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Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace – An Evocative Mess


Kobayashi may be most out-there anime protagonist in recent years.

All Over the Place:

How would I summarise Ranpo Kitan? Butterflies, blood, and blatant insensitivity. It was obvious from the start that style was being focused on more than substance. I’m usually not one to claim that ‘Style Over Substance’ makes for a terrible product, because it simply doesn’t. If you can find the balance you can end up with something partially thought provoking and visually pleasing. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is the first thing that comes to mind, and whilst Ranpo Kitan and JoJo have very little in common plot-wise, I do wish this Noitamina adaptation was as successful. In the end, however, it was a shambles. Too many metaphors, too little details about the characters, and an inconsistent quality in storytelling from episode to episode. I never knew what I was getting into when I watched any given episode – which can be a good thing, since it lends to surprises, but sometimes the surprises in Ranpo Kitan were a little too much to stomach.

Ranpo Kitan takes on a lot of difficult and gruesome subjects in the shape of murder mysteries, and instead of treating them with care, it basically throws a celebration over how out-there these murderers and creepers were. I thought the teacher turning his students into chairs was going to be as wacky as it could get, but that wasn’t even scratching the surface. Many times I was left extremely uncomfortable with how inconsiderate Ranpo Kitan was with its cases. Maybe that comes down to how blatantly weird Kobayashi is a character, but you can’t entirely pin the blame on him. Generally speaking, Seiji Kishi is an oddity of a director. Sometimes he creates anime that feel genuine and thought provoking (Angel Beats, Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru) or something that’s just completely out there and difficult to take seriously (Devil Survivor 2: The Animation, Dangan Ronpa: The Animation). For me, Ranpo Kitan falls comfortably in the latter pile, with its gore and goodness and every other uncomfortable detail it revelled in.

A Mystery without the Mystery:

Let me get one thing straight: there is no mystery in Ranpo Kitan. Many made this mistake in the first episode (myself included) by trying to piece together what clues there were for the first case, and see if we could come up with the answer before it was revealed. As it turns out, Ranpo Kitan never had any intention of providing us with hints or suspense for the big reveals. It wasn’t at all interested in the audience’s potential interpretation of events. Even if the cases ran over two or more episode, there wasn’t any dead giveaways for how things would develop, unless it was some obvious overarching plot development that was bound to happen at some point. One episode would set up a situation, and the next would immediately solve it without any difficulty or time to consider what was actually happening. It all went too fast and as a result, ended up failing as a mystery.

Faithful Adaptation of a Japanese Classic…?:

Speaking of failing as a mystery… I wonder what Edogawa Ranpo would think if knew what his classic stories had become. Of course, this adaptation was made because of the 50th anniversary of his death, but part of me thinks that this wasn’t exactly a perfect adaptation of what he had in mind. Screw that – every part of me thinks he must be rolling in his grave. If only he knew. It’s probably for the best that he doesn’t. I’ve not read any of his works, but I understand how influential he is in early Japanese mysteries. If this adaptation was made to celebrate those works, I feel the sentiment was lost and skewered during the production process, instead shaping them into a product of zany murders, odd and unbelievable characters, with a complete lack of suspense surrounding the murders of Twenty Faces.

Still, if it was that terrible, I wouldn’t have stuck with it until the end. I can think of less offensive shows that I’ve dropped earlier than this, and after 11 episodes I still don’t regret sticking with Ranpo Kitan. Despite everything I didn’t like about it… I still found it entertaining. I was rarely bored – mainly amused or annoyed or grossed out. I thought Kobayashi gave Ichinose Hajime a run for her money as the most out-there anime protagonist in recent years. And if I were to highlight some good parts, I’d say Akechi’s backstory was rather touching and made him an easy character to root for, and I even enjoyed that one episode where the main trio were stuck in the office with the cat and the bomb, as weird and unimportant as it was in the grand scheme of things. Somehow, despite all its glaring flaws, I got some enjoyment out of this evocative mess.

September 17, 2015 at 4:26 pm
35 comments »
  • September 17, 2015 at 5:17 pmUnajuuphile

    At first, borrowing the name a famous mystery novelist like Edogawa Ranpo, I was expecting a strong plot-driven, gruesome detective mystery thriller. However, well…hell no. It felt like the show was force feeding me every week with its own world of things without even caring about explicating on them. Yes, no substance, and the show looked like it was trying to show it wasn’t failing, through excessive use of style and hard-to-follow plots and character interactions (which seemed like only the show itself knew what was going on).
    For me this was an empty show that can be watched without giving too much thought into it. The most annoying part about watching this was trying to figure out what the hell was going on when nothing profound was actually going on.

  • September 17, 2015 at 5:18 pmSmokex365

    I never dropped it, I just never got past the 4th episode. It sat in my to watch folder for about 5 weeks before it got deleted.

    It just dragged on. The characters were slightly interesting but the story wasn’t engaging at all for me.

  • September 17, 2015 at 5:32 pmChocobot

    I liked its style. I particularly liked the artifice of having background characters as just silhouettes, only getting detail if they became plot relevant. I guess with that they were trying to echo the experience of reading books. I also liked the segements with crazy autopsy girl and her dummies.

    While I liked the 20 Faces thing, I didn’t really like the Dark Star plot device. I’ve seen the all-predicting algebra used in other stories before, probably best done in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. In Ranpo Kitan it was basically just magic – a magic spell that needed the right words and if you chanted them properly then you created an oracle. There wasn’t anything more to it than that. It seemed strangely at odds with the other parts of the show too, which were mostly all grisly or weird or both.

    • September 17, 2015 at 7:37 pmzztop

      Note that Ranpo’s writings were considered grisly and weird for 1920s Japan, but not for today’s Japan. So a lot of the anime’s violence was the writers trying to update Ranpo’s gore to a level that contemporary audiences could relate to and be repulsed by.

      • September 17, 2015 at 9:59 pmHunter-wolf

        I don’t think that’s the case here, for example the original story fot the first case “Human Chair” didn’t involve any murder at all, it was a creepy as hell tale of how a carpenter used his own chair and lived inside it while people used it, it’s a disturbing and bizzare but bloodless story.

        Which has NOTHING to do with what was shown in the first episode.

  • September 17, 2015 at 7:06 pmzztop

    This article discusses how Ranpo Kitan’s writers adapted the source novels for the anime.
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2015-08-21/ranpo-kitan-a-twisted-metamorphosis-from-page-to-screen/.91934

    The anime was trying to modernize Ranpo’s works for its audience by loosely adapting the basic themes and characters from each Ranpo story/essay and reworking them into the anime.
    This means some in-depth knowledge of Ranpo’s works are required to fully enjoy the anime and its take on the source material.

    • September 17, 2015 at 8:39 pmzztop

      For example, Ep 10, “A Desire for Transformation”/”Henshin Gambo”, is based on a reflective essay Rampo wrote in 1954 about why people read and some unused story ideas. The anime was working off the essay’s concluding line, “In a sense, the desire for transformation is also linked to the desire to conceal oneself.”

      The anime used this line to suggest that “…hiding or concealing (one’s) true self is essentially what all of those who have taken the name of Twenty Faces have done throughout the series, keeping their deeds hidden from the outside world and their darker selves separate from their everyday realities.”

    • September 17, 2015 at 10:08 pmHunter-wolf

      But the end result is crappy, and it seems they are trying to use the “loosely inspired by” excuse to cover it up.

      Want to see how a good adaption of Ranpo’s
      would look like look no further than Junji Ito’s manga adaption of the “Human Chair” case, it’s a faithful respectful adaption that successfully fuses the original story with Ito’s haunting art and creepy atmosphere.. The result is that the creepiness of the story quadrupled and it feels fresh and thrilling while staying mostly faithful and respectful to the original work.

    • September 17, 2015 at 10:59 pmkarice67

      I found that post/editorial by Rebecca Silverman really informative when I first read it a few weeks ago. That said, I think that Kishi and co. were also trying to make a separate point, one that is associated with some of the social malaises that contemporary Japan has.

      To copy something I wrote elsewhere, I’ve been listening to NHK news podcasts (for work) for the last 18 months or so, and there have been a number of pretty horrible crimes in recent years: schoolchildren killing their friends because they ‘wanted to try killing someone’; a lot of publicity about deaths due to bullying etc. Whenever these cases hit the news, there’s an outburst of horror, followed by commentary over how the law and the rest of society failed to protect the victims. And then it dies down and disappears from the news until the next incident. For example, the current case involves two junior-high kids who were killed in Takatsuki City, near Osaka – the man who’s been arrested apparently served time for abducting children using the same methods in the past (though he’d let them go, in contrast to this new crime). But just over a month from the time that the first body was discovered, I don’t really hear about it anymore.

      Admittedly, because I don’t have the time to follow Japanese news that closely, I don’t keep checking for stories or commentary in the online Japanese media. So I don’t know just how long these kinds of incidents stay in Japan’s social memory. But in an age where most people in Japan work ridiculous hours and read manga/novels or play games on the train, I wouldn’t be surprised if they largely forgotten until the next incident – people just go back to their own lives, because it does not involve them.

      That’s what this final episode of Ranpo Kitan made me think about, and I suspect that most foreign viewers would miss it because of a lack of knowledge of what’s happening in Japanese society. That’s not to say that I think the creators were particularly successful, if making people think about these issues was indeed what they were aiming for. I found some things really irritating (e.g. the sexualisation of Kobayashi, which appeared to be done for fanservice more than anything else). But I would be interested in seeing if Rebecca Silverman might have anything more to add in relation to this and Edogawa’s original novels, now that the series is over.

      • September 19, 2015 at 4:20 pmAdau

        What you’re describing isn’t so different from the West. In the US there are mass-shootings on a depressing regular basis, followed by a flurry of hand-wringing, and then forgotten once the next big news story hits. Here in Britain it’s similar, only we get few mass-shootings so it tends to be serial killers, child murders, etc. Different theme, same pattern of outcry followed by apathy.

      • September 21, 2015 at 2:31 amkarice

        Yeah, I did think about it a bit more after I posted my first comment, and realised that I wasn’t really that aware of what’s going on in my own country (which isn’t the US) myself. That said, what really stunned me about the Japanese cases I’ve been hearing about is how many of the culprits have been minors, minors who then show a disturbing callousness about life…

    • September 18, 2015 at 12:29 amKazuo

      After reading the work of Edogawa Ranpo I can appreciate the article of Rebecca Silverman, is a really good article, thanks for linking to it.

      Ranpo Kitan did not work for me. It tried too hard to use “modern elements”, focusing too much in the elements and disconecting the elements from the narrative and the underlining theme.

      I think that an anime adaptation more in the style of the one in Aoi Bungaku Series is a better match for the tone of Ranpo’s work. But, I think that this is a less commercializable product.

  • September 17, 2015 at 7:09 pmqwert

    When even a cute trap can’t save a show… Kobayashi didn’t end up being a reverse trap all along or anything did he?

  • September 17, 2015 at 7:23 pmMormegil

    Messy indeed. The only episode I thoroughly enjoyed was the one with Detective Kagami and his sister. And even that episode required an insane amount of suspension of disbelief.

    I hope next season’s Noitamina show will be better.

    • September 17, 2015 at 10:00 pmMagnus Tancred

      Amusingly, Episode 5 was what made me drop the series. Kagami’s backstory was so cliche and predictable.

  • September 17, 2015 at 7:31 pmLulu

    I also did not like the anime so I dropped it. The main character was so annoying and the “mysteries” and the “solutions” made no sense at all.

  • September 17, 2015 at 7:44 pmRyanAshfyre

    It’s almost always such a pain trying to sum up one’s feelings about a show’s conclusion…

    Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), that is no problem this go ’round as I have no feelings about this ending, much in the same way as I have no feelings about the anime itself. Save for some modest disgust at how Laplace‘s earlier ‘mysteries’ played out and perhaps a fair yearning for what could have been, I’m left with naught but indifference here.

    What else can be said? Kobayashi, it shall always remain a mystery to me why anyone would think you a good idea for a protagonist. You were a boring, uninteresting pile of nothing from beginning to end and no one but Hashiba (who’s in love with you because you were nice to him as a kid? Blergh.) would’ve given a flying smurf had you actually fallen to your death.

    Akechi, you were too good a character for this series. Damn shame, that is.

    Namikoshi, your life sucked and I understand that. However, you’re also a hypocritical coward trying to hide his own insecurities behind the veil of Twenty Faces. I don’t feel sorry for cowards, let alone sympathize with them. If, somehow, you’re still alive, GROW UP.

    Black Lizard, uh…………………… yeah, moving on…

    Shadow-Man, you were alright. You were perhaps the only good thing in the finale. Nice save.

    And that’s all he wrote.

  • September 17, 2015 at 7:51 pmFat Cat Lim

    The show initially hooked me in with its promise of mysteries and gruesome murders, but I dropped it after the 8th episode when the series started to devolve into a farce of shallow characters, an unbelievable world setting, and total lack of mystery and tension. It also didn’t help that the show kept shoving Kobayashi the trap into our faces. The first few times it was amusing but after a while, it just became annoying. I wish I had dropped the series earlier.

  • September 17, 2015 at 8:41 pmWraith

    The show was great visually but knowledge of Rampo Edogawa’s works was really needed to understand the themes going on

    • September 17, 2015 at 10:14 pmHunter-wolf

      Actually quite the opposite, i knew what the original “Human Chair” was like and i was facepalming for the entire first two episodes over how they completely destroyed the story and replaced with some made up shit that has nothing to do with the original except the title.

  • September 17, 2015 at 8:58 pmKazuo

    (I dropped at episode 8-9).

    For me the worst part of Ranpo Kitan was the amount of “suspension of disbelief” needed for me to enjoy it. The solutions, motivations and reasonings made me think the staff took me for a complete idiot. I genuinely got offended.

    The last two episodes I watched, that IMO used an abusive amount of scientific* mumbo-jumbo and imagery, are the final drop. It felt like the staff as using of misdirection to push the anime as something that “you can’t appreciate because you are not smart enough”.

    On the bright side, I’m very excited to go and read some of Edogawa Ranpo’s works. Like when you hear an ugly gossip about someone and just want too get the facts straight.

    *[Yes, I know to not reason too much about physics/math in fiction or I risk of spoiling my enjoyment of both. But I'm guilty of enjoying too much from the math problems in Madoka =]

    • September 17, 2015 at 10:18 pmHunter-wolf

      You should start by reading Ito Junji’s faithful adaption of the original creepy as hell “Human Chair” story, he changes some details here and there to suit his horror/mystery style but the core of the story is inact, it’s as unsettling and creepy as the original story by Ranpo if not more.

      • September 18, 2015 at 12:04 amKazuo

        Thanks you Hunter-wolf for your recomendation. I succeeded in procuring a copy of the manga by Ito Junji and a translation of the original short history by Edogawa Ranpo (In: Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination, translated by James B. Harris, Tuttle, 2012).

        The art of Ito Junji as very evocative of the creepy feeling I got reading the original, but for me the original is superior at least in one aspect: It made me want to live as a chair.

        After reading the original, I think I can say where Ranpo Kitan failed for me, some of the episode really made me feel uncomfortable, but as Samu noted, part of it as because of how inconsiderate the anime as to the events. They just asked and sometimes forced me to feel unconfortable.

        In Edogawa Ranpo writing this feeling is developed and very convincing and because of the contents that really leave a bad taste in the mouth in the end.

      • September 18, 2015 at 8:12 amzztop

        Hopefully the anime inspires people out there to start reading Rampo’s books!

        The Strange Tale of Panorama Island novel has gotten an English translation by the University of Hawaii Press.
        Panorama also has a faithful manga adaptation by ero-guro mangaka Suehiro Maruo, which also follows the novel’s 1920s setting.
        http://www.amazon.com/The-Strange-Tale-Panorama-Island/dp/0867197773

        English translations of “The Human Chair” and “The Caterpillar” are included in Edogawa Ranpo’s short story collection Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

        English translations of the essay “A Desire for Transformation” and the short story “The Daydream” are also included in Edogawa Rampo’s short-story and essay collection The Edogawa Rampo Reader.

  • September 17, 2015 at 9:55 pmsamui

    Well, I made it to the end.

    The visuals, background music and the OP and the ED were legitimately good. Too bad that I cannot say the same with the presentation. What the heck was that? I expected an Un Go and I got a very defective offspring of Hyouka and Danganronpa.

    The finale showed the characters with limited screentime so far in the most convenient manner (need an escape route? check. red herring dialogues? check). The tension is also missing given the massive body count it involved. I don’t even want to know the significance of Shadow Man or the masochist lady who always wets herself in Ranpo Kitan. And for our unsympathethic, sociopath trap lead, I didn’t care a thing for him. His moral compass is broken.

  • September 17, 2015 at 10:44 pmDualash

    I actually stagnated and stopped watching at the second episode, and it looks like it was for the best. I loved the visuals and the ED, but that first mystery with the human chair just felt so sudden and boring. They barely gave any clues and when they found the killer they barely gave any hints that she was a suspect, I was dumbfounded at what just happened. This show looked interesting but it fell apart really quickly.

  • September 17, 2015 at 10:51 pmigniteous

    I think this may be a provocative statement but I don’t really mind:

    Any story in which the antagonist wins and the protagonist loses is an insult to the viewer.

    I know that good can’t always win but when I watch a show and the protagonist loses, or gets turned into the antagonist, I feel like I’ve wasted my time watching the show. It feels like a betrayal to me by the creator of the work.

  • September 18, 2015 at 1:09 amGinobi47

    NOTE: This is an impression of a guy who does not know the source material

    Lost interest after Mr. Young Detective dude was arrested. Quite simply, this anime is lacking on many things.

    I guess the studio had to rush through the source material for one reason or another, but that happens to be their biggest mistake. In my opinion, mysteries are good when it has enough time to foster doubt in the eyes of the audience. The audience then thinks (and over thinks) the possible connection of different characters to the said mystery.

    1 or 2 episodes per mystery is just too little time for the audience to give a damn about the victim, murderer or even the mystery.

    To make matters worse, Ranpo Kitan is full grotesque murder. While I dont mind it that much, too much of it turns off most audience.

    Ranpo Kitan could learn a hell lot from Ryokka No Yuusha which, without any guro elements, performed exceedingly well with the mystery. They didnt rush the source material and allowed the audience to get to know the characters long enough for them to analyse everyone’s motive, general attitude and possibility of being the guilty party.

    In conclusion, Ranpo Kitan had potential but was handled poorly, thus making it just another forgettable anime.

    • September 18, 2015 at 3:27 amHunter-wolf

      I second that, i was so disappointed when i watched Ranpo Kitan because i was expecting a good mystery but got a sloppy inconsiderate gross murder drama that’s trying too hard for it’s own good

      On the other hand i was pleasantly surprised with the mystery in Rokka no Yuusha as i expected a shonen-esque Anime with a new Aztec inspired setting, but instead i got an excellent mystery with great chatacters and decent action .. It is truly the most pleasent surprise of the season.

  • September 18, 2015 at 4:27 amAozora

    I really liked the backstory of Akechi and Namikoshi. This made me stick with the series. And I absolutely loved the OP and the ED. The rest … Well. Rather disappointing.

  • September 18, 2015 at 8:15 amArche

    Kind of wish I didn’t stick this one through to the end. Hell, I even told myself after episode 2 that this wouldn’t be a mystery but a “Think of something weird and we’ll call it solved” tale.

    Plus no one important went splat at the end :(

  • September 18, 2015 at 9:31 amAki-Chan

    I somehow feel that Ranpo Kitan might have been better off in a slot that gave single cours 13 episodes rather than noitaminA with their habit of only 11 episodes. Maybe then some of the issues might have been ironed out. Not all of them, mind you. I don’t think having two extra episodes would completely fix the rushed nature of the episodes or some of the ‘inconsiderate’ aspects but I think it might have helped.
    That being said…the visuals were incredibly compelling. Trippy at times, but beautiful and as I said, compelling. The ED song was the best this season, and while the OP wasn’t to my taste I feel like it fitted well with the show and so I can appreciate it. As it happens, Episode 6 (the weird one with the kitten and the baby) was one of the ones I enjoyed the most. And I liked most of the characters well enough and the main trio worked well (but out of every character in Ranpo Kitan, Shadow Man was my personal favourite though).
    I guess calling this show an ‘evocative mess’ is about right, Samu! :)

  • September 19, 2015 at 2:26 amsebastian

    hi mate. can u tell me plz the name of song in 11 ep ? i can’t find it anywhere. thx for attention

  • September 20, 2015 at 7:39 pmsealouse

    What was the point of the teacher? Did I miss something or was she just comic relief?

  • September 21, 2015 at 9:22 amLight

    I think the show really dropped the ball when the villain was revealed. It wasn’t anything grand, yet everyone was all “Is that Namikoshi!? It’s Namikoshi! He’s back everyone! We’re saved!” Meanwhile, intended victim dies from fallen chandelier that happened because Namikoshi wanted it to.

    It’s just all too convenient. Akechi being a blackbelt master to fill the action of the show. Insufficient clues so the story can rush ahead. A formula that can predict when a truck will spin out of control to kill pedestrians, created by gradeschoolers all in one year probably because they’d look hotter as teens. In the end, it was just trying to be V for Vendetta.