Considering I came into summer with the expectation that it would devolve into a generic sludge of mediocrity much like spring did, I was honestly shocked how entertaining it ended up being. Despite lacking any standout classics (according to the general consensus at least), the quality of many series improved drastically as the season went on. There were definitely several shows I have mixed feels on, & a few that had me questioning my life choices, but overall I came out pretty positive on what I saw. I certainly wasn’t expecting to end up watching seventeen shows.
I had initially planned on making a couple of group posts ranking everything I saw (not including shorts or continuing series like Working or Durarara) but by the time I finished over 10,000 words had been written, so I guess separate write-ups is it. As these reviews are going to be ranked on a descending scale, you’ll have to bear with me if the initial ones come across as overly negative or indifferent. One day I’ll get better at dropping series I don’t care about. In the meantime, positive stuff is coming, I swear!
14. Ranpo Kitan: A Game of Laplace
In recent years I’ve gotten much better at separating the wheat from the chaff & just dropping shows that fail to hold my interest. That said, my flaw of holding onto faith that things will improve remains (as watching seventeen episodes of Gundam Reconguista in G highlights nicely), leading to a few series each season that I ultimately regret spending the time on, finishing out of a perverse sense of completion. Cue A Game of Laplace.
I initially had fairly high hopes for the premise. I mean we’re talking about a murder mystery with elements of socio-political commentary, loosely adapted from the works of a famous pre/post World War 2 era author, airing in the noitamina slot. That worked out pretty well for 2011’s Un-Go, a personal favourite mine. However, Un-Go succeeded largely because it was adapted from one novel by Ango Sakaguchi (Meiji Kaika ‘Ango Torimonocho), a prominent writer of the ‘Buraiha’ school of thought, which dealt the identity crisis of post-war Japan, produced by Bones and directed by Seiji Mizushima, the guy behind the original Fullmetal Alchemist, Oh! Edo Rocket & most recently Expelled from Paradise. Laplace on the other hand, was adapted from several unconnected stories by Edogawa Ranpo, famous for ero-guro works in addition to detective stories, produced by Lerche & directed by Seiji Kishi, most known for a bunch of poor video game & manga adaptations, in addition to several other shows I dislike (and Humanity has Declined as a sole exception I guess).
I suppose I have nobody but myself to blame for expecting the two shows to have more than a passing resemblance, but even on its own merits it’s hard to see where Laplace succeeds. As a mystery series, it falls apart by constantly trying to tie works based on camp or macabre subject matter onto an unrelated genre, meaning there’s no through line in figuring out who the culprits are, let alone their motivations. The various stylistic quirks Kishi uses certainly don’t help either. Initially it’s neat to see background characters portrayed as blank paper cut-outs, reflecting main characters Akechi & Kobayashi’s personal disinterest, until you realise it’s a poor technique to use in a show that wants to examine behavioural patterns. If you’re looking for a show to try & guess who the perpetrator is, you’ve come to the wrong place. Such details are treated as irrelevant, with the viewer often not even seeing the culprit until they are caught. Late series twists such as an external narrator acting in a side-skit outside the story suddenly directly influencing the plot shows a willingness to break the fourth wall, but it’s ultimately a gimmick with no other meaning other than making you question whether anything you’re told is true.
As an adaptation to Edogawa’s works it struggles to stay afloat, with the stories so altered that they often seem to lack even a thematic connection to the source material. Take episode five’s The Caterpillar – the original novel concerns a war veteran, who, after committing atrocities on the battlefield, loses all his limbs & returns home to his horrified wife, who looks after him out of obligation until she blinds & rapes him a fit a rage and twisted lust. The adaptation on the other hand is about a police officer slowly breaking down from the injustices he faces, snapping when his little sister is murdered. You can force some connection out of the two & claim both deal with the pressure of societal expectations, but after a while it begins to feel like simply stretching things to fit. Merging separate guro elements into a larger mystery narrative ultimately comes across as clunky and forced.
I’ve heard the series referred to as a ‘dramedy’ (bloody awful term!) & there’s definitely that quality to it, such as the autopsy corner skits with the medical examiner or the literal stage presentation of the investigation segments. However, the details outside of the murders tend to be as treated deathly serious, with backstories and motivations presented with barely concealed rage towards the injustices of society. Yet no meaningful commentary or insight comes from it. The show might make allusions to criminals escaping justice by exploiting the law or how people turn a blind eye to abuse, but in the end it builds to little more than vague discontent that can barely point to a fixed source, let alone offer an answer. In any case, it’s hard to any of it seriously when the only characters outside of the main cast are either put upon victims or one-note villains to the point of parody. The finale throws out some vague platitudes about trying harder to care for others but it’s so emotionally dissonant with the rest of the show that it comes across as a lazy & disingenuous attempt at forcing a conclusion. The end result feels about as deep and meaningful as a Linkin Park song.
Admittedly, a show with such a heavy emphasis on black humour & an appreciation of body horror was never going to be quite to my tastes but I could see myself at least respecting it. However, the schizophrenic presentation, inherently unlikable cast and completely lack of balls in saying anything meaningful makes Laplace near-worthless in my eyes.
Seiji Kishi, everyone.