Moments of 2015: Fugue—Fakes, Bones and Dead Bodies

mystery-01

Although they may flit in and out of the radars of most viewers and readers, genres are a constant in many media. Romance, horror, sports, historical, action, drama, slice-of-life, comedy, mystery: these labels are so ubiquitous that most of us assume that we know what they are, and are confident that we can judge examples of each genre based on whether they check the boxes that we associate with each. Relatedly, we might choose to partake of—or avoid—several of these categories. Be you a fan of romance or action, these labels serve as a guide that lets us choose the stories that we think will entertain us.

Personally, I’ve never really thought about what to watch each season along those lines, but one of the reasons that I watch anime is that I like stories that end. That is why I find it difficult to watch most American TV series—I’m three seasons into The Big Bang Theory, and not entirely sure whether I’ll keep going. I also dislike episodic series, which would explain why the third and fourth seasons of Natsume’s Book of Friends are still on my backlog. So whilst mysteries have featured in anime in previous years—Gosick, Hell Girl, UN-GO and Hyouka being four that come to mind—they’ve never really been centerstage for me.

Rokka2
What is it that you see, Nachetanya?

This year, however, I happened to watch four entire series that have the mystery label attached to them. Only one—Braves of the Six Flowers—can probably be regarded as being centered around the mystery, though Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider involves a pretty good locked-room mystery, one that some genre fans apparently liked figuring out. For two other series, however—Rampo Kitan: The Game of Laplace and A Corpse is Buried Under Sakurako’s Feet—the complaints came thick and fast: “The mysteries are uninteresting”; “What’s the point if they don’t give viewers clues that we can work with?” Whilst there were other criticisms, be they about how sexualised certain characters were, or about an annoying transformation sequence, many viewers were preoccupied with how these two shows didn’t satisfy the tenets of the mystery genre.

But what are the tenets of the mystery genre? Many people seem to be focused on “proposed rules” about what the author should or should not include, particularly how authors should reveal enough information for an astute audience to solve the mystery if they think in a logical manner. This is certainly an important concern if the purpose of a mystery novel or series is to allow the reader or viewer to join the detective in his sleuthing. But if that’s the case, shouldn’t the mystery genre eventually grow stale, as one starts encountering stories that you instinctively see the answers to? At least, that’s one of the reasons I eventually stopped reading whodunnits when I was young—I grew bored, and that anticipated boredom has often been a deciding factor in what I choose to read or watch.

Laplace
Girl and boy? Or boy and boy?

But as I was pondering the question again this past season, I realised that there was something else going on. As it turns out, one of my colleagues—a person who isn’t at all interested in anime or manga—reads mystery novels for leisure. When I put the question to her, she noted that the main draw of the genre for her is that she gets to find out about the society and the people within the story. The most compelling series, the franchises that she’ll keep coming back to, are those with a detective that she wants to learn more about. But more than that, she loves how they tell her about London in the 1800s, or France in the post-WWII era, or even the very societies that we live in today. She likes learning about the ways that people think, of the things that we take for granted to the extent that we may not even notice if they are out of place until it is pointed out to us. A well-designed ‘crime to be solved’ is, for the most part, just icing on the cake.

In fact, to some literary experts, these are a few of the key features of the genre. Fans who like an intellectual challenge may favour a good mystery, but the main thing that keeps people captivated to particular mystery or detective series arguably applies to other genres as well. I put a similar question to another friend who watches a lot of Western serials, and got a similar answer: it’s all about the people that we meet through those stories, and what they and their interactions with others tells us about ourselves.

Sakurako-01
“If you don’t, then I’m just going to take it home with me.”

If I consider the four mystery series I saw this year from that perspective, then my evaluation of their effectiveness as stories changes. In last place, perhaps surprisingly, is Braves of the Six Flowers, for it is the only one that I felt did little to interest me about the individuals that populate its world. The sole exception involves novel spoilers, so I won’t go into that. Laplace comes next, but only because I saw messages about modern society in it—even though it took a post-series interview to really clarify for me what the main theme was. And The Perfect Insider and Sakurako were both far more concerned with showcasing the individuals at their core. I was surprised to find that the former was more successful at interesting me in its protagonists, Nishinosono and Saikawa—it’s probably because I found Sakurako’s insensitivity unbearable in the penultimate episode, coupled with the fact that the final episode did not deal with the incident that I believe is behind her seemingly callous behaviour. On the other hand, however, Sakurako was probably more successful at highlighting its theme of ‘how people are affected by death’. The Perfect Insider seemed to be concerned with ‘how we cannot understand people unless we accept that everyone values different things’, but far too many viewers came away with the impression that it was making that point that ‘morality is relative: what is right to you may not be right for everyone else’. I personally don’t think it was…but it’s difficult to say.

Subete-01
“My opinion isn’t what’s important.
The important question is what (he/she) was thinking.”

In the end, I appreciated those last two series far more than I initially thought I would, given that they were from the mystery genre. Whilst I won’t be watching them again, much less buying them, I’d certainly be interested in picking up both novel series, if only to find out exactly what happens to those characters. And that’s precisely how I felt about Hyouka, another mystery series with relatively ‘weak’ mysteries (though admittedly, it has other elements that elevate it above the four shows that I’ve dealt with in this post). As my discussion with my friend suggested, when it comes to my relationship with this genre, a good mystery is merely icing on the cake.

p.s. For those who know what a fugue is, ’twas a pretty fitting title for this post, don’t you think?

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

One Response to Moments of 2015: Fugue—Fakes, Bones and Dead Bodies

  1. Pingback: Reflections on Winter and Spring, and Pick that Voice!! Part 1 | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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