Beautiful Bones – 09/10 Review

[C12] Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru - 09.mp4 - 00002You know, just like reality-TV-shows… It isn’t like anybody needs to know what reality is like but we all gladly would watch real people get subjected to a weird version of reality created by the TV-show-producers and the participants’ inherent craziness.

This time I review:

Beautiful Bones 09/10: Get this: A girl lost her grandmother who she loved a lot. And despite her love she has NO CLUE what her grandmother wanted to tell her. The first mystery was realizing that she wasn’t suicidal. You know, since the grandma you had been exchanging letters with for years would naturally be an inscrutable individual to you. Therefore as the girl remembers that she was promised a certain painting for her eventual wedding, she asks Sakurako for help to figure out what painting her grandmother never was talking about specifically. And guess what…? That painting her grandmother never described in detail or mentioned with its name can’t be identified by Sakurako either! I mean, who could’ve known that you’d actually need hard evidence for the truth…

And in the 10th episode a new arc starts about a bad girl running away from a bad home to be abused by a creepy artist. Her best friend has shitty parents and she herself is a shitty person herself. But at least Sakurako is on the case because nobody’s calling the police…

Oh, and Shoutarou has never realized that bone-cancer is painful. Good for him to finally solve that particular puzzle!

Review:

[C12] Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru - 10.mp4 - 00001Guess we’re calling the glass half-empty then henceforth…

The power of storytelling isn’t inherently connected to complexity. You can tell all sorts of compelling stories with a straightforward, simplistic approach. Of course, this series has burdened itself with some really heavy topics since it’s all about the presence or at least the idea of death and how it affects people. But the foundation for this series morality seems to be a perplexing amount of naivety and a distinctive inflexibility to imagine the points-of-view of other characters.

In the ninth episode which has two short stories to offer you got all the familiar beats strung together in quick succession which makes it obvious how little this show has to say about death. The first half is concerned with the Shoutarou’s “girlfriend” who has another problem related to her dead grandma. It’s already at this point where you just think “Wait, again…?”. In the third episode when the corpse of that grandma got discovered her searching the help of Sakurako to understand her grandma’s mindset was the main-thrust of the story. And here… it’s the same again…?

Of course, this is where the incredible naivety of the characters (with the exception of Sakurako, of course) comes into play. You’d think that the experience of the events of that first time when Sakurako helped that girl figure out that her grandma didn’t kill herself she’d understand that all she has to go on is really just her memory of her grandma and what she left behind. But instead she once again approaches Sakurako as if she’s supposed to be some sort of medium that can speak to the dead. The whole premise of the girl trying to figure out which exact painting she was supposed to get when she will get married is simply foolish.

But Sakurako does all this research of the letters the girl and her grandma exchanged and comes up with three various paintings that could be the one her grandma had in mind. And there are somewhat reasonable explanations for all of them. Of course, all of them are just really good guesses and so naturally it all just ends with this completely pointless “revelation” that maybe there won’t be a definitive answer unless the girl has a flashback at some point clearing up the issue.

Particularly the third picture with this forced allegory of the island in a lake symbolizing a grandma waiting for her granddaughter sparks a discussion. Sakurako scoffs at the sentimental nature of the whole thing while Shoutarou does some wordplay about the value of useless things. Instead of letting the story go somewhere, you have one character just saying that it was all a waste of time and another character saying “No.”. That’s really all that happens here! I don’t think that after that first time we dealt with this relationship between the grandma and her granddaughter we needed to hear another story just telling us that they had a lot of affection for each other and someone being dead means it’s hard to find out what they were thinking about a particular topic. It’s clear that you’re supposed to agree with Shoutarou here but frankly I totally agree with Sakurako that this was all pointless. A better series would’ve tried to investigate why the girl is that obsessed with finding out what painting she was supposed to get when she would get married. Instead the series mostly just rehashed familiar storybeats here.

It doesn’t get much better with the second half as Shoutarou’s cancer-grandma-story also leads to very obvious, broad story-ideas. That the series would even treat this as some sort of mystery is kinda insulting. And slowly it starts to bug me how the series keeps applauding Sakurako for making assumptions as if they were deductions. The series has acknowledged it multiple times how sometimes Sakurako is just assuming things but usually “assumptions” are a work-in-progress for mystery-stories. You don’t hear the detective-character say “I assume that’s the case… Okay, I’m good. My curiosity’s been sated!”. This happens when Sakurako just assumes that the cancer-grandma didn’t eat Chicken-pudding with kid-Shoutarou because she actually hated it but knew that he loved it. That’s just an assumption! And the other part of the deduction/story was just bewildering. I mean, how naïve do you have to be to not realize that your grandma with end-stage-bone-cancer was REALLY suffering…? Also, you’d notice if you’re talking to someone who’s high on strong painkillers (which someone like that grandma would need). I can understand that Shoutarou as a kid maybe wouldn’t have understood the situation but as a teenager he should’ve known better. And then there was this really weird exchange between Sakurako and her maid about the latter’s health-problems. Sakurako’s all like “I notice you have problems. Let’s go to a doctor tomorrow!” and the old lady’s all like “No! I have my dignity! And you can’t take that away from me!”. I guess, dying out of stubbornness is a virtue to this series.

And the moral of this second half once again lands with a lame thud. I mean, nothing about this is revelatory or interesting. The grandma has cancer, she cares about her grandson and wants to die as gracefully as possible. What Sakurako’s old maid has to offer is the most important thing here but all we get from her here is lame exposition-like summaries of what the cancer-grandma went through. The story of the old maid and the fate of the grandma only connect at the very end but before that you just get told the barebones of a somewhat sad story reduced to a simplistic mystery-puzzle. But by insisting on just making assumptions all the time the series really keeps its distance from the emotional story-beats it wants to talk about. Imagine an episode where Shoutarou starts talking and then we get an uninterrupted flashback-episode about how kid-Shoutarou witnessed his grandma’s slow death despite her desperate attempts to hide the painfulness of that process from her grandson. It’s a powerful story in theory but all we get here are the cliffnotes from a dude who’s too dumb to even understand the cliffnotes-version of the events.

[C12] Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru - 09.mp4 - 00003And there’s nothing creepy about that!

With the tenth episode the series starts another arc and ties back to its other arc with the suicidal dude. This time the focus is on three former students of the teacher-character who all seem like trouble. One of them killed herself under somewhat mysterious circumstances (after all, in this series the police declare deaths to be suicides for no reason) and the other two met a REALLY creepy dude who despite his creepiness manages to convince the girls to become models for his surrealist paintings. But now one of the girls has fled home to be with this creepy dude or something – and it’s up to Sakurako to find her.

What you immediately notice in this episode is that everyone Sakurako and the two dudes meet is an asshole. The parents of both girls are assholes, each in their own particular way, and the still-living girl is also an asshole (at first at least…). The disappeared girl also sounds like a douchebag and the artist is a total creep. Actually, Sakurako is pretty creepy as well in this episode. I guess, the director of this particular episode had a very strong opinion about the world of this series. Just take last episode and you get more cheesy sentimentality than you could possibly stomach but here the series actually starts to slip into noir-territory. Everybody’s running around with a dark secret or two and usually one of them is that they’re huge assholes. Of course, both Shoutarou and the teacher are quickly becoming useless characters in the procedural storytelling as Sakurako seems to be the only one with a working brain in that group of people.

The procedural stuff is the same as usual: Meeting garbage in human form, investigating the garbage they leave behind and trying very hard to find a girl before she bites the dust. You’d think this would be an episode with a lot more tension but between watching the teacher moping around and Sakurako having to explain the plot every step of the way because Shoutarou is an idiot, the whole pacing feels like a relaxed “We get there when we get there, okay?”. There’s nothing urgent about the procedural and it doesn’t help when the episode wastes time on stuff like when Sakurako gleefully proclaims that she kinda hopes that they’ll find a body. Naturally Shoutarou calls her out on that and then Sakurako lectures him as if she’s just being realistic. And the teacher takes her side except the whole argument was about her actually hoping to find her dead. The whole reason for the debate was that Sakurako wasn’t realistic at all and more like morbidly selfish. But since the script immediately backpedals away from that point I don’t really see why this scene even needed to be in the episode.

We’re getting close to the end and while this is a series with admirable ambitions and interesting ideas, I have yet to see even one episode that actually turns the whole thing into something worth anyone’s attention. Thematically a lot of storytelling in this series feels like one step forward and two backwards. Spontaneously I think of the recent Adventure Time episode 03 from season 07 where Cherry Cream Soda deals with the trauma of losing her husband but who then magically returns to life except she’s decided to move on. Despite the inherent silliness and simplicity of the story-elements this episode says more about death and its effects on living people in 11 minutes than this whole series has managed to do so far. I’m thinking of this particular episode because it’s pretty basic as well. But in contrast to this series, Adventure Time doesn’t pull any punches in how it addresses the emotions of the characters. If high-minded philosophizing or elaborate Shakespearan writing isn’t your goal, it’s fine to settle for the basic emotional story-beats the audience can relate to. But what this series had to offer so far on that topic are just the usual platitudes you’d expect to see and the whole mystery-aspect is simply sub-par. The same way the series favored the grandma in the ninth episode for refusing to go to the doctor for her back-pain, the series in general would rather keep up a dignified façade than address the emotions beneath in a sincere manner.

After 10 episodes it’s still difficult to see what the series’ stance on death is. The series still flirts with the debate between Sakurako and Shoutarou while ultimately always settling for the sentimental option without really resolving the debate on a rational level. Sakurako’s always weirdly obsessed with death while Shoutarou tries to be the straight guy and occasionally the whole thing gets a little bit more dramatic. But the series hasn’t done a lot of bring all its various ideas and perspectives together for a coherent image. The script-writing is always driven by the immediate story and plot and seems less concerned with creating a cohesive universe for the story. Too many of the stories in the series are incidental or character-related without ever turning its mystery-procedurals into a baseline for its stories. It’s the tenth episode and we’re still at the stage where Sakurako/Shoutarou just “sort-of happen to become a part of a mystery-story”. The excuse is Sakurako’s morbid curiosity but it has been that in episode one as well. Where’s the character- and story-development?! After 10 episodes this series is still stuck with essentially the same story-beats it had in episode 01. Now we’re just more familiar with those! If the incidental stories had been better this would’ve been less of an issue, of course but this series is all about the emotions and does little to make its mysteries seem compelling. But without any compelling anchor to get invested in the emotional storytelling, a lot of it becomes useless or gets reduced to something so simplistic that a yawn is probably the best reaction you will get for that.

Episodes-Rating: 9th Episode: 5.0/10 10th Episode 6.0/10

Random Thoughts:

  • Actually there’s also a recent anime which does a much better job of dealing with death than this series: Death Parade. The themes are slightly different but indirectly Death Parade is kinda following the same road at times with how it approaches the death of its characters.
  • It has to be said, though: These two episodes do a good job of establishing a bit of continuity. Beginning with the first story of the ninth episode you got your moments here and there which do try to bring it all together. The most obvious element in that regard is certainly the painter who gave the suicidal guy from the last arc a painting and blocked the ambulance from coming.
  • I don’t know if this is supposed to be some kind of foreshadowing or what but it’s eye-catching how the teacher’s plants are mostly cacti and other succulents. Not a lot of diversity in that homegrown garden…
  • I’ve been thinking this for a while but… Sakurako has no authority whatsoever except when it’s about bones or mystery-investigations. Everybody treats her like a kid – and she behaves like a kid often, too.

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on December 11, 2015, in Anime, Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation, Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. While this may not objectively be the “worst” series I’ve ever watched, I’d ventured that it certainly ranks among the most poorly written. Everything from the dialogue to the scenarios are just embarrassingly sophomoric.

    I’m actually really surprised that there seem to be a fair number of people in the blogosphere who like this show for some reason, whereas to my mind, it’s sufficiently awful to almost make my anime-viewing habits embarrassing!

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    • It certainly is the first series where it’s okay for the mystery-solution to be “Well, let’s just settle for what I guess is the truth. It sounds right and that’s more than enough truth for me!”. And this is certainly the first time where people constantly wrongfully jump to the conclusion that someone is suicidal or that a death is a suicide – except that one time where someone actually WAS suicidal but NOBODY NOTICED (except Sakurako, of course).

      Yeah, the writing has some huge problems in general. Just basic stuff like tone alone… In the ninth episode you wouldn’t be surprised if suddenly the Carebears showed up or something. It was that schmaltzy. But immediately in the next episode it’s all about the teacher’s connection to a suicide (the series’ favorite plot-device) and his PTSD while constantly meeting scumbags in the hope of atoning for the death the teacher couldn’t prevent. That’s SO noir – in theory at least. The reality is just watching Sakurako doing all the investigations herself, scoffing at the scumbags without ever getting emotional and sometimes sparking some conversation with her eccentricity. Imagine the teacher doing this all on his own and maybe Shoutarou’s girlfriend becomes his sidekick at some point and maybe you would have something worth talking about. But as it is, it’s really just kinda dull.

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