It’s not too often that I regret a quick trigger with the whole label thing, but I’m beginning to fear I might have jumped the gun with Ranpo Kitan. I liked the first episode an awful lot, the second less, and this one even less than that. I have a long list of issues that trouble me about this show, but while individually any one or two might be tolerable, we’re going to need to see a general rise in sea level or I’m going to be on the cusp of dropping it.
I think fundamentally there are two core problems, with the rest radiating out from those. The first is that we’ve had two mysteries, neither of which was very good. Considering that this is a mystery series, that’s a big strike against it. This week’s story was about “Shadow Man” (Koyasu Takehito), a freak who we’re supposed to believe has some kind of agape love for little girls that makes his lolicon admirable. Shadow Man also has an utterly impossible ability to perfectly disguise himself as anyone else (“except a girl”, conveniently for the plot), up to an including instant wardrobe changes that would make Lala Satalin Deviluke jealous.
But S.M. isn’t the villain of the piece – no, that role is set aside so Kishi and Uezu can draw a contrast between healthy and noble obsession with little girls and nasty, fat otaku obsession. That’s personified in Watanuki (Suyama Akio), a laughable caricature who kidnaps little girls to be his “family”, and grinds them into cement when they don’t get with the program. It’s very silly, not at all feasible and frankly, insulting to the intelligence. So far we’ve had one mystery that didn’t play fair with the audience at all, and one which wasn’t even really a mystery at all – just a premise. That’s a pretty rough start.
The other major problem (again, symptomatic of other related ones) is the way Kishi and Uezu are handling Kobayashi. He goes undercover as a girl here to draw out Watanuki, but while that skill is something in common with Ranpo’s original, that’s like saying a Giant Sequoia and a Dwarf Lemon are both trees. Frankly, I find the usage of the character crass and calculated. There’s no effort to use his ability to “pass” as evidence of his skill – it’s here strictly for puerile reasons. It would be one thing to depict Kobayashi as a boy who identifies as a girl, but he’s not – his effeminate characteristics are exaggerated to the extreme, to the point where’s he’s effectively a female character Kishi is passing off as male for effect.
I see Kishi and Uezu as trying to have their cake and eat it too, in a sense – and I think that’s exactly what they’re trying to do with the mysteries. While they’re trying to score cool points by depicting the protagonists as gleefully amoral, they’re asking us to accept moral judgments (twisted though some of them may be) in the weekly plotlines. Again, I find the whole thing sort of insulting and crass – which is a real shame, because I’ve seen these two do some really smart and edgy material. But so far at least, Ranpo Kitan is definitely not suitable for that description.