A psycho-suspense murder mystery anime series that talks about the weakness of the justice system against the insanity plea? The premise sounds pretty interesting and engrossing at first, but Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace has more in store -- for better or worse.
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace follows the brilliant but socially awkward young boy, Kobayashi, and begins when Kobayashi wakes up to find himself framed for the excessively brutal and disturbing murder of his teacher. This is the start of an intriguing mystery that is only made more complicated when it is discovered that the teacher himself was a serial killer.
From there, Kobayashi, aided by his classmate and only friend, Hashiba, joins forces with the equally genius, and equally socially awkward detective, Kogoro Akechi, to prove his innocence by finding the real killer. Little does he know that he has already taken his first step down a path that will explore the depths of the most twisted minds imaginable.
The anime series is loosely based on the works of Japanese novelist Edogawa Ranpo. If the name sounds oddly familiar, that's because Edogawa derived his pen name from his inspiration, Edgar Alan Poe -- a bit of information that helps to shed some light onto the morbid atmosphere of the series.
As the series progresses and subsequent mysteries emerge and are solved, focus is brought on a flaw in the legal system that allows murderers to walk free if they are deemed mentally unfit and incapable of understanding the nature of their own crimes. The question then arises that if the justice system is incapable of punishing someone who commits horrific crimes, who will avenge the murdered and give peace to those who have been wronged?
From the onset, Ranpo Kitan is extremely atmospheric and interesting. We are shown the protagonist Kobayashi's view of the world with other people appearing as outline shadow figures. It is only when they become directly involved in his life and a target of interest to him that they actually appear human. This lends itself to the tone of the entire series feeling dark, foreboding, and a little bit off.
The murders throughout the series are disturbing and quite bone-chilling, from the dismemberment and subsequent posing of a teacher as a kind of statue to the skinning of murder victims and turning them into furniture.
However, the series does go a bit overboard in my opinion when it comes to a killer who doesn't just murder little children, but pulps their bodies and mixes them in with concrete to make memorial wall reliefs. From there it just felt like torture porn with the series being overly disturbing just to be disturbing. It was like the series was trying to mimic Psycho Pass without understanding what made Psycho Pass work. If the series wanted to make me disgusted, it succeeded, but I felt more disgusted with the anime than with the killers it portrayed doing this horrible stuff.
As the story goes on, a vigilante killer who targets murderers who have slipped through cracks in the justice system emerges, and the series switches targets to focus on the injustice of how the mentally disturbed can game the system and continue to do terrible things. This is kind of where the series began to lose me because out in the really real world, we kind of have safeguards against this. Plus, even if some psychotic murderers are able to manipulate the system and commit heinous crimes with only a slap on the wrist as a result -- while it is an issue that should be addressed -- I doubt it's the epidemic the series seems to want to say it is. Still, it is an interesting topic and does lead to some of the most dramatic and emotional scenes in the entire series.
One thing worth noting about the series is the soundtrack, which was engaging and emotional and greatly added to the series' overall atmosphere. One of the pieces that played at scenes of emotional drama was both sentimental and haunting and made for some of the most memorable moments I experienced throughout last season.
One of the problems with Ranpo Kitan is with its characters. The protagonist, Kobayashi, is completely unrelatable and towards the end, his boyish innocence schtick gets rather annoying to the point where when he walks straight into danger with a smile and open arms, I found I couldn't care less whether he lived or died. Even so, the series itself has a lot of good ideas in it, and remains atmospheric enough that I stuck it out to the end.
**Major Spoilers Begin**
The final arc of the series involves a theorem that supposedly can literally calculate the future in minute detail in an advanced sort of Foundation psychohistory manner. By doing specific actions, a person can create a specific outcome to occur in a controlled butterfly effect way. This unveils the plot to create an ultimate perpetual punishing entity, the Fiend with Twenty Faces: A vigilante persona that punishes the evil by, of, and for the will of the people. While the concept is interesting, it very much causes the series to jump the shark and ends without really answering anything.
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace is a series that starts out strong but ends up kind of a mess. It asks interesting questions but offers no real solutions. On the onset, it seems sharp but as a whole it feels unfocused. It's rather ironic that the series focuses so much on the issue of mental illness when the plot itself is so schizophrenic. Its disturbing and graphic nature definitely also ensures that it is not a series for everyone. Nevertheless, the atmosphere is captivating and there are nuggets within worth mulling over. It's not a great series, but at least it's not forgettable.
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace aired on Fuji TV in Japan. It can be viewed for free in the US and with English subtitles on AnimeLab.