Except a little more lifeless than before.
So the summer anime season is coming to a close and as we prepare for the Fall to simultaneously disappoint us and blow our minds, let’s start looking back at how awful these last three months have been. And what better way to start than to beat up a shitty noitamina anime? I’m actually kind of surprised Ranpo Kitan was amongst the first of this season’s crop to have an ending. Okay, it started on the first week of releases rather than wait until everything is out like noitamina anime usually do, but I assumed it was just 12 episodes like the other two offerings for the timeslot this year and that it anticipated that weekly delay that practically every show went through this season. But no, it’s the standard 11 episodes, which is a blessing in disguise because A) it ends quicker B) I get something to review and nothing says catharsis more than beating up a show no one in their right mind would defend.
Yes, I’m sorry to say that unless A-1 somehow churns out a worse mystery anime next season – and I know it’s A-1, but this series is just sad – Ranpo is easily the least interesting of noitamina’s offerings in 2015. Punch Line had a decent story that was let down by execution issues and some people seem to like Saekano in all its poorly animated, stakes-less ugliness for some reason, but at least they promoted discussion. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone other than masochistic mystery buffs who made it past the first two episodes of Ranpo Kitan, mainly because it was directed by a hack who makes Akiyuki Shinbo look like David Fincher.
Where exactly are these fans who still support Seiji Kishi enough to have him continue with this thing we humans call a career? Yes I know he’s always adapting really popular stuff due to whatever connections he’s got, but after a while, you’d think people would catch on and realize that Devil Survivor 2 will be more the rule rather than the exception. And more to the point, who was it that approved of him to adapt the works of Edogawa Ranpo in the first place? Who even owns the rights to the property these days? Because after watching this tripe, I think we’re going to need a change of hands to someone who can actually say no as well as some psychological counseling towards the original guy after he experiences the thing for himself.
This is where I usually describe the plot of this show, but I honestly don’t know what to say because it’s just too fragmented and lifeless to put in coherent words whilst being way too dependent on the characters. I mean you’ve got this downbeat detective out for justice. You’ve got this kid who looks and talks like a girl, but is really a boy, and speaks like a robot. You’ve got his male glasses-wearing friend who may or may not be gay for him. Then there’s this bag-man and woman dressed in bondage gear – and I never actually read a Ranpo story, but I’m pretty sure the wacky nurse who looks like the bastard lovechild of Paranoia Agent and Danganronpa wasn’t in the original source, let alone took a substantial role in the show’s climax.
All of these characters are given the Kishi hyper-stylization treatment and have about as much believable human emotions as Itchy and Scratchy when they’re phoning it in. And you remember how in Durarara where the unimportant people are drawn in gray and only when they actually have significance to what’s going on is when someone bothers to color them in? Ranpo Kitan has something like that too, except the characters fade into silhouette-like backgrounds at really arbitrary moments and it looks incredibly unfinished rather than stylistic. It leads to this weird disconnect of coldness most normal people who try to watch Ghost in the Shell experience in that even if you saw something worth watching in here, it’s presentation makes actually accessing it all but impossible. Only in Ranpo Kitan’s case, not only are the smart things just the same old bullshit regarding “what is justice” and every other moral you could get in any cop show either, but there’s no excitement to be had even if you penetrate the presentation and dig that sort of stuff.
Now the show’s utter lifelessness makes remembering events difficult, but I do remember that most of the individual cases are more stuff the anime does to fill out time rather than pieces to a much bigger picture. The closest thing we get to an overarching plot thread is through some lunatic named Twenty Faces, who basically kills criminals for justice, and catching him would be a lot easier if there weren’t multiple people doing things in his name. But this conflict only takes up half the screen time and the rest of it is just piddling about. Please explain to me the significance of that one episode where The Amazing Bag-Man stops by the detective’s house and we spend the entire run time basically coming up with theories like a bad stand-up comedy before ending on a conclusion that – as the domesticated father said regarding the broken toilet bowl that had just been used by his kid after digesting food from Taco Bell- was full of shit. There’s taking a break from an on-going plot and then there’s just throwing shit out of that bowl just because you can.
I’m probably going to have to address the elephant in the room regarding the actual mysteries in this show and whether or not they’re good at some point. Short answer: no. Long answer: Fuck no! The logic is incredibly hard to follow – not helped by the giant heapings of dialogue that desperately needed an editor during investigations – and the actual criminal is always some arbitrary person that the show just pulled out of thin air with either no foreshadowing or so little of it that it wouldn’t make a difference either way. Backstories for the criminals are so token and predictable that you’d only need thirty seconds to explain it. Detective Conan-style. And yet for some reason, the show decides to devote entire half-hours trying to make me sympathize with these morons.
The way the Twenty Faces arc concludes is pretty much a combination of all the problems I listed above with another one added, and that problem is the feminine main character. Up until that point, he’s always been an audience cipher that no audience member can relate to, but he was in the background so I let it slide. But the final few episodes put him at center stage for the crucial part of Twenty Faces’ grand plan and his emotionless accepting reactions become impossible to ignore to the point that he might as well have been wearing a yellow T-shirt that said “I am an obvious plot device” in big black letters. It wasn’t until the final few minutes that ended on him that I realized he was basically a walking metaphor for the show: a small lifeless pile of gimmicks who hangs around with the big boys just because he can. And if he died, no one but sad geeky losers would give a shit.
So on the whole, I can’t really say I recommend Ranpo, even if you’re a die-hard noitamina fan. It’s badly written and it’s hard to even pay attention to the writing at times because there’s a high chance the visuals will put you to sleep beforehand. Some people may say Kishi’s style is still fresh and interesting even if it’s not being good, but I say that gimmicks are gimmicks. It was gimmicky back when Shaft first used it over a decade ago, and it’s godawful now.