Sunday, January 23, 2011

GOSICK (Episodes 1 - 3)

If you count the confusing advertisement of Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru as a "detective show", there were three less-than-stellar attempts at such shows last season—Psychic Detective Yakumo lost its emo-steam quickly, while Tantei Opera Milky Holmes failed miserably at trying to convert famous detectives into moe derivatives. There's no doubting it—if you want quality detective stories, Meitantei Conan and The Kindaichi Case Files are the archetypes for all Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew wannabes out there.

As the calendar year turned to 2011, there seemed to be at least a little more promise in the genre with the announcement of GOSICK (think "gothic" with the Japanese corruption of the "th" sound) going to anime. The series of mystery light novels written by Naoki Prize winner Kazuki Sakuraba was so popular in Japan that all of the titles were republished as a mainstream set of novels, and Tokyopop had translated the first two stories for English fans. Perhaps there sincerely was hope for the genre, after all.

Or perhaps it's just the pint-sized lolita.

GOSICK takes place in the fictional European country of Sauville ("Saubure" in the inconsistent subtitles from Crunchyroll) following World War I. Our main character, Kazuya Kujo, in order to escape the shadows of his family and the attention thrust upon his older brothers, heads to Sauville to study overseas and attempt to impress his family. However, being the only Asian in his school, he soon is singled out for being dark and lonesome, a black "spring reaper" amongst his class.

Kazuya's teacher suggests he reads ghost stories in the meantime, and upon his trip to the large library in town, Kazuya comes across a short golden-haired girl in gothic clothing, mistaking her for a doll at first. Despite her bitter and demanding attitude towards Kazuya, Vicorique predicts he will come back to the tower, and Kazuya's inevitable return showcases the girl's brilliant intelligence. Victorique may be eccentric in the way she spends her days alone in the library, rolling on the study floor incessantly when bored, but she's actually the brains behind the star detective Grevil du Blois, giving her egocentric older brother insight as she solves cases for him.

In a twist of events, Grevil gladly provides an opportunity for Victorique to leave her studies, as she and Kazuya become guests of the ship, the Queen Berry, when they discover an invite in Grevil's new yacht. The unraveling of one murder leads to the sudden realization that those invited to the Queen Berry are to relive its fate, as the ship had been sunk ten years ago during a horrendous human experiment in psychology. Victorique and Kazuya are challenged to play Holmes and Watson as guests of the Queen Berry are killed one by one, but who is the twelfth guest in this dinner party of eleven?

If the character designs and European-style landscapes look a little familiar, you're likely correct in guessing the studio in charge of animation and the show that the designers worked on. Character designs are helmed by Toshihiro Kawamoto and Takashi Tomioka, and both worked on designs for the Fullmetal Alchemist TV shows. Studio Bones, who also worked on FMA's animation, provide some spectacular artwork, and the classical designs are given just a touch of modern style.

The first three episodes provide quite an exciting mystery to solve, even if some of the common characters between the Queen Berry's past submersion and its present emergency are easy to guess, but the interaction between Victorique and Kazuya is what solidifies the series into a quality story. The Holmes / Watson dynamic is pretty close to what we see in the duo—Kazuya has to convince the doubters both back home and in Sauville that he is a capable man, while Victorique is steadfast in her intelligence, yet genuinely afraid of the outside world and in real need of guidance by Kazuya. Considering the two have a full 24 episodes to help each other mature and understand trust, it will be interesting to see both of their pasts unfold.

It seems that GOSICK has little in the way to be a great crossover hit for Crunchyroll, as there appears to be more in terms of adventure with this series. Granted, you may still see fans fawning over Victorique like many did for Kuroneko in Oreimo last season, but the cast is much more gender-neutral than many female-heavy shows out there. More importantly, GOSICK seems determined to let the cases lead the characters, not the other way around—you'll likely find secondary characters come and go like they do in a Meitantei Conan show, and that will do wonders to build the relationship between Kazuya and Victorique.

Heavy in criminal psychology and light in comedy, GOSICK is required viewing for the winter 2011 anime season, as it will likely be your best shot at mystery and adventure without the risk of fan service or harem comedy. Come for the mystery, stay for the endless loop of Victorique's mocking patter of laughterGOSICK will be the best show this season, or else I will get a hairdo like Grevil.

(GOSICK is simulcast on Crunchyroll every Monday at 1 PM EST.)

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