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.