I was still looking for a show to review on Sundays when surprise, Crunchyroll came out with a late entry. I remembered seeing this series, or rather seeing the cover art for this series and thinking that it looked like the Morose Mononokean so i figured I would give is a try based on that. If Karandi had been available, this is one I would have reveiwed with her.
Since I’m not watching much this season, when I saw it pop up on the Crunchy release schedule I gave it a try right then and there.
I mentioned this before but I like detective stories. I like them a lot. I jump on the chance of watching one in anime form whenever I can. And just from this first episode, I have to say that this is what I pictured when I picked up The Case Files of Jeweler Richard last season. Actual amateur but brilliant sleuthing of serious crimes. So Woodpecker did assuage that particular craving, at least for the moment. I hope the trend keeps up.
Another recurring preference of mine is Japanese historical pieces. This appeals to my Japanophile side and also find it a very visually attractive setting. Once again, the first episode did not disappoint. It reminded me a lot of We Rent Tsukumogami in that regard and as the historical setting was the favourite part of that show, that’s also a good sign.
If you haven’t seen the first episode yet, here are my first impressions.
The series is visually interesting with a very nice expanded colour palette full of contrasts and gradients and blue purple outlines that further soften the images. The designs aren’t that impressive but there is some interesting variety in face shapes and features that make certain characters stand out more, namely Ishikawa. The best parts for me where the views of the city which give the impression of modernized woodblock paintings with pastel hues. For me the aesthetics work. The direction is fairly straightforward and so far the soundtrack isn’t remarkable so that’s unlikely to be the draw. I really like the voice acting. I don’t know why. Best way I can describe it is that it’s calm.
What is it with anime mixing classic literary figures with detectives? OK, I only know of Bungo Stray Dogs and this show but it’s such a specific mix that it stands out to me. And of course, this is also what led to my post title. Mori Rintaro (or as he is known by his pen name: Mori Ogai) does make an appearance in the episode and he is just as imposing but much more magnanimous than I am used to seeing him. He’s one of my faves in BSD, I actually squeeled – it’s Mori-San!
The actual story was basically a procedural murder mystery. Much like an episode of Sherlock or CSI in a historical Japanese setting but with a twist and one great subversion.
The twist is actually part of the mise en scène, it’s actually bluntly spelled out in the narrative in the first few minutes of the episode. There’s a history of tragedy in Japan’s great literary figures and the poet Ishakawa is no exception. The real man dies at a much too young 26 years of age. I’m not sure what will happen with this Ishakawa but the episode was narrated by his friend Kyōsuke who starts off by telling us he lost a dear friend about 19 years ago,l before the episode goes into flashback.
This gives a sense of inevitability and nostalgia to the entire episode and made it just a bit more solemn than it would have been otherwise.
The subversion is in the character of Ishakawa himself. In the later half of the episode, as he is showing proof that the suspect in custody has in fact been framed of murder, I thought to myself: well that proves nothing. It’s something that I very often think to myself when watching these types of shows. This is nothing new to me and I wasn’t surprised that this little series would fall into the same pitfalls. What I wasn’t expecting at all is that it wasn’t suppose to prove anything as it was in fact a piece of fabricated evidence.
Now this is something new. A morally compromised main character that has no qualms about compromising the investigation with blatantly fake evidence and dirtying his hands himself. We don’t see that much, certainly not in anime. It was refreshing. I was just thinking that the show wasn’t smart enough to come up with a solution or didn’t think we were smart enough when it turned it around on me. It also opens up a lot of opportunities if your hero isn’t strictly bound by the law.
The downside is that we don’t actually get to learn much about the law in question. I am really curious to know about early 1900s Japanese legislation. Wow, as I was typing that out I realized that I am the only person in the universe to which this applies.
Finally I should probably mention the Yaoi subtext as it is part of the promotion of the show. For now it’s exactly that: subtext. There is nothing overt or explicit about the relationship between the two leads. Kyōsuke does seem very attached to his friend and is rather enthusiastic in his praise but it’s not that different from the relationship between Sherlock and Watson. Then again fans did ship those two together nonstop so there you go. If you want to see it, there is something there. Enough clues are scattered to hint at something romantic between the two. If you don’t, it’s also possible to write it off as professional admiration and a standard childhood friendship. After all, these two have known each other all their lives and have decided on parallel professional paths, of course they’re going to be close.
I have no idea whether it will eventually get any more explicit than this. That was unhelpful…
Bottom line, I really liked this first episode and I am looking forward to more. Also their tiny landlord is awesome!