Room 208

Elaborate Burn

Posts from #review

Game over, man, game over

As Inuyashiki’s antagonist was busy massacring an entire police precinct, midway through the show’s eighth episode, I realized why the series had been giving me an incredible sense of déjà vu. The arc of events was basically indistinguishable from a player’s boredom-induced wanton murder streak in Grand Theft Auto. On a lark, the killer offs a couple of random bystanders. When the cops get involved, they find themselves no match for the killer’s walking munitions depot. Maybe a couple of cheat codes get deployed. Hundreds of nameless, faceless extras die in the carnage. It’s less a story than a fill-in-the-blank exercise: “Unstoppable, remorseless murderer claims ______ lives in latest spree,” with the numbers going up exponentially each time until the killer loses interest and quits.

To reach these tedious depths, Inuyashiki has to thoroughly squander an actually intriguing premise. The title character, a late-fifties salaryman who goes unappreciated by everyone in his life except his pet dog, is out for an evening walk when an errant alien spaceship crashes nearby, killing him. As a mea culpa, the E.T.s build Mr. Inuyashiki a new, cosmetically identical mechanical body before hurriedly going on their merry way. It turns out that the new skin has a couple more features than the old one, like flight, bullet-proofing, and an autonomous missile defense system. Mr. Inuyashiki, a kind soul at heart, quickly sets out to use his newfound powers for good. The catch? Someone else also got upgraded in the accident, and contrary to his name “Hiro,” this one is a nihilistic teenager who cares little for innocent lives.

It all seems like the perfect setup for a titanic clash of wills, underpinned by some rumination on what it means to be human. A bit of a cliché, sure, but Mr. Inuyashiki is in a refreshingly different stage of life from the typical inadvertent superhero, or even anime protagonist. And Hiro, his foil, takes his sociopathic mantle in a chilling ten-minute sequence where he breaks into a Tokyo family’s home and methodically disposes of its members one by one. He is so unbothered by what he’s doing that he can casually ask one of his terrified victims who her favorite One Piece character is, seconds before killing her.

Before long, however, the script loses interest in developing either hero or villain. Inuyashiki’s middle section is little more than a river of blood, as the plot gives Hiro progressively flimsier reasons to escalate his rampage until all of Japan lies in his sights. (Like Grand Theft Auto, though, the show ultimately pulls its punches when children are the ones in danger.) Mr. Inuyashiki himself, meanwhile, gets essentially written out of his own series, leaving us to wonder what the hell he’s doing while Hiro’s genocidal acts blanket the news. The two don’t get around to sparring until the penultimate episode, just in time for a deus ex machina conclusion that renders moot what little advancement we see in either character.

The animation, while not nearly as bad as the plot, can’t fully decide what it wants to be. Early episodes use 3D heavily for Hiro and Mr. Inuyashiki’s machine forms, a nice hint that they’re a little different from everyone else, but this doesn’t remain totally consistent through the rest of the series, and the models don’t have the detail they need to hold up in high action scenes. The 2D work on some of the side characters, too, is sketchy enough that I found myself wondering what they were intended to look like. But how much would improving the visuals really have helped? After all, if video game graphics suffer from diminishing returns, it’s hard to see how Inuyashiki, with all of its resemblance to a mediocre gaming stream, would benefit that much more.

Shows I thought were cool in 2015

It’s been too long, but I don’t really have much to say, so let’s have another list like I did two years ago. Maybe this time with some more words.

In approximate order from best to even better.

See you in 2017! You should watch Erased, because unless it totally squibs its ending, it’s going to be on this list then.

Also, I guess I lied about not having much to say.

Whoever wins, we lose

Good mystery is all about the why. Through the eyes of our detective, we probe the culprit’s motivations and the environment that shaped them. As the audience, we’re made to understand the compelling logic of the crime, even though we find it reprehensible. It may be a distorted reflection, but we recognize what we see in the mirror the story holds up to our faces.

Ranpo Kitan is all about the why, too, but in a different way, namely, “Why didn’t anyone realize this show was a bad idea?”

The show purports to be a loose adaptation of several works of Edogawa Ranpo, an early twentieth-century Japanese mystery novelist, in a more contemporary setting. This is already treading on thin ice, but it’s not a guaranteed recipe for failure. UN-GO, after all, threw an author from the same time period into an unrecognizable world, but its mildly dystopic war-torn future was constructed well enough to stand up on its own next to Ango Sakaguchi’s inspiration. Unfortunately, Ranpo Kitan brings no such thoughtfulness to the table, electing to instead pile on layer after layer of cartoonish caricature.

Let’s start with the ostensible protagonist, Kobayashi. Now, the first character we meet doesn’t always have to be likable, but they should at least be someone whose perspective we can assume to ease ourselves into the proceedings. Ranpo Kitan, on the other hand, strains to make its version of Kobayashi as obviously unhinged as possible. His enthusiasm for the morbid murder cases he’s presented with ends up being less disturbing than pathetic, as if being deliberately contrary to expectations is the only interesting thing about him. On top of this, the adaptation exaggerates the feminine features of Edogawa’s original character, which mostly came in useful for disguises, into, well, a stereotypical trap that has all the clichéd characteristics you’d expect to appeal to people who use words like “trap.” Kobayashi’s girlish looks serve no narrative purpose in Ranpo Kitan; they’re just there for occasional awkward moments between him and his male best friend Hashiba, which we’re presumably supposed to find funny.

Akechi, Kobayashi’s reluctant mentor and boy-genius investigator, is a more promising candidate for an audience proxy, and the show does start to make overtures in that direction about halfway through. His introversion is more suited to the pace of a script heavy on interior thoughts, and his weary cynicism is at least more believable than Kobayashi’s irrational exuberance. Ranpo Kitan manages to sink his chances at relatability too, though, first by giving him virtually no development throughout most of the series, and then saddling him with a ridiculous heroic backstory in the closing episodes.

All of this is dropped into a stew of metaphysical mish-mash that counts for the show’s philosophical underpinnings. Ranpo Kitan starts out by thinking up the most generic of justifications for its criminals’ actions, and then gives up on even that in its latter half by focusing on a series of copycat crimes. The dramatic presentation seems to suggest that we’re exploring the depths of human depravity, but the villains offer nothing to shake us to the bone. Most of it is just a rehash of the old refrain on the place of vigilantism in the face of injustice. What’s left are tedious attempts to shock us with out-of-place bit characters like one imprisoned acquaintance of Akechi’s, a literal masochist who contributes very little to the story except for gratuitous bondage imagery.

In spite of how self-evidently crazy this all is, Ranpo Kitan spends a lot of time trying to take itself very seriously indeed. Director Seiji Kishi’s flair for the absurd and darkly comic, put to such good use in Humanity Has Declined, only compounds the problem here. Each murder victim’s autopsy, for instance, is presented by a gag character who looks like she’s taken a wrong turn on the way to her audition for a Japanese variety show and otherwise plays no role in the story – until, of course, in a “shocking” twist, she does. Was anyone asking for this?

The show’s sole saving grace is its fantastic opening and ending themes, which thankfully have little to do with the rest of this mess.

Don’t watch Ranpo Kitan. Seriously. Life is too short.

Disconnected thoughts on the Psycho-Pass film

  1. You might remember that the second season of the Psycho-Pass TV series was basically narratively inconsequential. Since its release schedule suggests that it was being worked on in parallel with this movie, I’ve long suspected that this was a deliberate decision by the writers to keep plot contradictions from popping up. The film does nothing to disabuse me of this notion, since it seems content to proceed as if virtually all of PP2 never happened. Which is perfectly fine by me, since the behavior of the Sibyl System is core to the movie’s plot, and PP2 made it too subject to the whims of individuals to be truly menacing.

  2. Speaking of which, fansubbers, it’s spelled S-i-b-y-l. As in, you know, the Sibyls of Greek myth. Not S-y-b-i-l. The correct spelling is onscreen more than once, for crying out loud.

  3. There is a lot of badly-pronounced English in the movie, which isn’t really necessary. I suppose it’s a reasonable choice of language for a multinational union of Southeast Asian countries, but it’s still a little hard to sit through the Japanese voice actors’ middling inflections. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for an official version that splices together the Japanese and English dubs, though even then they’ll all sound like Americans and not real Cambodians or Thais or Malaysians or what have you. Oh, well.

  4. EGOIST’s “Nameless Beasts” really is a great song.

  5. Mika, Akane’s junior colleague as Inspector, still has her air of superiority about her, but given that she only has a handful of lines in the movie, I’m willing to forgive the lack of development. If it hadn’t been for the awful way she was handled in PP2, I doubt many people would give her behavior here a second thought. The rest of the characters introduced by the previous season basically only exist as extras, which isn’t much of a change from before, come to think of it. Maybe a third TV series would do them some good.

  6. There’s a lot packed into the film’s 114-minute runtime, and as a result some major plot threads are resolved only hurriedly in the end, perhaps a consequence of the definite tilt towards explosive action sequences and visceral hand-to-hand fights. This is nowhere near the triumph that Gen Urobuchi’s earlier work on Madoka: Rebellion was. Still, though, the movie manages to do what PP2 couldn’t and extend the world to a new setting, new characters, and new conflict. We learn much more about what the Sibyl System was designed to protect its citizens against. We realize that systems, like humans, seek their own survival. And we feel that slight allegorical twinge, as if the contradiction of violence for peace were an important question on the minds of Japanese viewers right this very moment.

  7. Seven is a great number to end on, don’t you think?

2014 anime, the less-bulleted edition, part 2

Part one’s not too far away.

Ping Pong

It’s obvious that noitaminA has been getting more hit or miss lately – outside of Silver Spoon’s second season, Ping Pong is probably the only show that aired in the block’s 2014 schedule that’s really worth a watch. If you need a forceful case that the glory days aren’t totally over yet, though, this is it. The most obvious highlight is Masaaki Yuasa’s stylized visual treatment, which bursts with an unrestrained energy that The Flowers of Evil’s quivering linework only wishes it had. Like the best of sports shows before it, Ping Pong spends as much time getting us inside the characters’ heads as it does showing actual play, especially in the case of the show’s dual protagonists. And its Chinese cast members are actually portrayed by Chinese voice actors, one of whom is also fluent in Japanese! Seal of approval right there.

Tonari no Seki-kun

You might think that getting heavy hitters like Kana Hanazawa and Hiro Shimono to do a seven-minute comedy series whose premise can be summed up as “high school kid builds crazy things at his desk” is excessive, especially given that one of them never actually speaks at all. Tonari no Seki-kun, however, is one of those shows that lives or dies on its execution, and the investment demonstrably pays off. Maybe it’s because Hanazawa has been in every show from here to nigh eternity, but her exaggerated reactions to the title character’s antics make a terrific stand-in for our own bewildered amusement as the viewers. As for Shimono, meanwhile, you’d be surprised how expressive a few well-placed grunts and sighs can be. (He was apparently really pumped up during the dubbing sessions.)

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki

Yes, I’ve saved the best for last. It’s hard to describe what makes a funny thing funny without destroying the experience altogether, of course, but if I had to boil down the essence of Nozaki’s success, it would be its refreshing confidence in its own humor. There are no sly winks and nods attempting to make up for lackluster jokes, no lazy archetypal gags, and no phoned-in characterizations. It’s just a show that clearly enjoys itself, and earnestly wants you to join in on the fun. The gentle shots at shoujo clichés are icing on the cake.

Ari Ozawa’s performance as our main heroine Chiyo (that’s her in the orange there) deserves special mention. Ozawa put in a lot of voice acting legwork to keep the fast-paced bits hanging together, often moving from starry-eyed fascination to illusion-free sarcasm in the span of a line or two, and the results speak for themselves. It’s these unpredictable turns from her and the other cast members that keep the show so consistently fresh.


Monogatari Series turned in another pair of solid entries last year. I’ve long given up on being able to judge the franchise on objective merits alone, but if you’re anything like me, Hanamonogatari and Tsukimonogatari are still the old friends you’ve come to cherish.

Shirobako and April Is Your Lie, two shows that started in 2014, but won’t end until this spring, are sitting pretty on my current list for 2015. Watch this space.

2014 anime, the less-bulleted edition, part 1
Silver linings: 'Psycho-Pass 2'
What's the story, Wishbone?
2013 anime, the
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