Game of Laplace: modernising Edogawa Ranpo

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Many viewers who made it to the end of Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace seem to be unsure about what it was actually trying to do. Each mini-story covered in the first half of the show was inspired by one of famed Japanese writer, Edogawa Ranpo’s titles, and appeared to be identifying specific problems with Japanese society and law enforcement, such as the inability of police to convict criminals because of the ‘insanity’ clause that defense lawyers and their clients fall back on. However, the second half appeared to reduce this issue to a fight between those who want to respect the law despite its flaws and limitations, and those that want to take justice into their own hands. Many viewers—myself included—found the cartoonish presentation, the various cliches, and the strange, bondage fan service to be quite unsavoury and arguably detrimental to what the show seemed to be trying to say.

However, as the last two episodes rolled around, I began to wonder if we were all completely missing the point. Around that time, someone on the Animesuki forums linked Rebecca Silverman’s analysis of what the creators had been trying to do and how they had gone about it. As she points out, it’s important to note that Edogawa’s stories were not just examples of detective fiction, as many viewers seemed to assume. This blogger notes that whilst he was inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edogawa “wanted to advance the genre and imbue it with specifically Japanese sensibilities.” I’m not sure how that translated into the sexually deviant and shocking content that he would use to convey his themes – perhaps he was influenced by the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud. Whatever the case, comments from Sakurai Takahiro (who voices the ’special’ detective, Akechi) that are available on the Japanese website suggest that the show was indeed marketed as a work in the genres of ‘mystery, suspense and horror’. As Silverman argues, Laplace updated Edogawa’s stories “so that we will get the shock value that the works had back when they were written.”

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Don’t know about you, but I did find the show rather eyebrow raising…
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And I could definitely have done without the fan-service…

That said, I think that the creators were also trying to make a separate point, one that is associated with some of the social malaises that contemporary Japan has. This is yet another homage to Edogawa, who incorporated social and political commentary into many of his stories. If so, than were the creators of Laplace also concerned with “rethinking the world in terms other than those deployed by the rationalizing (and moralizing) scientific, governmental, and media institutions” of our time? They may well have been. As mentioned above, the early episodes of the show seemed to be suggesting that the malaises of Japanese society result from institutional problems that the government is responsible for. However, the second half of the show presents a different argument: the problems exist because no one cares. The only way that the disaffected can get the general public to pay attention is by sensationalising their crimes and deaths; and even then, just six months later, society seems to have forgotten about it again.

That denouement soon had me reflecting on what I know of Japanese society. I’ve been listening to NHK news podcasts for the last 18 months or so, and there have been a number of pretty horrible crimes in recent years: schoolchildren killing their friends because they ‘wanted to try killing someone’; a lot of publicity about deaths due to bullying etc. Whenever these cases hit the news, there’s an outburst of horror, followed by commentary over how the law and the rest of society failed to protect the victims. And then it dies down and disappears from the news until the next incident. For example, the current case involves two junior-high kids who were killed in Takatsuki City, near Osaka – the man who’s been arrested apparently served time for abducting children using the same methods in the past (though he’d let them go, in contrast to this new crime). But just over a month from the time that the first body was discovered, I don’t really hear about it anymore. Admittedly, I have a limited perspective, as I have no access to whether these issues are being discussed around dinner tables in Japan. But in an age where most people in Japan work ridiculous hours and read manga/novels or play games on the train, I wouldn’t be surprised if they largely forgotten until the next incident – people just go back to their own lives, because it does not involve them.

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Kobayashi’s indifference to the world around him was nicely represented,
though it was one-upped by Namikoshi’s later in the series…

Admittedly, Japan is not the only country where this occurs. Some American cities are well known for having some of the highest homicide rates in the developed world, and I distinctly remember being advised not to enter certain parts of several cities that I visited on my first trip there about ten years ago. When the first Psycho-Pass was airing, I recall someone linking a video showing a harrowing example of the bystander effect in New York City—people just walked straight by. Gun massacres, the campus rape culture and domestic violence are other good examples—my own country is finally trying to do something about the latter, after more than 60 women have lost their lives in the year-to-date. If there’s one thing that seems to be unique about Japan, however, it’s the number of young people involved as assailants. What kind of society produces children that are so callous about the life of others, children that think “I’d like to try killing someone”?

But I’m not sure how successful Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace was at conveying this message. I think many viewers would probably assume that Kobayashi was a symbol of the average, indifferent person. However, I’d argue that the character represents someone who could end up being either a victim or a criminal. His ‘indifference’ and disinterest in life strikes me as the kind that might turn into ‘oh, I’d like to try killing someone’, i.e. like one of the real life cases I mentioned above. The final promotional image, released on the official website after the series ended, suggests a battle between Hashiba and Namikoshi for Kobayashi’s soul. And unlike some other viewers, I cannot so easily dismiss ‘the power of friendship’. Though the most famous ‘story’ about this was heavily embellished, it was still based on something that apparently happened in real life. And I still think about a friend I lost a few months ago. It was someone that I was not especially close to, and they were living in another city at the time, but I will always wonder if things might have been different if only I’d picked up my phone and called.

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The final image on the website is awfully pink, but it is based on the illustration on the right… Does it represent the main theme of Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace?

But coming back to the overall theme of the show, I’d argue that the role of the average, indifferent person, was actually given to the audience. I think that the creators probably wanted Japanese viewers to think about what they themselves seek out or pay attention to in their own media consumption. Did it work? Arguably not for Western viewers, though I contend that a lack of awareness of Edogawa and what his works were actually about was a huge barrier for us. But for Japanese viewers? I honestly have no idea: it doesn’t seem like many people watched the show, and of the ones who did, only they can answer that.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

5 Responses to Game of Laplace: modernising Edogawa Ranpo

  1. sikvod00 says:

    And I still think about a friend I lost a few months ago. It was someone that I was not especially close to, and they were living in another city at the time, but I will always wonder if things might have been different if only I’d picked up my phone and called.

    Sorry to hear that. I don’t personally know anyone who has committed suicide, but I do understand the “what ifs” of losing someone close. You believe any sort of contact with them might have made a difference.

    In regards to friendship, any positive influence we have on others is a good thing. You can’t be BFFs with everyone, but you can be nice and considerate. Btw, that linked story definitely sounds embellished: such a neat and tidy story, haha.

    I think many viewers would probably assume that Kobayashi was a symbol of the average, indifferent person. However, I’d argue that the character represents someone who could end up being either a victim or a criminal. His ‘indifference’ and disinterest in life strikes me as the kind that might turn into ‘oh, I’d like to try killing someone’, i.e. like one of the real life cases I mentioned above.

    So true! The boy’s indifference was creepy, as intended. The passion he had for solving mysteries clearly had nothing to do with saving lives. It was a fun adventure, plain and simple. Who cared about the victims?

    Like

    • sikvod00 says:

      Apparently quoting is still hard for me. Sorry…

      Like

    • karice says:

      Thank you. I know – and I’ve spoken with friends about it too – that all we can really do now is remember that person for who they were, and reach out to all the other people in our lives. But the what ifs just never leave your mind…

      Btw, that linked story definitely sounds embellished: such a neat and tidy story, haha.

      Yeah, I think I probably believed it the very first time someone sent it to me. But thinking about it again, I just thought it sounded too good to be true ^^;;

      =====

      It was creepy, especially the way everyone that wasn’t ‘important’ to him was faceless. And I think I’d be interested in finding out whether he has come to value the people around him a little more. At least, the show suggested that he’d changed…

      Like

  2. Pingback: The Game of Laplace: The Red Room | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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