From my childhood years, I remember unfortunately stumbling across a video entitled Magic that would haunt me forever. Being a little naive, I had no idea that puppets were capable of mass homicide, but I now know better. So, was watching Ayatsuri Sakon, an anime series based around both murder and mystery... and a lifelike doll, really a good idea?
Investigating mysterious circumstances surrounding various instances of mass homicide, Sakon moves from town to town with his obnoxious and vocal puppet Ukon. Playing out as a typical “whodunit”, the shows follows a group of feckless bystanders who are slowly whittled down by a merciless killer. With the first of the eight arcs as undoubtedly the best, the viewer is lulled into the belief that this show is going to be a worthwhile gamble. At first, the cliché plot devices are forgivable, seeming more like a polite nod to the mystery genre. However, it soon becomes clear that the story writer instead had an unhealthy obsession with tacky detective dramas. With bad guys who love to hear their entire plans deduced by the precocious kid and vengeful family members, I’m sure I’ve seen most of it during episodes of Columbo or Midsomer Murders.
Reading the series synopsis, you get a hint of the confused genre mismatch that plagues Ayatsuri Sakon down to the core. Remaining primarily a murder mystery, the show features brief additions of supernatural excitement that fizzle out to nothing make me wonder why they were even included in the first place. The most baffling accessory in the show is the use of Ukon as a channelling device to speak to the dead; at first, I was still expecting a haunted twist that would turn the drab drama into a dazzling diamond, but it soon became apparent that I would be waiting an awfully long time. Instead, the focus diverts to the puerile retorts of a smug puppet and heart-warming, vomit inducing conclusions to many a mediocre tale.
As the show gradually unveils snippets of information about the murderer, it hardly comes as a surprise that the most obvious culprit was merely a framed victim of misdirection. It becomes even less of a surprise as this cunning tactic is used in EVERY GODDAMNED ARC. If the focus had instead have been on the supernatural aspect, the show would have been very different to many similar titles that hit our screens around the same time. Sadly, lacking the creative and versatile flair of Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro or the fun narrative of Detective Academy Q, Ayatsuri Sakon will unfortunately be relegated to the bargain bin of the anime world and all because of its tedious, unapologetic repetition.
Basic, standard and un-ambitious are but three words that could describe the animation for Ayatsuri Sakon. The "skillful" artwork seems to hail from “The Idiots Guide to Anime”, and the recycled facial features do not remain tidy throughout the show. Using a dull, two-dimensional template, the characters look extremely similar throughout each of the arcs, despite the fact they are supposed to be completely different people. Blending cells of older feeling background scenery with many modern foreground features, there is a confused sense to the show that only goes to add to the schizophrenic feeling from the genre mix-up.
Ayatsuri Sakon opens with what has swiftly become one of my favourite anime tracks. Sweeping me back to the 80’s, when real men growled out the vocals whilst the guitarist skilfully made his instrument sing, it does, however, sit quite strangely with a show that has almost an “Edo period” feel to it. The rest of the soundtrack remains true to the creepy atmosphere that hangs over the anime, including the sentimentally soppy closing tune.
Much like the animation, the seiyuu are average and do their jobs; Sakon comes across as an introverted and shy teenager, whilst Ukon is unbelievably annoying. Motoko Kumai plays up the argumentative nature of the grating puppet, childishly berating anyone that will listen. Despite certain members of the reviewing team adoring the voice actors boyish charm, I personally found it was a little to much to be exposed to for a relatively long series.
The biggest disappoint for me in this show were the characters. Sakon undergoes no development, and there is very little of his back story given away, apart from the occasional reminisce to his training in Bunraku (essentially, how to be a ventriloquist). Extremely passive, he seemingly has very little to say until he has enough evidence to solve a murder. Unfortunately, the vocal slack is taken up by the puppet, Ukon. As the complete opposite of his master, the dummy acts like a spoilt child and is not afraid to speak his mind. It is times like this I wish the character database has tags such as “smug git” and “annoying brat”.
Filling out the rest of the cast list is an unremarkable group that either end up dead, or possess some personality trait that prevents them from being murdered so they manage to see it through to the happy-clappy ending. With the character roles being extremely predictable, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out exactly who will survive to the moral-filled arc finale, or indeed who the misguided killer is.
Although it is not terrible, Ayatsuri Sakon is simply not as good as it could have been. Busting out with a promising opening arc, the story picks up speed on a downhill run to nowhere. After waiting a few years for a group to pick the show up from where the last lot dropped it mid-season, I can understand why a translator would find it so tedious to work through twenty-six episodes of finger-twiddling dullness – especially when there are much better murder mystery and supernatural anime series out there.
Yaaawwwwwwnnnn.... wake me when it gets better k?
Huh? This review has to be 100 characters? Hmmm let's see...
Crappy generic main character overshadowed by his more generic and loudmouth puppet. Solve crime, make bad jokes and waste my viewing time, Nuff said.