Anime Review: Rampo Kitan – Game of Laplace

So Rampo Kitan – Game of Laplace, or as I’m going to be referring to it from this point on, just Rampo Kitan is a Japanese anime series which was produced by Lerche, a subsidiary of Studio Hibari. The series was directed by Seiji Kishi (noted as the director of various anime including Angel Beats, Persona 4: The Animation, Danganronpa: The Animation and Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School) and was written by Makoto Uezu (noted as the scriptwriter for various anime including Danganronpa: The Animation, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, Kengan Ashura and Fate/Grand Carnival). 

The anime is inspired by the works of popular Japanese author, Tarō Hirai, more commonly known by his pen name, Edogawa Ranpo. He is considered to be one of the key developers of Japanese mystery and thrillers. He was an admirer of Western mystery writers, especially Edgar Allan Poe, for whom he derived his pen name and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The anime was released in 2015, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death in 1965. 

Rampo Kitan, borrows several elements from Ranpo’s work, specifically, one of the main characters of the anime, Kobayashi Yoshio who is named for the leader of the ‘Boy Detectives Club’, a group featured in The Boy Detectives Club Series (a.k.a. Fiend with Twenty Faces Series). One of Ranpo’s most famous characters, Kogoro Akechi, is also featured. And the primary antagonist of the series, Twenty Faces, is also a figure from Ranpo’s works.

Okay, so that’s a quick background on who makes the series, and where the core concepts come from, now to the review. And a quick note before we start. I’ve done TV reviews before and I usually do them episodically, I’ve decided not to do that for the anime, firstly because I plan on discussing some anime that number in the hundreds of episodes which just isn’t feasible and secondly because I feel like the format of overviews allows people who are interested in a show to find out a little bit more about it, without having things spoiled too much. 

So, first off, the animation style is really nice, very fluid and very attractive, it blends in dark and very graphic visuals, with absurd or cute or otherwise incongruous elements to create something that’s visually scintillating and engaging. One visual element that I really found interesting is that all background characters appear as shadows/silhouettes until they are properly introduced or otherwise make an impression on the main characters. It’s made clear in later episodes that this isn’t just a visual quirk, but rather an extension of the nature of the main characters, Kobayashi Yoshio and Kogoro Akechi, both suffer from a detachment from other people, and so until someone actually makes an impact on them, they appear as nothing more than hollow background characters. This is best demonstrated in three specific scenes, firstly we see someone transition from a shadow to a real person when the homeroom teacher Hanabishi, who is very uniquely dressed, like a cat girl, talks directly to Kobayashi, and makes an impression and before our eyes becomes real. Secondly, we see Akechi, who observes two police officers on Panorama Island and perceives them both as marionettes, and thirdly and perhaps most upsettingly, throughout the series, Kobayashi is close to his friend, Sōji Hashiba, he is one of the few people he can perceive as real. And yet as the series progresses, Kobayashi devotes more and more time to working with Akechi as his assistant, and less time at school, meanwhile Sōji returns to school to pass his exams, because his rich family expects him to excel, as he is the heir to their fortune. It seems that out of sight, is out of mind, because we see Sōji begin to fade, and become a shadow.

Moving away from the visuals, the show has a decent balance between humorous elements and heavier and darker aspects. In terms of the comedic parts we have things like the implied crush Sōji has on Kobayashi due to their feminine appearance, the macabre and yet high energy way that Minami, the medical examiner presents the cause of death in investigations and the frankly ridiculous nature of Shadow-Man, who despite having a rather heartbreaking backstory, is obviously a comic figure within the context of the narrative. 

Rampo Kitan is also a very dark show. Not only do two of the three main characters suffer from some sort of deep, clinical detachment from other people, which I touched on a little when discussing the visuals, but each of the cases they solve has an incredibly dark and twisted suspect. The overall antagonist of the series is ‘Twenty Faces’, a vigilante killer who targets people who managed to circumvent the law. Technically speaking, he is multiple people, but nonetheless the ‘Twenty Faces’ killer is the overarching villain of the story. Despite that, I personally found that Watanuki, a repeat offender who successfully avoided incarceration due to his family’s wealth, as well his diminished mental capacity was truly terrifying and made my blood run cold.

The show is graphic, and very visceral, but I don’t think it’s gratuitous, much like with the tone, it strikes a fair balance.

I found this series while searching for a detective anime, and while I do not think the mysteries are complex, I do think that they are well plotted and that more importantly they are not the point, instead they act as a vessel for characters, relationships and story. I think that the dynamic between Kobayashi and Sōji is especially vital to the story. You could make an argument that Kobayashi and Akechi’s relationship is more important but honestly it felt flat to me, because they are so similar, whereas Sōji provides a balance to the personality of both and rounds off, grounds and humanises the far more cerebral and cold nature of the teenage detective and his assistant. 

Perhaps the only element that really didn’t work for me was, Kuro Tokage (or the black Lizard), she’s some criminal, with a weird fixation on Akechi and she’s just kind of unpleasant, overly sexual, and has some sort of warped interpretation of a BDSM relationship going on with the fellow prisoners they’ve somehow allowed her to have. Akechi is a genius, with a deductive criminal mind on par with Sherlock Holmes, and yet he somehow at least twice has to rely upon her for information. I’d have been much happier if they cut her out, as the anime didn’t need any sex appeal, it didn’t need any more dark elements and the cast of characters was already pretty solidly rounded out. I mean if Akechi really needed guidance, they have two detectives that they work alongside who could easily have been the source of information. I also felt that Namikoshi was relatively underdeveloped, I mean he’s supposed to be the main antagonist of the series, and yet he wasn’t introduced until very late, and his entire background was rushed so we could have a quick conclusion. 

Something that really worked for me though was the music, the soundtrack was just beautiful, the opening and ending themes were beautiful and different, and a particular highlight of the show for me was when Akechi would play music on his jukebox. I think that music can sometimes make a show, and while I’m sure I’d enjoy this movie, without the awesome soundtrack, It definitely elevated the show to an even greater height. I think I’ll give Rampo Kitan a 3.5/5.

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