Oh this show is going to be frustrating… I can just feel it. Not because it’s bad. In fact I don’t think it is at all. There are moments of impressive wit and quite a bit of substance under the pulp plots but it’s…messy? And it just refuses to be one thing. You can’t settle into a comfortable grove and know what to expect next week. If done well, this could prove a strength in the end, but it’s just as likely, if not more so, to turn the show into a forgettable…mess. I can say that 3 episodes in and I still don’t know what to expect out of Woodpecker Detective’s Office. That’s sort of a compliment.

The only thing I know for sure is that Ishikawa is a horrible friend. And I’m there for it.

Right off the bat, I should say that I preferred episode 2, to this week. I just thought that episode was rather brilliant. But I really respect what this week’s Woodpecker Detective’s Office was trying to do. It just fell a bit short in the end.

After last week’s events left Kyōsuke is jail awaiting trial for murder, his friends (including Ishikawa for some reason) meet up at a local pub for some day drinkin’ and speculatin’ until Soseki interrupts them with Akutagawa and then Ranpo solves it all because that’s what Ranpo does.

It’s pretty simple but there were a lot of layers to the episode and if they had come together just a bit better, it could have been absolutely great.

On the one hand, everyone’s personal theories created another 3 retelling of the story. The tone was fairly light and jovial despite the grim subject matter so I didn’t mind seeing a gruesome death over and over. I quite enjoy this narrative structure with uninformed narrators. You can see the story bend and twist to the sensibilities of who’s telling it. It’s just a device I really like and I’m always happy to see authors employ it.

Beyond that though, it was a bit of a sarcastic pantomime of the actual historical figures. Hagiwara, a poet known for dark imagery and somewhat pessimistic outlook who explored mostly existential angst and anger, is portrayed as a timid man who proposes the most romantic and optimistic version of events. On the other hand Nomura was rather true to form by suggesting a convoluted story of subterfuge and high level plotting.

Akutagawa’s baffling interjection recalled both the short story that the episode was mimicking in structure and was an uncomfortable parallel to the man’s real life long struggle with mental health. For the record I’m a big fan of Akutagawa as an author. Natsume was barely there and the Ranpo we encountered is a student still going by his real name Taro Hirai. Although just as brilliant in observation and deduction, this is a fairly serious and compassionate boy with a obvious sense of responsibility. A far cry from the carefree bon vivant he is usually portrayed as (and seems to actually have been).

The thing is, none of this is explained in any way. You either have to already know because for some reason you’re familiar with classical Japanese authors or go look it up. Otherwise, the references and jokes just seem either a little odd or kind of stilted. And I wouldn’t blame any one for not wanting to do homework just so they can enjoy an episode of anime. There was even some play with Japanese language form that went completely over my head.

By the time the episode was wrapping up and Ishikawa exploded in laughter, I was really wondering how they could all bring it to a close. The only reasonable explanation left painted the protagonist as a pretty terrible person. Not only the way anime characters are sometimes terrible when you actually stop and think about it but the show and other characters still treat them as if they were beyond reproach. In a much more direct and visceral way. What type of mental gymnastics would Woodpecker Detective’s Office do to avoid tarnishing their hero?

Turns out, they leaned into it. The episode did give Ishigawa some motivation or else he would just have been insane, but he is still clearly a very selfish, way too impulsive (and that’s the understatement of the year) disloyal friend. If you could even call him a friend. And that’s kind of cool. It’s unusual at least. And for all his fainting violet ways and amazing generosity, there something not quite right with Kyōsuke. It seems the only part of Ishikawa’s story that was true was that the former tried to strangle him over a short story he wrote. These two have been friends for a long time, that’s not by accident….

What I’m saying is that there was a lot to appreciate about this episode but it lacked context to be enjoyed by all and it was too abrupt and ham fisted in some parts. The resolution felt rushed but it fit the slightly mean and sarcastic tone of the episode.

Ultimately there was no brilliant scheme, no unbelievable set up of events. There wasn’t even a mystery to solve. It was just a very sad story of wasted life and the two episode arc tried to  wring out all the humour, excitement and mystery it could out of a tragedy. Like I said, I respect what it was trying to do. A lot. But I think it didn’t quite achieve it.

I figure some viewers will think it was all for nothing and feel cheated. To me, the fact that everything was somewhat useless plays into the theme and events. It was sort of the theme of this particular story.So Woodpecker Detective’s Office might be a show that demands that I read into it. I’m o.k. with that. Let’s see how frustrating next week gets.

3 thoughts

  1. Absolutely love your article! I’m also a very passionate lifestyle and anime blogger who loves to travel – you can check out my blog if you like 🙂

  2. Pretty much agree with everything here.

    I also think that the sudden author parade was a little too much, with Akutagawa leaning way too much “into the grove”. It’s been obvious even last episode, and just Akutagawa showing up would have been enough. A casual mention of the title is okay, though no longer particularly smart (like a “get it” at the end of a joke). Repeating it (more than once) is more than just excessive (“I get it already; shut up!”). Maybe there’s something I’m missing about Japanese idiom, who knows?

    Episode 2 was much better. I agree that the concept is fine, but the execution doesn’t quite work (though it’s not entirely broken either). It’s just sort of *eh*. I find Ishikawa’s motivation actually interesting, and it’s totally in character (one has to wonder how far he would have run with it, had nobody called him on it). There’s also the line that a “genius” gets away with “being weird”, and that is sort of a topic that surrounds art (and celebrity culture, too, come to think of it).

    But there’s just not clear through line; the characters aren’t that well defined, and the show seems too much in love with its concepts to approach them with genuine interest. I’m still on board, but I’m not as enthusiastic as I could be.

    You see, there’s something about hero worship, here. The rule-bound nice guy looking up to the reckless freespirit is a rather common trope, and in a way, if you’re being looked up to too much, then you can’t really make friends. I *think* that’s the topic, here, and the sheepish, pouty way Kindaichi returned Ishikawa’s notebook feels in line. I liked that scene – it had an “As expected, but I’m still mad, sort of” feel to it.

    We have a very similar set-up in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju in the relationship between Yakumo and Sukeroku, though there’s a little more of a remix going on here. But the key difference is that Rakugo deals with rivals, while we’re here dealing with a artist/patron relationship, and the artist has a clear self-destructive streak.

    What the show lacks, though, is character focus. It’s too much about the concepts. That’s how side-characters like Akutagawa can run their joke into the ground. The show doesn’t explain enough to be “japlit for dummies”, but doesn’t trust the audience enough to leave it at insinuations. They don’t just tell you the story, they have to go “it’s awesome, right? Right?”.

    This really isn’t a show that finds its gro(o)ve easily. I see the potential for a great show, because the greatness isn’t quite there. It’s got stage fright and is waiting in the wings.

    1. Hopefully it can find its footing. I love the setting and the backgrounds are gorgeous.
      A show with stage fright is a wonderful way to put it. Hopefully it’s not being too generous.

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