For an original anime with an interesting concept set in one of my favorite areas of Tokyo, Case File nº221: Kabukicho thoroughly disappointed me with its opening episode. We have an anime-inspired by the greats of the crime mystery genre such as Sherlock Holmes that seeks to modernize the tale and transport it into a new environment, yet one which wanted to go beyond an existence as a derivative reinterpretation by utilizing its new setting to put a unique spin on both the characters and stories it was inspired by. Far from delivering on this interesting idea full of potential, however, we had a story that left me upset, as derogatory tropes and a structure that left the murder mystery at the heart of the episode impossible to solve as a viewer watching along made the episode an overall frustrating experience. It left me with understandably low expectations for Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 2.
Maybe it is these low expectations (had it not been for this I’d likely have dropped the show one episode in) that helped me to enjoy its second episode a lot more than I had initially anticipated. Its first episode was far from perfect while the second episode of this anime still has some major issues that need to be resolved. Yet I came out of watching this episode with a strange feeling of optimism and intrigue that I initially was not expecting. Episode 2 of Case File nº221: Kabukicho did a better job of introducing the concept of the anime and its characters than anything the first episode was ever able to achieve.
Case File nº221: Kabukicho Episode 2: A Marked Improvement
While I don’t want to spend too much time returning to my impressions of the first episode, I do want to re-examine the issues I had with the anime, as it will help to examine what Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 2 is able to do right by comparison. The first episode had an issue with how it reduced many characters, in particular, their LGBT characters, into caricatures, at times predatory ones. Mrs. Hudson, for example, the owner of Bar Pipecat that serves as a front for the detective agency Sherlock Holmes is a part of alongside other detectives, is introduced as a joke, who then gropes and acts inappropriately towards John Watson mere minutes after their introduction.
There is an argument that the representation of a crossdressing effeminate gay man has a place in the show, and I agree there. This is based on Kabukicho, after all, whose red-light district is full of bars where many LGBT people shunned by society have begun to call home. A quick walk down such streets will help you find people like this and the cabaret clubs which also featured within the episode. What made their representation, however, is that their predatory actions are not only unrepresentative of a group who already suffers from poor representation in major forms of media, but also is further compounded by LGBT characters in other situations in that episode being othered and shunned by the characters and story, turned into jokes and lacking in respect.
My other issue came in how it handles mystery. While potentially trying to do too much at once, it failed to create an enticing mystery for the audience to follow and for our characters to solve, with information withheld from viewers in order to create a shock twist. It disrespected the audience and felt frustrating as a character we never even met was revealed to be the killer.
There was a route that the anime’s second episode could take to make it worth watching, such as expanding on Mrs. Watson’s character and making them more than a caricature, while a greater focus on the mystery and story could make that side of the story and content of an episode overall more engaging. While still far from perfect, after almost hitting rock bottom with its first impression this episode is a massive improvement.
Kabukicho Becomes Sherlock’s Playground
Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 2 continues directly on from the last, with Watson helping to nurse Sherlock back to health following the previous case before we begin to learn more about Bar Pipecat. This bar Is owned by Mrs. Hudson and acts as a place for various private detectives, including Holmes, to receive new cases. Detectives can receive cases of various kinds based on a structure, ranging from clients specifically citing the services of one of the detectives working at the bar to special high reward cases where they can compete against each other with a high cash reward for the winner who cracks the case. Rival detectives, most of which are introduced for the first time in this episode, are based on real-life characters from the universe of Sherlock Holmes created by Arthur Conan Doyle, from Mary Morstan, a minor but regular character in the original story who eventually marries Dr. Watson, to the detective’s biggest rival, James Moriarty.
While the show was always acting as a loose, modernized adaptation, this episode acts as a very loose adaptation of ‘The Red-Headed League’, with a modern Japanese twist. While that story spoke of a guy who began to work for The Red-Haired League after seeing a job posting exclusively hiring red-haired men that mysteriously vanished without a chase which he wanted answers to, here a florist owner gets recruited to be a part of a new idol group exclusively for people with moles near their eyes. The florist always wanted to be an idol so worked hard on this after being offered the role, only to find the opportunity snatched away from them under mysterious circumstances, recruiting the entire detective club under competitive terms to solve the mystery behind her crushed idol dreams.
What helps to define this episode is the rivalry that begins to form between the detectives as they attempt to solve the case, doing whatever they can, including things that skirt the lines of legality, in order to extract information from their rivals while they attempt to investigate the case themselves. This creates an interesting dynamic that helps to keep the case interesting, even during a lull at the episode’s midpoint as its focus distracts from the case itself into almost endless exposition. Because of this, a lot of the episode feels bogged down in exposition that isn’t relevant to the case at hand but is still overall a welcome inclusion as these moments exist to seemingly set up future events and establish rivalries, even if it could have potentially been handled better.
Returning to the complaints from the last episode, these are mostly resolved here. While barely featuring here, Mrs. Watson is instead treated as a clever and inquisitive leader of an organization, competent in a way she never was before. More importantly, the mystery, possibly helped by its source material which follows many similar story beats, is actually solvable by the audience as the episode goes on, with no clues being deliberately obscured from the viewer, even if you do need to be rather inquisitive to solve the mystery before Sherlock. The biggest clues, surrounding the florist store, require knowledge most won’t know without working in that field, but is never hidden from the audience, and that makes it all the more satisfying when the culprit and solution to the case is revealed. Even the rakugo which Sherlock partakes in while explaining his deductions, annoying and pace-breaking last week, come across here as endearing, partially helped by context as the case never reaches the grave severity of the Jack The Ripper-style murders we were introduced to the series with.
Sharing the Sherlock Legacy
All in all, this second episode of Case File nº221: Kabukicho feels like the true opening episode to the series, in a way that leaves me confused as to why they chose to go the direction they did with its premiere. Much of the information in that episode, aside from a character introduction to Sherlock and Watson, can be ignored as its either further explained or is new information here. The mystery being solved is much more interesting, while it even manages to retain a more cohesive tone and land its small comic relief moments effectively. From being completely dismissive of its opening episode to a point where, were I not writing these impressions, I’d not have continued watching the show any further, I’m engaged and sold on a premise that I want to see develop further. Modern Kabukicho has the excitement and the criminal underbelly to fit with the timeframe within which the original Sherlock Holmes was set, making it a natural fit, while the way it adapts the stories helps keep them fresh. Even the series’ opening theme manages to perfectly blend modern Kabukicho and classic Sherlock styles together.
I do hope, however, that the show seeks to differentiate itself from the original stories as it goes on. This case, albeit with a different defining feature of moles instead of red hair, follows many of the same ideas of the original case with minimal changes, which feels like wasted potential. We have the original stories already, so why not use them as a basis to expand and tell something entirely new that does justice to the legacy of the world-famous fictional detective? Some impactful moments seem to rely on recognition of the characters from the original novels too, and their role in those stories. There is a groundwork for something special here, and I’m interested in learning whether the show is able to meet its potential over the course of this season. As things stand, though still not perfect, Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 2 is a massive improvement from the original episode, and turns the series from one to avoid to one you should definitely try and watch if you have the chance.
Case File nº221: Kabukicho is currently streaming on Funimation.