It’s all fun and games until someone gets turned into a chair.
These two shows have exactly one thing in common, which is a male-dominated cast. Okay, two things: Both are pretty visually striking. Okay, three things: They both like to put damsels in distress, although even then the way they do it is pretty dramatically different. Past that, though, Ushitora and Rampo couldn’t be less similar, so it’s no wonder my reactions to the two are kinda disparate, too. Hit the jump to hang with the guys and see whose company is most welcome.
Ushio & Tora
I’m glad I knew going into this one that it was based on a manga that ran during the early ’90s, because it allows me to give its content a little slack when I might not have otherwise. Three episodes in and there’s been a lot of girls getting rescued, but while I’d expect more from a 2015 shounen, here I’m willing to roll with it so long as said girls are at least developed characters with distinct personalities and varying levels of agency.
Which they are—actually the characters are maybe the best part of this series, as everyone is portrayed as different and flawed but likable and (even in the case of Episode 3’s “bully”) ultimately well-meaning. It’s that classic shounen positivity about conflict resolution and redemption that draws a lot of people to the genre, and when it’s executed with this level of energy, humor, and heart, it’s mighty hard not to fall for its charms.
The dialogue is snappy, the interpersonal relations familiar without seeming cliched, and while the action sequences tend to rely on still frames they bounce around and shift enough to give the story a feel of motion even if it actually isn’t there (a mark of a good action director, that). Since it’s a show that deals with demons and angry spirits, there’s an underlying darkness to most of the tales, but the series is so doggedly optimistic that it creates tension without overriding that general sense of Plain Old Fun. Ushio & Tora is a cartoon straight outta Saturday Morning, bright and exciting and sometimes even a little moving, and I’m happy to include it on my summer watch list.
Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace
Director Kishi Seiji is trying way too hard to make this the most stylized show of the summer. There’s a level of self-consciousness to all the imagery and abstractions, or perhaps a lack of trust in the audience to get it, which combines to make it feel like Seiji really wants you to notice how clever he is and doesn’t think you will unless he beats you over the head with it. It’s clumsy, but it doesn’t necessarily bother me, as I enjoy the staging (pretty much every crime is depicted as a performance at some point) as well as the absurd black comedy that sometimes sneaks its way in (such as during the slapstick autopsy in Episode 2). Visually, Rampo Kitan is pretty fun, and sometimes quite funny, too.
Where the series is losing me is the actual content. For a show pitching itself as a mystery, the mysteries leave a lot to be desired. The whole point of a mystery story is to give the audience everything they need to solve the crime but to do so with misdirection and subtlety. Rampo just hides key bits of information from you until it’s time for our genius protag to discover the culprit, so that it feels like an asspull rather than meticulous, clever plotting.
Even if we assume this is intentional and the series is more interested in psychological suspense than actual mysteries, the sheer number of dead girls in three episodes is disheartening, not to mention just plain lazy writing. There are small hints that Rampo may be trying to go somewhere meaningful with this, given the MC’s own traditionally feminine appearance, but after Yuki Yuna I don’t have a lot of faith in Seiji and Uezu to bring it home in a satisfying manner. I may give Rampo another episode to show me where it wants to go, but at this point I can’t promise anything more than that.