You know there are a lot of things I like about Woodpecker Detective’s Agency. In fact, I liked last week’s episode quite a lot. But I have come to realize, or much more accurately, I have spontaneously decided, that there are two major issues holding this show back.
I’m going to try to explain them in general and relate them back to this episode in specific. That sounds like something too advanced for me but you miss every shot you don’t take, am I right?
The first major problem I have with the series in general is pacing. The pacing is just plain bad. Not only in the most basic sense where it doesn’t allow enough time for dramatic build up or enough development to make the tragic moments actually resonate with the audience but also in the more mundane editing sense. Too much time is spent on scenes that don’t require it and don’t add to the whole making the next one unnecessarily rushed and so on. It’s off kilter. You often feel like one scene just went on for a beat or two too long and your attention starts to waver or inversely it was too abrupt and you’re robbed of the sense of closure which is frustrating.
I don’t dislike Tamaki. We were just getting to know her. But I don’t quite get why Ishi got so attached to her. I’m just not sure when it happened, because we weren’t, shown this. It could have been a simple montage that lasts less than a minute. Instead, we saw the death of the bat-man three times. I get that it’s cheaper to reuse footage but they could have had stills.
I also don’t sympathize with Tamaki, the information about her motivations and past was dumped on us in the last third of the episode. Surely it could have been peppered through the conversations when talking about the supposed brother or the affair. In the end the final act of this episode felt shallow because the foundations had not been put into place.
And this is a generalized problem. The characters aren’t bad. In fact they all have unique personalities and having the privilege of being based on actual people who lived interesting lives gives them all instant backstories. But we see them in frantic spurts and whatever development they get is crammed in only when necessary for the scene to come. If the exact same information had been doles out evenly throughout the series, they would feel much more complete and might actually give the audience a chance to relate to them.
The same can be said about the stories but that brings up my second issue.
I’m not sure the show knows what it wants to be or who it wants it’s audience to be. It is absolutely littered with rather charming references and winks to classic Japanese literature, poetry, history and culture. These are woven seamlessly into the narrative in such a way that you won’t be lost if they go over your head but when you notice one it’s a delightful little inside between you and Woodpecker Detective’s Agency. Those are meant for an audience that’s paying careful attention to the details and that has a general interest in those things. Moreover, an audience that would in fact enjoy them should they notice.
Yet important plot points and mystery elements are not only bluntly telegraphed but also repeated over and over again as if written for people who are looking at their phone going through twitter feeds while watching the episode and they wanted they make sure no one would miss anything important even if they were only watching about 1/3 of the episode or less.
Which makes it sort of bad no matter what type of viewer your are. Careful watchers who want to get invested tire of the more brutish side of the storytelling. The ones who are only superficially watching frankly miss out on all the best parts of the series and in my opinion really the only aspects worth your time. I happen to like the show but mostly because of those moments. Because Edogawa once wrote a story called the Watcher in the Attic so it’s great that he would play a pivotal role in solving the present mystery. But man, the clumsy shoehorning of a redeeming backstory and forced moralizing felt tacked on and a bit annoying. Yes selling children is bad and yes it should be punished. I get it. I’m not sure anyone is disagreeing here. And repeating in a grove is clumsy!
And I think because the series is not sure who they want their audience to be, it also looses track of it’s own voice. Woodpecker Detective’s Agency is a light historical drama using mystery as a format. It’s been true to that formula since the first episode. But it wavers a lot in the execution.
Some weeks it dips into actual melodrama deciding to favour the personal tragedies of the characters over the straightforward plot. Other it pushes those completely aside to give us a standard procedural with both dramatic and comedic moments all driven solely by the mystery at hand. Other times it delves deeply into those metahistorical elements I enjoy so much, giving us an entire episode of poems or subverting the personalities of historical figures without any explanations.
But because it jumps around like this, the series just hasn’t been able to find it’s footing and settle into a proper groove. (I almost wrote grove). The mysteries don’t manage to get engaging enough because the actual detective work gets swept aside for character drama and the characters can’t come into their own since they switch between earnest characters and caricatures or parodies without warning.
I’ve said it before but it’s a frustrating show. And unfortunately one that asks that it’s audience do way too much of the work for me to be able to recommend. But the parts I like, I like enough to wonder if the manga is better…
How did I do? I completely forgot to give any sort of synopsis of the episode or really even my impressions of it? It was a failure but at least I was trying to say something? How fitting.