Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace (乱歩奇譚 Game of Laplace) is an original seinen, mystery, psychological anime series that aired during the Summer 2015 season as a 50th anniversary tribute to Rampo Edogawa’s passing and centred on the author’s most well-known character, Akechi Kogorō. The series was produced by studio Lerche and directed by Seiji Kishi with eleven total episodes. It was chosen as the community pick for Round 2 of #AniTwitWatches. I had never heard of this anime before, so when it was announced as the Round 2 choice, I was beyond ecstatic as Mr Edogawa Rampo is one of my favourite Japanese authors of all-time, particularly where social commentaries wrapped in psychological mysteries are concerned. Upon completion of the series, I feel that while it wasn’t a work of perfection, it’s still one of the best tribute creations to the author and what his work stood for that I have seen in the modern era. Please note that this review shall contain series spoilers. Please read at your own discretion. Thank you.
Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace follows Akechi Kogorō, an eccentric, introverted and anti-social genius detective who works to solve highly difficult criminal cases, most of which are savage killings. One day when a student of a local middle-school is charged with murdering his teacher, Akechi is trusted with solving the case. In the process of unravelling the mystery behind this crime, the accused middle-schooler becomes infatuated with Akechi’s work and volunteers to become his apprentice.
In my First Impressions, I had spoken about how the set-up of the crime scene was something that I became immediately smitten with. This specific scene, for me, is the prime example of what makes Rampo Kitan such a brilliant homage to a masterful author and commentator of social justice in Japan during a time where the people were being oppressed by the government that had sworn to protect it. It’s a scene of pure macabre art. This horrific display of dismembered body parts arranged in a manner that is supposed to speak of meditation and peacefulness is a grand exhibition of Edogawa’s belief in multiple personalities or identities within a single human, as well as his gross mistrust of authorities.
In the first episode, the crime is one of passion and acceptance. The victim himself was someone who portrayed himself to be a decent teacher in the public eye, yet beneath it he was a person that was obsessed with beautiful bodies. The women that he loved and cherished, he would dismember and then reassemble as furniture. They became pieces in a gallery where he could appreciate them in rather intimate fashions. He took the physical manifestation of loveliness and from it fastened a whole new conception of body art. The person who killed him had wished for nothing more than to become a part of his affectionate collection yet was overcome with intense jealousy. In the end, he became his own art.
The message of this episode was all about how you can never truly know or understand any one human being; the heart’s desires can be dark, malevolent shadows to those who cannot comprehend the nature of it. It doesn’t necessarily make it evil or wrong, but misguided. Misguided is one of the many ways that you shall see government officials and cops being presented in Edogawa’s works. He uses everyday individuals, like this teacher, to depict that the people of a nation or state can become just as misguided as those who rule over them because they blindly place their faith in leadership and by the time they stand up to take back their power, they’ve already started to corrupt from the inside out. Hence the necessary creation of multiple personas.
A repeating theme that you’ll find in Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace is one that presents itself via a character named Twenty Faces, who was Akechi’s archnemesis in Edogawa’s writings. In the anime, Twenty Faces represents the dichotomy of justice. They are a vigilante that hunts down criminals that the police were not able to apprehend for any number of reasons—usually incompetence—and wrests justice for the victims typically in the same exact manner in which they were brutalised. This form of radicalised due process is a retrospective on Edogawa’s ballsy and outwardly expressed belief that the saviour of the police force is always the people. Individuals who were fed-up with being betrayed and demoralised by the callousness of which the government perceived their citizens. It’s an exquisitely multi-dimensional examination of what subjugation via a systemised authority can do to the human spirit, especially as a collective.
These gloriously intelligent thematic elements and meticulous scrutinization of civil issues, that are still quite prevalent in many different parts of the world today, not only in Japan, is presented to the audience via outstandingly vivid and innovative virtual cinematography, which was a humongous driving force behind my near-obsessive desire to keep watching one episode after another after another. The unravelling of the mechanics behind how each crime was committed is engagingly cinematic with stage-play execution and colourfully charming characters, most of whom have a beautiful amount of sass and dry wit to them. Irrelevant characters are muted silhouettes until they become vital to the story (if they ever do). Akechi’s personal space has an eclectic décor that combines styles from 1920s speakeasys with 1960s beatnik flair. A corduroy couch and a classic, vinyl jukebox further helps to emphasise these minute detailed tossbacks to the eras of which Edogawa resided. The space is nearly packed with towering untidy stacks of books and case files as well and that reminded me of old school, black-and-white, noir detective films; facets that were a source of inspiration for Edogawa’s dive into the mystery-writing universe.
The colourfully unique collaboration of styles between the 20s and 60s can also be construed as an allegory for a period of Japanese history where strong cultural differences were starting to arise. You had the old and traditional versus the new and modernising (Westernising). People were split down the middle on whether they wanted to acclimate to match the people who had blown up their nation and thus their entire culturally social identity, or whether they wanted to hold on to what made them distinctly and undeniably Japanese. One choice meant foregoing the influx of outside pressures and choosing to remain attached and grasping at the pride of their identities; something that was also quite blatantly un-Buddhist-like because it also meant to remain in a state of suffering to varying degrees. The other looked forward towards an idyllic existence that had always been an anticipation of Utopia, and the reason behind the corruption that turned a ruler and government against its people. Which one is the answer? Which one is detrimental, and which one is salvation?
Even with the profusion of traits that I felt deeply connected and earnestly predisposed with, Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace is not an anime that I would recommend to everyone. For example, I don’t recommend this to people who are unfamiliar with Edogawa Rampo’s works, morals, and beliefs. There are tons and tons of minute references and so many interwoven details from many of his works that come together to create the imperfect masterpiece that is this tribute series. For many unfamiliar viewers, it can all feel disjointed, untidy, theatrically over-the-top, and maybe even frustrating at the fast-paced execution of many of the individual arcs. It’s a challenging series to deconstruct when you don’t have any of the reference material to draw comprehension from. I’m not saying that everyone who’s unacquainted shall feel this way, but I have seen many folx who have hated this anime because they didn’t understand any of the references of materials that it draws from. The show is unforgiving in the way that is was crafted. It’s quite obvious that this was made especially for fans of Mr Rampo with little wiggle room in between. The juxtaposition of pacing, certain characters, and the events from the finale are a hot fucking mess to those without keen insight into them. (Admittedly, even with prior knowledge, the ending was a tad more rushed than I would have cared for it to be, and it makes the story as a single entity come off as frowzy by the end.) Additionally, there are many triggers for scenes that display suicide, physical abuse, and graphic deaths, to name a few.
With all of that being said, if you have read and enjoyed Edogawa Rampo’s works, then I believe this anime is fantastically worth an investment in. Yes, it is bizarre with its idiosyncratic animation style, weird yet at-times morbidly whimsical cases and characters, and marvellously flourishing motif, but it’s splendidly gratifying to watch. All of my favourite themes came to life and it was indescribably exhilarating to see. Each aspect of it’s production was one that brought me immense amounts of joy and worked to further heighten my already incredibly intense admiration and appreciation for what this man encapsulated.
8 canned coffees outta 10.
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