Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 4 perhaps solidifies this anime as one of the most frustrating viewing experiences of the season. The issues I cited last week and during week one about the ways in which the show handles its queer cast remain insurmountable obstacles impeding my overall enjoyment. No matter how enjoyable this anime becomes by the time it reaches its final episode it will remain the reason why I would struggle to recommend it without an abundance of caveats. Yet the reason I find it frustrating is that, in spite of these issues, when the anime doesn’t engage in such tropes you have an engaging and thoughtful if simplistic, mystery adventure that leaves me wanting more.
This week, the mystery being adapted is ‘The Adventure of the Abbey Grange’, although I note this to be in rather loose terms. Within that original story, Sir Eustace Brackenstall has been seemingly killed by burglars, yet the alibi and story being told by his wife and others suggests they’re covering up the true extent of what took place. After confronting the wife, they learn the circumstances surrounding the murder to be much different to those originally cited. In reality, aside from the murder itself, much of the episode takes a different direction to this original story, albeit with the key ideas and intent still intact. The changes arguably help to better ground the story within the world that Case File nº221: Kabukicho has set up for itself, while episode 4’s more unique bathhouse setting requires some changes be made to the underlying story. This time, an indie rock band that wear masks to hide their true identities from the public is unable to find their fellow member Momotaro, who had been seen entering the bathhouse yet had mysteriously gone missing since then. With little time remaining until the band is set to perform on stage, Holmes and Moriarty set out to help the group find out the truth behind what happened.
The argument regarding whether the Abbey Grange story is better told within the original Sherlock Holmes novels or within the anime is a debate I don’t feel is worth having for multiple reasons. First of all, while previous stories chosen for adaptation have kept relatively close to the original Sherlock Holmes mystery with only minor changes, there are much more considerable differences between the original story and the adaptation found here. The original story of Abbey Grange could not be reinterpreted wholesale within modern Kabukicho without losing its intended effect, so the added layers and differing contexts and motivations for the crime work and better fit the anime production. While previous episodes have attempted to retell Sherlock Holmes stories within modern Kabukicho, this is the first time I feel that a story has been reimagined to such a large extent, and the result is an intriguing story, even if it feels overly simplistic and easy to solve as a viewer looking in. Unfortunately in that regard, the anime is yet to find the balance needed to create an intriguing mystery that is solvable by the viewer without being overly simplistic.
The other reason I don’t feel this debate is worth having is because of the way the episode flips the anime’s established episodic structure on its head, as the mystery takes a back seat to the true intrigue of the episode, the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty.
A Rival is Born
Last week, the post-credits scene of episode 3 was the first hint at a grander narrative beyond its episodic short story adaptations. Within the original Sherlock Holmes novels and almost every adaptation that has come since, Moriarty has been Sherlock’s biggest and most well-established rival, an intellectual equal with the ability to challenge and even beat the master detective himself. Before this point, our current incarnation clearly knew more than they were letting on while mostly came across as a friendly, innocent younger friend to Holmes and Watson. It was only with this post-credits scene that an air of mystique about his true intentions began to reveal themselves, and although this episode doesn’t necessarily explore this further, the primary focus of Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 4 is to help viewers learn more about Holmes and Moriarty as people and as friends.
The setting change for the mystery, for example, is done in order to facilitate this development. In the original Sherlock Holmes story, this took place at the home of the victim, yet this episode takes place entirely within a Japanese bathhouse. Our main characters both want to see a rakugo performance nearby and we get to see our characters talk and interact for an extended amount of time for the first time in the series so far. As proof of how much this episode is dedicated to the exploration of Holmes and Moriarty, it’s only at the halfway point of the episode, after some of the skills that Moriarty has learned alongside hints at their relationship have already been discussed, that the actual murder mystery begins.
Even then, the point of the mystery isn’t really about finding the true killer, making my complaints about the simplicity of the case almost obsolete. Each twist and turn of the case, the entire purpose of its existence within the episode, is to allow these two like-minded detectives to work together and to develop their characters. Their clashing investigative styles, their different attitudes to their work, the gleeful toying of Moriarty contrasting to the seriousness of Holmes’ deductive reasoning, all of that is clearly on display here. It’s also as a result of this case we learn about how the two first met and became close, giving the first justification the series has had to date for Holmes’ love of rakugo.
Case File nº221: Kabukicho Episode 4: A First Step Forwards
Episode 4 of Case File nº221: Kabukicho, in a sense, feels like a series-defining moment. At last, a central, series-spanning conflict has been established, even if it is through implicit hints of what’s to come alongside knowledge of the original lore of Sherlock Holmes rather than an explicit statement of intent from the series itself. The episode is unable to shake off the specter of its unfortunate humor from episodes prior despite its absence here, yet it does still give viewers who stuck with the series this long a reason to keep going. The rivalry of Holmes and Moriarty is one of the best stories ever told within the mystery genre, and if this anime is able to effectively capture the essence of this in a modern context while putting its own spin on it, we could be in for a strong remainder of the series.
While I still my reservations with the series as a whole, I do have hope that this series can turn things around and provide an entertaining remainder of the series. The potential is here.
Case File nº221: Kabukicho is currently streaming on Funimation.