Woodpecker Detective’s Office (2020) Anime Review

Screenshot 2020-07-05 at 15.27.54

I’ve decided to publish this review now, because as a Crunchyroll Premium member I got to see the final episode last week.  This is for those who are choosing to watch it for free, with adverts, and without One Piece available to them (in the UK), and have had the opportunity to watch it up to the end…although from the beginning you already know a fair amount.  So let’s get started.

Based on the 1999 Mystery novel of the same name by Keji Li, and also based on real Japanese figures in Japanese art, literature and culture history, our story revolves around a young poet named Takuboku Ishikawa and his friend, the linguist, Kyōsuke Kindaichi (The author of the Shin meikai kokugo jiten Dictionary).  When Ishikawa isn’t writing poetry, he gets work as a private detective, where he spends a bit of the show trying to solve murders.  Despite this combination, Ishikawa, like Sherlock Holmes, has a slightly destructive and selfish lifestyle, and his good friend Kindaichi usually picks up the tab…rent included.

Now to break it all down into pieces.

The Art style has 1 unique quality that makes it stand out from other anime – it’s not the character designs (though they are pretty distinct) – it is the outline of the characters…it’s blue!  Not black, not grey, not brown, not a shade lighter or darker than the palette choice…but blue, even in daytime scenes.  From what I’ve seen, it’s very different.  In terms of background art and colour, it’s a good looking anime, no doubt.  The character designs, however…are maybe too pretty (in my opinion) for the real people that they represent.  In truth, I wonder who the character designers were trying to cater towards.

The Animation is good and clean, but not particularly interesting.  There are some well placed camera angles, and the action is either made special or is simply few and far between.  It’s nowhere near as wordy as In/Spectre, but there is the emphasis on connecting poetry with solving murders…or at least that was a goal in mind.

The Voice Acting is very solid.  Nothing to write home about, but good enough, and the voice actor for Ishikawa was great.  Kind of like Akira Kamiya voicing Ryo Saeba in City Hunter (I’ll get to him eventually…after this review…sometime), but minus the amusing range that Kamiya brings to Saeba.

The Characters, for many parts, can leave a lot to be desired.  Despite being based on real figures in history, the show lets you know that it isn’t biographical and contains a lot of creative license.  Ishikawa is very flawed and at times antagonising when it comes to the people who support him.  But he is very much somebody who is chasing after a meaning to all of this.  Perhaps the writers intended to humanise him more than what’s often the case in anime.  Kindaichi is presented as a very nice man; quiet, reserved, sensible, but also a bit of a doormat with a hint of anxiety.  He wants Ishikawa to succeed…but he is also torn by his friend’s life choices.  The landlady is the oldest looking 15 year old you’ll ever see, and all of the other poets and writers in the cafe are a bit dull and 1 dimensional.  Even the 1s who are given a role to advance whatever plot is there.  A real waste, considering their artistic significance in the culture of the time (Think of it as being like all the artists flocking to Paris in the 1920s.  The Beatnicks of their day).  As for the other poets?  Window dressing for the most part.  Unless you studied the real figures and their work, you know nothing about them.

I haven’t read the book, but the story is meant to be about Ishikawa and Kindaichi investigating a ghost haunting in the Ryōunkaku Skyscraper (Japan’s first western-style building which stood from 1890 until it was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923).  It’s possible that this story was covered in 1 or 2 episodes.  But most of the show is about an artist trying to live up to the life he was meant to live, only to hurt those around him and himself.  When faced with his own mortality, he comes to a place where he tries to leave a mark – 1 that contributes somehow to society.  It’s quite convincingly shown for about 2, or maybe even 3 episodes…But much of the program has unfortunately fallen flat, and then we’re given a twist that’s presented in 1 of the most anti-climatic last episodes I have ever seen in an anime.  Even Neon Genesis Evangelion in its original form had a stronger ending.  About half of the show is fortunate to be more than average…and despite these 5 or so superior episodes, only 2 of them generate a pique interest, the first episode being 1 of them.  The plot, sadly, is a mess.  We can even say it lacks focus.  Yes, there is a bigger picture.  Yes the pieces do come together in the end…but the whole thing is very underwhelming and a bit…’meh’.  Even the drama lacks drama.  I’m having difficulty telling if what I saw was deflated, boring or gentle.  It kept me somehow watching to the end, and yet I’m left with a certain dissatisfaction…which I’m not going to get fulfilled because there was only 1 novel, and this show is completely self-contained with no cliffhanger.

The Music is a mixed bag.  Both the intro and the outro feel very out of place in a show that’s set in 1909-1912.  The violin piece in the “coming up next” was nice, and the instrumental scores have a pleasant quirkiness to them.  Although it’s clear that the show is trying to appeal to a teen or young adult audience while using source material that would have perhaps been used more effectively in a more mature program (despite the amount of blood and gore that some of the crime scenes possess).  I could argue that it tried to make a historical setting cool, and then failed.  Not obnoxiously, but with a whimper.

The Themes in WDA are primarily about brotherhood, forgiveness, life, inspiration, and death…Unfortunately the show doesn’t baked these themes until they’re digestible, as the show has a habit of moving onto others things like a wandering child in a toy store.

Would I recommend Woodpecker Detective’s Office?  …I don’t think I can.  I’m disappointed in this show in a number of ways.  I watched it thinking that I was going to get an episodic detective show with perhaps a “big bad” that’s revealed at the end.  Instead what I got was a Detective show that did this from time to time, but then forgets it’s a detective show and goes off to do its own thing.  Much like its main character, it seems to procrastinate and self-indulge a lot.  We’re then presented with a loose approach to solving the mystery that worked well in Akira Kurasawa’s film Rashomon, but is not well executed here.  If there is anything I could salvage from this show – visually it looks good.  I could also imagine what an old-time anime director like the late Isao Takahata would have done with this story…in fact, he would have made a tremendous 2 hour film from it I would say.  1 that would hit all of the targets in terms of emotions felt while respecting the source material.

Art style: ****

Animation: ***3/4

Voice Acting: ***3/4

Characters: **

Story: *1/2

Music: ***1/2

Themes: ***

Overall:  ***

 

 

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