By Tom Speelman
For whatever reason, winter is the time of year when your thoughts turn to mystery anime. Summer and spring seem too cheery for the genre, while fall first stirs the thoughts of detectives and deduction. But it’s winter that really clenches it, with bitter cold and (depending on where you live) snow and ice. Thanks, Fargo.
With ID: INVADED’s high-concept mystery and sleek animation making it one of the most exciting anime originals this anime season, the time seemed right to look at some other mystery anime favorites, classic and recent, that scratch that same itch and give us more cases to solve.
Terror In Resonance (2014)
Running for 11 episodes in 2014, Terror in Resonance — an original work from iconic director Shinichiro Watanabe that reunites him with legendary composer Yoko Kanno — is a live-wire mystery anime that hits the ground running and refuses to let up.
Gorgeous animation by MAPPA combines with Watanabe’s quixotic guiding hand and Kanno’s propulsive score that’s part Radiohead, part Sigur Rós (the band that also inspired Watanabe to create the series) to tell the story of the strait-laced but haunted Nine (Christopher Bevins in English, Kaito Ishikawa in Japanese) and the goofy but supportive Twelve (Aaron Dismuke, Sōma Saitō).
They’re two teenage terrorists who steal a batch of plutonium, move to Tokyo and, while attending high school as a cover, commit several terrorist attacks around the city — including uploading videos to the internet. In these videos, they call themselves Sphinx and broadcast riddles for the police to try and solve, in order to stop them.
The only person who knows who they truly are is Lisa Mishima (Jad Saxton, Atsumi Tanezaki), a girl so wracked with trauma from her bullying peers and her possessive mom that she can barely move.
Hot on Sphinx’s trail is Kenjiro Shibazaki (Robert McCollum, Shunsuke Sakuya), a police detective who used to be the pride of his department, but was banished to archives for investigating a powerful politician. Equally haunted by his inherited trauma from being the descendant of Hiroshima survivors and appalled by how cavalierly Sphinx commits destruction, he vows to stop them.
Several mysteries spinning at once keep the interest going and the cast and characters rise to meet it. As sympathetic as Nine and Twelve become, the show never lets you forget they’re dangerous villains. Shibazaki and Lisa are each compelling characters and offer competing perspectives on how to respond to trauma. A provocative, white-knukcle thrill ride, a compelling, multi-layered mystery and a fascinating character study all in one, Terror in Resonance is not to be missed.
Case File n°221: Kabukicho (2019)
For reasons it’d take too long to get into here, Japan has long been one of the primary hubs of Sherlock Holmes fandom and scholarship, to the point where, if you visit London’s Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, several Japanese-language documents are on display.
Directed by Ai Yoshimura and written by Taku Kishimoto, this mystery anime takes place in the modern day, on the east side of the famous Tokyo entertainment and red light district inside Shinjuku Ward.
It’s a seedy but welcoming world, and the show follows the befuddled but honest Dr. John Watson (Josh Grelle, Yuichi Nakamura) as he tries to implore eccentric, brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes (Ian Sinclair, Katsuyuki Konishi) to take his case. But he has to contend not only with Holmes’ quirks, but also those of the other master detectives living alongside Holmes in the Detectives’ Row boarding house.
Not ignoring the very real threat of serial killer Jack the Ripper, this is easily one of the more goofier Holmes adaptations out there. Certainly, no other version has cast James Moriarty (Justin Briner, Seiichiro Yamashita) as a teenage boy living next door to Holmes, and no other production has had Holmes talk to himself and use traditional Japanese rakugo as a way of strategic deduction.
Still though, this is a fun, comedic and well-animated show that offers up an intriguing interpretation of Holmes, paying tribute to some of his canonical tics while expanding upon others for its own ends in smart ways. Throw in a snazzy, Lupin the Third-esque score by Takurō Iga and you have a really intriguing show worth checking out.
The Future Diary (2011)
OK, hear me out. While this show (and the manga it’s based on) is often cited as an example of the “survival game” subgenre, there’s still plenty of mystery here to dive into.
Directed by Naoto Hosoda, written by Katsuhiko Takayama and animated by Asread, The Future Diary follows introverted middle-schooler Yukiteru “Yuki” Amano (Josh Grelle, Misuzu Togashi), who chronicles everything around him in a diary in his cell phone but has no real connections to anyone, outside of the God of Space and Time, Deus Ex Machina (Kent Williams, Norio Wakamoto) and his goofy assistant, Mur Mur (Leah Clark, Manami Honda), who he thinks are imaginary.
But they aren’t. Not by a long shot. Yuki discovers this when Deus transforms his phone diary into a future diary, telling him everything that’s going to happen to him… including how he’ll die. And it’ll change if he avoids doing anything the diary says. This is all part of a game orchestrated by Deus, where Yuki and eleven other diary holders have to eliminate each other, with the last one standing becoming Deus’ successor.
With his classmate and fellow diary holder by his side, Yuki’s got to deal with serial killers and mad bombers in a battle for the fate of existence. Melodramatic as all hell, this show cooks when it needs to and is always very entertaining.
This cyberpunk mystery anime comes from writer Gen Urobouchi (Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero) and co-directors Naoyoshi Shiotani and Katsuyuki Motohiro. A hit when it premiered back in 2012, the show still holds up as a taut thriller and captivating mystery.
Never shying away from just how dystopian its dystopia is, the series takes place in a world where the Sibyl System constantly biometrically scans the minds of Japanese citizens to compile a “Psycho-Pass,” a mental assessment. When a person’s “Crime Coefficient,” the quantifiable likelihood of committing a crime, passes a certain threshold, officers from the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division are dispatched to hunt them down.
The show follows rookie inspector Akane Tsunemori (Kate Oxley, Kana Hanazawa) as she learns the ins and outs of her job, including that she’s in charge of Enforcers — people flagged as latent criminals by Sibyl who are dispatched to hunt down other criminals. Also, she’s given a Dominator — guns keyed to fingerprints that have various settings depending on what Sibyl says about their target.
Akane and her best Enforcer, Shinya Kogami (Robert McCollum, Tomokazu Seki), together unravel a mystery that not only deals with unresolved trauma from Kogami’s past, but also secrets that shake the foundations of Sibyl and society itself.
While the dim lighting makes the action hard to follow at times, the show generally has bone-crunching fight scenes that are great fun. Combined with awesome music by Yugo Kanno, the show’s elements work in a way that suggests they’re taking techniques learned on Ghost in The Shell and bringing them into the 21st century.
While opinion is divided on the series’ follow-up seasons and its movie spin-offs, it can’t be denied PSYCHO-PASS is one of anime’s biggest 21st Century blockbusters.
Eden of the East (2009)
From Production I.G. and writer/director Kenji Kamiyawa, this 11-episode series (and its two movie sequels) is a paranoid thriller in the style of classic ‘70s films like The Conversation and The Parallax View. It’s a refreshing globalist mystery anime that doesn’t let up.
In November 2010, ten missiles hit Japan but there were no casualties, and the incident became known as “Careless Monday.” Three months later, college senior Saki Morimi (Leah Clark, Saori Hayami) is visiting New York with friends but sneaks away to visit Washington D.C. to toss a coin into the White House fountain for luck.
Nearly detained by police for doing so, she’s saved by the appearance of a strange young man who finds himself in front of the White House completely naked with only a gun and a strange cell phone.
This, we’ll call it a “meet-cute,” sets off a crazy mystery when the man, finding an address in his phone, heads to an apartment filled with multiple passports and loads of weapons. Taking the name Akira Takizawa from one of the passports, he heads back to Japan with Saki, only to learn that another missile has hit.
Learning from his phone — which connects to the mysterious Juiz (Stephanie Young, Sakiko Tamagawa) — that he has ¥8.2 billion credited to his phone and that he’s part of a mysterious organization named Seleção. Along with ten others, he’s been given ¥10 billion by benefactors in return for a nebulous promise to save Japan in some way. What that exactly means will take Akira and Saki on a wild journey.
While there is some dated CGI, for the most part, the animation is stellar and the world is sketched just enough per episode to sustain the mystery. And with such a short episode run, this is a show you could binge in a weekend. So why not? It’s cold outside…
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006)
Yes, this counts as a mystery anime. The SOS Brigade investigates things, don’t they?
Anyway, if you’ve somehow never seen or heard about this show, it’s about Kyon (Crispin Freeman, Tomokazu Sugita), a laid-back slacker who nonetheless finds himself drawn to the quirky, outspoken Haruhi (Wendee Lee, Aya Hirano), who bluntly states on their first day of high school that “First off, I’m not interested in ordinary people. But, if any of you are aliens, time-travelers, or espers, please come see me. That is all!”
In that spirit, Haruhi corrals Kyon into starting the Spreading Excitement all Over the World with Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade, a club that comes to include withdrawn bookworm Yuki Nagato (Michelle Ruff, Minori Chihara), klutzy, shy Mikuru Asahina (Stephanie Sheh, Yuko Goto) and carefree, smiling Itsuki Koizumi (Johnny Yong Bosch, Daisuke Ono).
The Brigade gets drawn into various schemes and investigations by the plucky Haruhi, but Kyon eventually learns that the other members have secrets of their own.
Still as vibrant and intriguing as it was back in the day, with Kyoto Animation’s gorgeous work still shining though every frame, director Tatsuya Ishihhara and his stable of writers clearly took Nagaru Tanigawa’s original light novels and created an anime classic that deserves its sterling reputation.
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