Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace Episode 1 — I put more edge in your edge so you can act clever while you act clever

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Ranpo Kitan will probably be a mediocre show, but that still depends on how much space it will give and to what direction it will take its more interesting aspects. It’s a psychological anime about how an ordinary student gets involved with a super genius broody teenager detective, and I expect it won’t amount to much more than that sounds — you know, Japanese Sherlock Holmes except edgier. However, the characterization of the protagonist is compelling, at least enough to give Ranpo Kitan another episode. After all, the very atmospheric opening indeed hints at a more character centric show.

The primary problem with detective fiction in general and Ranpo Kitan in particular is that they are mired in genre conventions, many of which can be very irritating. YMMV. Ranpo Kitan uses some tropes in interesting ways, some in inoffensive ways, and some in cringe-worthy ways, and I think you either like that sort of thing or you don’t. For me, I admit that I find the snowflake genius craving stimulation archetype to be grating and uninteresting in general. Detective Conan is an exception, but I didn’t like the characterization in Sherlock Holmes or many of its adaptations, and I didn’t like it here. The description of Akechi (perfect scores — lazy shorthand for genius in every anime ever, special privileges, government agent, police authority, makes games out of murders) is predictable to the point of hilarity. When he’s also supposed to have a deep dark past despite being only a teenager, well, it’s just not my kind of thing.

Living the dream

Living the dream.

In addition, the other main characters are also stereotypes, from corporate heir best friend Hashiba to boy who looks like a girl main character Kobayashi. Hashiba, the rich righteous boy who knows nothing of suffering trope, in particular bugs me as hell with his indignant over-reactions to Akechi’s and Kobayashi’s edgy comments.

His unrequited crush on Kobayashi (left), however, is heartbreaking.

His unrequited crush on Kobayashi (left), however, is heartbreaking.

On the other hand, Kobayashi is somewhat interesting. Despite being a girly character, he embraces his adverse circumstances with fascination, because it’s “fun.” And not in a “I’m so hardcore sadistic” kind of way like Akechi but in a “I’m a super masochist” kind of way. If he were the Watson supporter type, he would have had to be more manly — that is, any connection with femininity usually robs a character of all agency unless they’re set up against others who are measurably more female. (On the other end of the spectrum — case in point Akechi, absolutely privileged male characters who supposedly were victimized in the past, are entitled to act all broody like they’re the dark horse overcoming all circumstances. They’re definitely not the dark horse in any world I live in.) Yet Kobayashi sees through his very real objectification and seizes the day, showing more initiative, deductive power, and most poignantly, optimism, than even Akechi. The masochist male is not a new trope of course, but I think it is much more interesting and compelling.

As for the mystery, it is fairly shallow so far. You could argue that the show had not had proper space to develop the case, or you could project from what has been shown thus far and predict that Ranpo Kitan just can’t into setting up mystery. I will get slightly spoilery here, but it doesn’t go beyond what you might already know if you’ve read the summary, and anyways rest assured revelations have generally carried no impact. The show starts with the protagonist waking up in an empty classroom, discovering both the grotesquely displayed corpse of his teacher and the presumed murder weapon in his hands. So the question is, who set him up — and especially in such a theatrical manner, right? Except that we know almost nothing beyond that: not the chronology around the murder, not a sense of what kind of person was the teacher — except “good,” not what kind of class and school was this, not how exactly was the teacher killed — where, when, how, who, why: nothing. There is no constraint, no question, no mystery. Literally anything could have happened.

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Or maybe they've watched too much American TV, amirite?

Or maybe they’ve watched too much American TV, amirite?

The case is not solved yet, but the other deductions follow the same trend. For example, Kobayashi shows off his cleverness by tracking the detective to his home… except that we only know that the detective is hard to find after they have explained how they found him and moved onto other subjects. Kobayashi and Hashiba show up at his place without having wondered who is Akechi, where is he, what kind of person is he, in other words without it having been established that he is elusive — so the question is not set up here either. Worse, the basis for Kobayashi’s deductions — the phone number Kobayashi sees on a policeman’s screen — has not been shown to the audience prior to the revelation. I actually didn’t think so and went back expecting to find the scene, because this is such an elementary thing that they could have done. Just a flash of the phone screen or a few seconds of the inspector taking a call and it would’ve felt equally out of left field, but at least they could say they did it. Nope. So Ranpo Kitan also commits the cardinal sin of trying to seem clever by withholding the key to solving the crime.

Finally, Ranpo Kitan‘s potential as a loose adaptation of Edogawa Ranpo’s works dwindles by the second. I know Ranpo is best known for his mystery and detective fiction, but The Human Chair (from which the first arc apparently takes inspiration), as well as his mysteries in general, has got to be his most overrated story. I have not read Akechi Kogoro, but I had hoped they, and consequently this show, would be better than the no setup cheap twist ridiculous concept tradition of The Human Chair. I will watch until the end of the first arc, but I’m not holding my breath.

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  1. 2015 Summer Anime Conclusion | phantomphonesringing

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