Review/discussion about: Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace
Crime has been around for as long as humans have roamed the Earth. While it would be awesome if everyone held hands and made peace and sang carols, an idyllic world of that kind simply does not exist. There are “bad apples” everywhere. People who, for whatever reason, resort to crime.
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace centers on crime like pedophilia, torture, and murder. Grotesque crime, but crime all the same. It shows the lengths people on both sides of the law will go to and what that means for everyone in society.
I have never committed a crime and I have (thankfully; knock on wood) never been the victim of a crime. Someone did steal a USB drive of mine once, but I was not so annoyed that I wanted to call for an investigation. Thinking about it now, I wish I still had that USB from way back when. And thinking about it more, if I had a copy of Ranpo Kitan on that USB, not only would I not care about it getting stolen, I would thank the thief for stealing it.
Ranpo Kitan is filled to the brim with problems, and nowhere is that more evident than in the tale it tries to tell.
The anime touts itself as a “Mystery” anime, and to be fair that is partially true. Each crime committed is usually quite strange: people contorted into furniture, little girls kidnapped and molded into concrete slabs, and so on. No matter the crime, the characters logically determine who the culprit is, what the culprit did, and why the culprit did it. Though the point is not this detective work because the crimes are usually solved within the episode, which realistically means within about ten minutes. Worse still is that the mysteries mean very little to the rest of the show. Individual mysteries do not affect the other mysteries, nor do they affect the characters themselves. Thus, the mysteries serve little else besides providing the setting. A misstep, especially considering the “Mystery” tag.
The main theme of the anime is the idea that crime goes unpunished. That these murderers and pedophiles escape conviction either for making bail or for having a mental illness, allowing them to “cheat the system.” This is where Ranpo Kitan encounters another major problem. The show is so one-sided that it becomes difficult to take the narrative seriously. The police are aggravatingly inept. Akechi and Kobayashi often need Kuro Tokage, the masochistic criminal who is madly in love with Akechi, to tell them where to go, even though she is behind bars and is a criminal herself. Kagami, one of the detectives, is put behind bars forever despite doing the exact same thing as the other criminals.
This last detail is meant to show the stupidity of the system in place. But it is so silly because of how contradictory it is. The precedent had already been set: criminals walk free even after committing egregious crimes. So when one case out of the (presumably) hundreds of others goes against this norm, it comes off as a cheap way to show how “unfair” society is.
Ranpo Kitan also has a glaring problem with just the tale it is telling. It starts off with these singular, mystery cases that allude to a so-called “Twenty Faces.” What was supposed to happen was a build-up towards the eventual boiling-over of the Twenty Faces dilemma. Instead, what occurs is a lot of stagnation. The crimes are, at best, semi-related to Twenty Faces, so when the Twenty Faces conflict reaches its climax, it comes out of nowhere. Build-up is further squandered when the anime interrupts the conflict. Episode six is too comical and too unrelated to the overarching plot. And episode ten, while expounding on Namikoshi and hence the origins of Twenty Faces, disrupts the tension that was finally being created.
Then there is the so-called “Dark Star” law which cheapens the narrative further. This law coming out of nowhere is a problem, but the biggest problem with this law is its scope. As an omniscient law, it is never wrong, meaning the narrative gets to do whatever it wants without consequence. When the law is wrong, it is either unfairly avoided (Namikoshi conveniently “updates” the law after Akechi “solves” it) or the explanation is nonsensical (Namikoshi and Kobayashi have to commit suicide in order for the law to be “complete”).
The ending also has issues. Rather than gracefully concluding the season, Ranpo Kitan tries way too hard to wrap everything up. The attempt made is a bunch of words without fully showing the aftermath, acting as a sort of catch-all to cover its bases. But the ending does not stop there. As the characters discuss, Namikoshi is (possibly) still alive, which is ridiculous. Not just because he has now pretended to die for the second time, but also because the entire purpose of the ending – the reason why Namikoshi went through this overly complicated crime – was to, in the end, kill himself. So when the anime nonchalantly states that the main antagonist is still alive, then everything throughout the season was for naught.
Even the tone of the anime is problematic. The crimes depicted are dark, yet the anime regularly dips into comedy. For instance, Minami, the doctor, is regularly used for comedic effect with her joking about the violent deaths. The idea is that the contrast is supposed to be funny, but because the anime is too serious when it comes to its subject matters, the contrast is less hilarious and more jarring.
Ranpo Kitan’s narrative simply has too many problems to consider it well-executed; contextually, the narrative is as barebones as it gets.
Arguably the best aspect of Ranpo Kitan is its artistic direction. Multicolored lighting and nice shadows are used, but its best move is embracing its weirdness, creating scenes that bend reality at will. Impossible proportions, impromptu objects, and involved symbolism are just a sampling of the ways in which the anime depicts its scenes. “Scenes” in the literal sense. Curtains, spotlights, and fourth-wall breaking are used to make elaborate, stage-like creations to explain the crimes and events. The show even goes so far as to have the characters viewing the explanations as if they were watching a play. Since the crimes are a spectacle, presenting the anime in this fashion is not only interesting but also quite fitting.
When Ranpo Kitan is not focusing on the imaginary, the anime can look pretty dull. Besides Akechi’s abode and various parts of the city, the backgrounds and locations do not have the same pizzazz as the previous scenes. Although that is sort of the point. Similar to the story’s tonal contrast, a contrast between the crazy scenes and the mundane ones is designed to make the crazy scenes that much crazier. Dissimilar to the story’s tonal contrast, the artistic contrast actually works.
Another cool detail is how the anime presents uninteresting people. When Akechi’s perspective takes the limelight, uninteresting people are drawn as wooden puppets, symbolizing how they are controlled by the world around them. The most interesting case, however, is when the anime draws them as outlines with faded colors. Light grays, pinks, and greens cover the people that are currently uninteresting, including the main characters. How the anime determines who is uninteresting is based on Kobayashi’s feelings. He is disinterested in the world, so much so that the people he does not care about – the people he finds uninteresting – receive this faded treatment.
Unfortunately, the character designs are a step down, mainly due to their plainness. Akechi wears dress clothes with a red tie, but he looks a bit too old for his apparent age. Hashiba is similarly plain; besides his glasses, he has no outstanding qualities. There might be a case for Kobayashi who is designed to be feminine in appearance, but he, too, has a design that lacks any “oomph.” Shadow-Man might have a case as well given his signature paper bag he wears over his head. The paper bag symbolizes his ability to disguise himself as anyone he wishes, disguises that he regularly uses. Hanabishi, the teacher, has a strange design with cat ears, pink colors, and a short stature, although why her design is like this is never explained. Altogether, even giving Shadow-Man the benefit of the doubt, the designs lack the necessary appeal to call them impressive.
As for the actual animation, there is a moderate amount. The elaborate scenes are most likely the culprit for this, since they are more for show than they are for movement, although they can have moving parts and shiny sparkles. Hair, eyes, and limbs hardly move, and besides Akechi fighting some bad guys, there is not a whole lot of action. But again, to be fair, the anime’s focus on standalone shots of fancy setups makes this an expected outcome.
The characters of Ranpo Kitan are as abysmal as the story they find themselves in.
Kobayashi, the main protagonist, starts off well-enough but quickly tapers off. In the beginning of the season, he (indirectly) talks about his “boredom.” His “empty” feeling, as he puts it, causes him to be disinterested in the world around him. As if life had nothing to offer. That is a sad thing for a junior high school student to say since the world has so much in store.
It is not until he is framed for a murder that he finally finds the calling he had been searching for. He then starts working with Akechi, this work considerably lifting his spirits. At this point, Kobayashi’s character stagnates. He is always present, but he does not stray far away from his characterizations of solving the crimes and acting carefree. So when the finale comes around, and he is ready to commit suicide, it is perplexing. Not only was he finally enjoying himself, he had Hashiba, he had Akechi, and he had his ability to help solve those heinous crimes. There was never any indication that he was contemplating suicide let alone regressing back to his earlier thoughts.
Namikoshi is likewise a weak character. Namikoshi does not enter the series until midway through episode eight (out of eleven) and very briefly at the end of episode nine. All of episode ten is spent on characterizing and developing him. This episode shows everything: the bullies he had hounding him, the abusive parents he had at home, and his cherished friendship he had with Akechi. Doing this characterization and development so late is a major issue because the audience has no time to understand him as a character. He shows up, he gets developed, and then he disappears, all within the span of essentially a single episode.
What Namikoshi is ultimately meant to be is a parallel to Kobayashi. Both Namikoshi and Kobayashi felt left alone by the world around them. Both Namikoshi and Kobayashi were intelligent in ways that few others knew. And most importantly, both Namikoshi and Kobayashi had a best friend that, no matter their troubles, would fight to stay by their side. This parallel is supposed to exist between them, however, it is poorly handled. Namikoshi appears at the end (their relationship has no foundation) and Kobayashi no longer feels the same way as Namikoshi (his actions and demeanor throughout the season prove this). So not only are Kobayashi and Namikoshi weak characters individually, but they are also weak on a relational level.
Other relationships have problems as well. Akechi and Kuro Tokage – the masochistic, psycho woman in prison – presumably have some kind of past. But how they met or what kind of relationship they had is never explicitly shown. Akechi and Namikoshi’s also lacks strength; their relationship, while constructed, is not around long enough to say that what they shared was worthwhile.
The worst offender, however, is Hashiba and Kobayashi’s relationship. Unlike Akechi and Namikoshi, whose relationship demonstrates that they care for one another, Hashiba and Kobayashi’s relationship lacks that same sense of friendship. This is mostly due to Kobayashi’s attitude. Hashiba pesters Kobayashi and saves him from certain death, so he clearly cares for Kobayashi. In contrast, Kobayashi regularly ignores Hashiba’s pleas, making it clear that Kobayashi does not care about Hashiba as much as Hashiba cares about him. There are a few scenes in which Hashiba and Kobayashi interact in a meaningful manner, but they amount to nothing more than small apologies or asides. The result is the awkward relationship they share.
As for Hashiba’s individual character, he blushes a lot whenever Kobayashi is nearby – while maybe not romance, it is assumed that he is attracted to Kobayashi. Besides this fact and that he comes from a rich, gambling family, nothing else is known about the best friend.
Hence, the best character is Shadow-Man, though even he is not without problems. His hobby is protecting little girls from would-be criminals, though people misread him as a pedophile. He is undoubtedly the most unique character the cast has to offer, yet as is common with Ranpo Kitan, the anime fails to use him. This is not even about developing or changing his character, he simply has next to no presence within the show. After his initial introduction, he appears in episode six (the comedic one) and then not until the finale. So while his character is strange, that is all he is, because that is all that the anime used him for.
Thus, like the story, the characters are as barebones as possible.
The opening theme is not slow; there is a quickness to it that pulls the listener along. And contrary to the anime, the song is not spooky. The first section has a single beat that seems like it will build towards that, but it is followed by a softer section that feels like longing. The middle section is comprised of a smattering of noise, leaning heavily on repetition. But the more its heard the more spiritual it becomes, fitting the sort of spiritual mood that the anonymous Twenty Faces and death in general entails. Also, the lyrics are interesting: “Sing notes of bronchitis,” “And my blood is my escape route,” and “All as speed and friction burn my insides” are graphic and haunting, once again fitting the anime’s mood. The song is not that impressive, but it at least hits the right atmosphere for Ranpo Kitan.
The ending theme starts off somber, an acoustic guitar and strained singing filling the piece. When the song picks up someplace in the middle, the piece becomes, like the OP, a cacophony. It is a bit overbearing, but it does have a purpose. As the visuals help to illuminate, this cacophony represents the craziness and figurative fall of society that the show regularly depicts. The piece goes back to its somber roots as it concludes, ending the piece on a sad note. This flow of emotion – from low to all-over-the-place to low once more – reflects the story’s own progression, making the ED, if nothing else, symbolic.
The rest of the original soundtrack is subpar, to say the least. The anime expectedly uses spooky compositions, such as a slow, ambient track that was essentially lifted from a haunted mansion. These set the mood, but are not fun to listen to outside of the show. Ranpo Kitan also uses a lot of piano tracks for the dramatic moments, but these tracks lack emotion. One dramatic piece in particular is Namikoshi’s favorite song, the song that Akechi plays from time to time on his jukebox to calm himself down. This song goes too far the other way; the song is too emotional and feels out-of-place. Then there are the comedic, jazzy tracks that only further the jarring tonal problems. Altogether, the OST is a largely forgettable offering.
Voice acting has no noteworthy performances. Rie Takahashi as Kobayashi gives the feminine male a girly voice but that is because Ms. Takahashi is a woman. Takahiro Sakurai as Akechi uses a voice that is a bit too old for his age. And Yoko Hikasa as Kuro Tokage, while energetic, does not come off as the conniving “Black Lizard” she claims to be because she always sounds so hyper.
I cannot say that I liked this one.
For starters, the comedy and the drama did nothing for me. I was not laughing when Kuro Tokage peed herself from pleasure (which happened a lot), and I was not emotional when Kagami was recounting the tale of his sister. My disliking of the comedy and the drama stems from my dislike of the characters. Kobayashi was too annoying, Akechi was too full of himself, and Namikoshi was too nonsensical for me to take seriously.
Shadow-Man was interesting, if only because he wore a paper bag over his head. His episode, where he tries to save Sachiko for the second time, is also the best of the season because there was an actual relationship and person worth caring about. Sadly, the anime forgets about Shadow-Man for much of the rest of the show, so I cannot say I will remember him too much. Fitting, considering his name and disguises.
The mysteries were lame, too. Akechi and Kobayashi always instantly got the answer, so it never felt like I got to solve the mysteries or at least try to figure them out in some capacity. If they had some kind of trouble with the mysteries, it would have felt more genuine for the show and the audience.
Then there were all of the ludicrous instances. The mother of the little-girl kidnapper literally not turning her demented son into the police. Everyone in the city joining Twenty Faces’ cause so suddenly. An island that basically amounts to a slavery ring that nobody ever investigated. And (albeit petty) Akechi slurping his black coffee all of the time.
My favorite aspect of the entire anime was something that was insignificant: the cat. The cat was a happy cat, which made me a happy person. She was a fun cat, but she had nothing to do with anything. She was there be a cute cat and nothing more. If she was the only part I found entertaining, that speaks volumes for how I felt about the rest of the show.
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace is awful. The story is broken, the characters are weak beyond belief, and the show is generally a bore to sit through. The art and parts of the music save this one from total atrocity, but only barely. It is practically a crime that this anime even got made in the first place.
Story: Terrible, the mysteries are pointless, the main theme on crime going unpunished is silly, proper tension is never built, the “Dark Star” law is cheap, and the ending is handled horribly
Animation: Good, the elaborate scenes are interesting, the lighting, contrast, and other details add purpose, about average actual animation, but subpar character designs
Characters: Terrible, Kobayashi, Akechi, and Namikoshi are weak individually and in conjunction with each other and the rest of the cast
Sound: Bad, okay OP, okay ED, bad OST, below average VA performances
Enjoyment: Terrible, only the cat was fun to watch
Final Score: 2/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3