Beautiful Bones – 12 Review
In case, you haven’t been paying attention for 11 episodes, here’s the 12th one summarizing it all for you!
This time I review:
Beautiful Bones 12: For his own safety Shoutarou was abandoned by Sakurako. But he remembers the good old days like when he sent the police to Sakurako’s house or when he was very sure that she was a murderer (for no empirical reason). He realizes, though, that Sakurako gave him a good speech once and he runs back to her telling her what she had said to him. Sakurako’s touched by his powerful memory and agrees to protect him – even though he’s a burden since he’s an idiot who can’t protect himself.
See! There’s nothing creepy about filling your home with bones!
It’s easy to see why the series did the things it did. The themes of the series find themselves neatly summarized in the 12th episode. This is a series about the will to live and how people deal with the presence of death in their lives. It’s also a series about a psychopath manipulating emotionally fragile people for dark purposes. Meanwhile, a peculiar Sherlock-figure in the form of Sakurako helps people find certainty in understanding people who have died. And Shoutarou is kinda there to be… normal. So, on the surface it all makes sense. But Beautiful Bones is a series with a lot of good ideas that strangely enough don’t seem to make sense once they’re put into the context of each other.
Shoutarou’s the one who puts things into perspective. He’s the one who will create drama when Sakurako isn’t fulfilling her role. He’s the one who will offer us access to the genius of Sakurako by asking questions and his ordinary qualities make him relatable. And the series is following his point-of-view for the most part in the series accordingly. Also, for a shounen-series based on a Light Novel a character like Shoutarou is familiar. Of course, you can say he’s bland and that the series doesn’t give him enough of a personality to be likeable. Those are criticisms that are easy to make. After all, he’s a stereotype. But that would put this series merely into the category of mediocrity. Where the actual flaws start to appear is when you look at Sakurako’s role in the series.
Sakurako is a genius. In fact, as far as the writing is concerned you can actually see a clear effort to have her be the only one in the room with some brains. There’s no balance here. Sakurako is the one who has the answers and everybody else isn’t only clueless, they’re also wrong on multiple occasions. But remember that Shoutarou is supposed to be “our guy” as far as the audience is concerned. So, this series gives us a milktoast-protagonist we’re supposed to relate to but since Sakurako is the only one who can be right, he actually never has a very active role. It’s pretty obvious how unbalanced this dynamic is when investigations (that actually lead to some results) only happen when Sakurako is present. In every other case the characters are either clueless or partially/completely wrong about something. And the quality of the writing is a whole other can of worms. These are the most basic storytelling-dynamics of this series I’m talking about and those dynamics sideline every character except Sakurako.
The twelfth episode is very important here because it shows Shoutarou being in an active role for the first time. Why is he in that position? Because Sakurako abandoned him. How does his solo-time end in this episode? With him going back to Sakurako and vowing to help her no matter what. The series certainly tried to push this story-arc of Shoutarou being the “sensible one” who is disgusted by Sakurako’s odd ticks and he voices these doubts on some occasions. But what does he actually do? Nothing. Once again, ideas that made sense out of context get introduced within the story and then stop making sense. The series tries to sell Shoutarou’s sensibility as something that makes him an opposite of Sakurako. And yet there’s little in terms of plot to back up this theme.
Ha! It’s ironic because in this shot the world around her is anything but gray! But seriously, though, this whole series has done way too little to explain her apparent depression.
In the context of their pseudo-romantic relationship the consequences of that dynamic get buried time and time again as what the characters actually express are purely sentimental issues. Sakurako abandons Shoutarou because she likes him and he comes back because he likes her. Now this is once again a moment of stereotypical mediocrity as the exchange “I want to keep you safe because I love you!” and “I will stay by your side no matter what because I love you!” is far from original. It’s important, though, because isn’t this stereotypical exchange implying a sense of equality? One party basically makes a decision for a loved one that she thinks is in the other party’s best interest. But the other party ignores this and insists to stay at the first party’s side to face the challenges together. It’s obvious that Sakurako is the dominant one in the relationship and him standing up to her as an equal is a neat way to develop their relationship. Except, of course, there’s no reason to buy into that interpretation after the rest of the series has been very thorough in telling us how helpless and incompetent Shoutarou is. The Shoutarou of the 12th episode is a very much different character compared to the rest of the series. In fact the 12th episode was the only time Shoutarou came even close to being a relatable character in this series. The absence of Sakurako, the absence of the series’ obsession with turning everyone around her into an idiot gave Shoutarou the breathing-room to (or you could say, forced the writers to) give him more agency. Everything that came before that, though, neither committed to exploring the issues in their relationship nor showed the potential of them ever being on equal footing in a conversation. There was this little arc around the 8th or 9th episode, I believe when the story revolved around the bones in the school and Shoutarou was weirded out by how Sakurako acted. He complained about it. But what happened at the end? He was the idiot for “not getting it” and even more so, there were story-reasons for why Sakurako had a personal connection to these bones. Shoutarou tried to act out his role as Sakurako’s opposite and the whole series shat on him for doing that. I mean, his characterization is already stereotypical but functionally he’s supposed to be “our guy” and yet the series is constantly undermining him (with the exception of that final episode). That isn’t only a character I don’t like because of his bland characterization but storytelling-wise he’s practically useless in this series as well. The series sets out with a certain function in mind for this character and then keeps him from performing this function. Imagine a story about a knight trying to kill a dragon in order to save the princess but what the story keeps showing us that the dragon is of course stronger than the knight and therefore he loses his battle time and time again. The series is actively working against itself like that!
Another idea of the series is to tie together all the mysteries thematically which works. There’s a neat coherence in the choice of the episodic stories that naturally make good material for a montage-sequence once you try to summarize the story at the end. But the thinking doesn’t go very far here. Sure, the series has a consistent theme which I had talked about before. But the whole thing becomes weirdly meta when a character within the series talks about that thematic consistency. After all, that thematic consistency is a conceit we accept since this is fiction but for a character to point out the fictitiousness of the story without acknowledging the unrealistic absurdity is baffling. That’s not how lampshading works! You call attention to such things and make fun of it or someone simply acknowledges that it’s weird under normal circumstances. What this series does instead is something similar to giving yourself the best cards in a game of Poker and then you’d give a whole speech about how lucky you have been to win the game. Setting up the theme coherently and consistently over the course of the series is one of the things this series does very well. But instead of showing us the results of these themes’ continued presence, the characters just bluntly tell us about it in a very simplistic manner.
The whole matter of bones is also a great example of that. Already you start with something that needs your suspense of disbelief because when Sakurako goes around, she’s likely to find bones for whatever reason. But sure, that’s the gimmick of the series. What do the bones mean? As the series establishes they are a reminder of something living disappeared from the world. And keeping bones around is indeed a way to honor their memory. It’s a little bit more morbid than what graveyards do but considering what function mummies served in Egypt and how there are works of art commemorating certain people who are long dead, keeping “death in your life” so to speak isn’t that bewildering as an idea. And with all these mysteries that mostly are more concerned with the living, having bones with such symbolic value there makes sense. So there’s a reason to consider the bones in this series symbolically relevant. But strangely enough, there’s a whole arc in this series that essentially asks “Those bones… Isn’t that weird?”. And the series both gives Shoutarou a foolish, judgmental attitude and gives Sakurako the social grace of a psychopath at random times. In one moment Sakurako is more or less reading the minds of dead people when she “solves” cases by making educated guesses and in the next she not only says weird, insensitive shit but also LOOKS like a crazy person. The bones have symbolic value but this series wastes time on an argument where one side seems stupid and where the other seems crazy. And the outcome is just the series shitting on Shoutarou for doubting the symbolic value of bones. There’s nothing organic about how the series reaches its conclusion and there was no need for the whole thing anyway. The craziness of Sakurako is something the series just forces on you whenever it’s convenient. And Shoutarou’s judgmental perspective never goes anywhere. The whole thing is just a giant waste of time as it doesn’t add anything to the series’ story.
On a conceptual level there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this series. You have a weirdo super-detective, a side-kick who’s ordinary but has a heart of gold and there’s a strong theme of using mysteries involving death as a springboard for discussions about how living people handle death. All the ingredients for a fine series are there. You can practically see such a series before your mind’s eyes just putting all these ideas together. And yet this series just falls apart from the get-go trying to making all these ideas function in concert with each other. There’s the weird obsession of people jumping to the conclusion of a suicide without any proof. Sakurako isn’t only the smartest person in the series, she’s the ONLY smart person in the series. Shoutarou’s functionally useless in this series. And the actual mysteries aren’t that good to begin with. The ending made it seem like this is airing as a split-cours-series but I’m not looking forward to the second season of this.
- Shoutarou’s fine with risking his life… but also gives Sakurako the responsibility to protect him.
- So, who’s the girl’s love-interest…? Is it the teacher or is it Shoutarou? Not that I really care because the only times she was important in this series it was all about her reaching the wrong conclusions about other people (like usual it had something to do with the idea of suicide).
- You know, there are some very strong cultural connotations for suicide in Japan but I doubt any Japanese person would declare every non-explainable death a suicide. Nor do I think that it would be socially acceptable to wrongly proclaim something’s a suicide as a policeman.
- Wouldn’t it have been great if the 12th episode had been about Shoutarou catching this psychopath on his own? You know, just to prove to us that he possesses indeed something resembling intelligence…
Posted on January 9, 2016, in Anime, Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation, Reviews and tagged A Corpse is Buried Under Sakurako's Feet, Anime, Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation, review, Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.