If I’m being honest, it’s a little frustrating to me that one of the most interesting additions to Case File nº221: Kabukicho in recent weeks, Irene, has been transformed into a bystander and a symbol for wasted potential by the events of episode 9. Just as the show was beginning to turn itself around and live up to its potential as an intriguing take on Sherlock Holmes, a new episode is realized which, while not terrible, goes a long way towards breaking up the pacing and character dynamics the anime had created up until this point.
Jack the Ripper: An Egg-stravagant Murderer
There are two sides to this week’s episode, neither of which follow up on the potential set up with last week’s cliffhanger. At the end of Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 8, the decapitated ear of Irene’s friend is left in a parcel demanding the return of the egg-shaped USB drive belonging to the Shinjuku mayor, Sebastian Moran, with episode 9 picking right up where this story left off. Believed by Sherlock to contain a clue about the identity of Jack the Ripper, the potential is there for a pivot towards a story investigating the true identity of the serial killer while providing audiences with insight into the shady underground networks of the anime’s fictionalized Kabukicho setting.
Instead, we get treated to two very disparate story threads which each have their own issues that leave the episode as a whole feeling like a frustrating experience, especially after the improvements noticed over the last few weeks. On the one side, you have a story centered around Dr. Watson and his current situation, having been forced out of the place he was living in with Sherlock in order to make room for Irene. On the other, you have Irene herself, and her attempts to hide from Jack the Ripper.
B-egging For Attention
The story with Dr. Watson has an issue of never really going anywhere. Many scenes mostly show him looking forlorn in various places within Kabukicho and never seem to go anywhere or have any greater meaning to the wider story taking place. They solely serve the purpose of filling time, a role which Dr. Watson has been forced into one too many times over the course of the series so far that leaves his character feeling under-utilized.
The only thing saving these moments is the face they are often complemented by Fuyuto Kyogoku’s attempts to get Maki-chan, one of the trans workers at Bar Pipecat, to notice and go on a date with him. These scenes were pleasantly surprising, considering the anime’s previous track record on such issues. Early episodes, particularly episode 3, spent much of their time demonizing the queer characters without developing them more or treating them with respect. They were objects to laugh at, not people. This, coupled with Fuyuto’s reactions to an erotic magazine featuring Maki in the past, made the possibility of pushing this relationship further a recipe for disaster
While I’ve rarely brought it up since those early episodes, a shift has occurred in LGBTQ+ characterization in the weeks since. While only holding minor roles within the anime more broadly, they’re no longer an object of ridicule, while last week brought a new trans character into the story, albeit one who was quickly murdered the exact same episode. Even though they were killed off to set up events for this week, it was nice to see them both present and respectfully portrayed within the episode itself, and Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 9 goes one step further when it comes to positive representation.
These advances made by Fuyuto for Maki are respectfully handled by the scriptwriters for the episode, the oft-fetishized nature of the trans body being acknowledged within these advances yet cast aside; their personality is more important than the body they possess. While I feel it may be somewhat inadvertent (their body does still play a part in the proceedings in a way that feels unnecessary), and although following these steps doesn’t suddenly make this anime an exemplary piece of LGBTQ+ representation, it feels like a step forward for the show nonetheless.
The bigger problem is that, despite it adding to Watson’s side of the episode, it still feels irrelevant within the anime’s wider narrative, frustrating the viewer as the narrative grinds to a halt because of it.
Lack of Egg-citement
Away from Dr. Watson, you have Sherlock and Irene’s dealings with Jack the Ripper, a cat-and-mouse game soon unfolding as they try to keep the USB drive and Irene safe from harm. The issue here is that much of the episode feels frustratingly void of anything impactful going on that holds meaning within the overarching narrative, until the final few moments.
Referring to the events of Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 9 as a game of cat and mouse is a leading statement, however, a phrase which leaves the impression that the episode is much more action-heavy than it actually is. While Jack is supposedly an ever-looming threat over our characters as he desperately seeks out the USB drive and Irene, his presence is never felt. The idea of the serial killer makes an appearance, his name is referred to constantly, yet this is more akin to recalling the past instead of discussing a looming threat.
There’s no urgency or drive to the attempts made to hide Irene from the public, nor is there a sense of fear over what can happen if she’s caught. For much of the episode, events play out in this mindset, interspersed with the story of Dr. Watson, leaving me bored and distracted for much of the episode’s runtime.
Only in the closing moments did we receive a burst of information and action. While welcome, especially due to the way it challenges current assumptions and plays into the wider narrative at play, saving this until the closing moments of the episode while the previous close-to-20 minutes is comprised of what mostly amounts to filler content made to pad out the runtime, what could have been an exciting reveal is just another source of frustration
Case File nº221: Kabukicho Episode 9: Scrambled Storylines
This episode, with a bit of restructuring or the potential combining of both this and last week’s episodes, could have been an exciting watershed moment for the show, instead of the drawn-out, dull events that transpired in reality. These two episodes, when combined, have instilled profound change onto the anime’s structure and premise with the first major story arc finally kicking into high gear.
With this in mind, a strong impression could help to build excitement for the episodes to come and the wider narrative at play. For now, clumsy narrative pacing results in Case File nº221: Kabukicho episode 9 feeling like a case of missed potential, the unnecessary bloat and padding of the episode dulling the impact of a tonal shift and major revelation within the story itself.
Case File nº221: Kabukicho is currently streaming on Funimation.