Ranpo Kitan: Game Of Laplace 05 – Review
You heard it here first: There’s a 50/50-chance of getting away with murder in Japan!
This time I review:
Ranpo Kitan 05: Get this: You kill someone, rape someone and steal from them (not necessarily in that order) and then you get caught by the police. But it isn’t a big deal, you know? You can just claim to be crazy and you’re right back on the streets within hours. Dealing with crazy criminals is such a hassle for Japan that the police just don’t bother doing that (if this series can be believed). In a world where there’s a prison for super-villains basically, criminals have a get-out-of-jail-freecard by claiming they’re insane (which they are but not enough to make an insanity-defense work under realistic circumstances).
Sure, tell the policeman with a conflict of conscience about the famous vigilante who thought murder was the best kind of justice!
If the previous episodes’ political and societal undertones have annoyed me before, it’s this episode where I start to question the goals of this series’ creators. On paper this is supposed to be a gory mystery-series honoring the memory of the famous writer Edogawa Rampo but so far this series has pushed that bit into marginal territory (despite the OP always beginning with the name of Edogawa Rampo and the announcement of the anniversary). Instead the series has been slowly overtaken by a very subjective interpretation of contemporary problems in Japan. Naturally one might doubt this claim once seeing this series but that’s exactly what’s so disturbing about this series: It takes very REAL Japanese problems and turns them into bizarre plothooks for grotesque mysteries and all the while the series is struggling to come up with some delusional message. This is a series based on a VERY heightened reality and still it never stops moralizing and indirectly preaching about what we’re supped to “learn” from the developments of this series’ gory events.
This model is nothing new when it comes to crime-procedurals (CSI or Law & Order having an episodic “ripped from the headlines”-story for example isn’t surprising after all) and it also isn’t unusual just how heightened and simplistic the presentation of the topic turns out to be. But even with such a flawed approach there are various levels of just how badly you can misrepresent whatever you want to talk about with a crime-procedural. And an episode like this one certainly scrapes the bottom of the barrel in how much it fucks with what’s really happening. Instead of illuminating certain societal issues and maybe even educate viewers while also criticizing society for the existence of such issues, here you get a fairy-tale preying on the audience’s fears while grossly pushing any touchstones with reality into an outright fantastical realm. Imagine someone talking about the problems immigration from third-world-countries pose to first-world-countries and now imagine said someone addressing this problem by inventing a story about how 90% of all these immigrants are actually terrorists in disguise and once they’ve entered some first-world-country they’ll attack innocent people. This would be the wavelength this episode is on.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a very real problem at the heart of this episode. The problem actually being: The Japanese mental-health-care-system. To make it short: It sucks. And in this case the focus is on criminals using an insanity-defense to not go to prison (which is the sort of oversimplified, illusionary narrative FoxNews might come up with usually). First of all, one needs to understand that even in its roughest state (using the McNouagh-rule), the insanity-defense is there to be used for people SO insane that they aren’t even aware that they’ve done a crime and this isn’t the “I’m evil and so I’m gonna kill as many people as possible”-variety. This is some mother thinking her children are changelings and killing them or some husband getting convinced his wife has been possessed by the devil which leads to her murder. It isn’t enough to just claim you’re crazy, you actually have to be. In TV-Series and movies the insanity-defense is often portrayed as a get-out-of-jail-free-card although it isn’t and there aren’t that many insanity-defenses made in the US for example and even fewer actually succeed (since, you know, you have to be actually crazy, just being a scumbag isn’t enough). And usually someone who succeeds with an insanity-defense is institutionalized for longer than the time he would’ve spent in a prison. It’s also all done under the supervision of therapists and whatnot. You can read about the particulars of that here and here.
The reason, though, we’ve gotten this episode is that Japan’s handling of forensic psychology is still very flawed (the first real step to catch up with international standards was made in 2005 with the Act for the Medical Treatment and Supervision of Persons with Mental Disorders Who Caused Serious Harm) and a big problem is that the mental-health-care-system lacks the infrastructure to reasonably deal with mental-health-issues in the same way many other first-world-countries do. You can read about the Japan’s history with mental illness and this most recent Act regarding that here and here.
Another reason why we’ve got this episode is that the wake-up-call for this issue was the Osaka-school-massacre in 2001 where a janitor with a known criminal record murdered eight school-girls. And it’s the same thing you have gotten here with how this episode claims all criminals can “get away” with their crimes. In this series’ universe the insanity-defense is a sure-fire defense to avoid jail: All the evil serial-killers of this series claim to be crazy to avoid going to prison and then they will somehow “slip out” and continue their murder-spree. Then again, the “slipping out”-part wasn’t even that hard to imagine for the longest time in Japan because they actually didn’t have any facilities for insane people with a criminal record (the part where sis-con-police-guy learns that one of the SUPER-evil criminals escaped the hospital echoes that) and even now Japan is still understaffed and generally unequipped to deal with these types of people. What pushed Japanese politicians to address the issue of mental-health-care was a massacre committed by a crazy person who didn’t receive any sort of thorough therapy or treatment despite his known issues. But the sensationalistic take on that is somewhat different.
Where Japan’s actual problems go much deeper than just mentally ill criminals when it comes to mental-health-care, this episode’s perspective could actually be considered a step backwards regarding that problem. Because what this episode says about mentally ill criminals and the law isn’t only factually incorrect (in bizarre laughable ways even) but this series portrays mentally ill people as evil incarnate. You could even make a case that mental illness doesn’t exist in this series’ universe as we ultimately deal with various shades of creepy serial-killer in this episode. A criminal that’s called crazy is just trying to avoid prison, of course: That’s what this series thinks of the insanity-defense. When thinking of mentally ill criminals, this series seems to think of Hannibal Lecter and imagine that most of the criminals out there are just like that. This is a series where actually “pure evil” can become a description for a character which is as insulting as it is stupid (as the episode avoids asking the hard questions that way).
Except the insanity-defense exists for people who have done something wrong but would never even think of saying something like that. Besides, him saying that during an official interrogation actually should keep him from claiming to be insane. But… realism is something this series doesn’t give a shit about obviously.
So let’s talk about the actual episode which is mostly a huge tale of “disillusionment”, “woe is me” and murderous but seemingly necessary vigilantism. The last part is more interesting because there are plenty of superhero-comics out there addressing this angle of the police simply being incapable of dealing with super-villains. But usually the explanation is centered on the awesomeness of the super-hero and/or the awfulness of the super-villain as an excuse for why the super-hero needs to step in. Here, though, the explanations are a ridiculous rationalization for the whole Twenty-Faces-thing. This episode claims that 50% (!) of the Police’s cases never succeed because of the insanity-defense. And some news-section claims that recidivism (becoming a criminal again after having done their time determined by the judge) among released criminals is around 38.6%. Every second criminal weasels his way out of jail-time and half of those starts doing crazy shit again right after they’re free again. It’s hard to imagine how Japan wouldn’t have turned into a Mad-Max-landscape already with those kinds of statistics.
Things get even more stupid with where the episode actually goes with this. There isn’t any sort of moral to this story per-se but while it’s slightly critical of the wannabe-vigilante’s behavior, it also doesn’t offer an answer for the really big questions posed by this episode. And it actually needs to answer those because it does address those with its bizarre presentation of what psychopaths are like (and in this series’ world every major criminal seems to be a psychopath and serial killer of some kind). Therefore you’re left to wonder if what Twenty Faces is doing is actually the right thing to do as the law is clearly unable to save the public from those devils. Seriously, the way this series presents it the police is incapable of pursuing crime. Special Sherlock-advisors, vigilantes or external figures with a personal interest getting involved: This series has it all. What this series doesn’t have is a competent police-force and it clearly blames the law for that. But we never get to see what the angle of the politicians is in this series’ universe. All we get to see in the news is people protesting, whining and bitching about whatever problem is at the forefront of their minds. And while those problems are very serious this series’ writing does not have the necessary background-knowledge to present those things in an illuminating fashion. What this series does with that information is to dumb it down to what people are afraid of will happen without any research. In this case you not only get the subjective viewpoint of someone playing to a paranoid crowd but it’s vague enough that all this episode does is to stoke the fires of paranoid people. This episode never feels substantial to a point where it actually can go somewhere. All it has is its warped perspective and the generic take it has on it.
It’s one thing to have a bad script but it’s another to have a bad script that is ambitious enough to tackle REAL present-day issues. At that point the script faces a responsibility to actually confront that issue. The way series like Law & Order, CSI or Hannibal get away with depicting their crimes in such grotesque fashions is that they all happen in heightened, fictional version of our reality. The basics are there for this sort of route in this series but it never cares enough about atmosphere or tone that you’re getting a consistent image. There are too many moving parts that seem absurd under normal circumstances that the series doesn’t address for some reason. Under these conditions it’s hard to get a feel for what kind of world the characters live in. And it doesn’t help that so far the series has been consistently throwing more absurdity at the audience without ever establishing a baseline for the whole thing.
Just looking at the mechanics of the plot of this episode, it’s disappointing just how much of a boilerplate-narrative this episode establishes. An idealistic cop enters the police-force, has some success, some of the criminals he caught get free for weird legal reasons, he struggles to keep his ideals alive, his sister (who more or less acts like his wife) gets attacked by a criminal out for revenge, cop-dude realizes that he got out because of shitty laws and therefore he takes on the mask of Twenty Faces to become a vigilante. It’s ridiculous that nobody would even mention that cop-dude’s little sister got seriously hurt because of him. This is the sort of reveal that doesn’t make sense in retrospect. After all, if this has happened before the first episode of this series, any of Sherlock-dude’s remarks how cop-dude is a siscon are made in poor taste. And if it happened during the previous episodes (seriously I’m not very sure what the timeline is supposed to be here), then it’s weird how the series kept this from the audience. Either way, it’s an awkward narrative development that gets even more awkward once you realize how illusionary its story-foundations are. And in the end the whole thing ends with a hollow-sounding thud as cop-dude is indeed Twenty Faces. It’s cynical but witless and also preachy and moralizing to the point where it’s hard to sympathize with what’s going on.
This episode follows Ranpo Kitan’s trajectory as its flimsy worldbuilding rarely reveals consistency in tone or atmosphere and instead you just get a grotesque theater-performance that tries VERY hard to stay relevant and shocking while not ending up either due to how ridiculous and generic the script for the episodes has been so far. Indeed this is a series that manages the balance-act between seeming outlandish enough to not be very relatable and being generic enough to not cause any excitement in following the mystery-stories.
- Other links you might find useful: A questionaire-based study on how Japanese forensic psychology has developed (short version: it has gotten better but it’s still limping behind what most other first-world-countries are doing); here’s an article about why the the insanity-defense of the killer of Chris Kyle failed (which talks a lot about how difficult it is in reality to successfully claim the accused to be insane).
- I don’t even know what the episode’s trying to get at (or at least I don’t see anything that’s worth getting at here). When that one police-guy talks about his “compromise” with “reality”, am I supposed to agree with him, admire him or something along those lines? Apparently the police can hold any criminal only for a short time (if he claims to be insane) and the best you can get out of your police-work is to keep criminals from doing crime for a couple days (at best). But in this series’ universe this seems to be a problem a lot of people are aware of but nobody does anything about it. This episode is SO cynical and nihilistic while deliveirng the whole thing with a very cheesy, predictable storyline that the whole thing feels like posturing.
- There is only so much you can do with a bad script. Visually and direction-wise the episode is handled well but the script is SO bad that its awfulness overshadows all the other aspects of this series in this episode.