Case file n°221 : Kabukicho – Mid Season Anime Review
Synopsis: In Kabukicho, the home of Tokyo’s famous red-light district, neon lights shine brightly but they harbor Tokyo’s darkest evils. Mrs. Hudson runs a tenement where seven strange but colorful individuals reside — including the detective, Sherlock Holmes. The stage is set for Sherlock when a bizarre murder occurs involving Jack the Ripper! (Official Funimation Synopsis)
1st Episode Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: Don’t be misled by the synopsis! The case mentioned in the synopsis is mostly solved in the first episode itself and then Kabukicho proceeds (atleast for the next 5 episodes) as more of a case-of-the-week show, or even detective-of-the-week where each episode features a new case or glimpse into one of the many detectives in its cast. If you’re familiar with the original Sherlock series and have a good memory, you will probably be able to recognize and predict the outcome of most of the cases. Kabukicho does its own over the top comedic, modernized and even slightly Japan-ified take of popular Sherlock Holmes stories. This is bad news if you were hoping for more nuanced or clever twists on the original stories as Kabukicho seems more focused on being silly and playful with its content and characters than pulling off deep and cerebral reinventions of classic mysteries.
Tom: While Kabukicho’s presentation is certainly memorable, with quirky, lively characters, off the wall comedy, veering through offensive gay panic gags and into outright absurdity, the cases themselves are pretty unmemorable. There’s a lack of ingenuity to them, and squeezing them into twenty-three minutes often does a disservice to the material. But seeing as Kabukicho hinges itself so hard on being a comedy it’s not surprising that less care has been put into making the mysteries actual meaty affairs. But even if viewed more strictly as a comedy, Kabukicho is pretty uneven in that regard too. It’s often more weird and random than outright funny, bombarding audiences with overly quirky and bizarre one off characters. Maybe there are some gags I’m not getting due to a lack of greater familiarity for uniquely Japanese cultural goofs, that would at least offer some internal logic behind a character who always chops at the sun, or bursts into rap when denigrating a former gang member. Still, between the ‘lol so random’ humor, and the times the series decides to veer straight into gay panic mode, there’s some generally amusing content. But if you’re hoping for a well told mystery, you’re out of luck, because even when the story is fairly straight forward, details have often been skimmed over in order to cram the story and all the comedy into those twenty-three minutes, making for a rather mediocre mystery offering.
Linny: It is indeed likely that Kabukicho will have limited appeal with a non local/Japanese audience as the humour in it definitely has strong streaks of local culture as obvious from Sherlock himself churning out explanations in Rakugo storytelling style. Also the fact that some of the jokes contain material that would not sit well with western audiences tired of portraying LGBT-type characters as constantly sex starved, assault prone individuals. The comedy is rather crass, for example an episode features an extended censored sequence of Sherlock stepping out of a hot spring completely naked and shaking and swinging himself dry. Between the crude humour, the culture specific jokes and offensive ‘gags’, it’s hard to imagine Kabukicho earning itself a massive following.
Tom: Kabukicho’s opening hook involved teases for a number of ongoing plot threads: Watson’s case that he needs Holmes to solve, Jack the Ripper’s killings, and some not-so-subtle teasing that something dark and sinister is going on with Moriarty. But by six episodes we haven’t done much with any of these three ongoing plots. Instead most episodes have some combination of Sherlock working to solve the case-of-the-week, usually with the other detectives acting as obstacles to the solution or one off tales focused on the other detectives. In fact the show has been so sparse with touching on its ongoing narrative that I actually forgot about the whole Jack the Ripper plot when first typing up my thoughts! That’s how little it’s actually mentioned. Because the last few episodes have turned attention to the expanded cast I actually kind of expect each detective to get an episode or two before this twenty-four episode run is concluded. That’s good news if you were looking for more quirky characters, but bad news if you were hoping for more actual mystery, as these episodes are, thus far, much more comedy focused.
Linny: When the show tries to put the focus on the other detective characters, it’s usually to reveal them as extremely strange or incompetent buffoons who pale in deductive skills when compared to Sherlock. Now Sherlock himself isn’t exactly portrayed as a serious character but the show really tries to hammer in hard just how whimsical our other detectives are; such as having the most collected seeming one, Fuyuto Kyougoku reveal all sorts of embarrassing facts about himself and screaming out random Engrish phrases when he meets a celebrity he idolizes. These episodes are..okay.. and I can see viewers chuckling at the absurdity but the show then occasionally tries to inject heart into these episodes which ends up clashing with the crude comedy and makes for an ultimately uneven tone.
Tom: If Kabukicho’s comedy could actually steer clear of gay panic gags for more than an episode at a time it might actually be a fun, if forgettable series. To be honest, while most of the episodes haven’t stuck well in my memory, I can’t say I’ve actually been bored watching it. Basically Kabukicho is a decent, minus the gay panic, if forgettable watch. I know the show is supposed to total twenty-four episodes, thus perhaps why ongoing plots have been entirely absent since their first introduction, but it still feels like we should’ve touched on them again already. Those seemed like interesting narratives to follow, but the more we sideline them in favor of the forgettable, and sometimes offensive, comedy, the more unremarkable the show feels.
Linny: Personally, besides the problematic content, Kabukicho’s other big issue is its choppy narration and storytelling. Aside from seemingly having forgotten and neglected its big ongoing hook, it often seems to be unable to resolve even the episodic story of the moment. The most clear example of this can be seen in episode 6 where the ‘resoluton’ makes zero sense. The villain of the episode, a local gang member that attacks the local kids after they steal a supposed sticker from him that’s worth a ton of money, is stopped by his gang’s boss, but we get no explanation as to exactly why his boss would do this or how it profits him by doing so. And upon being stopped, the villain of the episode loses their mind and jumps out of the window…to their death? The show never clarifies. One could defend this as the show being more interested in the ‘bigger picture’ and in keeping things somewhat light hearted for the most part but the convenient, sudden and under explained last minute resolutions just further cement for me that Kabukicho is meant solely for those who want a completely ‘brains off’ watch. Pick this up if the problematic comedy isn’t a big deal to you and you just want something with crude, low brow comedy to chuckle at when you don’t have the energy or desire to focus on anything deep or serious.
Case File n°221 : Kabukicho is available for streaming via Funimation.