin. Famous for its red light districts
It's a pretty baffling bit of worldbuilding that raises the question of why the show is set in Kabukicho in the first place. The actual Kabukicho district is glitzy but fairly sketchy at night, which does make for a decent detective show setting. But then Kabukichō Sherlock goes and introduces an alternate version of the neighborhood that bears little resemblance to the actual place. Like, Shinjuku does have its fair share of ironies; it's both one of the fanciest and (reputably) seediest parts of Tokyo, which might make for a pretty interesting backdrop if the show didn't put a literal wall between the business and red light districts. I'm just not sure something as loaded as East/West Berlin is the thing you want to be evoking here, at least not without good reason
In general the show raises a lot of questions it doesn't seem in any hurry to answer. It's more concerned with one-off mysteries to flesh out its ensemble cast and crack weird jokes, and at least in theory I'd be OK with that if the mysteries and cast were like, consistently fun.
And oh boy does this show have tone problems! It's campy without the aesthetics of camp, and that fundamental contradiction in its makeup just makes for a strange, uncomfortable time
I mean, it sort of tries for camp, but more often than not when that happens it just nose dives into really unfunny jokes. Like hey, you know what they decided to do to "reimagine" Mrs. Hudson?

Actually, there's your answer for why it's set in Shinjuku: it's home to Tokyo's gay district. Which translates to really tired stereotypes about drag queens in Kabukichō Sherlock terms, I guess
The show wants to sell its version of Kabukicho as a chaotic Ryohgo Narita-esque den of quirky weirdos, but seemingly its only way to present that is to put somebody with facial hair in a dress so literal Straight Man John Watson can make a grossed out face at them.
Which doesn't do justice to its actual gaudiness! It's quite funny how both parts of the show's original title - "Kabukicho" and "Sherlock" - are totally superficial. You could sand off every mention of those two words and lose absolutely nothing. The show doesn't even have the decency to pretentiously quote Sherlock Holmes to try connecting it to the original work. Its characters lack even the barest resemblance to Doyle's cast; they have the names and nothing else. So its gimmicky naming sense is ultimately more distracting than interesting
Its connection to its namesake is barely surface level, but that would be forgivable if it stood on its own feet - either with fun mysteries or engaging characters - but it trips over itself most of the time on that too. Like my favorite character in this show is Mrs. Hudson, entirely in spite of the show constantly elbowing me in the ribs about how I should be laughing at her. If nothing else she's useful and competent which is more than I can say about anyone else. Especially our Sherlock.

Sherlock absolutely sucks, and not in a fun way. He's a mean-spirited eccentric with no sense of personal space, and he never stops being an ass even when doing his work. Oh, and he delivers all his explanations through rakugo, because clearly what his character needed was more gimmicks in lieu of personality traits
Honestly I'd be down for the rakugo stuff if it was just executed better. Doyle's classic Parlor Room scenes are no less theatrical than rakugo storytelling, and it's at least a unique way to have your detective genius explain the solution to everyone. But somehow, even though the rakugo is purposely lame, these scenes manage to feel lame for entirely different reasons, failing to sell the joke

The joke is supposed to be that Sherlock goes into a bit every time things get serious, regardless of where he is or what he's doing (or wearing), but I found myself groaning every time he got down in seiza position. Goofy and theatrical only works when the context is at least a little melodramatic, but this is a show where murders are bloody, gruesome, and gray, so the sudden shift in tone is really jarring
Maybe I just really miss Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū because I'm at least open to the idea of it. But like so much of this show it comes out undercooked and flaccid.
It just smells of trying too hard. Trying too hard to be funny, trying too hard to have gravitas, and never quite getting the tonal balance right
There are points where it almost gets there - as much as I hate to see it, I admit I laughed at the audacity of having Sherlock literally wave his dick at the audience
I for one liked his extremely subtle disguise, totally a real person, nothing to see here
The real question is why is he wearing a disguise? The person he's investigating has no idea who he is, so this is literally just him playing dressup for the hell of it.
But that's the thing, the show has moments of inexplicable goofiness, but it's mired in this context of murder and poverty, which just doesn't work. People are stealing and killing and generally being terrible, but this guy is just off playing dressup like some kind of apathetic jerk. Rather than funny, it's offputting
There are ways to make this work - I brought up Narita before because Baccano! and Durarara!! manage to make bloody gang wars into fun thrill rides with dozens of ridiculous characters and they're a blast. But Kabukicho is just missing that spark to work. The closest it comes is like in episode 5, where the stakes are at their lowest (there's no murder involved, only a little friendly larceny) and nobody actually gets hurt.
The key to Ryohgo Narita's casts of larger-than-life characters is that they all have some sort of humanity to them, some sort of consistent motivation that they magnify and express in bizarre ways. Kabukichō Sherlock, meanwhile, leaves it at just "bizarre." Who knows though, maybe there's more to Sherlock's character than "rakugo-loving jerk who keeps a banana in his pocket." But five episodes in we sure as heck haven't seen much of it.
And that's if they have any traits at all. 2/5 of the other detectives are complete background noise, and one of them only escapes that by being Sōma Saitō hamming it up like he works at a non-kosher deli
I'm not sure an investigation is the right time to ham it up though. Like bro you're at a crime scene, do you really gotta holler about your celebrity crush?
I mean, that's the mystery where a many killed his brother, disguised the corpse as himself, then framed his nephew for his own murder while burning down his own apartment because he wanted to fuck his sister-in-law. So it's already a gotdamn cartoon, might as well go whole hog.
Said nephew, by the way, is literally named Pooh, as in the yellow bear
Yeah that's the other other other gimmick the show likes. Weird, untranslatable wordplay that goes right over my head because before I piece it together 3 scenes have happened and now Sherlock is solving the murder with a banana
Y'know, solving murder cases with bananas would be amazing if the show weren't so ready to revel in the culprit's awfulness! It's hard to appreciate the farce when it's only occasionally treated as such.
The show goes from "hey what's this butt emoji doing in the bath"
to "here's his corpse in a bass case, enjoy" like two scenes later
Ah yes, the murder mystery that takes place entirely with naked mascots because sure, why not? We already showed you Sherlock's pipe, can't get any worse.


Note for any aspiring criminals out there:
that's not how coffee or blood works.
I guess I just want to like this show, despite it trying to punish me for it at every turn. It's got enough ideas that could be funny and unique that I find myself trying to grasp onto something for the sake of not having wasted my time.
It sure is a pile of weird ideas that never comes together the way it needs to. If you look past its unambitious mysteries and uninteresting cast, all that's left is a bunch of gimmicks that don't gel.
It really is a shame - I like Ai Yoshimura's work a lot, and I keep waiting for her to get her shot on a show that can break out, but Kabukicho ain't it. If you're looking for a mystery this season, try Babylon I guess, or if you want this in a way that works the Baccano! light novels are all pretty great. Any volume will be more rewarding than this show.
Alternately, you could watch Ai Yoshimura's actual greatest work to date, the singing pomeranian scene in Dance with Devils. That one's actually weird in a fun way! In any case, Kabukicho no221 is probably only worth a look if you're interested in how the heck a banana is relevant to a murder, or if you're like me and absolutely cannot resist the look of girls in suits
Other than that slight glimmer, Kabukicho is a dimmed out neon sign that only occasionally flashes bright enough to catch your interest. I guess you could even call its problems...elementary.

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