Ranpo Kitan: Game Of Laplace – Review
The series itself delivers the best summary for how little it actually has achieved with its story: First it throws around big words and then what you get to see is such a basic and simplistic story that you can’t help but feel disappointed.
In the beginning I absolutely hated this series. I hated it, simple as that. The mysteries were shoddily implemented, the characters barely registered as people and the overall story had some eyebrow-raising issues. What the series has become after that is worse and better at the same time. For one, I feel like the Twenty-Faces-thingy was a good choice for a mystery-series-gimmick and using a Laplace’s demon to basically create a urban folktale people would use as a mask (and excuse) to exact revenge was also intriguing. I don’t know if some studio or producer has forced the writers and directors of this series to fuck this all up or if the creators themselves had some misguided ideas about what they ended up saying with this series but what this series ends up offering is such an extremist, prejudiced perspective that I shudder to think of a person who would look at this and think it’s smart.
And all you need is a laptop! I mean, with a really cool mathematical formula ANY computing device could be a Laplace’s demon. It isn’t like it would need an insanely powerful computer to literally calculate/predict the future.
A lot of what Ranpo Kitan has been trying to do over the course of its run is more ambitious than functional. Grand ideas burdening a series to the point of breaking is a common theme here and the result is a lot of baffling story-themes, characterizations and plot-developments. Switching between impractical and shallow the series’ portrayal of its themes misses the mark more often than hits it. While this makes the series a bit of a trainwreck, it’s sometimes a sight to behold for how it goes off-the-rails fairly frequently.
It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that this was originally supposed to be a 2-cours-series because between what the series was in the first three episodes and what it became after that is a huge gap. First of all, the second half consistently works with the Twenty-Faces-gimmick (Twenty Faces being a skull-masked killer exacting revenge when he or she feels society ignores his or her suffering). Meanwhile the first two episodes of this series had paid lip-service to what I expected this series would be about: Creating creepy mystery-stories tied to Ranpo Edogawa’s work.
At the same time as the Twenty-Faces-thing becomes the focus of the series its mystery-aspect kinda disappears into the background. The series treats it like a revelation at the end but one could argue that it’s just an excuse for why this series stops having any mysteries of note after the 4th episode or so. The mysteries before were garbage as well if you ask me but at least the series tried to have some resemblance of a mystery-plot. But the later Twenty-Faces-stuff first got stuck on who Twenty-Faces is (which is obvious and needlessly gets dragged out by the series) and then we get these various Twenty-Faces-cases that aren’t mysteries at all because the formula controlling the Twenty-Faces-phenomenon always ends with the Twenty-Faces-character dying. So the Twenty-Faces-criminals are all martyrs as well and naturally those don’t want to get away with a crime. They want the world to know why they killed someone. With that the whole thing the series doesn’t have much room for real mysteries anymore.
And one of the biggest ideas of this series is the Dark-Star-formula that Namikoshi and Akechi had worked on. It’s essentially a Laplace’s demon as the series mentions as well. Just as a short explanation: The “demon” in question is basically an omniscient being, it knows everything about the universe and how the universe works and with that knowledge it can determine any outcome to any action. Of course this definitely sounds like something you would see in a sci-fi-story or a fantasy-story (where it could literally be a demon for example). The chaos-theory-aspect that also gets talked about here is probably more like the butterfly-effect in particular (not so subtly presented with the butterflies of course) which states that even the most minor variations in a starting condition of a system can lead to big changes. Of course if you have a genuine Laplace’s demon, though, he wouldn’t be influenced by chaos-theory. Besides this series doesn’t actually give a shit about this topic and Dark-Star as well as Twenty-Faces might as well have been created by magic. Despite all the big words that get thrown around to explain Dark-Star it’s certainly a nebulous magical device that mostly is just there as a plot-hook and a magic wand to explain plot-developments that might seem nonsensical under close scrutiny. But even this magic plot-device shouldn’t be questioned too much because then the plot will fall apart again actually.
You know your series’ story-arc doesn’t work when it ends with multiple snippets of infodumping presented in the most bare-bones manner. Also, fuck this series for even suggesting that some sort of mass-movement of suicidal revenge-murderers could help society.
The story behind Twenty-Faces and what transpires in the last two episodes of this series seems almost abstract and overly intellectual with how stylized the visuals are and how basic most of the emotional beats are as well as the story-beats. A lot of what the series is trying to do comes off as blunt as the series never develops the kind of poignancy and depth you would expect from the grand ideas this series is throwing around.
The first sign of that are the visuals which are very stylized with a few consistent visual themes. And yet none of those seem compelling as their symbolisms and metaphors feel crude compared to the obvious complexity of the topic they’re addressing. Also, you often can’t help but feel like the animation-department is cutting corners by abandoning a realistic depiction of what’s going on but instead presents a simplified version. One theme is the anonymity of the masses that always share a mask or disguise. In Koboyashi’s version of the world people are just shades until they’re of interest to him while Namikoshi perceives as everyone having a skull as a head (you could have a field-day with trying to explain why then his creation Twenty-Faces actually does have a skull as a face, too). You could even argue that every appearance is just a mask in this series as the shapechanging master-thief with a bag on his head can be whoever he wants to be but when he’s himself he actually wears a mask. So when characters take on inhuman shapes in a character’s perspective it’s less that these characters get dehumanized but more that they get revealed for who they really are. The Twenty-Faces-mask actually becomes the true face for the characters that employ it while Namikoshi seeing his bullies and parents as having skullheads shows off their ugly characteristics while Kobayashi’s distaste in how dull most people are is proven right as he only feels entertained around Akechi and Hashiba. And Akechi also has such a perspective as he sees the people around him as wooden dolls.
But that visual theme already creates the first problem I have with this series’ story. Despite how grand and ambitious its ideas are (which is also shown in how much media-buzzwords this series is constantly throwing around with its story) the story works on a very dumb principle: There are only two kinds of people in this world – those who are scummy and evil to varying degrees and those who are prey for these. And more than that: Things like laws and justice are ineffective. This series takes the worst of our everyday-society and ignores all the rest. And so when message-time rolls around for this series Ranpo Kitan acts all high and mighty believing it has something to say but the series’ very foundation is so narrowminded that rather than illuminating certain topics it would rather beat you over the head with its simplistic message. In fact, I actually felt uncomfortable at the end of this series as I don’t think the series properly explained why something like Twenty-Faces is a stupid way to address injustice and crime.
Ignoring how a lot of these series’ barely developed and explored ideas make me feel uncomfortable, it’s also hard not to notice how aside from its ideas this series has little to offer actually. The plot is just pure garbage as it doesn’t adhere to any logic thanks to its stylized portrayal. And the mysteries have started out as acceptable on a logical level and have turned into sensationalist showcases of how fucked up this series’ society is. The characters are one-dimensional as well and more than that: They don’t have an arc! 11 episodes and NOTHING has changed in the dynamic between Akechi, Hashiba and Kobayashi. If you squint your eyes you might argue that they’ve gotten closer but come on, that is hardly something you would call character-development!
Amazingly this is a series that tries to do a lot of things and fails to do most of these things. Characters barely change, the mystery-element gets lost in some sort of sci-fi-gimmick, said sci-fi-gimmick doesn’t get properly explored and all the fancy visual stylizations are used as cheap plot-devices or to hit you over the head with its symbolism. The best way to summarize this series is to say that it shows you everything you should do with a mystery-series and it also shows you how not to do it.
- The idea of Twenty-Faces is as logical as telling all Vegetarians/Vegans to go out there and kill all farmers who keep cattle and so forth. First of all, Twenty-Faces only exists because the law is grossly ineffective in this series’ universe and by extension the police is as well. Also, as said in the review: If you’re not an asshole, there’s some asshole out there waiting to hurt you – that’s how this series views the world.
- It’s kinda silly how the the series refuses to say the word ‘love’ in connection to the relationships between Akechi and Namikoshi as well as Kobayashi and Hashiba. I mean, it isn’t even subtext as obvious as it is sometimes! Of course, these romantic story-lines don’t really have an arc. The series starts with the respective characters loving each other and the series ends that way, too. During the dialogue between Kobyashi and Namikoshi the latter literally has a line saying “And then I’ve realized why Akechi helped me all these time.” – except Namikoshi then never goes on to spell out the obvious. Instead the script just leaves it at that! That has nothing to do with keeping gay in the subtext, that’s just shitty writing!
- If what Akechi and Namikoshi were trying to create was really Laplace’s demon then Akechi’s argument with Namikoshi about the latter having to die has a weird angle that the series doesn’t really explore, I feel like. Look, if you believe in quantum physics Laplace’s demon wouldn’t work anyway but just on an existential level something like that would be depressing. If you’ve got a thing that can reduce your humanity to string of calculations and make it predictable, then you get into fatalistic territory and you might as well go back to ancient times when an important element of Norse-mythology was everybody having to deal with the end of the world. That’s where this sort of insight leads. It’s like a religion. So it’s weird that the series never even explored the obvious “fate vs. freedom of will”-angle. And if the “demon” is imperfect Chaos-Theory at least should fuck over those predictions again and again. And if you really can reverse-engineer the steps needed to reach a certain goal, why not try to calculate what needs to be done for a peaceful revolution? Namikoshi’s insistence on killing criminals with the formula is obviously a flaw in what you could do with the demon. Then again, at some point you would get to the point of Minority Report even if you use it as a tool of crime-prevention. But I already feel like I’ve thought more about this than this series did, so I stop…