For Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 5, a shift in perspective.
Previous episodes of the series have centered the story squarely on Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, James Moriarty, and the questionably-portrayed Mrs. Hudson, with side characters of varying importance in the original Sherlock Holmes short stories acting merely as bystanders. In a way this has been a good thing, especially when considering last week’s episode, as we finally begun to see the contrasting personalities and ideals of Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty at play, the seeds being planted for the development of the iconic rivalry that has been known around the world for over a century.
In saying that, we don’t know how far this anime will develop this rivalry. In fact, the roles of many of the side characters we know and were featured in the original stories but have yet to be developed here are still a mystery. While Case File nº221: Kabukicho is technically an adaptation and reinterpretation of the classic British detective stories, every episode up until this week’s episode 5 has been happy to change many key elements of the stories they have adapted in order to fit the Kabukicho setting, with the anime still being classed as an original project in spite of its origins. There’s lots of potential to build upon the cast of the original stories with this anime, yet so far we have been treated solely to the story of Sherlock himself, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This week initially promises to change that, with the focus shifting to the sisterly bond between Lucy and Mary, yet the episode ends up treading water, wasting this chance and leaving a sour taste in the mouth because of it.
A Loan Way to Go
Rather than starting in the modern-day, the episode instead takes us back to the childhood of Mary and Lucy Morstan, explaining how the sisters became so close in a rather touching flashback introduction. In fact, this is the closest we have to some sort of relation to the original stories of Sherlock Holmes throughout this entire episode. The Sherlock Holmes print publications lasted 56 short stories and four novels, one of which was the story ‘The Sign of the Four’, which gives a backstory to Mary Morstan, a women who would later go on to marry Dr Watson (who knows, that may happen later on in this anime as well!).
Within The Sign of the Four, we learn that Mary’s father, Captain Arthur Morstan, had mysteriously disappeared without explanation for reasons later explained over the course of the novel, while the mother died soon after Mary’s birth. In the anime, we go 15 years back in time to a rural area during the Japanese winter to see this story play out. With each only having the other, after Mary is almost taken away, the pair run off together, eventually ending up in Kabukicho and bringing us back to the modern-day.
Instantly, this moment is not only unique within the context of the series but interesting in its own right. The characters had only received what could essentially be classed as cameo appearances up until this point, yet within the space of a minute, we not only feel much more intimately familiar with who they are but care for them. I’m not going to pretend this scene does anything revolutionary or unique, but it is effective, engaging the audience immediately and making them invested in the pair. My first thought was, if this series plans to follow the basic structure of the novels, Mary will end up marrying or at least entering into a relationship with Dr. Watson at some point during this series. They have flirted with this idea in a previous episode once before, too. As I started watching this episode, I fantasized about what could transpire in the coming 20 minutes.
None of these fantasies became a reality.
Much Ado About Nothing
The issue Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 5 has is a lack of purpose. This is the first episode where the main conflict and mystery doesn’t appear to have an origin story as inspiration, at least not one I could decipher, and this shows in the content on display. Aside from a very brief moment setting up the mystery of the stolen 2 million yen, the rest of the first half of the episode feels entirely inconsequential. This would be fine if it gave us more screen time of the sisters interacting, or at the very least gave either of the characters some much-needed character development, but this simply doesn’t happen.
The episode meanders from scene to scene without any direction. We know that Lucy cares for their sister, the flashback makes that obvious, yet this is never explored in a way that makes the other central point of this episode, the large sum of money Lucy borrowed from a loan shark for her sake, important to the audience. Sisterly love as a concept can only go so far in explaining their relationship without further discussion, and to not explore this while making it so important to the episode leads to a disengagement from what’s going on.
The result is an episode that had the potential to be influential to the series’ wider narrative becoming a below-par filler episode which fails to provide a compelling mystery. With less time than ever given to the criminal incident of the week, Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 5 falls into the same mistake as the series’ first episode, where the audience isn’t given the information necessary to solve the mystery. The anime’s gimmick, Sherlock’s rakugo, comes out of nowhere partially for this reason, but also because the mystery never feels important enough to deserve one.
Not only that, if we are to have a mystery in this episode, it would be nice if Lucy, considering she is also a part of Bar Pipecat solving mysteries for money, was allowed to solve the mystery on their own without Sherlock’s help. This is Lucy’s episode, after all. Even if most of the rakugo takes place after Lucy had already left to confront the guilty party, the key clue needed for the mystery to fall into place, the reason she runs off and the case is resolved, is thanks to the inquisitive mind of Sherlock Holmes, not Lucy.
Case File nº221: Kabukicho Episode 5: A Disappointing Development
Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 5 starts as an episode with potential before quickly fizzling out. The side characters deserve recognition and emotional development which the anime was yet to provide, with this episode failing to change that in spite of the potential it had to do so. Despite being all about them, I don’t feel I’ve reached a greater understanding about these sisters and what motivates them. While it is cool for the anime to introduce their take on the origin story found within The Story of the Four of the original Sherlock Holmes novels, it comes without a pay-off.
With the anime now 5 episodes in, the quality of this show feels like a pendulum, constantly shifting. One episode can feel incredibly disappointing, while the very next episode can remind me of the potential a modern Japanese re-interpretation of the classic detective story has. After a strong episode last week, the pendulum has once again shifted, leaving audiences with an experience that isn’t worth their time.
Case File nº221: Kabukicho is currently streaming on Funimation.