Shinrei Tantei Yakumo: Opening meaningful dialogue with the dead

Shinrei Tantei Yakumo is a shoujo series based on a series of light novels by Kaminaga Manabu. It’s had two manga adaptations, the second of which is still going. In 2010 it got an anime adaptation from Bee Train. Not long ago we looked at their work with Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom and I’ve also looked at Murder Princess. So, they’re two for two so far. Of course, this is the first thing I’ve reviewed from them where they weren’t co-producing. Still, let’s see if they can make it three for three and give me something good to close out the month.

Story:

Ozawa Haruka has a problem. After she and some friends went inside a forbidden building, one has committed suicide and another is in hospital, possessed by spirits. Haruka seeks out the help of Saitou Yakumo, a supposedly psychic boy at her University. Yakumo agrees saying that he can see spirits and might be able to persuade them to leave her friend. Over the course of that investigation, Haruka discovers that Yakumo can, indeed, see ghosts and that his left eye is actually red. From there, the two keep finding themselves involved in more mysteries involving spirits. Meanwhile, a shadow is closing in on them that’s intimately connected with Yakumo’s past. Can the two of them stay alive and find the truth?

Let’s start by discussing the weaknesses of the series. In this case, the big one is the mysteries themselves. Most of them have answers that are made really obvious to the audience through the use of really unsubtle hints or, in some cases, by the series actively showing you who’s responsible. Which just leaves you to see how the characters are going to figure them out and makes the investigation portions a bit lacklustre. There’s also the romance betwixt Haruka and Yakumo. While it does have some good moments here and there, it’s also pretty static. Haruka develops an obvious crush on Yakumo really quickly and then the two of them hang out a lot, in spite of his seeming disinterest. From there, it moves at a really slow pace. There are some hints that he also has feelings for her, especially towards the end, but nothing gets done with it and, ultimately, it comes across as more of an excuse to keep her in the story than a serious attempt at writing romance. There are a couple moments that are a bit nonsensical too. For example, there’s a scene where Haruka is in a car and its driver can’t move. Rather than climbing over him to hit the brake, she just settles for steering. There aren’t many moments like that, but the ones they have are really head-scratching.

Let’s move on to the positive factors of the series. The first is that the world is built really well and there are defined rules for what ghosts can and can’t do. It’s not one of those vague things where it bends and shifts based on plot convenience. The series is paced really well and it is interesting to see how the characters solve the mysteries even if the audience has already been handed the answer. The series is also good about showing the plot elements that it’s going to use in the climax early on while using those elements in a way that it feels very unique and is actually compelling. Tension is used effectively in the series and its portrayals of sexual assault are respectfully done. They’re told through description rather than actually shown but they have a lot of weight to them and they’re actually relevant to the story instead of being thrown in.

Characters:

The characters are well written. They have a good level of complexity and they do come across as actual people. Crazy people, in some cases, but not in an exaggerated or forced way. There are some really compelling dynamics in the series as well both friendly and antagonistic. On the down side, I will say that the way that Detective Gotou’s character ultimately develops is a bit contrived.

Art:

Taken as a whole, the character designs and animation are quite good. The backgrounds are nicely detailed as well and the supernatural effects are visually interesting. The biggest fault with the artwork is that, like they did in Phantom, Bee Train mistakes putting their animation at an odd angle for intensity. Showing someone slanted diagonally isn’t more intense nor does it make the scene more dynamic, it’s just annoying.

Sound:

This series has a strong cast. Ono Daisuke gives a strong performance in the leading role. Fujimura Ayumi does well as Haruka. Takase Akimitsu makes quite a villain. Touchi Hiroki is good and, I really have to give credit to Koshimizu Ami, the voice of the young deaf girl, Nao. She does an amazing job conveying the thoughts and emotions of a character who communicates entirely in grunts without a single line of actual dialogue. I knew she was a good actress from hearing her performances as Claes in Gunslinger Girl, Alita in Murder Princess and Holo the wise wolf, but this was a really difficult role and she aces it beyond what I would have expected. The music isn’t as strong as the cast. It’s all right but nothing that really grabs you.

Ho-yay:

There isn’t any. The closest it gets is that there’s a period where Gotou thinks his partner, Ishii, might be romantically attracted to him. This causes things to be awkward for a while as Gotou freaks out. I can’t fault the series for lack of realism, since there are plenty of blokes who freak out about the idea that another bloke might be into them, but it’s a pretty stupid reaction. Just tell him you aren’t interested if he confesses. Chances are very high that he’ll understand and accept it. It’s not like you have to give him a good long snog just because he expresses interest.

Final Thoughts:

Shinrei Tantei Yakumo is a solid series. It certainly has some issues that detract from it, but in spite of those it has a compelling narrative, strong characters, a great cast and good artwork. Overall, I rate this one a 7/10. It is a good series. Next week, I’ll take a look at the final instalment of the Kara no Kyoukai films. Have a happy Halloween in the interim.

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