Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace follows Kobayashi, a smart middle school student who is unstimulated in his daily life, until he is accused of murdering his homeroom teacher. Rather then worry about his status as a murder suspect, Kobayashi becomes excited by the prospect of being involved in a murder mystery which only deepens with the involvement of the genius boy detective Akechi. While his best friend Hashiba is horrified by the murder and Akechi’s attitude, Kobayashi nonetheless makes a deal with Akechi to allow him to become Akechi’s assistant. The 11 episode series deals with their adventures together.
While the series begins with Kobayashi being framed for murder, that plot thread is quickly, and somewhat disappointingly, wrapped up within the first two episodes and the rest of the series deals with the acts of the serial killers by the name of Twenty Faces. The plot only picks up in steam after they are introduced and that’s definitely one of the weaknesses of this show – it dedicates 30% of its relatively short runtime on the mundane setup before they jump into the main plot.
I never truly liked the main characters in this series and I am not quite sure if that’s because you are not really supposed to or if it’s just me. Akechi and Kobayashi are pretty much sociopaths in how they deal with their cases. They show little care or empathy for the victims of the often cruel and gruesome crimes that cross their path and are mostly just excited by the prospect of mental stimulation. While there are hints that Akechi might be just hardened or disillusioned, Kobayashi’s glee in dealing with these gory plots can be straight up disturbing. I spent the series expecting some kind of pay off to Kobayashi’s attitude and a satisfactory one never came. They are definitely interesting, and not necessarily badly written, but maybe I am just sick of the ‘aloof boy genius’ trope because I found myself actively annoyed by them in parts. While I empathise with Hashiba’s horrified attitude towards most of what’s going on in the series, his unfortunate role as a nagging foil to Kobayashi’s excitement also made him an irritating character. If he had his way there would be no show to watch and nothing exciting would happen. However, I don’t think my dislike of the characters detracted much from the show, hence I wonder if the characters were deliberately meant to be unlikable.
Some of the members of Twenty Faces are certainly the most engaging aspects of this series. Some of you familiar with Japan’s recent history may realise that their name is a reference to real life Japanese criminals, ‘the monster with 21 faces’, which also inspired the Laughing Man plot in Ghost in a Shell:SAC. In this show though, the inspiration seems to end at the name since the crimes and motivations of these loosely connected criminals have little relation to the real life counterpart. In the show Twenty Faces is more like a moniker for disparate killers with grievances against society, like Anonymous but for disgruntled teens railing against… let’s just say like Anonymous but with murders. Individually they are interesting and exciting but I believe the lack of a strong overall connection between them hurts the overall plot. Still, taken as an anthology of detective fiction, the show works pretty well because of the colourful villains.
This is one of the characters in Rampo Kitan. He is a master of disguise.
It may semms like I have had a lot of negative things to say about the show so far but I chose to lead with the negative because I actually enjoyed this show quite a bit. It may not be ranked in my favourite anime of all time but I find myself quite enchanted by it, mostly because of the high quality animations that mash well with its oddball tone. The animation is top notch in a way that only a high budget series could afford. At times, it bordered on the look of massive budget tentpole anime films and they achieved this by having a distinct style. The most distinct part of Rampo Kitan’s animation style is their tendency to draw background characters as grey faceless silhouettes until that particular character grabs Kobayashi’s attention. This not only is visually unique but it also highlights Kobayashi’s mental state as less and less grey silhouettes are present as the series advances. It also invokes that feel of classic morality plays as random background characters suddenly pop into forefront and become important to the plot.
Overall the animation style of Rampo Kitan exudes a surreal quality. There are colourful interludes and transitions from scene to scene and a recurring motif of butterflies that spans the entire series. The surreal art is a great companion to the oddball aspect of the show. The show not only has a strange tone, sliding from gory body horror into slap stick humour effortlessly, it also has weird asides like in classic plays. For a show that starts with a special kid in a high school, a well worn territory for anime, Rampo Kitan go to strange and wonderful places and it’s quite a ride.
At this point I should mention that the series is inspired by the works of Japanese Detective Author, Edogawa Ranpo. I am not personally familiar with his work but if you are you might find this series even more rewarding. But even without that familiarity, I was engaged by this series. I may not have become attached to the characters, but the unique aesthetic and overall oddity in a neat 11 episode package that didn’t overstay its welcome makes a perfect weekend binge. I’d give it a try if you are looking for something different from your usual shonen/shojo fair.
Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace is available now on DVD & Blu-Ray. Check the Madman website here for more information.