I’ve come to realize that last week I was feeling this show out. I mean that’s to be expected as it was the first episode after all. That’s what you do in a first episode, you feel things out. It had a few nice technical elements in it’s favour (colours, backgrounds, voices) and it manage to do a couple of unexpected things so I was pretty happy.
I’ve since come to realize that my expectations for the series were fairly low. Not abysmal but basically, I just wanted a show that didn’t annoy me and I could pass a pleasant if uneventful 23 minutes or so with. I wasn’t looking for exceptional characters and deep developments or any type of captivating storytelling. Maybe that’s why this second episode of Woodpecker Detective’s Office left me with the impression that it did.
So what is it with historical Japanese settings and the almost constant presence of prostitutes. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against it at all but in Rakugo and even the cutesy and innocent We Rent Tsukumogami, there is a very prominent inclusion of prostitutes. What I’m saying is that classical Japan looked like a real fun place and I’m sort of sorry I missed my chance for a visit.
I haven’t even gotten into the episode at all. I guess I just betrayed my priorities. Oh well…
Let me say it right now, I really loved this episode of Woodpecker Detective’s Office. I loved it because I would never have imagined that this is what a second episode of this show would be like. I honestly wouldn’t have dreamt up an episode like this at all, but even if I had, I would have placed way later in the series. It piqued my interest in all sorts of ways. I also suspect that it is not going to be for everyone and a lot of viewers that were already on the fence after episode 1 will consider this a good place to stop. Not me though, I’m sold!
SPOILERS HUGE SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN EPISODE 2 YOU MIGHT WANT TO TAKE A LOOK FOR YOURSELVES BEFORE READING THIS!!!
First of all the episode opens with police informing Kyosuke that he is the prime suspect in a murder that happened the previous eve. What’s more, his accuser seems to be Ishikawa. Then it flashes back to the previous day. Just like last week, where the episode started by informing us that the lead character is long dead, this week also starts on death and a hook. It’s interesting to place your cliffhangers at the beginning of the episode. I like it.
Ok, let me set out the mystery we are dealing with today and why I thought it was delightfully genre defying. The set up is that experienced and slightly devil-may-care Ishikawa has decided to drag his friend Kyosuke down to the red light district to give him a chance to experience some carnal pleasures and because he thought it would be a laugh. Kyosuke is pretty petrified at the thought but goes along because he’s a bit of a doormat. At the brother, it turns out they are the two only customers for the evening and they each get a girl and a room one next to the other. Ishi evesdrops and overhears bits of the conversation. It seems to be going well but suddenly some type of dispute breaks out. Moments later, the lady is dead with a knife in her neck. Ishi swears that when he stopped hearing noise, he decided to sneak a peak in their room and saw Kyosuke sitting by the body. Meanwhile the other says he left before that with a very much alive lady and didn’t see Ishi at all, however he does mention a stranger.
The manager having stepped out for a bit, is sticking by her testimony that they were the only two customers on the books.
I should say the mystery isn’t resolved yet. That’s probably going to be next week.
So what did I like so much about it. Obviously it’s this mystery guy, it’s not like we’re going to stick either one of the two leading characters in jail for the rest of the series. Si although the mystery is well constructed and had me saying what exactly is going on here more than a few times, there are no real stakes or suspense about the outcome. That’s not what marked this episode as special to me.
The non linear structure of the narrative, with a few 12 hour time jumps and flash backs throughout the episode kept everything moving. And the sequences where each man recounts his own memories and mixes in his own theory about what happened added a layer of two different unreliable narrators to booth making this fairly simple and straightforward story suddenly very complicated indeed. Instead of a picturesque Slice of Life with some light mystery elements, where the viewers could happily idle along and get some mild satisfaction out of solving simple puzzles, the writers seem to be purposefully obstructing the whole picture at the risk of frustrating those that were seeking the experience I described. Or delighting me…
I was convinced that episode 1 was a bit of a bang. That the series started with a murder to give us a feel for the possibilities but would now take a step back and maybe have the fellows help a neighbour girl find her lost dog or something. No, it escalated considerable with another murder, much more visceral this time and directly involving the main cast. Are we going to have mass killings, human trafficking and large scale Yakuza operations every single episode by the time we’re half way through the season? Cause that sounds kinda cool.
However, at least for me, the biggest subversion was in the characters’ reactions. Anime is fairly strong on the friendship can win over anything trope. Moreover, characters are for the most part unbelievably righteous to the point that it sort of skews the perception of some fans. These two however, turned on each without a second thought!
Ishikawa didn’t hesitate to blame Kyosuke. He never doubted what he saw, in dim light and having drunk quite a bit. He didn’t think to himself that his dear friend would never be capable of such a heinous act. He never even tried to confront Kyosuke to get to the bottom of it. He went straight to the cops without a word to his friend and then refused to even entertain Kyosuke’s theory about a mysterious stranger also being present that night. It’s almost like he wanted his friend to be guilty.
As for Kyosuke, it did take him a bit longer to succumb to pressure but after being so blatantly accused, he also dropped the stranger angle and directly turn the accusation on Ishikawa, even claiming that the prostitute told him the he was “not who Kyosuke thought him to be” insinuating something dark and foreboding! Was he lying about the stranger? Did he accuse Ishikawa as a means of lashing out or for petty revenge. I’m not sure what the punishment for murder at the time was but I doubt it’s a small fine or anything. That’s a pretty awful thing to knowingly do to someone even if he did start it. After all, Ishikawa may truly believe what he saw, while Kyosuke is just accusing out of assumption.
So both are definitely unreliable and what’s more they are untrustworthy. They will gladly and quickly betray even their closest friend. Now there a rare characterization in anime. These aren’t some troll side characters or anti villains or something. These are our heroes. And they are both very compromised.
I’m having too much fun with this, aren’t I? Like I said, I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but boy did I have fun. It really spruced up my Monday night.
Just as I was giggling to myself because I apparently get giddy at the idea of watching slightly jerky characters having somewhat grimy adventures. I just used the term “adventure” to describe murder. That can’t be good… Woodpecker Detective’s Office had one last hilarious twist for me. As Kyosuke was being led away by police, a confident tall man in western clothes and a smaller delicate author with pale hair and traditional Japanese clothing announced that they were detectives and would take the case on! Did we just throw in some soft 4th wall break parody in this grim murder story? Ahhh yeah!
I had fun with episode 2. I hope we get some more of this calibre. Are any of you enjoying the show? Are some of you disturbed that I call murder and “adventure”? I wouldn’t blame you.