Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gosick (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

This series is 24 episodes long.

I'll try to keep from including too many spoilers, but the one thing I will say, because I know I would liked to have known it (it might have lessened my fear of watching the final few episodes): although some tragic things do happen, the ending is not completely tragic. The absolute worst stuff that I feared would happen did not happen.

Synopsis:

This series takes place primarily during 1924 and 1925 in the fictional European country of Saubure. Kujo is a Japanese foreign exchange student at the prestigious St. Marguerite Academy in Saubure. Although he's a nice guy, he has problems making friends, due to his fellow students having nicknamed him the "Black Reaper." His nickname comes from a famous local ghost story - ghost and fairy stories are incredibly popular in the area.

While visiting the academy's gorgeous library, Kujo comes across a beautiful, doll-like, and brilliant girl named Victorique. Over the course of the series, Kujo assists Victorique with solving various mysteries, and the two become close friends, with lots of hints that they like each other as more than just friends. Kujo learns that Victorique is basically imprisoned at the academy, only able to leave when her father, via her older half-brother, allows her to leave. Victorique's father plans to use her as a tool for his and Saubure's survival in the coming second World War (which ends up taking place earlier than our World War II, so I'd call this an alternate history series).

As Victorique unravels more mysteries about her mother's past and the pasts of several powerful people in Saubure, the country moves closer and closer to being drawn into the next great war. Despite the strength of their bond, Victorique and Kujo may not be able to stay together forever.

Review:

This is the third time I've tried to write this review. I keep failing to properly communicate how much I enjoyed this show without giving too much away. I'm still not entirely satisfied with what I've written, but it's better than my other attempts.

From the beginning, I found Gosick very watchable. Appearance-wise, it's lovely. Victorique is pretty (although hair that long would probably be impossible in real life), and the setting, particularly the academy's library, is gorgeous. I started the series figuring that it would probably consist of several relatively unrelated mysteries, which Victorique would solve with Kujo's assistance. For much of the show, it looked like I was right, although there were occasional hints of an overarching story involving Saubure (Sauburan?) politics and Victorique and her family.

The mysteries were interesting, although I sometimes thought Victorique took incredible leaps of logic to reach her deductions. My favorite mysteries were the one on the ship, the one Victorique solves over the phone, while sick, and the one involving the murder of Queen Coco Rose more than a decade earlier. With the ship mystery, I enjoyed how things weren't as they seemed, and it was my first taste of the show's habit of tying together multiple mysteries (the murder of an old woman, the death of several children on a similar ship years earlier, and the deaths on the ship in Victorique and Kujo's present). The past and the present were very much linked in this series, which was especially evident in the mystery of Coco Rose's murder. Although I had initially thought the mysteries were standalone stories, that is definitely not the case – details and characters from previous mysteries turn up in other mysteries.

It took me a while to warm up to Victorique, but, as I found out more about her, her family, and her past, I came to love her and sympathize with her. She wasn't the pampered princess she appeared to be, or at least not in the way I first thought – her own father kept her prisoner in a small cell for several years, and, even at the academy, she was still a prisoner, unable to leave without her father's permission. Her father saw her and her mother as little more than tools he could use to increase his and Saubure's power.

Kujo's past wasn't delved into in quite as much detail, but there was still enough there for him to feel like more than just Victorique's cardboard sidekick. He was a third son and had been told since childhood that he didn't measure up to either of his older brothers – he wasn't smart enough or strong enough. Going to the academy to study was his way of running away, but, through Victorique, he gained some self-confidence.

I loved watching Victorique and Kujo grow closer, so all the indications that they would be separated by the end of the series were heartbreaking. I came to care about them and several of the other characters so much that I pretty much cried my way through the final three or four episodes.

It was in those final grand, emotional episodes that all the bits and pieces of the larger story started coming together, and they were what made me decide that this show was excellent, rather than just simply good. I was at the edge of my seat, waiting to see how everything would work out and wondering who would die. Surprisingly, Brian (a menacing-looking magician) and Cordelia (Victorique's mother) had me in tears nearly as much as Kujo and Victorique.

Overall, I highly recommend this series. I consider it one of the best anime I've seen so far this year. Mystery buffs may not be entirely satisfied with Victorique's deductions, but the characters, relationships, and overarching story make it all worth it in my opinion. I should mention, though, that those who dislike out-of-the-blue happy endings may not be satisfied with how things turn out. While there is still plenty of tragedy, the series does pull its punches a bit. Personally, I was glad of this, as a completely tragic ending would probably have left me feeling like my heart had been ripped out.


Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Sherlock (live action TV series) - Another series starring a bored, brilliant detective with a sidekick who's the closest thing the detective has to a friend. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's characters and bits and pieces of his stories have been reimagined in a modern-day setting. I think it works fabulously well, but I will warn you: the first season ends in an aggravating cliffhanger.
  • A Study in Scarlet (book) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The first book in Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series. I don't know that I like this book as much as some of the other stories, but it's been a while since I've read a lot of them that I can't remember my favorites, if I had any. This particular book does seem like a good fit, though, particularly for those who liked the "events from the past are important in the present" aspect of Gosick.
  • House, M.D. (live action TV series) - Another series starring a brilliant, prickly character. If you've somehow managed not to hear about this series yet, it's about a doctor who makes up for his terrible bedside manner with his incredible diagnostic ability. He's the guy people go to when no one else can figure out what's wrong.
  • Black Butler (manga) by Yana Toboso; Black Butler (anime TV series) - Another series with mysteries, a historical setting, and a master-servant relationship (Victorique often refers to Kujo as her servant, and Kujo doesn't seem to mind). Ciel Phantomhive is an orphan who has inherited his parents' successful toy company. He and his butler (who is actually a demon bound to do his bidding, in exchange for eventually being able to eat his soul) conduct investigations on the order of the Queen. I've written about the first five volumes of the manga and both seasons of the anime.
  • Spice and Wolf (anime TV series) - Something about Victorique's aloof vulnerability reminds me of the girl (wolf goddess of the harvest) in this show. In addition, this show has a semi-historical setting, a pair of main characters with a strong relationship, and a bit of romance. I've written about both seasons of the anime and the first book (the anime was based on a series of light novels by Isuna Hasekura).
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series) - Those who'd like something else with a semi-historical setting, the occasional mystery, and a fantastic overarching storyline might want to try this. Some of the characters also feel similar to characters in Gosick. The manga and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood follow the same approximate story. The first anime, Fullmetal Alchemist, diverges from the manga after a certain point and then becomes radically different. As a starting point, I'd recommend either the manga or the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime, both of which are excellent. Brotherhood rushes through several early events a little too quickly, effectively ruining the emotional content for anyone who doesn't already have a familiarity with the series. I've written about volume 16 of the manga.
  • Dance in the Vampire Bund (anime TV series) - Another series starring a tiny blonde heroine who looks like a child, occasionally acts like a child, but most often tends to have the maturity of an adult. I hesitated to add this one to the list, but the main characters of this series and Gosick do have a lot in common. I will give a giant warning to those considering watching it (or reading the manga, although I have no personal experience with it): there are several things in this series that may be very objectionable to some viewers. Take a look at my review if you'd like more specifics.

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